Disconnected (everything is a bit shit…)

I would apologise for the sweary title but I’m afraid I’m not going to. If you’ve read any of my books you probably don’t have a problem with swearing, and if swearing offends you, you obviously won’t read this post. It makes me laugh when people say swear words show a lack of vocabulary. That is missing the point entirely. Swear words exist for impact. An ‘oh dear’ is just not going to cut it sometimes. A ‘damn’ or a ‘for goodness sake’ is just not going to help. Have you seen the world lately? I rest my case. It’s not just bad, unfortunate, problematic or sad… it’s shit. Very, shit. With that out of the way this is a post about our recent long break from power and WiFi…

On the day Storm Eunice was due to hit I made all the necessary preparations. I made sure everything was secure in the garden, moved anything that might get knocked over and tied things down. Inside the house I charged up our phones, laptops and our battery pack. I made sure we had wood for the log-burner and dug out our supply of candles. We knew, living here, that we would get a power cut. And we did. Before it even got really windy, our power went out on Friday morning.

Image by khaase from Pixabay

We expected maybe a 24 hour cut, maybe something a little longer as the storm continue to batter the country, quickly followed by two more, but we ended up without power for 5 full days. Most of the village was affected and by day 4 the Salvation Army had set up a tent in the area to provide people with hot food and drink.

We were more fortunate than others as we have a gas oven so could boil pans of water for hot drinks and were still able to cook our food. Plus we had the log burner to keep warm. It was half-term though so the kids were home from school and were definitely struggling by day 5 without the technology they have got so used to.

The hardest part for me was the lack of light. Workwise I didn’t have any clubs that week anyway. I couldn’t market my books, blog or do anything much on social media unless I paid for more phone data. I kept myself busy by starting to write a new book. I have a few ongoing WIPS but they are all on the laptop so I had to start something new and it really kept me sane. I picked up a notebook where I had ideas, character bios and a map for a future story and just started writing it. It soon became an addiction and I’ve almost written half a book now! I felt I was better able to cope than the kids as I am old enough to remember the world without social media, phones and Netflix. I read and I wrote a lot but that got hard after dark. It doesn’t matter how many battery operated fairy lights you string up or how many candles you light, you still can’t see well. I ended up writing with fairy lights around my shoulders to light up my page!

We got by by playing a lot of The Walking Dead monopoly, and by listening to the radio. They were both life-savers, as was the power pack that charged our phones up a few more times before it died. The frustrating thing was the lack of action getting us connected. We could see that a tree had split on the bridge near our house and all the cables for internet and power were dangling in the river, but days went by before anyone arrived to assess it. We had no communication from the power companies either so we had no way of knowing when it would be fixed. By day 5 I really had had enough and when it came back on, we all jumped for joy. Then we realised that fixing the internet was another whole problem…

We ended up having 2 weeks without the internet. Lots of neighbours were back on but three of us were affected by the cables in the river and nothing seemed to get done about it. It was tough because all the kids have homework set online these days and my daughter is in the final stint of her A-Levels so was getting stressed about lack of access. They had to go to other people’s houses to work and I even spent one morning at a neighbours house catching up on emails, banking and so on. I also had to cancel my Zoom clubs for that week. A lot of us in the area were appalled by the lack of communication and action from the companies involved. It’s very complicated to even work out what company owns what lines or what bit of pavement. One company kept telling us there was a not a fault, even though we had no power, and this was apparently because another company had not told them there was a fault. They blamed each other and we couldn’t seem to get anywhere! See? Shit! And just try getting through to a human on the phone… It doesn’t matter what or who you are phoning these days, you’ve got to be on hold for at least 20 minutes and then talk to automated voices. The whole thing was incredibly frustrating and cost us a lot of money.

During that time I felt so disconnected from the rest of the world. We have become so used to having the world and any information we require at our fingertips, the answer to any question within our phone, any movie or TV show or song right there whenever we want one. The radio really was a blessing – being able to listen to the news, as horrible and heartbreaking as it was, made us feel a bit more connected. It also made us feel fortunate. We might have had some time without power and WiFi but we were safe in our homes, with food, with jobs and cars, with each other, and without the fear of being invaded or bombed.

All I can say right now, is what a world! It just seems to go from bad to worse… Everything feels so fragile. The cost of living crisis, the spiralling costs of fuel and gas and food. We are grateful for so much but we are also reminded that nothing is easy anymore. In fact, everything feels a bit shit. Just as we were figuring out how to cut back more, stretch things over to meet the rising costs of petrol and heating, our landlords decided to put our rent up by almost £300 a month. We are currently trying to negotiate this and come up with a way to cover it. It just seems like pure greed. At a time like this, you would hope people would be kind but it seems many just want to be sure their own incomes are not affected. We are looking at options to move but that is not easy as the kids are all settled in schools/college etc and there is nothing else we can afford locally. I just keep thinking, there has to be an answer somewhere. There has to be some hope…

When I was offline I didn’t miss my phone that much. I felt like I was getting a break from the onslaught of bad news and negativity. To some extent, it was nice not knowing what was going on out there. I also realised just how much time I waste scrolling through my phone. Okay, I do use my phone for work related stuff, for making graphics for my books and for emailing parents for my clubs and so on, but I am also guilty of mindlessly scrolling down my news feed on Facebook or Google. It’s a sort of addiction, I suppose. Once you start rolling its hard to stop, hard to know how to break free.

