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Trauma by computer

Trauma by computer


Richard Barr is ready for a holiday after an epic technology meltdown


The showroom was airy and bright. Devices were on display everywhere, each one calling ‘buy me, buy me!’ I responded to one of them and carried away a slim box that would not have looked out of place as a piece of exquisite hand luggage on a first-class flight.

Despite the price tag, there is no feel-good factor to go with it. Here’s why.

Last Monday

My computer, just six years old and considerably younger than my car, begins to develop dementia. At first it is imperceptible. A missed letter here; a pause before anything happened; a blank screen. The keyboard does not respond; it starts displaying letters I have not typed.

Nothing I do helps and there is no alternative but to call in expertise from the manufacturers. And soon, the world offers up suggestions.

First up is Declan in Ireland. He courteously asks if I am having good day. I courteously tell him I am not. He is reassuring (“We’ll soon get you sorted”).

I do as instructed: I boot up the computer for the umpteenth time that day and press various keys. The operating system needs to be reinstalled, is Declan’s analysis. “It will take a while”, he says, “then you’ll be back to being as good as new.” Several hours later it is still installing. Goodbye Monday and goodbye to work.


I crank up the computer, optimistic that all will be well. It isn’t. Back to the helpline and Pedro in Portugal. He asks me if I am having a nice day.

This time, my response is not quite so courteous. Pedro suggests I start the computer in safe mode. It sluggishly wakes with a blink and offers a message confirming it is in safe mode. But still no improvement.

Next up is Sheldon in America. “Are you having a nice …” – I interrupt him with a snarl. Sheldon says we need to reinstall the hard drive.

(Years ago when computers were still in the Garden of Eden, I reinstalled the hard drive of a computer that was misbehaving. I destroyed about 10 megabytes of data which was the capacity of the hard drive. It was an office computer and I was in deep trouble. Now, one of my main mantras in life is: thou shalt not reinstall any hard drive.)

So Sheldon is effectively asking me to destroy hundreds of gigabytes of data including a decade’s worth of domestic records, all bank statements and the complete works of Richard Barr (you decide whether the world would be worse off for that).

All I have to do is press the right key then reload from the backup drive. “Don’t worry,” says Sheldon. “It will be fine.” So I obey. I watch the computer drift into a coma. After 12 hours, the computer is still reinstalling.

When it’s finally complete, is it any better? Nope. The files come back but that is it. It’s now slower than ever – a snail with arthritis would have been faster.


Finally I speak to Ronald. He sounds Welsh. Having some sixth sense, he refrains from asking how I am. He has an aptly funereal voice and talks in hushed terms. The patient is terminal. Resuscitation is pointless. There is no more hope. So with a heavy heart, I trudge to the computer shop.

Today (again)

And now I reload everything onto the new computer. This is no mean feat as many programmes need updating – and once again all the files have to be transferred. I hope to restart work by Christmas.

I’ve had no holiday this year, but you really can’t beat spending every day in a darkened room watching a spinning disk on a computer screen. Try it: the staycation to end them all.

For more from Richard Barr read his book of SJ reminiscence The Savage Poodle available at £7.99 + P&P from Amazon UK or direct from Richard.  

Richard Barr is a consultant solicitor with Scott-Moncrieff & Associates Ltd