Behind the candelabra: Power cut sends Britain’s boxes back to the '70s

Resetting [beep] devices [beep] after the [beep] leccy was [beep] lost

Something for the Weekend, Sir? “Would you like to watch a film with me tonight?” Although the timing seems good – it has just gone 8pm – the offer is extraordinary. You see, in the busy Dabbs household, each member of the family works to his or her own barely compatible calendar and so it is mandatory to book in advance before any interaction can take place between husband and wife. And I do mean any. Yet here I am, on the spur of the moment, deciding to watch a film I recorded on the telly and inviting my spouse to watch it at the same time.

Amazingly, she is free and willing and I’m thinking maybe I should have suggested something more interesting to do with my hands for the next two hours than fiddle around with a SkyHD+ remote. But before we even get a chance to sit down – together! in the same room! at the same time! – we are plunged into darkness.

You can guess a person’s age and background by their response to a domestic power cut. If he shouts “What the hell?” then he is definitely a townie and aged under 30. For people like me, heading towards the big Hawaii, my response is to hunt irrationally for candles that I know we don’t have while the image of rubbery chocolate mousse in little moulded plastic tubs pops into mind. Growing up in Britain in the 1970s does this to you.

Not having grown up in Britain and not being a townie, Mrs Dabbsy trots off to find a torch. Good, I say to myself, we can use that to find the candles.

My son, on the other hand, demonstrates that he is under 20 by barely noticing the power cut at all. Despite the whole street being blacked out, he is sitting in front of his laptop, which of course is still running, so nothing much seems to have changed. He eventually saunters into the kitchen, while I’m using the torch to look in the fridge in the unlikely expectation of discovering some chocolate mousse, to announce that his bedside lamp doesn’t seem to be working.

I consider calling my electricity supplier but can’t because none of the basestations are working. By the time I locate my mobile, I reason, someone else will have called them already.

The real fun starts five minutes later when power is restored, accompanied by a cacophony of bleeps and whirring all over the house. Both desktop computers restart automatically, which I make a note of – I don’t want them to do this in future – while the NAS box does, as expected, which is a relief. Net access is back within 60 seconds. The phones wake up. The boiler system sorts itself out. I know that even the Sky box will be ready to play the film after five minutes of clicking and buzzing followed by another five minutes of pretending not to work.

Reluctantly, I drag myself back to the kitchen, where it is my masculine task to reset the clocks on the microwave and convection oven, the only two utterly dimwit devices in the house. No auto reset for them, oh no, all you have to do is pull the wrong plug or flick the wrong switch on the wall for a split second and it’s right back to the old-school blinking ‘12:00’.

Neither device has a meaningful user interface for setting the time, either, so I’m faced with ten minutes of experimentation or ten minutes looking around the house for the instruction leaflets. Perhaps it’s me: I once spent so long trying to update my digital watch to show European time that the flight attendant had to ask me to leave the plane.

I got the power. Not

Worse, both devices require multiple button presses, each producing an unnecessarily loud beep that resonates against the back of my skull, and I keep getting it wrong so have to start again. Beep, beep, beep. Over and over. Beep, beep. Aargh I’m going mad. Beep, beep, beep, beep. Shut uuuuuup. Beep, beep, beep.

The microwave bears the name Daewoo and it passes through my mind that the device might well have been designed by a certain Mr Woo and at this particular moment I wish he would die.

Eventually, I persuade the microwave to accept the time. It’s all down to getting the sequence right: press ‘Clock’, press some other button whose label has long ago worn away, simultaneously press ‘Start’ and ‘Stop’, await the Moon to reach the seventh house, allow Jupiter to align with Mars, press in the time backwards and there you go. Except ten minutes have lapsed while I’ve been doing this and so all I’ve successfully managed to do is enter the time from ten minutes in the past and now I have to update it. Beep, beep, beep, frigging beep, and so it goes on.

Don’t even get me started on the convection oven. It beeps when you press buttons but also beeps as it heats up, it beeps as it cools down and even beeps in multiples when you turn a dial. I suspect it simply enjoys beeping. Maybe when we go out of the house and no one else is around, it beeps contentedly to itself. It’s a Samsung and really ought to know better.

Of course, resetting these devices is simplicity itself compared with the dipshit Weather Station that I foolishly purchased on a whim a couple of years ago while buying bits of cabling at Maplins. Nothing marks a man as middle aged quite so obviously as buying a Weather Station: it’s a natural progression after the motorbike purchased during the mid-life crisis. For a man, a Weather Station represents an admission of defeat.

Anyway, this stupid little bugger is covered with little control buttons, most of which are inaccessibly located on the rear and cryptically labelled along the lines of ‘Unit’, ‘A1/A2’, ‘T2’ - there’s no ‘T1’ anywhere - and ‘UP’. It permanently indicates that it is raining, despite all evidence to the contrary outdoors, and thinks it is some time in the afternoon of 14 June 2020. Indeed, it always will because I have never been able to fathom the settings despite closely following the concise instructions that have been written in perfectly good Chinglish. And even if I could, the piercing ‘cheep!’ sound it emits with every press is loud and annoying enough to get neighbours knocking on your door to ask if you need any help stamping on it.

I am tempted to take out the batteries and leave the unit in the middle of the back lawn so it can experience the weather for itself. That’ll teach it, the bastard.

Surely devising a simple way of setting the bloody time on a digital device isn’t rocket science – except for one in the cockpit of a rocket, in which case I suppose it is. Better still, it should work out what the time is by itself. As no doubt his headmaster used to say, I wish Mr Woo would try a bit harder. Can you hear me, doctor? ®

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. You may be wondering what film he wanted to watch with his wife when the house was suddenly plunged into utter darkness. Aptly enough, it was Night of the Living Dead. Right between the eyes, eh?

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