Without WiFi, I realised how much I ‘check’ my phone. I kept picking it up and looking at it, only to remember there was nothing to look at. I honestly did this so often! And with that out of the equation I got so much more writing done.

The book I started writing (Black Hare Valley – more on that another day!) became my Netflix replacement. I wrote in it whenever I could during the day but the fun part was taking it up to bed with me and writing it when I would normally be watching Netflix. Now that I have Netflix back, I’m not sure I want it. They too have just announced another price hike. Maybe that is the next thing to cut back on. As we pay our TV licence, we can watch via apps on our phones, such as BBC iplayer, My5 and All4. We are also both trying to get more work to cover the rent increase, which makes me feel quite resentful. We won’t see the benefit of the extra work and stress – it will just go in the landlord’s pocket.

Everything is a bit shit. There is just no escaping it. Maybe we are heading to some kind of tipping point. Sometimes I think that things have to get much worse before they can get better. Eventually, something has to give. So many people are suffering at the moment while the rich just get richer. I think we need a big fundamental change. We need a fairer society, that’s for sure. At the moment, its the people with the least money who are taking the hardest hits, and that cannot be fair.

Feeling disconnected was a good thing and a bad. I got a break from the troubles of this world and I got to escape to a world of my own creation. I wish I could do that for good.

Tech Free Day

Last Saturday Storm Arwen battered most of the UK and although we escaped any damage to the house or garden, we did suffer the inevitable power cut. They are fairly common where we live so to wake up to no power was not much of a surprise. Usually they are pretty quick to fix but this one lasted 24 hours, which I think might be the longest we have ever gone without electricity and technology as a family.

At first, we didn’t panic. Well, I didn’t. Updates suggested we would be back on again by noon, so we got on with our usual Saturday. We then realised that none of the kids could do their weekend homework as these days it is all online. My 17 year old had a bit of a meltdown as she is in the final year of A-Levels and has a lot of coursework due in next week. She had planned to get stuck into it over the weekend and the thought of losing an entire day really upset her.

Aside from that and the gnawing guilt that there was nothing I could do to help her, we plodded on, fully expecting it to be back on for dinner time and our usual Saturday night movie night. We have a few traditions on Saturdays which have evolved due to the fact that we only have one car – which means all week I drive everyone everywhere and pick them all back up again. At the weekend I do not want to drive at all, and as husband usually works Saturdays, he gets the car and I get a break from it. This does leave us a bit stranded at home, but it is beautiful here with plenty to do and we never get bored on a Saturday. We usually have a to-do list of household chores, homework, gardening jobs and fun things. Towards the end of the day if we have ticked off all our jobs, the boys get to go on the PS4 and I enjoy a long hot bubble bath with a glass of wine and a good book. Perfect. After that, a dinner in front of the TV and movie night and sweeties.

Sadly, the updates suggested the power would not go on until 4pm, which soon became 5pm, then 6pm, then 10pm and of course long before that we had resigned ourselves to a very different kind of Saturday. One without any technology!

Doesn’t it make you realise as an adult how often you pick up your phone for no reason? Just to check it, just to feel it, just to look at it? It made me realise I am quite addicted to just simply checking it or scrolling social media when I am a bit bored.

I soon realised I felt better without it though. No more bad news running down my news feed. No more adverts trying to sell me things. No more posts about injustice, climate change, energy prices or corona virus. I felt quite free! It was like the bad news didn’t exist anymore so I decided to enjoy it.

I read a book until it was too dark to see and then we got out the candles and fairy lights and strung them up around the lounge. I was able to make dinner thanks to the gas oven, so me and three kids ate dinner by candlelight, under blankets! My 17 year old had no option but to join us and remarkably she soon cheered up.

Image by Jeremy Kyejo from Pixabay

In fact, what happened over the next five hours was really quiet lovely. For five hours, me and three of my children snuggled on the sofa surrounded by fairy lights and candles and just talked. There was absolutely nothing to do but stay under the blankets for warmth and talk to each other. I thought the 7 year old would get bored or restless but he didn’t. And for five hours we talked and laughed. It doesn’t seem possible now but it really was five hours. I made a few hot chocolates and we had our bowls of sweets without our movie, and we just talked and laughed until we all retired to bed at 10pm.

It was magical.

The next day the power was back on and inevitably we all turned to technology, watching Netflix, scrolling our phones and catching up on news. I stopped scrolling after a few moments though. I realised I just didn’t want it. In that moment, I could have quite happily took my phone and thrown it in the bin. I didn’t want the intrusion back.

I think if it wasn’t for my job, I would take all the social media apps off my phone. I keep them on there because I need to try and market my books and build up my company, and these days it all happens online. But the tech free day made me long for simpler times. Just recently I have got back into letter writing and it’s been a fascinating and wonderful connection with the written word, with patience, with anticipation and communication. I’ve been writing to my oldest sister who lives a few hours away and I feel like we have never communicated as well as we currently are through letters! I look forward to her replies and make a cup of tea to curl up and savour them with. We have stopped texting, and instead just wait patiently for the letters to arrive. Again, its quite magical in its honest simplicity.

I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of technology and plenty of it is marvellous. I couldn’t sell books without it. But I do think it’s important not to completely turn our backs on some of the old ways. I intend to embrace them when I can – turning my phone off at weekends, refusing to look at emails, writing letters and breaking my addiction to social media. I think I will be much happier for it.

What about you? Are you a tech addict or a social media slave? How long do you think you could go without them? Do you miss anything that used to be the norm in the past but is now unusual? Feel free to comment and share!