Friday, 24 August 2018

Technology Backfire

I've been in England for three and a half weeks, getting back on Tuesday night. I was welcomed home with the reminder that the apocalypse will come about not because of zombies or nuclear war, but because of a software crash.

The run up to the trip was pretty busy as our downstairs ceiling and upstairs carpet needed replacing due to water damage. This would be a messy process and most of our belongings would need to be packed up and removed, so the builders were scheduling it for when we were away.

England was fantastic, but Tuesday was long. We had a 5am UK start which became 3am in my case, as my brain had one of those hyper-aware-the-alarm-will-be-going-off-in-less-than-two-hours moments. By the time I landed on US soil, it took me three tries to get the right answer to immigration's question: "What city have you come from today?". My sister-in-law collected us from the airport and dropped us off on our drive at 11:30pm US time—i.e 4:30am UK time.

My husband had checked on the house earlier that day, so he had warned me that while the furniture was back, most of our stuff was still boxed up. Still, he had been able to make up the beds for us, so I was comfortable in the knowledge that for tonight all we had to do was fall into bed.

STAGE 1: The Lock.

Between the builders and the catsitter, I didn't have a front door key for myself, but this wasn't unusual. Before our separation, my husband had fitted the front door with a smart lock, so I had got into the habit of opening the door with my watch. In fact, I hadn't bothered to take any keys to the UK with me. As we lugged our cases up the front steps, I tapped the green unlock circle on my watch... and nothing happened.

As it can sometimes be slow to find the connection, I didn't panic for a good two minutes. And then my first thought was to get hold of my husband who could unlock the door remotely via an app—failing that, he's the father of my children, so I could justifiably ask him to drive over in the middle of the night. Except, of course, like most sensible people who have work next day, he was asleep and I couldn't raise him.

I really began to panic at this point because I didn't have many options. The kids were busy waving at our cat, Meg, who was peering through the glass door at us with great interest, but that didn't help my state of mind. A lockbox on the doorknob contained the key for the builders, but this was useless as I didn't know the code and the builder wasn't awake to ask. I knew my sister-in-law would still be awake, but I also knew she didn't have a key because she had given hers to my friend who had cat-sat for part of the time.

This train of thought finally reminded my addled brain that said friend lives on the same street as we do, so I sent a desperate: "Are you awake?" message while trying to figure out what our sleeping options were if she wasn't.

My friend was awake, but she was just heading to bed and almost ignored the message on the assumption it would be just an "Arrived back! Thanks for looking after the cats!" note. Luckily, modern dependence on social media prevailed, she read it, and we hastily arranged a key transfer.

So it was that the kids and I went running up our street at midnight, which is not something I'd ever consider advisable—our neighbourhood has Character, and every now and then there are Incidents. Luckily, it was not a night for our street to make a bid for the local news, and we got to my friend's house in safety, collected the key and returned. (Our cat was now sat in the window watching us with even greater interest and considerable confusion.)

Triumphantly, I turned the key in the lock and let us into the house at last. And, of course, the alarm immediately started beeping.

STAGE 2: The Alarm

Back in the late 90s, we used to have to punch in the alarm code manually every time we wanted to set it or turn it off. These days, we just push a button on a key fob. Actually, these days, we can use an app on our Smartphones, but I confess I've never signed into that app. It's easier to get out the keys than the phone.

Except when the keys have been packed into one of dozens of boxes standing around my living room.

Of course, I still can punch in the code manually... except I realised years ago that I couldn't remember the exact sequence of buttons required, and I never followed that up with our alarm provider because I always used my keys.

On Tuesday night, the keys weren't an option, and it quickly turned out that punching the code manually wasn't going to be an option either. I failed to switch the alarm off in time, and klaxons started blaring at us. I closed the front door, prayed none of the neighbours were being woken up and waited for the alarm provider to call us. I would tell them the password, they would switch off the alarm and we could go to bed.

One problem with that: the phone was in a box somewhere. The alarm provider didn't have the number for my new mobile; they did have my husband's number, but I knew he wasn't hearing his phone anyway. I was going to have to wait until the police showed up to investigate a breaking and entering.

And wait I did. After about fifteen minutes, the alarm suddenly stopped. I had no idea why... there was still no sign of the police. Perhaps the alarm company had managed to reach my husband after all? At any rate, I was in no mood to question the efficacy of this emergency response, so I turned all the lights out downstairs and hustled the kids into bed.

As I crossed the hall into my own bedroom, I saw lights outside and looked out of the window to see a young policeman with a torch (flashlight) coming up the stairs to the front door. In the next moment, I realised that if I opened the door to him, the alarm was going to go off again.

Hastily, I ran downstairs and pressed my face up against the glass panels of the door. I had neglected to turn on any lights, so I succeeded in scaring the crap out of this poor cop and should probably be thankful he wasn't holding a gun. Through the glass, I yelled that I couldn't open the door because the alarm would sound. He was unimpressed by my reasoning: "Yeah, I'm going to have to ask you to open the door."

I called a warning up to the kids that it was about to get loud again and complied. Thankfully, the alarm had now been changed to a more muted complaint, but that was the accompaniment to my truthful yet highly implausible explanation to the policeman. (My sister-in-law later observed that telling him we were squatters and promising to be gone the next day would probably have been easier.)

Thankfully, I am a petite, white woman (the British accent probably helps as well), and white privilege very much came through. He never even asked to see my ID... just said he would have to go and fill out some paperwork. Doing that took some time, so the alarm stopped and I had to trigger it again when he came back to drop off my copy of the report. And then I had to wait for it to stop again before I could get to sleep. But that was, finally, the last barrier between me and my bed.

I now have a key to the front door again and my key-fob for the alarm. It must be noted that I still haven't called my alarm provider about how to turn off the alarm manually, but that is on the to-do list. I'll get round to it. Sometime. Definitely.

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