Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Communication – get me a phone!

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington and James Becker)

To begin with, I must apologise for the long delay since my last contribution to this blog. There are two reasons for this. First, I got embroiled in a new writing project, details of which for the moment will have to remain confidential, though I will reveal all, as they say, as soon as I'm able. This necessitated writing just under 100,000 words in a month, which you don't need to be a mathematical genius to realise works out at over 3,000 words a day, every day. So I was starting at about nine in the morning, and usually stopping at about ten or eleven at night. To complicate things, the project also required quite a lot of research, which obviously slowed down my output. While this was going on, I simply didn't have the leisure to write anything else.

The second reason is practical. I live most of the year in Andorra in the Pyrenees, in a small house loosely attached to the side of a mountain, and early in February we were blessed with not one but two water leaks. Luckily, our tame – or at least house-trained – builder was already working in the house down in the garage, and immediately swung into action to try to find them. He deduced that water was coming down the underside of the internal staircase, which is made of concrete, and set about the lowest step with a jackhammer. Examination of the hole he’d dug suggested the leak was coming from further up, so he then attacked the second step. It will probably come as no particular surprise to learn that the leak was actually under the top step, which he discovered when every other step in the staircase had had a large channel carved out of its middle. This assault on our property sound much like the outbreak of a war, with the machine gun-like hammering of the jackhammer, and was doing nothing at all for my concentration as I attempted to get some work done.

We have another house in France, and after about five hours of this, we decided that it would be a really, really good idea if we just slung the dog in the back of the car and headed north, leaving the builder to fix the leak, which he'd now found, and then return the staircase to a structure that we would no longer need crampons and ice axes to climb up or down.

So we went to France. We have a house in a mediaeval village in the southern Dordogne. In fact, it's a good conversation stopper to say that we bought Credit Agricol, but it's actually true, although only a building which they had just vacated. The communication problem referred to in the title is, not to put too fine a point on it, France Telecom. If you think BT is bad, and it undeniably is, France Telecom is in a league of its own. Last year, our next door neighbour sold his house and bought another one at the end of the same street, a distance of about ninety yards. Both houses had telephone lines physically installed, and all he wanted to do was move his original number from his original house and transfer it to the new property.

This, you might expect, would involve throwing some kind of electronic switch in an exchange somewhere, an operation that might take perhaps two or three seconds. Even allowing for the inevitable form filling, head scratching and other activities inseparable from work of this kind, you might think a week would be adequate. In fact, it took France Telecom just over two months to complete this operation and, to add a typically French insult to injury, for the second month they rang my neighbour on a regular basis, but always, significantly, on his mobile phone, to ask if the landline was functioning correctly. His replies became noticeably shorter and lacking in warmth towards the end of this period.

The bank which we bought was well supplied with landlines. There were phone points in virtually every room, and multiple lines entering the building. When we enquired informally about the possibility of having just one of these existing lines connected to a telephone handset inside and the local exchange outside, there was a certain amount of sucking of teeth and even more head scratching, and eventually a timescale of six to eight months was suggested as being reasonable. It may have seemed reasonable to France Telecom, but it didn't strike us that way. So we ditched that idea and bought a mobile.

And all that, I suppose, is really just a roundabout way of saying that, because I didn't have access to the Internet, except by nipping round to a friend's house and borrowing a bit of his wireless network for a while, which was hardly ideal, even if I had found the time to write anything for the blog, I wouldn't have been able to send it.

But now I'm back, as Arnie might reasonably have said, and hopefully you'll be able to find me here every week from now on until Matt finally decides to shoot me! And next time, I’ll try and think of something interesting about writing, rather than builders and the French phone service non-providers.

No comments:

Post a Comment