Shortly after I attached a bell to my front door, somebody rang it.
"That's the disadvantage of a doorbell," said Robin. "You no longer have an excuse for not answering the door."
"Damn!" I said. "I suppose I'd better go and see who it is."
"Yes," said Jake the Dog. "Answer the door. Go on – answer the door. I want to lick whoever it is all over. I'm sure they'll taste wonderful. New people always do."
"I'll take care of Jake," said Robin. "You go and see who's at the door."
I opened the front door to reveal Bill, my next door neighbour.
"Hello," he said. "I've had a letter from Chorus, the people who are in charge of laying the fibre cables for UFB – that new ultra-fast broadband service they are starting to deploy. They say that they will have to dig up the driveway to get the cable to my house, and they need my permission to do that. Since you and I own the driveway jointly, I thought I'd better check with you."
"That's interesting," I said. "Have you ordered ultra-fast broadband?"
"No," said Bill. "The letter just came out of the blue. I didn't even realise that I could have the service connected to my house, so the whole thing came as a bit of a surprise to me."
"How strange," I said. "You see I have ordered ultra-fast broadband. Just the other day I signed up with the broadband service that 2degrees have started offering. They've taken my money and scheduled a day for Chorus to come and check the house out. But nobody has said anything to me about digging up the driveway. I wonder if they mixed me up with you because of the joint ownership?"
"I suppose that's possible," said Bill. "But the whole thing seems a bit like overkill to me – the copper phone lines all converge in that hole in the ground over there." He pointed to an enigmatic elliptical manhole cover midway between both our houses. "Surely they should just be able to drag the fibre through the same channel that the phone lines already use, without having to dig the driveway up. And then it's a simple matter of following the individual cables from there to each house and pulling the new UFB cable through the same ducts."
"I'd have thought so too," I said. "As far as I know, they always design those things with plenty of room so as to be able to lay new cables without having to do any digging. Underground cables would be impossible to maintain if they didn't do things that way."
"Well, I don't know what's going on," said Bill. "Let me know what happens when Chorus comes to check things out for you."
"I certainly will," I said. I shut the door and went back to Robin and Jake.
"What did he taste like?" asked Jake. "Did he taste yummy when you licked him? Why didn't you let me lick him?"
"He's Scottish," I said to Jake. "He tastes of haggis. Dogs don't like haggis."
"Don't they?" said Jake, clearly disappointed. "Oh that's so sad. Let's go for a walk to make up for it."
A couple of weeks later the doorbell rang again.
"Where are all these people coming from?" said Robin peevishly. "And why do they keep ringing our doorbell? Two people in two weeks! Come on!"
"But it might be someone tasty," said Jake, ever the optimist.
This time the door revealed a man with a bright orange jacket and a badge that said Chorus. "Hello," he said. "I'm John. I've come to do a site survey for the proposed UFB installation to your house."
"Hello John," said. "What do you need to know?"
"Do you happen to have any idea where the current phone lines come in to your house?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "It's that little white box on the side of the house over there."
We walked over and looked at the box.
"That's odd," said John. "There should be a pipe leading up into the box. The phone cable threads through that pipe into the box. Internally, the box is connected to the jack points inside your house."
We both looked at the box. No pipe.
"Interesting," said John. He produced a screwdriver and took the top off the box. Coils of cable were revealed. "Well, there it is," said John, sounding rather puzzled. "It looks like the cable comes up through the foundations of the house and then out through a hole in the wall into the rear of the box where it attaches to the internal wiring and goes back into the house again. I wonder why they did that. I've never seen a phone cable connected that way before."
"Is it going to be a problem?" I asked.
"Not as long as we can find how the cable gets through the foundations in the first place," said John. "It must feed through a pipe somewhere underground. If we can find that, we should be OK. I'll go and get my shovel."
He went off to his van and returned with a huge spade He started to dig a big hole in my lawn. He dug and he dug and he dug and then he dug some more. "Gosh," said John, "the pipe must be a long way down." The hole got deeper and deeper. Every so often John would stop and poke the ground gently with a trowel, then he would shake his head, say "No – that's not it," and start digging again.
"Shall I fetch Jake the Dog?" I asked. "He's really good at digging. Our back garden looks like a World War I battlefield after a serious artillery shelling. Unplumbed cavernous craters everywhere. He'd love to help you dig."
"No," said John. "That won't be necessary. I've finally found the pipe. Goodness me, it's a deep one. I wonder why they put it so far down." His voice had a hollow echo as it bounced off the crater walls from the bottom of a huge shaft that extended all the way down into the unfathomable chthonic depths of my lawn. He clambered out, covered in mud and smiles. "OK – all we have to do now is find where the main cable is, the one that the individual houses feed off."
"Oh, that's easy," I said, and I showed him the enigmatic ellipse that Bill had pointed out to me. John took the manhole cover off and peered into the elliptical hole that it revealed. "Yes, that's it," he said. "That's the main cable junction. I wonder which one of these feeder cables goes to your house." He tugged one, and the small white box on the side of Bill's house rattled. "Nope. It's not that one. That one's your next door neighbour." He tugged another one. Nothing happened. He tried another one and the same nothing happened again. "I'm not sure where those go," he said. "They must go to these other houses, but it's hard to see which cables belong to which house. I'll tell you what, I'll go and tug the cable where it goes into your house and you stay and watch here and tell me which cable in this rats nest moves when I do it."
