Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Winter of Our Disconnect

In 2011, the Winter of Our Disconnect was the Woman's Hour book of the week.  Susie Maushart wrote about imposing a six month ban on technology in her home.  Not just banning her use but her three teenagers were banned too.  Of course, it all ends happily ever after.  They learn to live without it.  They become a loving, creative and literate nuclear family.  But obviously go straight back to using it once the six month experiment is over.

We moved in October 2012.  Picture the scene.  It is the digital age, the computer age, the information age.  Call it what you will.  The industrial revolution is long gone and we are no longer an agrarian society.  Our national economy (what's left of it) is based on digital industries and a knowledge-based society operating in a high tech global economy.  Technology dominates our daily lives.

So, why, oh, why, oh, why, did it take British Telecom two weeks to get us connected to anything electronic???  Was I annoyed?  Slightly ruffled, perhaps.  We'd moved into a house that had been a business specialising in marketing for about twenty years.  There are at least 40 (if not more) telephone points around the building, not to mention computer points.  (Which don't work because some idiot took out the server and simply cut through all the wires so that we can never have the networked house that we dreamed of...)  One day, when I have nothing better to do (highly unlikely given what we have taken on here), I will count the telephone points for my faithful reader.  And the lightbulbs.  (There are 24 in our bedroom alone - and that's not counting the lamps.)  There is so much for the reader of this blog to look forward to in future instalments.

Telephone Points and BT Boxes in the Server Room aka H's En-Suite
Server No More
Anyhow, so we had no telephone.  Which meant no internet access.  And I can't get a signal on my mobile from inside the house.  And the television aerial didn't work.  So no television either.  And with the gates closed, it feels oddly isolated here.  Even though the lane runs by on one side and there is a main road just a few yards away on the other.  With the gates closed and no communication, it felt like we'd slipped back in time and were not only living in a Georgian house but in the Georgian era.  Not only were we discombobulated because of the move, we were completely disorientated by being cut off from the digital economy!

I didn't like it.  At all.  Susie Maushart may have rediscovered Scrabble but I felt like I'd lost my ears.  Luckily, my mum had the boxed set of Tanamara (!) and we managed to get the video to work.  But that simply served to make me feel even more disorientated.  How on earth did they get away with such horrendous, hammy acting in the '80s or whenever it was filmed?

After about a week, the aerial man finally arrived.  I nearly kissed him.  He must have thought me very odd as I chased around the house after him, explaining my delight and chattering furiously, so pleased to be able to communicate with someone other than my mum.  With a bemused look on his face, he managed to get mum's TV working but there was a dilemma about our sitting room.  The choice was to take a wire across the front of the house, which I thought the Conservation Officer might not like, or having a big long black wire stretching from the dining room through the hall to the TV in the far corner of the sitting room.  Which was the option that I went for.  But at least we had TV.  The news!  People in 21st Century costume, moving about and talking normally.  It was all a far cry from Tanamara.

The black wire thing lasted through Christmas and beyond but S has since sorted it out, cleverly drilling a small hole in the wall of the dining room, attaching the wire discreetly on the outside of the house at the foot of the front wall and then taking it down into the cellar to bypass the porch before it arrives in his study and then goes through the wall into the sitting room.  But at least we have TV!!

Spot the Wire Competition - Leads into the Cellar
The telephone and internet proved to be more of a problem.  I had it in my diary, 7th November, 0800-1300, BT Engineer.  In my imagination, he would arrive, fiddle with one of the four telephone lines coming into the house on the north side and miraculously sort out the telephone, giving us connection to the internet.  But it didn't work like that.  Because, nowadays, you don't get a nice BT engineer.  Someone just switches a switch somewhere and then you have connection.  Which they did at 0730hrs, as we discovered at about 1430hrs.  And what switch where?  As I said, about 40 telephone points in this house.

I rang BT.  The woman who answered was in Bangladesh, of course.  Just plug the telephone into the socket, she said.  Yes, but you see, it was a business, this house, I explained.  There are at least 40 telephone points.  I don't know which one it is.  Just plug the telephone into the socket, she said.  If you are alert, reader, you may be wondering how I had this telephone call with no telephone.  You might wish you hadn't asked.  S had managed to get hold of me to tell me the line was up and running.  Which line?  Try looking outside and seeing where the lines go into the house.  (He is a genius.)  I ended up in the server room aka H's en suite.  And plugged the telephone into one of the sockets and got a dialling tone.  Eureka! But after another couple of hours, I still had no internet connection.

Just Plug the Telephone into the Socket
So, I was already pretty irritated when I rang BT.  The line you are calling on has been disconnected, she assured me, and that is why you can't get the internet.  But it evidently isn't disconnected because I am calling you on it.  Just plug the telephone into the socket, she said.  Yes, but you see, it was a business this house.  There are at least 40 telephone points.  We went on in this vein for some time.  I'm ashamed to say that, in the end, I put the telephone down on her and her annoying 'just plug the telephone into the socket'.  And began the task of plugging the telephone into the socket.  I finally found the right one.  In a cupboard in my mum's sitting room.  A stroke of luck as who would have thought of looking in there.  My delight at internet access dissipated my fury with BT.  But only slightly.  And now I had the internet at my finger tips, I couldn't be bothered to tell the Chief Exec exactly where he could plug his telephone.

Socket in Mum's Sitting Room Cupboard!
That evening, I took my mum to get her hearing aids.  (God bless the NHS for these evening appointments, by the way.)  Now we are all truly wired for sound!

P.S.  And another thing.  BT don't give you a 'new' number anymore.  It is a recycled one.  Which means that if you get Mr Moore's number and he has run up some serious debt, you get lots of nuisance telephone calls.  From Bangladesh.  But not BT this time.  We put up with it for a few weeks and then rang BT.  Just put the telephone in the socket...  No, seriously, the only thing they could offer was to change the number.  So, yet again, a new number, which we had to advise everyone of.  Well, one or two people and then I couldn't be bothered to do it all again.  And then we started to get nuisance calls again.  And we're on the telephone preference service.  So, I took a leaf out of my friend D's book and have started threatening anyone who rings without a prior appointment that I will report them to the Information Commissioner.  They probably don't know who the heck the Information Commissioner is in Bangladesh but, nevertheless, they seem to defer to authority and, for now, it is working.

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