Tim Walker’s Spark

During the thunderstorm a week ago, there was one particular flash of lightning hence one particular boom of thunder, that was more damaging than the rest.

This lightning, via peripheral vision and through a window, was sufficiently scintillating to have me spinning in shock; the ensuing thunder, even from inside the house, produced greater volume than is surely acceptable in early evening in a residential area.

Suffice to say the electricity supply to my street was immediately cut, following a presumed overloaded system or fried transformer, or something to that effect – not being an electrician I’m hardly qualified to speculate.

When a little under two hours later – also two phone calls to the utility company as they seemed unaware that this small rural Mid Canterbury town was even in existence, let alone experiencing electricity woes – the power was restored, I resumed watching television and thought nothing more of it…

The thunderstorm was over, the grass was wet for the first time in months, and I went to bed feeling more at peace than I had for some time.

…Until the next morning. First thing, as always, I flicked on the computer. I then ducked through to the kitchen to carry out my morning routine. Minutes later I arrived back at the computer, gave a couple of clicks and ducked away again. Moments after that, I returned, gave a few more clicks and again hurried away. A little later I returned with a bowl of porridge, and finally sat down. Placing my breakfast on a tray to my left I was immediately faced with a predicament.

‘Web Page Not Available’ stared back at me. I confusedly clicked through my other pages; same thing. I tried refreshing them; of course this yielded nothing. Only then did it occur to me; glancing across the desk to my modem – displaying three lights rather than four – I uttered one or two obscene words before calling the Telecom – sorry – the Spark help desk, in the Philippines.

I spoke with Filipino Rick who, while having already been made aware of my town’s issue and even being able to inform me that there was no signal leaving the local exchange, first ensured that I had undergone Spark’s classic ‘troubleshooting schedule’ – wherein all devices are turned off for ten seconds then turned on again – a number of times before conceding, a technician would need to be sent to remedy the fault.

That was Monday. Soon after terminating that phone call I received a text message from Spark informing me that a serviceman would be sent to my area ‘between now and 3 p.m.’.

“Alright,” I recall thought/mumbling, “there’s one day lost.”

Next morning my four lights were still only three. I made another phone call to the Philippines. This time I spoke with Filipino Sven. “Have I gone though the troubleshooting schedule?” he wanted to know.

“I have,” I assured him, “several times, in fact” – but as I knew, as they knew, I told Sven, the fault was with the exchange.

Sven took my cellular number, despite my assurances that my Spark cellular telecommunications device struggles for coverage in my area, and told me to await a call from the technician.

That afternoon I received confirmation from Chorus, via my landline, that the issue at the exchange had been sorted. I glanced at my modem; still with three instead of four.

“It doesn’t appear fixed at my end,” I said.

“Well,” replied the technician with a decided South African flavour, “it’s definitely fixed at our end, so it might be your modem that has the problem – have you tried a different modem?”

“No,” I answered with a hint of exasperation, “I’m actually fresh out of spare modems, but hey, if you’re confident that you’ve done your job, I’m confident that I can get it working.”

This was an extremely optimistic approach and I wasn’t terribly surprised when I failed to get anything working that afternoon.

That had been Tuesday. Wednesday, such was my annoyance at the situation, perhaps ignorantly, I didn’t even attempt to rectify my Internet issue in the morning, instead working on writing and editing short stories. Not until the afternoon did I take steps to elicit the text message informing me the problem would be fixed ‘between now and 7 p.m.’.

Thursday morning I was still a light down, so I was back into it. I gave the Philippines a call and spoke to Filipina Vela. She told me the reason I had not been contacted by the technician yesterday was because they did not have a cellular contact number. We spent some time ‘troubleshooting’, before summoning a technician. I received a text message telling me that the problem would be rectified ‘between now and 3 p.m.’.

My landline rang that afternoon to tell me that they had checked the exchange – again – and there was no fault; perhaps the fault was with my modem..?

“Yes,” I explained, “perhaps it is, but the problem with that is that I have no way of testing it…”

The Chorus technician then suggested that I try one of my neighbours’ modems..?

“Yes,” I explained, “that is indeed a possibility but, well, as far as I know, the whole street is experiencing the same issue – I have actually been trying to get one of you guys to drop by and test it for me..?”

The Chorus technician grunted something and was gone.