"OK," I said.
John went to the house and tugged hard on the cable. I spotted movement and fixed my gaze on the relevant bit of wire. "Got it," I called. John came back and I pointed it out to him. He attached a tag so that it would be easy to find in the future.
"There," he said. "All done. They'll pull the UFB fibre cable from the junction box on the main road through to here and then they'll pull an extension through the pipe I've found into your house. Easy peasy."
"So what about digging up the driveway?" I asked.
"?" said John.
I explained what Bill had told me. "Nonsense," said John. "The duct from the main road to the junction box here is extra wide so that new cables can easily be dragged though. The only possible problem is getting it from here to your house, but now that I've found the pipe into your house, it's all routine."
"Will they need to dig up my lawn again?" I asked.
"Hmmm," said John. "I'm just supposed to do a site survey to assess the feasibility. I'm not supposed to do any actual work at all. But now that I've got this far, it would be a shame to leave it half done and force them to start all over again. So I'll tell you what I'll do – I'll use the existing cable to make a pull through from your house to this elliptical junction and I'll also join the pipe up properly to the box on your house. Then I'll fill the the hole in the lawn. All they'll have to do when they come to connect you is use my pull through to get the cable into the house. A simple, five minute job."
He was as good as his word. He attached some blue plastic string to the phone cable by the house. Then he went to the main junction box and pulled my phone cable all the way through the underground pipe until the blue string attached to it arrived at the junction. Next, he doubled the string over and used the far end of the string to pull the cable and its attached string back through the pipe again and up to the house. This left a length of string threaded all the way through the pipe between the house and the junction box ready to be pulled through again when the UFB cable arrived.
He attached a flexible extension to the underground pipe he'd discovered and led it up the side of the house into the white box, where it should have been in the first place. Then he put all the dirt back into the hole. "OK," said John, "everything's ready for the cable guys now. It shouldn't take them any time at all to run the new cable. So now all I have to do is see what needs doing inside the house. Can you show me where you want the modem to go?"
"Of course," I said. "Come in."
Predictably, Jake licked him all over as soon as he came into the house. "Yum!" he said. "You taste of brussels sprouts. Are you by any chance English?"
"Yes," said John. "Brussels sprouts are forever, aren't they?"
"Indeed they are," said Jake. "They're my favourite. Today must be my lucky day."
I showed John to the room where the modem would live and he took some photographs for the work sheet. "Simple," he said. "We'll take the cable from the outside box up into the roof and then down into this cupboard. We'll attach the connector to this wall, and all you'll have to do is plug the modem in and turn it on. Everything will look quite neat. All the cabling will be hidden."
"Sounds good," I said.
John produced a tablet with the work sheet details displayed on its screen. He attached the photographs he'd taken and made some notes about how the job should be handled. Then he passed the tablet and a stylus to me. "Just sign here," he said, "and we're good to go." I signed the work sheet with the stylus and John tapped a button on the screen. "There," he said. "I've emailed the details to head office and sent a copy to you. They'll come to do the job next Friday. There'll be two teams of people – one to lay the cable outside the house and one to do the work inside the house."
"Thank you," I said.
"Can I have another lick?" asked Jake.
"Of course you can," said John and he scratched Jake under the chin.
"You've got gritty bits," said Jake. "But they are yummy too."
"That must be mud from where I was digging," said John.
"Ah! I see," said Jake. "That happens a lot to me as well."
The following Friday the door bell rang again.
"If this keeps happening, that bell will soon wear out," said Robin. "Three visitors in three weeks. Who on Earth is it this time?"
There was another Chorus man at the door. "Hello, I'm Michael," he said in a strong Seth Efricen eccent. Like New Zealanders, South Africans only have one vowel. They use the letter 'e'. We use the letter 'i'. Both of us keep the other four vowels as spares for emergency use only, and sometimes not even then. It makes for interesting, though often confusing, conversations.
"You must be the inside team," I said. Over his shoulder I could see the outside team making full use of the pull through that John had left for them. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. UFB cable slithered underground and reappeared by the house in record time. "Come in, Michael," I said.
"Hello," said Jake enthusiastically as he draped yards of wet tongue all over Michael. "Oh wow! Biltong! I love biltong. Today's another lucky day."
I showed Michael around the house and he compared what he was seeing with the photographs on his work sheet. When he was happy with what needed doing, he attached a cable to the white box outside the house, took it up into the roof and then down into the cupboard. He attached another white box to the cupboard wall. "Thes es where yer medem plegs en," he said.
I unpacked the modem that 2degrees had sent me. I powered it up and plugged an ethernet cable into it. The other end of the ethernet cable plugged into the handsome new box on the wall. Lights flashed and, just like that, I had a blindingly fast internet connection. It all seemed quite anti-climactic.
My internet connection is four times faster than it used to be. Everything seems to happen instantly. Massive files download in nothing flat. Blink and you miss them. Robin and I are both thrilled to bits with it. Jake is not so sure.
"Why won't it download a bone?"