Only Connect, Only Congest
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday January 29 2012
“Only connect” is a commonly quoted aphorism by EM Forster. I have never quite understood it. Forster himself was quite keen to connect with policemen, bus drivers and Egyptian labouring men but that probably is not the wisdom of the aphorism. Forster’s literary output was small. The author of works such as A Room with a View and Howards End stopped writing in 1924, after he published A Passage To India. He lived until 1970. According to Wendy Moffat, associate professor of English at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, Forster had sex with a man for the first time at the age of 38 – an injured soldier on an Egyptian beach. He met his long-term lover – a married policeman – some years later.
Only one novel, Maurice, dealt with gay issues. It was written around 1910 but was not published until after Forster’s death. Edward Morgan Forster was known to his friends as Morgan. Prepare for an elaborate punning joke. Stay awake at the back there! 1966 was the 50th anniversary of the Easter rebellion in Ireland. One of the rebels executed was Roger Casement. Over the years, the British leaked Casement’s diaries in order to smear his reputation because of his homosexuality. Also in 1966, a film was released called Morgan: a Suitable Case for Treatment, starring David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave. The satirical magazine Private Eye published a spoof film poster announcing: “Morgan: a Suitable Treat for Casement – a tale of the Easter Rising”.
SLT Cancels Christmas
Enough digressing! The phrase “Only connect” has been in my mind lately because I have been trying to connect with my sainted aunt in Ireland in order to give her our seasonal greetings. SLT won’t let me talk to her. She is almost 92 and in poor health but sharp of mind and tongue. I started phoning through IDD on our SLT land line long before Christmas Day. Every time I dialled the Irish number, I was interrupted by a female Sri Lankan voice saying “Your call cannot be connected at this time because all our circuits are busy”. This was followed by a saxophone playing what sounded like George Michael’s Careless Whisper. (I keep getting it mixed up with Careless Rapture by Ivor Novello, Siegfried Sassoon’s gay lover. Sorry to get back on the gay theme!) Careless Rupture would be more appropriate.
Now, at least this SLT woman sounded civil when she told me she was not allowing my call. A great improvement on the creature I call “The Congestion Woman”. That one sounds like a bossy woman in a sari – a huge mountainous woman who wobbles when she breathes. “You call cannot be connected due to the congestion” she shouts.
I kept trying to call my aunt in Ireland until way after New Year’s day. I was trepidatious about calling an SLT help line because I usually want to take my own life after trying to get through to the call centre. I really am not a misogynist but I always pray that a man will answer. The women usually start off sounding irritated that I have disturbed them and grow increasingly impatient as I try to explain the fault. They always sound as though they think I am stupid and to blame for the lack of connection.
Getting connected to the call centre at all is a major trauma. One is given a menu to choose from. On the internet help line two of the options seem appropriate but if one chooses the wrong number all one gets is a high-pitched screech which almost pierces one’s eardrum. Then one has to wait for an average of twelve minutes before anyone answers. If one could just drift into a meditative trance while waiting patiently, it would not be too bad. SLT will not countenance this. One’s ears are filled with noise, the noise of the black arts of advertising and marketing.
“Ayabowen –our call centre officers will assist you shortly”. One is subjected to that doomy, boomy Americanised voice one hears on movie trailers. Also those annoying children’s voices which assail one on trips to the supermarket – God rot you and blast you Tiny Tim!
“Open your home to the world of Megaline”. Why should I? “Conversations drenched in memory”. My memory is drenched in frustration s I try to connect.
“A home where you are never alone”. What kind of hell is that?
“Your world is never confined”. Well, my world is actually confined when I keep losing my internet connection and I am prevented from speaking to my family in Ireland.
Pump Don’t work ‘Cause the Vandals Stole the Handles
Before broadband became available in our neck of the mountains, I tried to get SLT to deal with the problems I was having with connecting to the internet. A very helpful man promised that he would get their best technical brains working on it and the problem would definitely be solved. Eventually he got bored and told me the problem was that I lived too far from the exchange. It seemed that I needed to sell my home and move somewhere else.
A couple of years later someone stole the SLT cables for the sake of the copper. I was without a phone line for two months and had to take a 36 kilometre round trip to check my e-mails. Despite these inconveniences I received a bill that was six times the normal amount.
When broadband did become available, SLT put on intense marketing pressure to sign up for it. I was persuaded. After paying the requisite fee, it took five months to actually enjoy the benefits of ADSL. Things have definitely improved and my outgoings have reduced. It is still frustrating however because the connection can be suddenly lost. When one gets through to the helpline, one is told “there has been a common service issue”. Nevertheless, I have been without an internet connection for three days at time. No sign of a refund.
I was looking forward to the joys of YouTube – salivating at the possibility of watching archive footage of my departed jazz heroes like Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane. It was not to be. The video clips keep stopping and starting because of endless “buffering”.
I looked at various internet fora on this topic – when SLT allowed me to c! I find that I am not the only one to have this problem and that it happens in Colombo as well as in my mountain retreat. One frustrated customer writes: “I get Browsing Speed 512 kbps. But I get 47kb as Kilo Bytes. For Direct Download without IDM I get only 6 or 7kb. Same for some files that download via IDM – I got 5 or 60 before”. “Ya, ADSL is supposed to be fast, but of late, I have felt that internet has slowed down from about ten in the morning till about nine in the night”. “Yep, now I can’t stream YouTube even at six in the evening”. “From the beginning of august, my ADFSL (Home 512/128) connection got a huge slowdown in both down and uplinks. But the funny thing is torrent download speed is working same as past (normally 55kbps). Bur the direct downloads from rapidshare, medoafire, hotfile and filesonic were dropped own to 10kbps. (Before this slowdown these downloads came in at 60kbps). All the parameters in the router are the same as in the past(like attenuation, SNR margin). I called 1243 and opened a complaint. Then a guy called from SLT technical division and said there were no problems in the connection and the have NO BLACKLIST FOR HEAVY USERS.”
So, did I get to speak to my aunt in Ireland? Sort of. We phoned the SLT helpline and explained that I was not able to get through to any landline number in Ireland from my landline. This could not be simply a problem between my phone and my aunt’s phone. I asked if an operator could connect us to the Irish number. The answer was a resounding NO!
After several calls to SLT in Sinhala as well as English , the only solution they could offer was to try phoning on a cell phone. We did get through but it was difficult to have a conversation and the call was of course more expensive than a landline call. No one could explain why our landline calls were being intercepted. We learnt later that SLT’s way of following up the complaint was to ignore the time differences between Sri Lanka and Ireland and phone my aunt several times in the middle of the night to check the line. This caused her considerable anxiety.
Connect the Prose and the Passion
Forster’s ‘only connect” catchphrase comes at the epigraph to Howard’s End. Calm down! Howard’s end is a house, not an anatomical appendage. The full quotation is: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer”.
Never mind about connecting the prose and the passion. Can we just connect Badulla with County Cork?