Friday came; I didn’t need to check to know there were three lights instead of four. I called the Philippines. Evidently Friday is their busiest day; I was on hold for almost two hours before eventually speaking to Filipino Dave. I explained; we troubleshot. I explained further; we troubleshot some more. I became exasperated; I was told a technician would be sent.

“No!” I yelled before he could hang up. “For Christ’s sake, stop sending technicians to the exchange – there is nothing wrong with the exchange!” I took a breath, calmed down and explained again the same point I had been trying to convey for the past three days; “Dave, look, as I keep saying, technicians have been to the exchange and found no issue, so what I need, is a technician to visit me at my address, to check my system … Do you understand me, Dave?”

Dave assured me “a technician would be sent” and hung up the phone before I had a chance to clarify.

Moments later, I received a text message informing me that the problem would be rectified ‘between now and 3 p.m.’. I almost cried. I didn’t though, instead busying myself with writing the beginnings of this article. An hour later my landline rang. It was that South African Chorus dude telling me the exchange was still fixed, and perhaps the problem was with my modem..?

“Yes,” I said, swallowing my frustrations and doing my best to keep sarcasm out of my tone, “I believe it is … The problem I am facing, sir, is locating a technician with the time, or more to the point, the inclination, to come by and confirm that suspicion.”

“Oh, well,” said the South African Chorus dude, “that shouldn’t be a problem, I’m just a few minutes away…”           He confirmed my address and hung up. Ten minutes later he called back, having entered a driveway a few houses down from mine and requiring further guidance.

To my relief he arrived some minutes later. I showed him through to my work area. He plugged in his machine to my modem. He confirmed it was fried, and left.

I then consulted a phonebook for a Spark number that could both assist me and not put me through to the Philippines. My first three attempts failed; each new number ending up in Southeast Asia. I decided to keep clear of 0800 numbers and instead tried going direct. I called a Spark office in Christchurch, which didn’t appear to even bear a relationship to the ‘Spark faults line’, and spoke to Anthea. Never have I been so relieved to hear a Kiwi accent.

I quickly explained what had happened, how I felt like a fool for allowing the problem to go on so long but how it was now rather urgent that I fixed it, and how, given that for so long I had been a ‘loyal’ customer of theirs – momentarily I forgot what to call them – I hoped they could fix me up with a modem which – I didn’t mention per se that I expected it free of charge – looking at the old one, I went on, they didn’t look all that expensive…

“Yes,” Anthea said, “we can courier out a replacement modem … That should arrive in one to three days – longer for rural delivery.”

“Oh, thank you,” I said, “that’s great,” still not knowing if she was giving it to me free or if she intended to tack it onto my bill, “but ideally, I’d have it today – is there any way I can come in and pick it up?”

“No, I’m sorry, there’s not – it should be with you Monday – longer for rural delivery.”

“Yeah, Monday, it’s just that, well, I’ve not checked my emails for a week, you know, so I really would like to do it before Monday – do you guys not have a base in Christchurch?”

“No, I’m sorry, we don’t.”

I considered this. “What if, Anthea, you quickly couriered it to your store in the Hub, Hornby, and I pick it up from there?”

“No, I’m sorry, that’s not protocol.”

“Right, so, Monday then.”


Next morning, before 8 I hit the road for a long haul cycling excursion; God knows I needed it. Around 2 p.m. I coasted into my local servo and leaned my bike against the wall. I ducked into the Post Box bank and checked my post. Among the envelopes and local papers I was more than a little shocked to see a yellow ‘you’ve got mail’ ticket.

Perspiration still dripping from my face rendering me periodically without vision, I stumbled into the shop and handed over the ticket. The girl handed back a large package, along with a modern-day etch-a-sketch and the requirement of a signature. Struggling with the tiny ersatz pencil, with sweat still proving a baneful excretion, I scrawled something akin to a hatful of spiders, looked up, smiled then just as a line of perspiration trickled over my lips, sprayed my thanks and left.

I couldn’t believe it: firstly that my modem had turned up and secondly, what modems have become – they’re huge now, and they stand up.

By 9 p.m. that Saturday night I had cleared my emails, and basically caught up on what fortunately, turned out to have been a comparatively slow week.

I must apologise for missing my 22nd Theory slot but be assured it’ll be up this Wednesday, as usual.

So thank you Spark – for whom I previously harboured a fair amount of detestation – but thank you moreover to the lovely and mysterious Anthea – towards whom I was previously indifferent – for overseeing an expeditious courier delivery.

Nice one, Spark.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Phil O Peno

Photography by Con Fu John



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