Monday, 26 October 2009

An All Round Challenging Week.

I am the first to admit I know little about computers. I left school age 15 in 1966 when the only computer I was really aware of was ERNIE, who failed to choose my Premium Bond number every month, and as far as I know has continued with that failure to this day. To my untrained eye, ERNIE was a collection of metal cabinets with huge reel to reel tapes in the top in a room the approximate size of a church hall, only cleaner and lighter. It seemed to be constantly monitored by men wearing spectacles and white coats with pockets full of pens carrying clipboards, looking quizzically at flashing lights and the bits of paper it spat out every now and then. I remember seeing a short film about it in the News Theatre at Waterloo station with my dad when I was about 8 years old, I remember wondering how they started it up and how they stopped it.

We didn't actually have electricity in our house until 1960, there was nothing in my childhood home that you switched on. the only thing that run on electricity was a huge valve radio which was powered from two heavy glass accumulator batteries which my mother used to carry to a garage once a week to be topped up with acid and recharged. We had gas light downstairs, candle light or a torch upstairs, no hot water so no bathroom, a huge sink and a small gas cooker in the scullery, a small range in the kitchen which ran on coal and had a tiny oven that made the finest rice pudding in the world, and a permanently boiling kettle on top. There was a fireplace in the front room, but we only really used that room at Christmas and new year and if the kitchen was being redecorated, which happened every two or three years. The rest of the house was unheated unless there was snow on the ground or my grandfather was having one of his turns, which I now know was actually malaria picked up during ww1 in Egypt or Galipoli, on these occasions there was a wonderfully smelly oil heater placed on the landing, just to keep the chill off.

You are probably wondering about the WC, it was behind a door reached by opening the backdoor and turning sharp right in a little porch area, so it wasn't strictly outside! But this little room had its very own tiny oil heater which was tucked at the back of the porcelain, and you are going to love this, underneath the bench seat (piece of wood with a hole in it!) which crossed the width of the room. It was a comfy, cozy pace to be in the depths of winter! Regarding plumbing, we had one tap over a huge stone sink in the scullery. So the gas pipes downstairs and the one water pipe that serviced the sink and the cistern in the WC, of necessity downstairs, was all the plumbing in the house, and of course no electricity so no wiring!

So what is this all about, what is it leading up to you will be asking yourself, well last week was fraught with difficulties all due to mechanical/technical difficulties and total breakdowns in all sorts of ways. Technical problems started early in the week when Sarah asked for some of the photographs she had seen going round on a screen saver, simple enough, her computer is not connected to the Internet or any other device in the house come to that, so memory stick in computer and 'which ones do you want Sarah?' we raid the photo library. Sarah gets bored and restless fairly quickly so we stop at about 30 pics. 'Shall we put them on your computer now Sarah?' is met with an affirmative so off we go. This job shouldn't take to long, but it did, over an hour with Sarah getting more and more agitated and not a little anti social. The perishing machine kept telling me the start up disk was full and I should throw out some files.

Throw out files!! I was close to throwing out the whole machine, but reason prevailed and it was decided there was probably just a problem with the OS which needed to be addressed, we have various fix it disks, one of them should sort out the problem, hadn't considered that it may make it worse of course, which it did, which resulted in screwdrivers and a gathering of all the bits and pieces of old, dead, dismantled and discarded Macs which were scattered around the house. But I am moving ahead, the jiggery pokery with computers did not start till Sunday.

Tuesday saw small disasters averted.. entered bathroom in time to take the flannel out of the basin which had the cold tap dribbling into it all morning and was about to overflow, this has happened before, it is not pleasant and results in water running down the walls and then if you are unlucky, water dripping from the centre light fitting, a definite worry!

Wednesday was the day the computer problems were identified, leaves blocked the drains outside, and the dishwasher only did a halfhearted job and was cleaned and had salt put in it and is still not quite right as I type.

Thursday saw the electricity go off, all of it. Unfortunately Thursday is the day Sarah stays home, so the wonderful and rare silence that falls after you hear the trip on the fuse box going was broken quite quickly by whining and complaining of husband and daughter. I assumed it was the fault of the kettle, which has also been behaving strangely for a few weeks now. No, it was worse that that, it was the oven. Dead. Nothing. Just a bloody clock telling me the wrong time. The rest of that day was spent trying not to think about ovens.

