The phone call came at 10 o’clock on Monday morning. We had moved into the new house the day before and, having already experienced a number of issues, were quite averse to the prospect of more. The shrill ring of the telephone invariably heralded another problem, and my mind, frantically speculating as to what it might be, was aching with worry: ‘What’s wrong now? Is it about the electricity, or is it about the boiler? Maybe it’s about that Twix I stole in 1999. I bet it’s about the Twix. I didn’t mean to take it; I was going to bring it back!’ I reached my hand out tentatively towards the receiver, exchanged a few anxious glances with my housemates, and picked up the phone.
“I was young! It was an accident!” I shouted down the phone, somehow managing to keep my cool. A short, but unmistakeably awkward, pause ensued, before a young, female voice replied with feigned sincerity. “Hello, I’m calling from BT. I’m sorry to inform you that, due to a technical issue, we will not be able to set up your broadband until the 8th of October.” The news, though disappointing, was tolerable. A week without internet was not exactly desirable, but it was by no means the end of the world either (the Mayans say that’s not happening for another two months). No, it was but an unexpected snag in the fabric of our arrangements; a minor and transitory inconvenience which we were assured would be resolved “in due course”. And so, disguising my frustration at this annoyingly vague timeframe, I thanked the woman on the phone and set about making some breakfast.
Twenty minutes later, depression set in. The unmitigated horror of life without YouTube weighed heavily on my soul, and my brain, suddenly beleaguered by doubts and anxieties, began to toy dangerously with the idea that broadband might never be installed. ‘This is it then,’ I thought resignedly, ‘forever alone in a cruel, broadbandless universe, with no means of procrastination. I might even have to do some work.’ I started to imagine that this was how Ernest Shackleton felt as he trekked across the frozen wilderness of Antarctica, cut off from the rest of civilisation, in pursuit of a pole that was always out of reach. This, of course, was a ridiculous comparison; my situation was considerably worse. Shackleton never had to eat Tesco Value Baked Beans or live in a cold student house. He had it easy really. I couldn’t even moan about my situation on Facebook. “It’s like being Amish!” I exclaimed, throwing my iPhone to the floor in frustration.
Day by day things became more and more desperate. Tempers frayed, personalities clashed, and for a time we toured as a short-lived jazz fusion band, scoring a string of top ten hits in Mexico. Mainstream success, however, was not forthcoming, and we soon found ourselves back in the student house, bitter, broke and still without broadband. Time passed at an ordinary speed, but – because we were so bored – it had the illusion of passing much more slowly, a phenomenon whose description I have laboriously dragged out in order to reach the minimum word count. We also became a lot more introspective, and conversations increasingly tended towards the philosophical: “If a baby panda sneezes and nobody’s there to film it, is it still funny?” Nobody knew. We were faced with a plethora of troubling questions, but without access to Google or the will to visit the library, we simply had no way of answering them.
After a great deal of soul searching and about five series of Peep Show (including the outtakes, deleted scenes and writers’ commentaries), it suddenly became apparent that we could no longer cope: we needed broadband. The Internet is not, as I had initially supposed, an optional luxury, to be jacked up whenever you fancy looking at a cat dressed as a pirate, but an essential part of modern existence – an extension of ourselves; a kind of fifth limb, if you like, made not of flesh but porn and misinformation. Soon enough, however, the 7th October soon came around, and sitting languidly on the living room sofa, I consoled myself with the thought that this would be our last night without Internet: ‘Tomorrow, it will come. That’s what she said.’ I picked up one of my trainers and peered inside, my housemates looking on blankly. Suddenly, Sam stood up from his chair. “Well, shall we go to the pub?” he asked, hitching up his trousers. “Yes, let’s go,” I replied. But we did not move.