No Cause for Alarm

As she writes this, Mrs S’s nerves are raw, strained and jangled. If you would like to gain some insight into her state, you could try turning on an alarm clock, or, better yet, six of them, and just letting them beep, on full volume, the whole time you read this post. Make sure you have your windows open so that the neighbors can join you, involuntarily, in this exercise.

On Sunday morning the S family was woken by the muffled, but nonetheless piercing, sound of a house alarm. It went on for a few minutes, then stopped, then started again a while later, and repeated at random intervals as they dressed and prepared to go to Mass. Of course, thanks to the thick walls of their early Edwardian house, and the fact that the alarm was sounding outside, the S family was unaware that it was their own house alarm, and were collectively wondering what was wrong with the neighbors to just let the nuisance continue like that. It had gone quiet by the time they left for church. Apparently that silence didn’t last. When they returned after Mass and discovered that it was in fact the alarm on their own house that was disturbing the neighborhood they were doubly surprised: first because of the catastrophic failure of their powers of observation; and second because the noisome speaker was from an old system that they believed to have been disconnected when the house was remodelled and the system updated almost five years earlier. Never mind that no one had turned the alarm on, that there had been no break-in, and there were no sensors remaining to be triggered by spiders and the like, snipped into its constituent parts, as they believed it had been, how on earth was the blooming thing going off at all? 

And how were they going to turn it off? They had to get it turned off before the neighbors arrived en masse with torches and pitchforks. Ah-ha! Cut the power. Mr S went to the fuse box and switched off the electricity. Perhaps they should have mentioned to the children, who they had parked in front of the TV, that they were about to do this. But they didn’t.  The TV went off. The kids went off on one. The alarm continued to go off. Clearly it is a zombie alarm, Mrs S thought. Clearly it is wired directly into the mains, Mr S stated. 

Climb up and pull it off the wall, Mrs S suggested. Mr S said it was too high: two stories up. Their ladder would only reach one. Mrs S put an urgent request for a tall ladder to her local facebook friends. There was no immediate response. She went next door to ask to borrow a ladder, if one was available. No one was home. Well, at least those neighbors wouldn’t be braying for blood.

The code. What was the code? WHERE was the code? It was on a piece of paper…somewhere. Who keeps a code for a disconnected alarm system? Well, maybe it was in with the instructions. Who keeps the instructions to an old alarm system? 

Fortunately, Mr S does.

 It took a while to find them. It took longer to find anything helpful in them, but Mr and Mrs S did locate a handwritten set of instructions from the previous owner entitled ‘If the alarm goes off.’ Sadly, that was the only line that was easily decipherable amongst the crossed out and rewritten chicken scratches. However, they cobbled together what appeared to be the procedure, and the code, and went upstairs to try it. No luck. None. Then the phone rang and Mr S was reminded of an appointment he had, and was now late for. So he left.

Mrs S was now alone in a situation that consisted of no fewer than five elements she usually refuses, on principle, to deal with:

  1. Loud, unmelodious noises
  2. Technological elements more complex than a lever or inclined plane
  3. Children insistently spouting advice concerning problems of which they have no knowledge and several incorrect opinions
  4. Situations that appear to defy the laws of physics and the most basic principle of cause and effect
  5. A high liklihood of being lynched by the neighbors 

She spent several minutes typing in possible variations of what appeared to be written in the instructions. Once or twice the alarm seemed to respond, but then it would display the message BATT FLT and resume blaring. Mrs S called Mr S to say, triumphantly, she thought it was a problem with the battery. Mr S said he knew that. Mrs S demanded to know why he hadn’t told her, and was he going to pick up a new battery on the way home. Mr S said he thought he had told her and that the battery was not of the kind readily purchased from the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon, and he really did need to go. Mrs S went back to pushing buttons with vengeful fingers.

Then N announced that she needed a new nappy (diaper), which seemed a good excuse to just give up. While Mrs S was changing the child downstairs in the living room, a police officer peered in the side window. Mrs S waved him to the front door, and then went out to see him, preparing her defense against the inevitable noise complaints. 

