Once upon a time in a far, far away land called Earth, there was a laptop. The year was 2019 and the world was more inter-connected than ever before. The laptop was a device that provided ample opportunity: starting businesses, undertaking (and attaining) degrees, initiating relationships (a phone is probably the device of choice for this one, but let’s ignore that for the sake of the story) have all become possible without so much as rolling out of bed.
On that note, this story is about a very particular laptop - we’ll call it something original, like Laptop - and boy, were Laptop’s days unpredictable.
Rewinding ever-so-slightly, the story begins a month prior, when its owner (let’s pretend it’s me) goes to a café to buy a double espresso to kickstart the day. On this occasion, as I brought the majestic concoction to my lips, it happened to slip out of my hand, because my fingers happened to choose not to hold onto the cup any longer.
The cup dropped to the table, bounced once, and its contents were distributed across the floor, the table, and the laptop, in a manner very akin to a garden sprinkler. Somehow, I’d been spared, but Laptop was no more. Figuratively, of course; it didn’t vanish into thin air. Still, poor Laptop.
I pressed the Power button and light certainly did emanate from the screen; a little bar popped up to let me know that it was trying to open the door into Laptopia (the world within this laptop), but whomever was home had lost the key.
As a PhD student at the time, Laptop was my partner, and without access to Laptopia, there was no PhD. Laptop was an Apple Product and I’d hear whisperings about a collective with the power to heal Apple laptops known only as… ‘the Geniuses’.
I made contact. “Have you turned it off and on again?” No, I certainly hadn’t turned off the laptop that kept freezing on the reboot screen. If the I.T. Crowd taught me anything, it’s that off-and-on again is sound advice, unless the problem only happens when you’re trying to turn something back on.
When ‘the Geniuses’ couldn’t solve the mystery, I was told to go to a shop as it was probably a hardware issue. I’d been told they’d given Laptop a once-over; the hard drive needed replacing due to old age, so I sanctioned the replacement and a day later, Laptop was ready to go… or so it seemed.
Not a month went by, and Laptop had lost its keys again. The reboot bar kept getting stuck at about 60%. This time I figured I’d leave it for 24 hours to see if there might be any progress; there was none. I called the shop, explained the situation, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with it. What to do? What else was there to do but open another laptop and browse the internet for advice; the internet was bountiful.
If I believed the hard drive was the issue, which I did, then I should install the operating software onto an external hard drive (several lines of technical jargon later), meaning I could reboot my laptop that way instead. Great!
I picked up the phone and called a mate to help me navigate Laptop’s innermost folders using magic; she transferred all my files to the external hard drive plugged into Laptop’s USB port, before turning it off and back on again, but this time using a magic button… and it worked! The PhD was back on.
As luck would have it… the external hard drive’s days were numbered. See, the external hard drive (let’s call it Usurper) was great at storing stuff, but Laptop wasn’t best pleased that its own built-in hard drive was being usurped by a usurper. Laptop knew that Usurper relied on the USB port to work, so Laptop decided to chop off its nose to spite its face; it was self-sabotage; no one saw it coming, not even me.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and before I knew it, I was on the final stretch. It was February 2020 and the final submission was a half-year away; how relieving it was to know that seemingly endless journey did in fact have a destination, but how daunting it was to know that if what I produced didn’t please the examiners, I would go down in a hailstorm of cannon fire.
Even with the doubts seeping into the depths of my very soul, I kept on keeping on with the trusty Usurper at my side. March strolled around the corner… and along came Covid-19; and along came lockdown; and along came furlough.
Civilisations across the globe were catapulted into a state of panic. People feared for their lives, and apparently for their bowels, choosing to fist-fight one another in the aisles of their local supermarkets for extra rolls of toilet paper. Some even posted images onto social media wearing toilet paper crowns whilst sitting on their toilet paper thrones. Abruptly… my USB port stopped working and the Usurper had been locked out. Laptop’s revenge was in full effect.
What next? It was crunch time for the PhD, but my old buddy Laptop had done me dirty. Since Laptop was last incapacitated I’d moved houses, and no longer had access to other laptops. The saving grace was that I had all my data stored on the Usurper, but nothing with which to access it.
So, I took a long, hard look in the mirror and asked myself… “what the f*** am I going to do now?” Everything was shut in town; online support services were drowning; phones were permanently busy and being on ‘hold’ had become a 24-hour experience.
I’d been hunched over my computer for months on end, I had splitting headaches, I was struggling for sleep, I’d lost my appetite; all I could think about was PhD and now, midway through the final straight, I had no way of finishing. At this point, I was willing to try anything. I turned to Craigslist on the recommendation of my sister’s colleague, who’s brother’s partner happened to know a guy, whose mate’s kid knew a kid, whose dad did laptop repairs. Well, hello lifeline.
