Holiday HELL: Pourquoi, monsieur, why is there no merdique Wi-Fi here?
Sun, sand but no SSIDs
Something for the Weekend, Sir? DAY 1 I arise at 02:00am and clatter about the house noisily. This is my preferred method of waking up the family without the ignobility of knocking on bedroom doors or the inevitable upset that follows from vigorously shaking shoulders or throwing iced water into faces.
I have booked a cheapskate pre-dawn flight and I do not intend to miss it. The last thing I do before leaving my front door is to switch off our cable modem router.
Over breakfast at Gatwick, it looks as if my daughter is frantically texting her friends. How can this be possible? Surely they can’t be awake. No, it turns out she is trying to locate a free Wi-Fi connection but, this being rip-off Britain, they all require prepayment and complex sign-up procedures. You don’t even get a few free minutes.
Later that day, however, all thoughts of cybermessaging and social interwebs are forgotten as we bask in the glory of intense Mediterranean sun...
DAY 2 Still basking.
DAY 3 Ditto (™ Sam Wheat)
DAY 4 Starting to get a little bored of basking. I toy with the idea of checking my email, only to discover than I can’t. The holiday flat appears to be disconnected from the world of communications: not only is there no Wi-Fi, there is no internet available, nor indeed any telephones. My handset says ‘No Service’.
This is puzzling because I had deliberately avoided booking an apartment in the back of beyond. It was certainly not my expectation to be holidaying in some kind of French homage to the set of Straw Dogs, nor had I any intention of being rogered by a gallic Charlie Venner. Indeed, the flat is in a town centre - a small town, admittedly, but not some bleak moor or remote island. Ah well, back to the basking.
DAY 5 I am getting fed up with the people in the holiday flat upstairs. They are very noisy. They are Germans. Of course this latter detail is quite irrelevant and I am determined that neither I nor my family should stoop to clichéd, Sun-reader style discriminatory name-calling based on the family’s innocent nationality.
After dinner that evening, while the nazis upstairs are goose-stepping around in search of lebensraum, I decide to drown out the din by seeking solace in electronic entertainment. With some forethought, I had brought my laptop, a Blu-ray player and some movies in my hand-luggage - I had no time for pre-ripping, unfortunately. My family settles down surprisingly comfortably in sight of the MacBook as I slot in a copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Five minutes later, I am still fiddling with the bloody thing to make it work. Mac Blu-ray Player is refusing to play the disc because it can’t reach its authentication server. In the end, I manage to get a mobile phone connection by reaching out of the kitchen window, enabling 3G and establishing a private hotspot, connect to it from the laptop and eventually persuade Mac Shit-For-Brains Blu-ray Wank Player to do what the arse-munching program is fucking supposed to. In the meantime, my kids have dashed back to their rooms and are sucking my data roaming tariff dry by logging into the hotspot and checking their Facebook accounts.
Eventually, we get to enjoy the film. The only disruptions are occasional bangs and crashes from the party rally upstairs and a Kaspersky notification that appears on-screen every ten minutes to remind me that it can’t update.
DAY 6 My house-sitter has sent me a text asking if he can use my internet connection at home. With gritted teeth, I text him with instructions on how easy it is to enable.
We escape the squeals and stamping of Hitler Youth by visiting my wife’s parents. Upon arriving, I notice that they have Wi-Fi. After the password has been gleaned, neither I nor my kids speak for the next half-hour - much to the annoyance of HLW - as we are hunched over our respective handheld devices.
DAY 7 The sausage-munchers upstairs have arisen early again this morning in order to drag heavy furniture from room to room - I suspect it may not be their fault: they may only be following orders - but HLW has come up with a wheeze to escape from our personal Colditz: we take breakfast at the local cafe instead. It’s good to be sitting on a terrace in the sun and I find myself humming the tune to ‘The Campdown Races’. How do the lyrics go again? Ah yes, I remember: “One world cup and two world wars, doo-dah...”
There’s no Wi-Fi at this cafe, though, and it costs €2.80 for a lukewarm coffee ruined by sour milk and served in a fucking thimble by a surly twat in an apron who expects a tip to celebrate the fact his mother gave birth. I begin to long for good old traditional rip-off Britain where a similar price buys you an American popcorn tubful of Brazilian perfection served by a Pole.
DAY 8 My daughter invites me on a Wi-Fi hunt around town. The place is packed with tourists winding their way around the massive variety of gift shops, cafes and restaurants. But there’s no internet offering for customers, as it turns out, not even at the tourist information office, usually a good bet. I can detect a barely secured Wi-Fi signal at the town hall but do not have the inclination to break into it - the password is probably ‘motdepasse’ - not least because I can only pick it up by standing close to one of its office windows and I am attracting unwanted attention from the workers inside.
DAY 9 We visit the nearest city for a bit of sightseeing and aimless shopping. Unexpectedly, there’s no Wi-Fi anywhere there either. My daughter tells me it’s just as bad in Paris. Heck, this is France, the country that put the entire nation online in the 1980s with Minitel and introduced the world to such... er... seminal pre-web concepts as 3615-CUM.
DAY 10 We revisit HLW’s parents for a final farewell, a customarily generous dinner and a last opportunity to leech their Wi-Fi to check what we have begun calling ‘Fesse de bouc’. Ha ha. Geddit? Ha ha. Oh, go look it up.
Back at Gatwick, there’s still no free Wi-Fi on offer. This will have to wait until we reach home.
DAY 13 A couple of days after returning home from vacation, I find myself on a sprint to Amsterdam and back. Sitting in Schiphol airport in the morning, and also later that evening, I revel in the fact that you get half an hour of no-login, completely free Wi-Fi - and it allows you to reconnect twice... per device.
Civilisation at last. ®
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He would like to remind readers that Wi-Fi is based on microwave technology. Microwaves have a cumulative effect. This means at some point in the future, we will go ‘beep’ and just need stirring before being ready to serve.