The Plastic Hippo

December 9, 2012

`Twas on a Monday morning

Filed under: Literature,Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 7:12 pm

Image via
Image via

There are some weeks that are best forgotten. Forget slings and arrows, when sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions. The central heating boiler stopped working.

On an unusually cold Saturday morning, the usual descent toward the kitchen for toast and coffee was interrupted by the adolescent braying of the Neanderthal that shares this household. “Dad, the computer`s not working.” The tone of voice and rising inflection, mercifully different to the usual monosyllabic grunt, suggested that this was some sort of instruction rather than a sharing of information. Sitting in my tasteful office chair that swivels and everything, sitting at my computer, this barbarian made in my image demanded that I fix it in order for him to continue playing something called Minecraft.

Trouble is, the only experience of data retrieval enjoyed by this simple Luddite was the removal of a table top Space Invader machine from a hotel bar on a notoriously debauched tour of the West Country in the early 80`s. Fear not, no felony was committed. We were simply taking it upstairs to one of our rooms to continue playing and we left a note telling the staff where it was. The duty manager, however, seeing four young men struggling upwards with the Taito Corporation`s finest, feared the worst. Checking our occupations on the hotel register, he seemed convinced that we were about to hurl Tomohiro Nishikoda`s greatest achievement out of the window. He seemed disappointed when we put it back in the morning. Not a lot went on in Exeter back then.

Since then, the digital revolution has stood still inside this feeble imagination. It is difficult enough to comprehend the fact that bicycles, cash points, speed dial, zero alcohol beer and aeroplanes actually work at all without busting the cerebral cortex trying to work out how they work. A tradesperson would have to be summoned to educate the errant depository of binary code in the error of its ways. “Duz that mean I can`t check ma Faycebooork?” howled one anguished teenager who had appeared with her face covered in war paint reminiscent of a Papua New Guinea tribesman. The bad news was greeted with a reaction usually reserved for the death of a monarch and she fled, gibbering like some exfoliating Ophelia.

When finally the fifth whizz-kid new media entrepreneur bothered to pick up the phone on a Saturday morning, it became clear that nothing could be done until Monday morning and so a visit was arranged. Toast and coffee would not suffice and so a full English ensued corrupted only by the introduction of Hash Browns. Then, one of the bloody stupid cats appeared from the garden and presented himself at the family brunch table. The children screamed due to the fact that the idiot feline was sporting a vivid red, two inch long, one inch wide open wound above the left eye which was, as they say, down to the bone. If the creature processed any brains in the first place, some were now surely missing. Emergency veterinary physicians were contacted and the next two hours were spent trying to bundle the bugger into a cardboard box including a ridiculous mime show worthy of Marcel Marceau entitled “getting a box with a mind of its own into a car”. At the vets, when asked for the name of the cat, the response “Schrodinger” resulted in a blank look and a kick on the shins from a distressed child.

The cost of fixing the cat means the cancellation of Christmas Eve but endless amusement can be had by watching this creature attempting to appear superior whilst wearing an inverted “His Masters Voice” funnel around his neck. That`ll teach him not to fight. Sunday was a better day with a lovely walk to the Park Lime Pits and back via The Dilke as the pot roast simmered at the homestead. As usual on a Sunday, when the meal has settled and darkness has fallen, grubby urchins are forced into the shower or bath in preparation for another exhilarating day of first class education in Walsall. Perhaps the best fatherly advice that can be offered to a huge Neanderthal adolescent desperate to impress girls and struggling with Minecraft cold turkey would be to suggest that screaming like a girl because the shower is running cold is not the best way to attract a fair lady. Ophelia reappeared dressed, for some strange reason, as Lady Ga Ga. “Dad, my radiators not working.” The tone of voice and rising inflection, mercifully different to the usual high-pitched babble, suggested that this was some sort of instruction rather than a sharing of information. There was something rotten in the state of the central heating boiler.

Fortunately, we had taken out insurance against such catastrophe and so `twas on a Monday morning that the gas supply company was called. Navigating the key pad options and finally getting to a ring tone which offered the potential to actually engage a fellow human being in conversation allowed plenty of time to welcome the computer person, explain the computer problem and make him a cup of tea. He set to work and all the time Vivaldi entertained interspersed with a recorded message confirming that the call was important to the gas supplier. The computer needed to go to the vets, the wounded cat could not fit his funnel through the cat flap and a gas engineer would call between ten and six on Tuesday.

`Twas on a Tuesday morning that not very much happened. By the time the kids arrived home, the option of burning the furniture to keep warm was becoming more attractive. Then, at just after four, a telephone call confirmed the imminent arrival of a heating God. He was very nice and reset the boiler suggesting that the problem was either plumbing related or electrical and therefore out of his jurisdiction. After signing the paperwork, he offered advice suggesting that unless the plumbing and electrics were fixed, then the boiler insurance would be void.

`Twas on the Wednesday morning that the heating system failed.

After another half hour of listening to Vivaldi, the very nice call centre operator assured us that an engineer would attend before six. At five another call centre operator called to explain that due to demand, the engineer was running late so it might be a little after six. She then asked how payment would be made. Explaining that call-outs and any repairs were covered by insurance and so no charge was applicable, the friendly tone turned as frosty as the kitchen. She checked and said the engineer would be with us sometime between ten and six the following day. It is good to know that the suppliers of gas and associated appliances are able to employ a flexible approach to demand and are able to prioritise tasks based on income. The sarcasm of thanking the operator for her time, patience and understanding seemed lost on her and the temptation to scream “thieving bastards” down the telephone was mercifully avoided.

`Twas on the Thursday evening that the gas man came to call and the boiler was again reset. It transpires that there is a faulty part in the boiler that will need replacing. Not having the part with him, the engineer suggested that we wait until it fails again and then call the helpline. As the part is not covered by the warranty, his advice was that it might be best to replace the entire boiler. Looks like Christmas Day is cancelled too.

On Friday, the computer came home. The hard drive had given up the ghost and was last seen wandering the battlements of Elsinore. The cost of its replacement and the transfer of data has led to the cancellation of Boxing Day. Alas, poor hard drive, I knew him, dear reader; a fellow of infinite jest.

Someone, somewhere, is having a laugh. At least Minecraft is working again.



  1. Bad luck old chap, but a marvellous writeup.

    Comment by stymaster — December 10, 2012 @ 9:07 pm | Reply

  2. A gem of an article.

    In case readers have not spotted the reference, I commend The Best of Swanders and Flan as a Christmas present

    It deserves a much wider audience, as do you.

    The Realist

    Comment by The Realist — December 11, 2012 @ 12:34 pm | Reply

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