You may have noticed that there was no post last week. I realise, of course, that you almost certainly had better things to do than to notice. But, either way, there was no post.
I was visiting my boy in Barcelona.
I had thought about writing something earlier in the week and ‘putting it in the bank’, as it were, but between the launch party for my book and the search for my passport, time got away from me.
Never mind, I thought, I’ll write it when I get there.
‘There’ was the Gothic quarter, an area of such perfect charm that it was hard to believe that the Disney people had not had a hand in creating it. We wound our way down the narrow streets, skirted the medieval churches, discovered the dozens of shops and tapas bars that needed future exploring and found our ‘fully Wifi-connected’ flat.
It was beautiful, with a marble entrance hall, high ceilings with intricate mouldings and two balconies overflowing with colourful flowers. From one end of the flat we could watch Barcelona stroll past, while from the other we enjoyed views of a lively little square filled with an ever-changing parade of tumblers, musicians, puppeteers and other entertainers. Catalan flags flew in a gentle breeze, the sun cast a golden hue on the ancient buildings and the sky was the colour blue only found near the Mediterranean.
In other words, it was perfect.
After making ourselves at home and before setting out to explore, we decided to take a minute to check in and see what had been happening in the world since we had set our phones to ‘no data roaming’ a few hours earlier. We took out our laptops, iPads, Kindles and smart phones, turned on the router, punched in the code and … nothing.
We reset the router, we checked the code, we tried again. Again, nothing.
By this time my boy had arrived and so, after a bit of hugging, we asked him to do it, based entirely on the fact that he lived two streets away so he must know how.
He didn’t. Or at least, whatever he did, didn’t work.
And so, he phoned the landlady and spoke to her in Spanish, and in English, and in both languages it appeared that the man who was coming to fix the router would arrive the day after we had left.
Five days with no internet connection. No data roaming. No emails. No way to find out how the movie ended, or to download on to my Kindle one of the millions of books trapped in cyberspace, or to watch the progress of the storm that was about to hit London, or – more importantly – to check on a 15 minutely basis my book’s sales ranking on Amazon (go ahead, it’s fun).
We were world wide web-less.
Don’t get me wrong, we would never dream of visiting a foreign country and spending all our time indoors, on the internet. We are, in fact, great tourists. We have the guide books. And the maps. We explore. Tirelessly. We use the 10 words we know of the local language whenever possible and with total abandon. Usually, it must be said, incorrectly. We visit the markets, eat the food, drink the wine, chat with both the natives and each other. We take photos that never escape the camera and get to know the shopkeepers. In short, we fully experience the thrill that only travel can give you.
But, we do it all in the knowledge that we can check our emails, read the BBC website, update Facebook and watch Breaking Bad before going to sleep.
Knowing this was not going to happen, for five whole days, we started to hyperventilate, just a little.
And then, we gradually came to realise that the flat was stuffed with English books, and with CDs of Spanish guitars and American jazz. We began to accept that there was nothing we could do about the storm, remembered that the people who really needed to get hold of us had our mobile numbers and understood that constantly watching the fate of my book was not a healthy hobby.
And that we were still in Barcelona.
Where amazing things like this were happening just outside our window:
(which looks remarkable as it is, but click on the photo for the real experience)
And that things like this were happening inside it:
(don’t bother clicking, nothing moves – either now or then)
But, we’re back, and I’m beginning to meld into my computer seat again, and the publisher would like me to learn how to tweet, and junk emails keep popping up in my box, and the last three phone calls were about pension insurance, window cleaning and a reminder that the article I had promised to write is due.
I’m already nostalgic for the simpler but richer days of the recent past.
We have, by the way, already booked the flat for Easter. I just hope that the internet repair man hasn’t turned up by then.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)