Friday was alright, thought I would see if there was any life in the oven, to my delight the fan and the light came on and the grill is working, and if I put the setting to grill and oven I have considerable heat in there, downside is I can't tell how hot it is as the little light that tells me when it's up to heat is definitely out and not about to come on again. But it is not unusable until I work out if I can afford to have it fixed, or attempt a bit of DIY. My iBook deciding it wanted nothing to do with the Internet was the worst thing that happened on Friday.

Saturday, was awful. Opened the post to find and invoice from council asking me for £300.00 for "non residential adult social care services 4 weekly invoice - please refer to payment scheme for details" This is the result of the councils "Fairer Charging Policy" Sarah receives Disability Living Allowance and income support, she has no savings and suddenly they want £75.00 a week from her on top of the £40.00 a month they get for respite care. I have to say I was very upset by this as it flies in the face of everything I was told was going to happen, I was expecting a monthly bill of no more than £25.00. Spent the rest of that day trying to work out what we could cut down on/get rid of/forget about etc. By the end of the day I decided that if they thought I was going to pay £300.00 a month they had another think coming and I would be getting militant and only paying what my calculations based on their own figures and guidance came to, which on closer scrutiny means very little indeed! I was in a 'See you in court' frame of mind!

Sunday was the day put aside for the computer marathon. Two little old iMacs, one even older PowerPC, one iBook with dead battery and a reluctance to connect to the Internet. Also one spare hard disk and a variety of RAM chips, a newer and very reliable G3 and a firewire... we can make this work! I won't go into all the gory details or the bad language or the amount of tea and coffee consumed or the desire for a cigarette, a thing I haven't craved for nearly 10 years, but we started at 11.00am, exposed the innards of appropriate machines, moved stuff about and put them together again. Various downloads and updates later by 11.00pm we had two working iMacs, one of which had been certified dead a couple of years ago so a little bonus we has not looked for, iBook still working if connected to the mains but minus a bit of RAM, PowerPC not much good for anything now, so we may have gained a little bit of space.

Almost a whole week of stuff going wrong. I forgot to mention the central heating which hasn't really worked properly since it was put in and is coughing and spluttering in an ominous way again. Yesterday was Monday, nothing went wrong, but had to spend a fretful couple of hours explaining to Sarah that some of the stuff on her computer would look a bit different, particularly iTunes, but she seems to be OK about it now.

You are probably wondering why was I going on about the house I grew up in and my computer ignorance at the beginning of this marathon blog? Well the whole week has bought to mind the simplicity of life in the 1950's. Leaves blocking the outside drains is the only thing that could have gone wrong in my home in the 50's. It was 1960 when my family finally got electricity, why we were so late getting it is another blog, but I think back to those pre electric days and find nothing wrong. I actually enjoy power cuts, I know I can live without it. We have come to be so dependent on it in the home that we arrange our lives around it and when things go wrong it seems like the end of the world. Of course we can't do without it now, we are all too tied in to the Internet, I don't know many people without a computer and I know we would be absolutely lost without ours. I suppose what I'm getting at is look at how far we have come... ERNIE in the 50's and those other huge machines in old black and white newsreels, to me and Bill prating about with bits and pieces of Macs on the kitchen table and making them work, I call that progress. My first job in 1966 was in a GPO telephone exchange on an old PBX horseshoe set up with dolls eyes and jack plugs and dials, in a time when you had to use an operator to make a call outside your area, pre STD, wires everywhere! I never imagined then that I would have a phone smaller than a packet of 20 Embassy king size, that can connect me to anywhere in the world, via the WWW. Actually, I still have a bit of difficulty with that concept.

The other bit of progress is Social Services, I do understand and agree with the Welsh Assembly Governments new Fairer Charging Policy, in the present financial downturn it needs to be put into practice, and believe me, if I had the money they could have it. But it is being administered by local councils whose mindset is still firmly in the 1950's and 1960's, and who's administrative skills are somewhat in doubt and can only be described as draconian. 'We are right, you are wrong.' is tattooed to the inside of their eyelids. I rang them this morning to find out why they were expecting me to pay so much for Sarah's social care and was told they had not looked at the assessment form I had sent them and they would ring me back towards the end of the week with an adjustment, but to hang on to the invoice for £300.00 in case it was correct. Until I hear differently I shall remain in a 'See you in court' frame of mind on that matter....

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