From The Sunday Times
Motormouth: John Aizlewood

Wired for idiocy

John Aizlewood

I am a techno idiot. It’s not big, it’s not clever. Technology’s great: I despair at my stupidity. I have the basics. Being male means I easily retain pointless information: I can reel off Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup-winning side and I don’t even support Sunderland.

I know the surnames of both Marthas in Martha and the Muffins (Johnson and Ladly, since you ask) and I know the difference between various Liberian warlords (Samuel Doe bad; Prince Johnson unspeakably bad), but my brain turns to jelly and my eyebrows rise with the startled look of a Neanderthal confronted by fire for the first time when asked to assimilate technical information.

Worse still, I’m jinxed. So in June when I received a recorded telephone message from BT saying my broadband starter pack would be delivered the next day it was no surprise when nothing arrived. Bye-bye BT, enter TalkTalk.

It promised "free" broadband, but making the system work proved beyond it. After too many 45-minute premium-rate tussles with its uniquely unhelpful helpline, a circle of hell where "I’ll transfer you" means "I’ll cut you off", I hung — and gave — up.

Except, like some bunny-boiling girlfriend, six months after sending a letter beginning "We are sorry you are leaving", it won’t accept that I’ve gone. Hence last week’s threat (its third) of court proceedings over an unpaid bill for a service that was never installed.

But this stress was nothing compared with that which I endured on the Saturday before Christmas. In order to create some breathing space so that I could enjoy a festive break in Prague I rattled through a full week’s work and saved it on my laptop. For a brief, heady moment I forgot I was a jinxed techno idiot.

At 2.23pm, snugly ensconced in Liverpool FC’s press box at Anfield where I was to file a match report for this newspaper, I activated my laptop only to be greeted with a screen announcing that there was "insurmountable boot volume".

I don’t know what boot volume is, let alone why it might be insurmountable. I couldn’t get to my documents, I couldn’t surmount the insurmountable.

My howl of anguish shifted tectonic plates. For my match report I bellowed via the telephone to bewildered copytakers. But the real fear was that all the work I had saved on my laptop would be lost and I would spend Christmas marooned in Prague, terrified of arriving home and facing the consequences.

So at 8am on Christmas Eve I was desperately whizzing through Yellow Pages where, unreasonably, computer repairers are not divided into "honourable" and "cowboys".

Alex from Barnet PC Repairs didn’t especially enjoy being woken up. Nor, despite his weary familiarity with techno idiots, did he claim intimate understanding of my particular model of laptop, although he did agree to have a look. "But, listen," he sighed, "I can’t make any promises."

He still couldn’t make any promises when I arrived at his home, nor would he perform his dark arts until I stopped chanting "insurmountable boot volume" at him and left his house that moment. But he did say that if it was possible to retrieve my data, he would. And do you know what? He did and he did it that day.

I may be a techno idiot, but at least I know a man who’s not.

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