Alone in its dark little cupboard, with ne’er a bang nor a whimper, suddenly it died. I was checking out possible forefathers on ancestry.com at the time, so perhaps it gave up the ghost in sympathy. I don’t know, but I’m not aware of any obvious reason why all at once the message “YOU ARE NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET” should flash up onto my screen. Whatever the cause, my router was no longer responsive.
I went through the usual routine of switching off and on again, disconnecting and reconnecting all the cables and finally giving it a thump, but all my CPR was in vain. I called the telephone helpline and a very polite gentleman called Trevor with a Caribbean accent took me through a catalogue of actions which all availed nought.
“I am very sorry ma’am,” he finally admitted, “but I can’t find an online solution. I’ll arrange for an engineer to call and see what the problem is. Goodbye, ma’am.” This all happened Tuesday evening, last week, around 9 pm. The engineer (have you noticed? They are no longer technicians, all engineers) will call sometime on Monday morning – or maybe Monday afternoon. My helpline guru warned me that if the problem was not a technical one, I would have to pay a large fee, but that is not an issue: I need wifi! It’s scary how desperately I need wifi. But – wait until MONDAY??? Six days???
“Very sorry ma’am. I wish you a very good evening, ma’am.”
Oh yes. If I hadn’t already noticed, this was evidence that I’m back in Bllghty! Just for a visit, as my mother’s condition has been deteriorating and I need to be on hand. Of course, I have spent most of the past year back home in Switzerland, and have quickly become accustomed once more to systems that work. If something goes wrong, an expert appears on my doorstep as soon as summoned, like a genie from a bottle, and fixes it. Swiss call-out charges are high, but prompt service is worth paying for. I had forgotten that “EFF–I-Ci-EN-CY” is no longer a current term in the English language. Is “Blighty” derived from “Blight”?
Meanwhile, this huge jolt makes me very much aware of how much I need my broadband. No Internet. Not only no ancestry.com and no Google allowing me to look things up or catch up on current events, but also no e-mails, no social media, no Skype or FaceTime, no WhatsApp, no Siri: oh dear, how isolated I feel! How can I communicate with people?
Er, ahem! Look, there’s the phone! Oh yes! Good old-fashioned phone! I have both a landline and an iPhone, so surely I’m not so cut off from civilisation. Ah, but most of the people I want to talk to are abroad and if I use the phone for international calls, it’s going to be expensive. Can I claim compensation from the phone company for these wifi-less days, the inconvenience and the extra costs incurred due to having to use the landline?
Of course, the scariest thing about all this is the realisation that I have become so dependent on wifi. Not so many years ago, whenever I was in England, I was quite happy to take a five-minute walk once a week to the public library and use their PC for an hour. That was more than sufficient, and occasionally they would print stuff out for me, too. Now I’m running around like a headless chicken with my iPad, looking for a hot-spot so that I can download my e-mails, many of which will be junk. But I need to see them, need to know who is trying to reach me, and reply instantly. Don’t I?
What a long way we have come from my childhood and youth, when hardly anyone I knew had a phone, and we wrote letters, real letters that we took to the pillar box, to be delivered the same day if the addressee was local, or by the next day if further afield. We ordered our lives, made plans in advance, scheduled our activities, arranged meeting places and times, and it all seemed to work smoothly. The whole pace of life was more leisurely and predictable. Did our hearts beat more slowly? Were there really more hours in the day, more days in the week, more weeks in the year? Is the world really more chaotic nowadays? Or is that simply a common illusion as we grow older?
A voice-mail message from Trevor on Friday advised me that the problem was outside my home, and the ingenious were going to fix it. (Ingenious? Engineers in Caribbean pronunciation, I realised as I listened to the message for the third time. I like that, and will henceforth adopt that pronunciation.) So I didn’t have to hang around all day waiting for the ingenious to call. Or the genies to leave their bottle, come to that.
When I still had no signal by last Tuesday, a week after it disappeared, I called the helpline once more. A soft American voice this time, a man called Lee. He put me through to the technical helpdesk – a competent-sounding lady who identified herself as Chanu, with a pretty Madame Butterfly accent and I felt very guilty at having constantly to ask her to repeat herself. She informed me that the external fault had been rectified and it was therefore, after all, my hub that was defective. She generously offered to send me a new one, free of charge. It would come by post and should be here by the end of the week.
Does the fact that I am on first-name terms with half the helpline staff make it any easier to bear? Am I supposed to think that, because we are now good pals, they are pulling out all the stops to get me reconnected? I’m not that naïve. One thing is in their favour, though: none of them appear to be European, so even with Brexit their jobs appear safe. And maybe they will eventually all learn to speak English intelligibly.
My eldest granddaughter arrived with two of her brood of four on Tuesday evening. I lamented the loss of the wifi to her, and she looked at my router. No power. She pressed the button on the side, and hey presto! Everything worked!
The new router arrived on Wednesday afternoon.