Every family goes through some tough times. Those times that can either make you stronger, or split you apart. Those situations that bring out any simmering tensions long buried; almost forgotten. That usual polite suburban veneer begins to crack and peel, revealing hints of the horrors underneath. As a family, all you can really do is keep your collective heads down, strive together, and pray that you come out of it stronger than before.
The family of Oddbloke is just recovering from one of those times. It’s been really difficult for us: there’s been crying, anger, panic, and some open hostility. We’ve been crying out to God and the universe, as we try to come to terms with the great unfairness of it all.
It’s one of the worst things that can happen to a family, and a fortnight ago it happened to us: the Broadband died.
There was no warning. The night before it had been running happily, without a care in the world and everything to live for … but in the morning it was dead. A curious echo of the fate of my daughter’s hamster, a few days earlier. We had been stripped of one of the basic utilities that we have come to expect in a civilised western society (the broadband – not the hamster). Our sophisticated veneer fell away, revealing the savages beneath.
It hit us all hard, but in different ways.
My son felt it first. Deprived of the ability to watch morons play Minecraft on Youtube, he was presented with the terrifying prospect of looking up from his tablet and actually talking to his family. Fortunately he was able to “think outside of the box” and came-up with a less painful alternative – for the last fortnight he’s been staring at the wall, rocking back and forth, crying to himself quietly.
My daughter lost BBC iPlayer, which meant she had to watch her TV shows – you won’t believe this – as they were broadcast rather than whenever she felt like it. Suddenly the TV guide became incredibly important, and all her evening dance and music classes had to be checked carefully against broadcasts of The Great British Bakeoff, looking for clashes. It seems that she considered repeats and channels with “plus one” at the end of their names in much the same manner as I consider gramophones and air-raid shelters.
My wife is probably the only one who has been unable to do any serious work for the fortnight. Couldn’t do banking. Couldn’t do fostering reports. Online shopping was out, so we had to actually visit Tesco and queue with all the other pondlife. This always costs us a fortune, because any shopping trip that I attend seems to suffer from a larger amount of biscuits and cake ‘accidentally’ falling into the trolley. Though there was the small benefit that I didn’t have to suffer the overly-flirty Tesco delivery lady that normally does our street.
And me? Well, I had to suffer the frustration of Broadband Technical Support. But I’ll rant about that some other time.
It’s definitely a first-world problem. After all, lack of a permanent connection to the Internet should hardly be enough to devolve us to the level of primitives. We should be able to find other things to do during those times where we can’t access Facebook. I’m sure we have a jigsaw in the house somewhere.
But it seems that most things in our family life involve Broadband in some manner or another. For that fortnight, family life was hard.
The adjustments we had to make all felt curiously familiar. You know when you occasionally suffer a power cut? And you realise that all your “alternatives” that you could do instead of your main task actually also require power. Can’t watch that TV programme – oh, well, I’ll put the kettle on. Crap, can’t do that. I’ll play that console game that I bought last week. Oh, wait, can’t do that. I’ll read a book! Oh, wait, no lighting.
Eventually, all you’re left with is building a bonfire in the living room by breaking up and burning the sofa, and using the flickering light to read one of the few paper books you still have in the house because you haven’t charged the Kindle.
For me, losing Broadband was exactly like that – but rather than a permanent need for power, it was the permanent requirements of Google and Facebook.
When the hell did that happen? That fortnight made me realise that any time I became bored at home, or was waiting for my code to compile, or waiting for the kettle to boil, I’d be automatically visiting Facebook. I didn’t realise I was doing it! It had become muscle memory! I wonder how much more productive I’d be without it.
And when did I start relying on Google for any programming examples, rather than picking up a reference book? Coders of the world, understand this: we are only one StackOverflow server-crash away from complete anarchy!
Anyway, there is a happy ending to all this. I’d like to say that we’ve become closer as a family, and now we talk lots, and do board games, and bond as a family unit. But actually the happy ending is that we bought a new ADSL modem.
Which I had to buy from a shop like some sort of savage, rather than order from Amazon.