Lockdown hadn’t changed my life much. I’d spent months locked away in a room, reading and writing, only for the government to tell me that I was probably going to have to spend the next few months… locked away in a room, reading and writing. I would have continued spending my days in that manner if I hadn’t needed to leave, but Laptop needed fixing, so I’d booked an appointment with Craigslist guy.
Masked up, armed with hand sanitizer, I surfaced from my lair and for some reason, the real world looked more pixelated to me than Laptopia. Instantly, I took notice of the lack of cars on the road, the flourishing of nature in a town made of concrete, the luscious grass, the busy trees, the variety of animals, the clearer river; it was like a scene from Tom Cruise’s Oblivion, it was truly breath-taking.
Despite the vibrant colours gracing me on my walk down the high street, and despite breathing air so fresh it felt like it was imported from a Scandinavian country, I just couldn’t appreciate it, I couldn’t settle down; the world around me seemed so insignificant.
Having followed the directions I was given to the letter, I ended up at a pub. Not one of those that you get at the end of a road, but a large, stand-alone building, surrounded on both sides by white pebbled land, most likely used as a carpark – evidently a popular place. It even had its own little walkway that connected to the riverside footpath. Very classy. I picked up the phone, gave Craigslist guy a ring, told him I was outside, and he said: “On the way”. Part of me was expecting him to stride elegantly out of the front door wearing a top hat, white tie and tails, but obviously that’s not what happened. Instead, I heard a creaking from a distance, a head poked around the far corner of the building and a hand waved me over.
“You got the laptop?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Hand it over then. I’ll give it a look and see if I can fix it. I’ll ring you when it’s done,” he said, assuredly.
I shrugged my shoulders and handed it over. At that moment, I was not in the slightest convinced that handing Laptop over to some shifty guy who fixed computers round the back of a pub was a good idea, but gosh darn-it, if he wasn’t the best dodgy-behind-the-back-of-a-pub-laptop-guy on the planet. When my phone rang 24 hours later, and he told me that he had not only fixed the issue with the hard drive but he’d fixed every other issue it had as well, I was elated.
“I’m on my way now,” I said.
Bursting out of the front door, suddenly the lack of cars on the road made the high street look liberated, the vibrant green grass gave my eyes a new lease on life, the trees were inviting me to climb them, and the river, as clear as I’d ever seen it, was begging me to dive in and swim the rest of the way.
As soon as I arrived at the pub, I rang his number. We danced that same old dance – he peeked out from the far corner of the pub, waved me over, handed me the laptop and said: “It’s done.”
Beaming from ear to ear, I said “thanks”. “What was wrong with it?” I asked.
“Well,” he sighed, “when I opened it up, there was this sticky brown stuff on the inside, smelled like coffee… and that hard drive… that’s an old one, definitely hadn’t been replaced ‘til I got to it; dead as a doornail it was. Rammed with dust too. Hasn’t been cleaned out in a while. Whatever shop you went to, you got ripped off,” he chuckled.
Here I had been doubting my partner of a decade, Laptop. Sure, the timing of each malfunction was impeccably inconvenient. Sure, at one point it did feel as though Laptop was sentient and had begun spiting me for switching over to Usurper, but all along… I was at fault. One blasted coffee spillage caused this magnificent device so many issues over the last year. Never again, I vowed, would I let a hot drink get in the way of the bond between Laptop and I - and to this day, none has.
Before I left, I wanted to know one final thing.
“Why are poking your head around the back wall of the pub?” I asked. “We’ve met each other twice now, and I respect that you want to maintain distance, but…”
“It’s because I’ve got to keep my leg stuck out to make sure the back door doesn’t slam shut.”
“The back door?”
“Yeah. It’s a fire exit, so it only opens from the inside. I mean, I suppose I could walk around the front, unlock the pub, walk through the pub, unlock the connecting door and lock them all behind me, but that’s just extra hassle, isn’t it?”
“I suppose… so it’s your pub then?”
“It is, indeed,” he said proudly. “But it’s been shut since lockdown, so I’m doing laptops on the side. Don’t know how long this is gonna last, but I need to pay the bills somehow.”
“Wow. When did you start learning to fix laptops?”
“Don’t remember, really,” he shrugged. "Played around with my own a while back. Followed some tutorials on YouTube. As I got better at it, took an online course, got a qualification. Did it all from home. Was pretty good at it. Started fixing things for some mates in the past, they were happy with the results, so when lockdown hit and I had to shut the pub, I figured I might as well make this a side business. Went online and started advertising on Craigslist.”
“Convenient things, laptops,” I commented.
Nodding in agreement, he added: “Even more so over lockdown.”
So ends the tale of Laptop the laptop, and the laptop fixer who used his laptop to start a business fixing laptops. The pandemic didn’t change my day-to-day habits much, not during that year-long period anyway, but it did force me to look beyond the end of my nose for solutions. And if you’re reading this, dodgy-behind-the-back-of-a-pub-laptop-guy, thank you for fixing my laptop.