I picked up the telephone and was greeted with total silence; not even the distant conch-shell sound of the sea. When the telephone is out of order, the phone book informed me, simply ring Faults and report it.
Normally such a Wittgensteinian oxymoron would leave me quivering (how can you phone when the phone is out of order), but fortunately todays technology cuts such Gordion knots with ease. I reached for my yuppiephone.
"Hello, Faults, how can I help you?"
I gave the details and the nice man clattered on a keyboard for a while. There was a long silence.
"Yes," he said cheerfully. "Theres definitely a Fault. Ill send an engineer round."
An engineer duly appeared and vanished into a junction box halfway down the road. Soon he emerged in triumph. "I found a broken wire!" he announced ringingly, "but there is still an abnormally high resistance on the line. I need to check your sockets."
Who could resist such flattery? I let him into the house, and he checked my sockets. Ive got three, and he examined them all closely.
The one upstairs contained no surprises other than slightly corroded terminals. It was soon replaced. However the one in the bedroom proved to contain more than its fair share of wires, several of which had a piece of paper sellotaped to them. Something was scribbled on the paper and the engineer frowned at it.
"Do you actually use the phone in the garage?" he asked.
"?" I said.
"These wires," he explained, pointing at the piece of paper. "They go through to the phone in the garage. We really ought to put in a separate socket if you want to use it it isnt a good idea to wire it into the same socket as the bedroom phone."
"I havent got a garage," I told him. "Ive never had a garage. This house has been garageless since 1937, when it was built."
"Odd," he mused, and cut the wires off and threw them away, solving the problem in a snip. I wonder what was in the mind of the person who originally connected that socket? I dont suppose Ill ever know. Im also quite curious as to what exactly is at the other end of those mysterious wires. Perhaps they lead into another dimension (one where I actually do have a garage phone). Had the engineer connected them up, perhaps I could have made trans-dimensional phone calls to my doppelganger. Perhaps I read too much science fiction.
The socket in the hall proved to be the most mysterious of all. "I wonder what those are?" mused the engineer as he poked at a tangle of wires that he didnt seem to know what to do with. "Ive never seen cables like that before. Doesnt look like anything to do with the phone."
I professed myself equally puzzled, but what do I know? They looked just like all the other wires to me. The engineer scratched his head. "Looks like bell wire," he mused.
Pennies dropped with a sudden clatter. "Come with me," I said and I took him into the back of the house, through the kitchen and showed him a bell screwed to the wall. "When I first moved in, this rang with the phone, presumably so that you could hear it all through the house you tend not to hear the phone ringing when you are at the other end of nowhere. But about five years ago, it just stopped ringing. I assumed it was clogged up with grease from the kitchen and had given up the ghost. Id forgotten all about it."
"Aha!" he said triumphantly. "That explains the odd resistance I found in the junction box outside." He descended into a stupor for a while and then made magic spells with resistors and capacitors. "Lets try now."
He dialled a magic number. The bell in the back of the house rang. The phone in the hall rang, and so did the phone in the bedroom. The phone upstairs remained stubbornly silent. Four bells, only three ringing. Damn.
More magic games with resistors. All three sockets were replaced. Wires were poked, heads were scratched, swear words were sworn.
Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring.
Three bells out of four, but a different three this time. Progress of a sort, I suppose. The sequence was repeated. No matter what he did, only three bells rang, but we managed to get every permutation of three out of four. Four out of four we just couldnt manage. The engineer descended into a brown study. This was an insult to his engineering virility, and he wasnt going to let it defeat him. Hed never be able to hold his head up in public. Imagine what the lads would say!
All three sockets were replaced again, and different grades of resistors installed. At last, success!! Four out of four!
"Im going now." Wisely he knew when enough was enough; quit while you are ahead.
So now, for the first time in five years, I have all four bells again. Whether or not I still have an anomalous resistance I have no idea. But I do know that ever since the magic man played with my sockets I have a much faster and much more reliable connection to the internet.
Q, as they say, ED.