Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A blog free summer

One might think that the summer would be a good time for blogging. Long days, time to reflect in the sunshine and all that.

Bear in mind 2007 and it becomes clearer that the summer may not be all it promises. This year the disasters have been less all encompassing than being flooded but still disruptive in their own way.

The garage doors started it off – random openings being the main symptom - obvious attention seeking behaviour from some piece of electronic chippery. There is a lesson in there somewhere. Random and intermittent faults get much more attention than just failing altogether. A garage door that is stuck open or stuck shut can be got around but an intermittent fault requires a man in a van to come and gaze at it and look puzzled. The same is true of human behaviour I think. If you are obnoxious all the time folk think it is character and work around it. If, on the other hand you are erratic then they call men in white coats. Actually I think that’s a bit unfair to psychiatrists as I think they operate in plain clothes these days.

Of course all the other remote controlled, silicon based stuff that we have must have some way of spotting that the garage door is getting a lot of loving attention from strangers, at least that seems to me to be a reasonable explanation for the rash of copycat behaviour that has spread like a virus around here.

The sewer is the most disruptive. I should explain that we live out in the country. Rural. Not isolated – we can still get pizza delivered so we are not cut off from civilisation altogether. We are a long way from a main sewer and when I asked the local planning department if the sewer would ever get this far they just laughed. We have our own treatment plant, a massive plastic tank thing buried in the ground at the bottom of the garden. It does clever things; blowing bubbles through the sewage and passing it between different inner compartments in some cunningly programmed way. It is called activated sludge – a great name. The end result is clean water that can be discharged into the nearby stream with the approval of the local environmental health inspectors.

All this is controlled by a box full of electronics that sits on a concrete thing to keep it out of any future flood. Actually ever since the flood this box has been producing random faults – a little orange light comes on which means we have to call out another man in a van. Maybe the garage door caught the affliction from there.

It’s easy to see how the infection could spread to the gate. The thing is controlled off the same zapper thingy as the doors. Is there some sort of newsletter that goes around motorised gates I wonder? All it took was one tragic story in the media about some poor child being crushed by a gate and our gate start to malfunction. First it took to jamming open. And that needed a new set of wheels to fix it. Then we found that the safety devices had stopped working so if you happened to be in the way it would keep on closing until it had squashed you flat. With impeccable timing it adopted this new behaviour just before the weekend when we were expecting about 100 visitors.

More vans. In fact at one time we had the sewer van and the gate van here at the some time and I had to spend part of the day operating as car park attendant.

Eventually it was decided that there was a leak inside the depths of the sewer machine. I should remind you that this is a massive plastic thing about 15 feet deep buried in a lot of concrete sunk deep in the garden. Take the top off and what you see is dirty smelly water being stirred around. Hard to spot that some of the water is coming through a hole that should not be there. It had to be completely emptied out – this requires a big tanker as well as the man in the van to supervise. In the end a tanker a van and a range rover in order to get enough combined expertise on site and finally see that about six feet down there is a split in the plastic.

So we then enter a period when we have one of those plastic outdoor loos that you see at open air pop concerts. This adds a lot of entertainment to the week we have the grandchildren visiting.

The malfunctioning disease spreads. Next my IMAC starts to slow down to walking-in-treacle pace. That little spinning wheel you see when MACs are busy takes up residence almost permanently on my desktop. I phone Apple Care, actually I just phone Apple and they ask me for the serial number of my IMAC and it turns out that I bought Apple Care when I got it and there are three weeks left on the contract. Astonishing, my luck is changing, normally they would be telling me that it ran out three weeks ago – even my bad luck is malfunctioning.

Each thing they suggest to do takes an hour or so before it fails to work and I phone them back. Over the course of the day I talk to four different friendly helpful advisors and by the end I have completely wiped the hard disc and we have come to the conclusion that it needs replacing. I end the day driving forty miles to the nearest dealer and leaving the machine there for four days.

When I get it back everything seems to be working, apart from having to reinstall all my software and files which are supposedly sitting on a thing called a time machine. A neat, sleek, Apple white plastic box with a terabyte of so capacity which is supposed to have everything backed up on it. I did actually take a sneak look at it using my laptop before I wiped the old hard disc and everything did seem to be there.

I set it going and hold my breath for the next 46 hours while it transfers files. Yes it really did take that long. There were nine hours at the beginning before it even guessed how long it might take.

It all worked and now the machine is running. The sewer isn’t fixed yet but the little plastic cabin outside is doing OK and the man who comes to empty it once a week is very friendly and helpful. We have survived the grandchildren visiting without any catastrophe. One had a stomach upset, with rather more use of the plastic cabin as part of the impact, but at least she caught it before she got to us.

The insurance company have passed the matter to a specialist company who decided that it was too complicated for them and passed it to someone else. They in turn passed it to someone else but the third company have sent a man to look at it and he turned up on Saturday.

Enough, enough I hear you say, but at least anyone who cares to read this far knows why I haven’t been blogging.