Yesterday I bought an old transistor radio for three quid that didn't work. It took me back. It had a dark, close-fitting leather bag with a strap on the top. I never did like listening to pop music as a background drone, but there is something nostalgic about the sound of an old transistor radio. I'm able to say this because when I got the thing home I disembowled it, tweaked it, poked about with my soldering iron and got it going - well, on medium wave, at least. It didn't take a lot of doing: to get technical for a moment, I just wiggled everything until I found what made the horrible noise it was making worse and replaced it with something that looked the same from a box of bits. You don't know what you can do until you try. I think of building or fiddling with radios as almost a form of meditation. You have to take your time, go step by step, prepare your ground, make fine movements. First you need a bright light and box to put all the screws in as they come out so that they don't roll onto the floor. Then one of those alligator clips on sticks things that will act as an extra pair of hands - and blutack. Blutack is brilliant for holding screwheads on screwdrivers when you have to push them into fiddly places. You can stick screws on long thin sausages of blutack too, if they're going into really awkward places. And then there's the soldering iron. One false move and make a right mess of things. The cheap ones are nasty and frustrating because they never get hot enough. Slightly dearer ones get really hot and - zap! The job's done. No messing.
It strikes me, as this stream of consciousness rolls along, that one of the things I love about electronics (and radio in particular) is that try as I might, I don't understand it! I come at it as a tinkerer. As a musician I know my tonics from my dominants, my sharps and flats and why thing are the way they are more or less, but the facts that lie behind electronic engineering have to be dinged into my brain to have any hope of staying there and fall out as soon as I start moving about. I love the poetry of it. The box with no moving parts and a voice coming out of it - not to mention the unworldly sound-world that goes on between the stations.
It makes a change and it's good to tinker, to find one's way - to find out by experience, to work on aquiring a working knowledge rather than developing a trained knowledge, for a change (although the boundaries between the two, obviously, are not hard a fast).
And what shall I do with the radio, now it works? I'm not sure. Now it works, I can feel myself losing interest, moving on. I might tinker with it some more. Or I could just put it in the bathroom and listen to it.
6 months ago