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a blog by Chris Barrow

Fixing the kids' Christmas presents

I remember when I was a child – many Christmas holidays would be spent watching my father trying to make things work properly – Presents that I had received but which malfunctioned. The books, toys and chocolate selections were no problem. Choccies and sweets demolished in 48 hours, books consumed within days – toys engaged. The problems arose with anything that either needed building or batteries before functioning. If a gift had to be built, you could bet that the instructions would be in a form of English created in Hong Kong by manufacturers with limited skills in translation. “Take part A and insert catch hole into park place under part B” It clearly meant something in Cantonese – but had been very lost in translation. Fortunately, my dad was a former Royal Navy radio operator and so had a talent for engineering and electricals. He was also a perfectionist and one of the most patient men I knew – so no matter how long or how – Part’s A & B would ultimately meet – even if he had to improvise along the way. We were quite a poor family when I was a kid – and I remember my ultimate horror. When I was about 8 years old, they bought me a second-hand, three-wheeler bike for Christmas. I was thrilled, until I rode down the street and the frame broke in half. I walked back home, crestfallen, with the front wheel in one hand and the saddle in the other. Some emotional scars never heal. Why my reminiscences? Because this Christmas I found myself cast in the role of repair-man. But how times have changed. This year, I spent three days trying to get a wireless router to function in our Italian apartment, so that three laptops could surf the web simultaneously. I tried and tried to follow the inappropriately named “easy installation wizard” but every attempt met with failure at the final hurdle – getting the router to connect via the ADSL modem supplied by Telecom Italia. “Cheers” of praise for the help-desk at Belkin (manufacturers of the router) – they replied to my desperate Christmas Day email within 36 hours and, following the step by step guide they pointed me to on the web (cleverly hidden on their web site) I achieved success first time – at 4.00am in the morning after a sleepless night. Result – children think I am a hero momentarily and they have all switched to a nocturnal existence so that they can IM their friends in North America. My dad would have been proud of me.

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