“We are TRYING to shut it down! It’s malfunctioning!” she led with. 

As it turned out, two officers passing on patrol had heard the noise (as if it could be avoided) and were just making sure that everything was OK. “Can’t you see it’s not!” Mrs S wanted to wail, but didn’t, for she knew that “everything is fine” was shorthand for “I’m not being held at knifepoint whilst my home is ransacked,” which was the information the strong, adventurous and unsettlingly handsome young officers were really after. The officers suggested turning off the power. They suggested calling the alarm company. They found it amusing that the alarm had not been under contract in six and a half years, and had in fact been disconnected five years ago, and was still screaming away in paranoia. “Check the battery connections,” was their parting suggestion. Mrs S wanted to fling herself at their feet and beg them not to leave. They didn’t seem able to fix the problem, but they added a certain aesthetic value to proceedings that she had not thought the Hertfordshire constabulary had to offer. Her sense of dignity prevailed. Off they went to finish their patrol.

Mrs S went upstairs to do battle with the battery. As she was trying to wiggle her finger down one side to check that the wires connecting the twelve-volt brick were secure, giving no thought to the risk of electrocution because at that point it might have brought welcome relief, the battery was suddenly dislodged, slid down the case with a thump, and the alarm stopped mid-whoop. Victory! After twenty minutes of silence (disturbed only by vivid descriptions from R of the headache he had had all day) Mrs S called Mr S to gloat. He was pleased, but not as impressed as she would have wished.

All was well for the next four hours until, in an uncharacteristically timely attempt to right the chaos created by getting to the alarm box and accessing the  battery, Mrs S decided to screw the cover back on the box while the children got ready for bed. Thirty seconds later the alarm went off again. The children went nuts, Mrs S burst into tears, or at least wanted to, and Mr S went to pry the cover off again. The doorbell rang and Mr S ran downstairs to apologise to whatever neighbor it was. Mrs S knocked the battery about and pressed a few numbers.

Then everything changed. The alarm continued to sound, but Mr S came upstairs with news, not of impending police action or threats of violence, but of charity. The next door neighbors had rushed over to make sure everyone was alright. They were not angry. They offered to take the children next door so Mr and Mrs S could attend fully to the problem. As Mr S described the conversation the alarm stopped of its own accord. Mr S took the cover out of the room so that no one could be tempted to put it back on (and, Mrs S thought, so that the zombie alarm would not catch sight of it and start panicking again). Mrs S finished putting the children to bed and Mr S went next door to thank the neighbors for their concern and reassure them that the situation seemed to be resolved. He returned with one more kind offer: 

“They said if it goes off in the middle of the night and the children can’t sleep that we should all come next door and sleep at theirs, even if it’s three in the morning, and that they will be upset if we don’t take them up on that,” he reported. 

He also said that the neighbors recommended total destruction of the speaker — by hammer or any available means — as soon as a tall ladder could be procured. Mrs S vowed to bake them a cake. It is so pleasant to discover that one’s neighbors are more charitable than one is disposed to be onseself.

Such was the saga of the zombie alarm. If you thought it was lengthy to read, try it in real time. (You may turn off your alarm clocks now, by the way. Isn’t that better?) It is always unfortunate when such pointless problems consume a great deal of our time, and leave us too jangled to cope with more important matters, and suffering from tinnitus to boot. It’s not the same as real and urgent suffering, but it certainly prevented Mrs S from accomplishing anything worthy that day. And this general trend of time-consuming triviality continued. But there is not time now to describe why, on Monday morning, Mr and Mrs S were obliged to disassemble the refrigerator. Suffice it to say that it (eventually) ended well, that Mr S derives profound satisfaction from voiding manufacturers’ warranties, and that Mrs S might have coped better without the previous day’s drama. 

Still, once a tall ladder is procured, it’s going to be terrific fun to bludgeon the inexplicable life out of the zombie alarm speaker.

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