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The Graunch That Didn't Steal Christmas

"Graunch?" asked my computer tentatively.

"No," I said, and thumped it on the side. "What on earth gave you that idea?"

"Sorry," it said and relapsed into silence.

For the next day or two it thought hard about what I had said. Then it decided to try again.


"No," I told it, thumping it again. But this time it obviously felt that my bark was worse than my bite, because it completely ignored my orders.

"Graunch, graunch, graunch!" it declared. "GRAUNCH, GRAUNCH, GRAUNCH!"

"Oh stop that," I yelled, thumping it even harder than before.


"Oh, for goodness sake!"


I'd had enough. I turned the computer off and left it alone to sulk a bit. Hopefully once its temper had cooled it would be more inclined to behave itself.

The next day, I turned it on again.


I turned it off and immediately rang the man at WeRepairComputers Ltd.

"My computer's going graunch," I told him.

"Ah yes," he said. "There's a lot of it about at the moment. Bring it in and I'll see what I can do."

I packed the computer up and drove down to the workshop. A young man was sitting behind the counter, playing solitaire on his laptop. Apart from him, there was nobody to be seen. It was obviously a quiet day in the computer repair business.

"I'm the person whose computer goes graunch!" I said.

"Oh yes," said the man as he moved a black jack onto a red queen. Then, his eyes still fixed on the screen of his laptop, he opened a drawer in his desk and rummaged around until he found a scrap of yellow paper. "Just write your name and phone number on this."

I did as requested. He took the paper back and turned away from his game for a moment. He looked at the piece of paper. I could see his lips moving as he read the words to himself.

"Put the red ten on the black jack," I suggested. "It frees up a column."

"Cellphone number?" he grunted, handing me back the paper.

I wrote down my cellphone number.

"Thanks." He casually tossed the piece of paper back in the drawer and returned to his game of solitaire. Red ten on to the black jack. I was pleased to see him take my advice. I wanted to ask for a receipt, but I was afraid to break his concentration. He might not win his game if I interrupted him again. I left my computer sitting on his desk. Even though it wasn't plugged in, I could hear it say "Graunch." very quietly as I went back to my car.

Back home, the empty space where my computer no longer stood looked a bit sad. Cables dangled forlornly, eager to be plugged into sockets. Filling the space became a matter of urgent priority. Fortunately I remembered that Robin had a spare machine hidden somewhere in her study. I opened the door to her room and peeked in. Piles of scrap paper and strange objects filled my field of vision. Huge mounds rose from where I vaguely remembered once having had a floor right up to where the ceiling might have been. In among the piles of unidentifiable bric-a-brac I spotted 12 expired book tokens, a collection of naughty postcards from Brighton, share certificates from companies that no longer existed, 42 beer mats, an aquarium in a cardboard box, a street map of Redditch, 19 half-completed Sudoku puzzles, a machine for blowing soap bubbles, a wind up plastic monkey that turned somersaults, a partridge, a pear tree, a kitchen sink and a small jam jar full of gallstones.

"Robin?" I asked. "Are you in there?"

She rustled a hole through one of the piles and blinked owlishly at me.


"Your old computer," I said.

"What about it?"

"Can I use it?"

"Of course," she said obligingly. "I'm not using it for anything – it's just taking up space in here. If you remove it, I can squeeze heaps more heaps of stuff in!"

"OK. Where is it?"

She looked vaguely around. "It's here somewhere," she said. I fetched a couple of long sticks and we poked them at random into miscellaneous piles. Eventually something went clang! "Aha!" said Robin. "That must be it."

We pulled screwed up papers, a bowl of breakfast cereal festering in rancid milk and the mummified corpse of a rat out of the teetering mound. "You've been letting the cats hide treasure in here again," I observed, tactfully saying nothing about the breakfast cereal.

Soon I was rewarded with a distant glimpse of beige. "I think I can see it."

I reached in and grabbed hold and heaved a mighty heave. I staggered back with a computer clutched in my arms. Several hundred old Christmas cards fluttered after it. A stack of stickers crashed down into the space it vacated. There was a note taped to the top of the computer. Written on it were the cryptic words: Luckley. Cullercoats. Shipwreck.'

"Is this important?" I asked.

"Oooh!" said Robin, snatching it out of my hands. "I've been looking all over for that. Thank you darling."

"Don't mention it," I said, and I took her computer down to my own paperless office where it breathed an enormous sigh of relief at the lack of clutter. I plugged it in and turned it on and it hummed efficiently.

"Graunch?" I asked it.

"No," it said smugly. "I don't do that."

A few days later, the man from WeRepairComputers Ltd. rang me up. "We've repaired your computer," he said.

"Good show! What was the problem?"

"The noise was coming from the CPU fan. I think the bearings are stuffed and it wasn't revolving much at all. I've replaced the fan and now it is beautifully silent. Not a graunch to be heard."

"Thanks," I said. "I'll come and pick it up."

To think is to do. Do be doobe doo. I went and collected it immediately.

I was now faced with a problem. Robin's old computer was outperforming the job that my computer had once done and so I was reluctant to reinstate it. I decided instead to use my newly repaired computer to replace an extremely slow and ancient machine that was performing various network services and to retire the old machine. Step one – install Linux.

"Oh, no!" howled my computer in horror. "That's one of those nasty open source things. I don't want anything to do with it. Take it away!"

The install process stopped dead in its tracks. Indeed, it was so dead and the machine was so hosed that even the mouse pointer wouldn't move across the screen. I had to hit the reset switch before it would take any further notice of me at all.

I found this rather surprising. I've installed linux hundreds of times and never once have I had any problems whatsoever. Normally it just works. Time for a different approach. I am an expert in the arcane art of skinning cats, just ask Porgy, Bess and Harpo. They've been at the receiving end of my skinning tactics all their lives long. As a result of this experience I have bald cats (I can show you photos) and the ability to infiltrate Linux on to a computer in a myriad different ways. So I tried another approach…

It seemed to work, in the sense that the installation completed and the system rebooted. But rather to my surprise, about half the software I'd asked to be installed simply wasn't there. So I started to do it slowly by hand.

"I haven't got a clue what you are talking about," said the computer. "I can't do that."

But I insisted and so it tried hard. Strange error messages that I'd never seen in my life before appeared. Files vanished from view even as I was looking at them. Hmmm…

"FSCK!" I yelled, only I yelled it quietly in lower case, because that's the only language linux understands.

"'ello, 'ello, 'ello," said the fsck program. "What have we here then? My goodness me, that's a stuffed up disk. I've never seen one quite as stuffed up as that before. I can try and fix it, but I can practically guarantee massive data loss."

I've never had fsck say that to me before, either.

I was now officially bewildered. Time to go to the tubes on that there interweb thingy for help. I giggled all the error messages and it soon became clear that this was no laughing matter. I really was comprehensively fscked. Everything I read told me that what I was seeing was symptomatic of an overheated, very overstressed CPU that was probably about to kick the bit bucket.

In retrospect, it was clear that the graunch didn't steal christmas, but it did steal the cooling powers of the fan. At some time between the start of the graunch and the replacement of the fan, the CPU got a bit too hot and some vital bits were now dead.


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