One: Opening the lines of communication
We’re being held hostage in our rented accommodation, we’ve been here for a week now. The siege mentality has taken over, the walls are closing in, the air is oppressive, the cheese has gone blue and we’re on water rationing.
To date, we haven’t laid eyes on our captors; their very existence at this stage is nothing more than a perverse psychological phantom, a whispered horror story in which they play the leading role. The last time we left the house, eight days ago, they came looking for us. Or so we were told. Now we daren’t leave.
Four weeks ago when we signed the rental agreement there was just one small additional item we needed; a telephone.
“No problem” was the confident response from the agent; the only two words we’d heard him speak in English, despite the prominent “We speak English” sign displayed in the front window of his office. Every day he assured us Telefonica were on their way, and every day, they failed to show.
Suddenly there’s movement at the bottom of the drive, a barely-seen flash of blue shirts at the gate and they’re gone. I break for freedom, hurtling down the steps two at a time and skid down the drive towards the gate.
“TELEFONICA!?” I scream at the three blue shirts about to disappear into the back of a small yellow van.
“Si”. The bearded one looks back at me, crestfallen, traces of the dream of an early finish due to inability to access the premises still blazoned on his retinas.
I lead them back towards the house, the prisoner/captor role reversed. As I illustrate the complex ‘push the handle down and it opens’ mechanism on the gate, the tall one asks me if there’s already a telephone line in the house.
“No” I reply, my mind trying to rationalise what appears to be the questioning of the fundamental reason they’re here.
“Has there ever been a telephone line to the house?” The follow up question floors me.
I shrug. Firstly, I’m not entirely sure if that is what the follow up question was; my night school Spanish has suffered such massive and sustained blows to its esteem since we moved here that it no longer wishes to put in an appearance and offers me little more than guesswork in the way of comprehension.
Secondly, I have absolutely no idea if there has ever been a line or not.
After several forays around the garden and onto the roof, the Telefonica Three come to the conclusion that “there’s a small problem”.
There’s a small problem; a phrase we will come to be acquainted with in the same way you become acquainted with dog dirt on your shoe; that sinking feeling of knowing how much work it’s going to be to restore normality and that the smell will linger for days.
It appears there’s no existing line to the house and no obvious way of acquiring one. The options appear to be: 1) install a telegraph pole on the road outside the house or 2) dig up the driveway and install cable; the prospect of either one of these two things happening at all, let alone within the next few days appeared as likely as snow on Puerto’s main beach. Depression wraps itself around me like a damp towel on a cold day; I watch them disappear down the drive and settle in for ‘The Siege – continued’.
It’s Friday and events are taking on a more positive glow; a man in a white shirt has successfully negotiated the gate and is knocking at the front door.
He heads to the flat roof to see how he can bring a wire to the house, at least, I think that’s what he said.
As he paces, he engages in conversation with the neighbours to our right who are fiddling with the satellite dish on their roof. To begin with, exchanges are pleasant and polite, then gradually voices begin to rise and the neighbour from the house behind us comes out onto his terrace to investigate the racket and promptly joins in. As the volume of voices gathers and White Shirt is becoming visibly ruffled, a group of workmen who’ve been laying a road behind the house down tools and, uninvited but not rebuffed, offer their opinions to the growing forum. The cement mixer rumbles on, oblivious to its temporarily redundant status. I’m standing at the back of the roof feeling like an extra without a script in a Harold Pinter play; I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.
Eventually the rumpus fades and neighbours and workmen return to their chores. The Man from Telefonica explains that, in order to run a wire to the house it will have to cross three neighbours’ property and we need their permission to do that. Following the summit conference, two of the neighbours have reluctantly agreed to the plan but the third won’t be home from work until 7.30 that evening and so final permissions won’t be obtained until next week. The Man from Telefonica leaves and hostage status returns.
It’s Saturday morning and with another communications-void weekend underway I watch Dora (apparently that’s her name) as she weaves and bobs around her terrace, watering the plants, straightening the crochet covers on her garden chair, blissfully unaware of the power she holds over our lives. Information technology, CSS, desktop, ISDN, they all mean nothing if Dora doesn’t allow a wire to sit along the top of her garden wall.