Constantly traveling like this requires, it turns out, a surprising amount of technical expertise.
Finding power for the numerous electricity-hungry devices with which we travel is just the start. Quite literally it is the start – as it’s often the first thing we do on arriving somewhere after running down our batteries during the trip to get there.
The internet comes a close second in terms of priority. Even leaving aside staying in touch, doing this blog, doing our banking and other mundane matters – the kid’ schoolwork requires an internet connection. Over the last six months we’ve dealt with almost every possible permutation of getting connected. Here in Beynac our internet connection is shared with a neighbor. So the initial connection could only be made in her living room. That done we had to investigate the house to find the two spots where the 90cm-thick walls do not block the signal. Because the connection is so limited, we’re also running out own Internet connection via 3G; but because that has a usage limit we have to swap between them carefully. Currently the cry “Which connection are you using?” rings out around our house with alarming frequency.
Every house has its own TV set up and no two are quite alike. We once stayed in a place that had the same set we used at home which was a blessed relief.
Washing machines are a purgatory all of their own. It was probably easier to break the German Enigma code in WW2 than to decode the instructions for a washing machine in Spanish or French. And then when the machine does not work because it’s actually broken, which has happened to us twice, the confusion really sets in.
We just spent the last hour wrestling with a recalcitrant dishwashing machine. And, yes, in that time we could have washed the dishes by hand several times over – but that’s not really the point is it? If you’ve paid for a gadget, it’s a point of honour to get to use it. And if you’re as geeky as I am, being beaten by any gadget is simply incomprehensible.
None of this is intrinsically complicated. It’s challenging only because it’s a new thing every week. At home when you buy a new gadget you work out how to use it and then you keep using it for the next few years. Or in some cases, decades. A new technical challenge every week is brain-training for the constant traveler.
And even things which a few years ago required only manual knowledge, now require technical expertise. I used to have a little ritual on getting in a hire car: sort seat and mirrors, start car, sort aircon, run through the gears in neutral a couple of times, take a deep breath and start out. Those were the days.
This last hire we had to resort to the manual just to find out how to start the car. There is no key, just a card you slide into a slot before pressing a button. It took us an age to find that pesky little slot. And then we had to spend a good twenty minutes more figuring out how to configure and use the GPS system. That was, I have to say, twenty minutes well-spent, as the GPS system is absolutely brilliant.
Of course the most important decision with the GPS system was which voice to use. I chose Kathy, a lovely Irish lass. I’ve now spent such a lot of time complimenting her fantastic directions that Callum is fighting a rearguard action, worried that Kathy is going to become his new mother: “Evan, Kathy is just a silly robot!” Jennifer assures me she’s not jealous. Of course I agree, I wouldn’t trade Jennifer for Kathy. Then again, if Kathy could work out how to fix the dishwasher, hmm…