Thursday, 22 March 2012


When I was still an unmarried gentleman of leisure, I developed a certain nightly routine to help unwind. Regardless of how late it was - within reason - I would almost always watch an episode of a DVD boxset before bed. I like to think this allowed for two things: firstly, between 42-60 minutes to expunge the last of the day's stresses and unwind a little; and secondly, to hold on dearly to the idea of making at least three quarters an hour a day which was still very definitely mine.

Since marrying, this has in some ways become a bit of a shared habit. Last year, we ploughed through all but one series of BBC spy-drama Spooks - along with most of the kettle chips and/or crackers and cheese to be found in east Belfast. (Pro Tip: there's nothing quite like grabbing whatever has been reduced daily in the Co-op on the Beersbridge Road.) Shortly before leaving, I decided that enough was enough (at least, that's how I remember it) and that the time had finally come to introduce Ruth to The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin's multi-awarding-winning drama about a fictional US White House. Quite a few people will know me as an evangelist in, and defender of, this show, and I suppose I will remain staunchly so until the day I unwind from this mortal coil.

So six seasons of The West Wing came to Niger, and have been quite literally the only thing we have watched since. We're now in season 6, so I reckon that places us at about one-and-a-half a day, but in reality Saturday mornings account for a lot of that!

But disaster struck this week. Since the DVD drive on my MacBook Pro took a dodgy turn, we had decided to use Ruth's Dell for DVD watching. This was boosted by The Single Useful Idea Dell ever had - Dell MediaDirect, a partitioned part of the hard drive that you can access without turning the main operating system on. That's fancy language for it's really quick and uses a lot less power, ideal for watching DVDs.

But the power cable seemed to have ceased to work. The odd wiggle seemed to cause the blue Power LED to light up, but otherwise, nothing. Panic ensues.

In the UK, this would be an annoyance, but after a bit of fiddling one would probably just log on to Amazon and order a replacement. A little harder here. We are not huge television watchers, but this one little bit of escapism every day or two has already become a moment of comfort to look forward to, a time to relax in the midst of the organised chaos of a mission hospital. We appeared to be now having to adjust to a future where our ways to relax with media - watching and reading - had been exactly halved. Not a tragic hardship by any stretch of the imagination, but a bit of a pain nonetheless.

Now, forgive me, Bartlet-fans. My mind should, of course, be ready to draw down knowledge from the seven seasons of learning that compose The West Wing at an instant. In an earlier time, when things were simpler and the main priority was remembering to lock the door when leaving for class, I would perhaps have instantly recalled that all is not lost in these situations. Let me explain.

In Season Four of The West Wing, in an episode called 'Angel Maintenance', President Bartlet and his staff find themselves stuck, flying around in circles and unable to land, on Air Force One. The problem? An LED indicator, which lights up when the landing gear is fixed into position, has failed to come on. Though a lot of activity ensues, including using fighter jets to check if the gear is in fact in place, the President keeps returning to a salient point made by his pilot at the outset:

"The light that indicates that the landing gear is locked didn't go on, which usually indicates that there's something wrong with the light."

After painstakingly dismantling, reassembling and rewiring the unnecessarily complicated 65W power adapter this afternoon with little more than some tweezers and a razor blade, the thought suddenly occurred to me, and so I checked.

The week long worry over the loss of a computer due to a faulty power cable was in vain: it's the flipping light that's faulty.

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