This is one of the best lines in any sitcom I’ve heard: “Hey Mom, me and Dad had a great time this afternoon. We learned to work the microwave oven with the door open!” It’s from a TV programme called Malcolm in The Middle. I only watched it once, when I was struck down by my first dose of “Australian Walking Flu”. It was a grim induction to Melbourne and it left me bleary-eyed with a crashing headache and only a packet of Aldi aspirin for respite.
I was reminded of this line last week when three floors of the College Office, our beautiful jade-coloured building (Building 101, aka 171 La Trobe Street) was plunged into the Middle Ages by a total loss of connectivity with Mainland RMIT. The Internet went down, and so did the copiers, the printers, and even the phones. The lifts also went down, which was a blessing in disguise as they have become incorrigibly intermittent at the best of times, more mittent than inter in fact.
We were stranded. Cut loose from all communications with the Mothership. It did, though, have an upside: I learned to semaphore from my 10th floor office, hoisting coloured flags towards the Chancellery, arms akimbo and ensigns a-waving. It was all very colourful, if a tad incoherent.
And the root cause of this catastrophic failure of modern technology? At first we blamed the crane. The tall white one perched high over Building 14. It was rumoured that it had blocked the signal. So the crane was moved. No easy feat in a strong headwind. But alas, it was not the crane. It was in fact, a component in the satellite dish or the box of gizmos that connect us to the outside world, a modestly sized missing part in the microwave that could not be sourced in Melbourne, not even on eBay. So we had to have the part flown in from some place called Sydney (or perhaps flown in by Sydney from someplace).
It took three days for the part to be procured from some hardware store near the docks, packed and then wrapped in 80 metres of Bunnings bubblewrap, shipped, flown, unwrapped, installed, taken out again, shaken a bit, blown on and then reinstalled. A chap in a hard hat, overalls and a pleasant smile then spent much of Friday wandering around 101 picking up phones and announcing in a theatrical voice: “testing, testing….” And then suddenly, we were back in touch with the rest of humanity, or at least back in touch with the rest of the University.
In those three days I had invites to a fabulous series of RMIT events: a Parliament gig to award a brace of State Literary Prizes; a lovely inaugural professorial lecture all about geodata; a posh “do” at Government House to celebrate RMIT’s part in MPavilion; and a few sets of tennis at the Melbourne Open where I saw Mr N. Djokovic hammer some poor unfortunate into the ground, and Mr A. Murray slog his Scottish guts out for four hours. (Four hours!) I arrived home at one in the morning, way past bedtime. The final was a washout, as dreech as a wet Wednesday in Arbroath, but my week was topped off when – bless him – an RMIT architecture alumnus introduced me over a drink in the President’s Reserve not only to Rod Laver, but the inestimable Ricky Ponting (pictured above). My fanatically loyal English Cricket supporter friends are still not talking to me…