Its never a good sign when the phone summons you in the small hours of the morning. Invariably the news is bad. I struggled sleepily awake as my cell phone yodelled at me from across the room. What mad impulse had made me choose that particular sound as a ringtone?
Whats that noise? grumbled Robin whose rage at being awakened prematurely is often homicidal.
Someones sent me a text message, I said. Its probably important, considering what time it is. Id better check. I hauled myself out of bed.
Where are you going? grumbled Harpo the Cat whose rage at being awakened prematurely is always homicidal.
Just checking my phone, I told him. Stay awake and watch. Being a disobedient cat, he immediately went back to sleep.
My phone sat glowing smugly on top of the chest of drawers. I staggered towards it through the deep darkness of the bedroom and opened the cover. I was nearly blinded by the explosion of light from the screen. Squinting carefully, I determined that yes there really was a text message. I opened it up.
It was an automated message from my burglar alarm which had noticed that its back up battery was pretty much dead. The battery was refusing to charge itself up any more and the alarm was now very concerned that it would no longer be able to protect me in the event of a power cut. The alarm felt that it was very important to let me know all this while the facts were fresh in its mind.
I went out into the hall and checked the panel on the alarm. Sure enough, a red light glowed at me. I pressed a button and a different light started to flash. I checked the manual and learned that the flashing light did indeed mean that the battery power was too low. It seemed that the alarm had good reason to be concerned. But did it really have to send me a text message at such an ungodly hour?
You could have waited until a more civilised time, I told it.
Sorry, said the burglar alarm, but I felt quite strongly that I should let you know as soon as I detected the problem. Ill try and do better in future.
See that you do, I said and I went back to bed. Robin and Harpo were fast asleep. Harpo was sprawled all over the space Id left and there was no room in the bed for me. I was far too scared of him to wake him up again, so I pushed Robin to one side and clambered back under the sheets.
Grrrruuummmmmmpppppphhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!, said Robin as she turned over.
Quite right too, I said.
An hour later my phone yodelled at me again, dragging me out of a delicious dream that seemed to involve naked nuns covered from head to toe in curry sauce. Hot stuff!
This time the message from the burglar alarm told me that the back up battery was now completely flat. If there was a power cut, my home would immediately be invaded by all the burglars in Wellington and the alarm wouldn't be able to do anything about it. This being a less than optimum situation, the alarm recommended that I take immediate steps to get the battery replaced.
How am I supposed to do that at 3.00am? I asked it.
Not my problem, squire, said the burglar alarm smugly. Im just reporting the facts. I went back to bed and the rest of the night passed silently.
In the morning, when the streets were nicely aired, I rang the burglar alarm company and explained the problem to a nice lady.
When did all this happen? she asked.
I explained about my rude awakening.
Oh good, she said. It's a relatively recent event then. I presume the alarm hasn't started an incessant beeping yet?
No, I said. I didn't know they did that.
Oh yes, she said. If the battery stays flat for more than a couple of days the alarm starts beeping and beeping and beeping and beeping and beeping...
No, nothing like that has happened, I said, interrupting her incessant beeping.
Good, she said. I suggest you get the battery replaced as soon as you can, before the beeping starts. I can make an appointment for a technician to come and do it he's got a free slot in about six months. Oh, by the way, there's a $90 call out fee, and the technician charges $40 for every fifteen minutes he's on site. And then there's the cost of the materials as well. But the good news is that he usually manages to get a job like this done within the first fifteen minutes. It's rare for battery replacements to drag on into the second charging period.
That's a lot of money, I said, somewhat shocked by the fees. And it's rather a long time to wait. Surely I'll be enduring incessant beeping long before the technician arrives?
Probably you will, said the nice lady. And you're right, it is a lot of money. Personally, I'd call a local electrician. They'll do the job for you for a fraction of the cost.
That's good advice, I said. I think I'll take it. And I did...
I rang the local electrician. He was very helpful. My man Steve's in your area at the moment, he said. I'll pass your details on to him and maybe he'll be able to fit you in.
I rang off. About five minutes later the phone rang.
Hi, this is Steve, said Steve. I'll be there in abut 10 minutes, if that's OK?
Perfect, I said. See you soon.
Steve arrived with a replacement battery and a belt full of tools. These things usually need replacing every five years or so, he said. When did you last have it done?
I've never had it done, I said. I didn't know I had to.
How long have you had the alarm? he asked.
About fifteen years.
Steve was impressed. Must have been a really good battery, he mused. He examined the burglar alarm box carefully. Hmm, he said thoughtfully. There's an anti-tamper device attached to it. So when I open the box up, the alarm will go off. Can you stand by the control panel and type your code in to turn it off again?
OK, I said.
Steve clamped a huge pair of ear mufflers on to his head and went to work on the box. Sirens shrieked. Help! yelled the alarm. Burglars! Rape! Robbery and Pillage!
Oh, shut up, I said as I tapped in my magic number. Obediently the alarm fell silent. And then, mirabile dictu, all its lights went off and it lapsed into unconsciousness.
Have you disconnected the power? I asked Steve.
Yes, he said. I've pulled its fuse off. It won't give us any trouble now.
It took Steve about five minutes to replace the battery and put the fuse back in. The alarm woke up and immediately became alarmed. Oh, no! I've been interfered with!
It began shrieking complaints again, so, once more, I keyed in the magic number to shut it up. Sullenly, it flashed a red light at me. It's still complaining that its battery is in trouble, I said to Steve.
And I've forgotten what time it is, interrupted the alarm. You pulled my fuse out and made my clock stop. It's flashing 00:00 at me and I don't like it. It's very upsetting.
Where does it say that? I asked. I can't see anything.
Reality is all in the mind, explained the alarm. It's a private thing...
Don't go getting philosophical on me, I said. I entered the current time into the keypad. Phew! That's a relief, said the alarm. You've no idea how disorienting it is when you don't know the time. It always makes me want to start shrieking.
Don't do that, I said. Now, tell me what's up with your battery.
Dunno, squire, said the alarm, and it flashed a sullen light.
Funny about that battery, said Steve. I think it's brand new. But on the other hand, it was just sitting there on the bench when I swung by the workshop to pick it up. I'll see if I can lay my hands on another one, just in case.
About two hours later, the alarm sent me another text message.
Whoopee!! Just in case you hadn't noticed. My battery is now fully charged.
I checked, and the sullen red light had gone out all by itself. I rang Steve and gave him the good news. Oh good, he said. Obviously the battery wasn't quite fully charged when I picked it up. I'll cancel the order for a new one.
Thanks, I said.
The alarm said, I feel a lot better now that everything's back to normal.
Let's hope you stay that way, I said. I don't want any more rude awakenings in the small hours of the morning just because you feel a little bit off colour.
But that's my job! The alarm sounded defensive. I have to keep you informed about everything that's going on in the house.
I only need to know about important things, I told it. I don't need to know about trivialities.
I'm only a burglar alarm, it said. How am I supposed to know what's important and what isn't?
If it doesn't require you to turn your siren on and start shrieking then it isn't important, I explained, so you don't have to tell me about it in the small hours of the morning. You can wait until a more civilised time.
Quite frankly I'd rather just shriek, said the alarm. Nothing like a good shriek to get the cobwebs out of the siren. Everyone needs a good shriek now and then. Perhaps I'll start doing that instead of just sending you a text message. That way everyone in the whole street will know that something's wrong and they'll all rally round to help you. Won't that be wonderful?
If you start doing that I'll replace you with a more cooperative device, I threatened.
The alarm didn't say anything, but a few seconds later my phone yodelled at me. I checked the text message.
OK. You win.