…and the screen went blank… by Elizabeth Kay

It’s a bad time at the moment for all sorts of things - but as we start to rely more and more on our computers during lockdown, having your hard drive crash is devastating. And then you discover that your backup disc hasn’t recorded anything since February 2019…
            A physical component failing is much harder to fix than a software crash. The message I got on my suddenly blank screen was: Preparing to recover files.
            But it didn’t.
            My husband connected my backup disc to his computer, which was when we found out that there was nothing on it after February 2019, and he couldn’t even access what did appear to be there. My local computer shop is very good, but they only do pick-ups and drop-offs once a week during lockdown; I felt lucky they were able to take it at all. But the prospects were not good. As I teach modules for a creative writing degree course online, I was desperate for a way to do it. My tablet simply wasn’t the way to go, so I ordered a laptop from Amazon with swift delivery, and was able to carry on marking with that, although I had none of my student records and was only able to compare this assignment with the previous one by trawling through email attachments.
            Although I had a tablet and a phone that meant I could access emails, what you’ve lost only starts to occur to you in dribs and drabs, when you suddenly realise you don’t have whatever-it-was any more. Between losing my computer and buying the laptop, I realised I couldn’t re-order my medication online, nor could I trot down to the doctor at the moment to sort it out. I couldn’t access my bank, as I don’t keep that information on my phone in case I lose it. I had no way of connecting to a camera nestbox on the wall outside, no way of scanning or printing out any documents, and no way of connecting to Zoom as my tablet won’t comply.
Red squirrel, from Ukraine
As far as data went, I lost the spreadsheet in which I keep all my tax details, and all my photographs from Botswana, Ukraine and Cambodia. I lost the latest version of my extensive folder of creative writing advice tips, which I’ve built up over the last fifteen years, and updated regularly. My address folder, my password folder – which made getting the laptop to link to various sites impossible – and, worst of all, a lengthy short story I had just completed. I actually cried.
I have been so careful about backing everything up over the years, but because the backup disc had always worked perfectly I didn’t check it. It got switched off the last time the computer went in for some work, and when it was plugged in again it didn’t get switched back on. Human error that time. When I looked up the original receipt for the computer I discovered it was older than I thought – 7 years – and few things are made to last these days. Unlike my Kenwood hand mixer, which is fifty years old and still going strong!
After the initial despair, though, things started to improve. I bought a new computer from the shop, rather than online, and I bought their care package as well, for £150 per year. This sounds expensive, but it includes continuous support, virus protection, and their own backup service. In other words, complete peace of mind. The shop were able to install everything up until February 2019 from the backup disc, which just left the last year of data that needed to be recovered. As it was a hardware failure, this comes expensive as the drive has to be dismantled in a laboratory with forensic cleanliness. Lovely hubby was feeling guilty about not checking that the backup disc was working, so he paid for it. It took a couple of weeks, but it looks to me as though they have retrieved everything, although it’s sometimes in slightly odd order! Interestingly, I had tried to re-write the story I'd lost, and when I compared both versions there was surprisingly little difference.
My new computer is much faster than the old one, and I am beginning to realise that problems I thought were my fault for inadvertently changing something somewhere were actually the first signs of a serious problem. So if your computer takes ages to boot, doesn’t want to shut down properly, and keeps telling you Chrome has a problem, don’t blame yourself for your lack of expertise and ignore it. I wouldn’t wish my last few weeks on anyone. So here are a few photos recovered from the old machine, which I am very grateful to have back again!

One of my favourite moments from Botswana - elephants squirting lions with water to let them know they're not welcome!


Jan Needle said…
A terrible nightmare. So glad you got it back, and have a lovely husband to pay! For all their problems, computers still beat quills, nicht wahr?
Ann Turnbull said…
Thank goodness you have it all back, Elizabeth. I am just recovering from a similar experience - almost there, now. You're right, there are suddenly so many things you can't do, or can't access, or don't keep anywhere else. And yes, I should have listened to my computer's complaints. I often feel I would love to go back to the days of - well, maybe not quills - but my little manual typewriter and perhaps a fax machine... I used to get so much more actual writing done in those days.
Umberto Tosi said…
OMG! My deepest sympathies to you, writer-to-writer! System crash if not our worst, then one of our worst nightmares. And of course, the backup disk will always be out of date. I rush to update mine now after reading your cautionary tale. I don't know where to start. Good luck going forward! Don't forget that our minds and imaginations are by far our most important information processing systems, not the hardware, regardless of present tribulations.
Oh no - how awful. We rely so much on the information stored in all these things, computers, phones, tablets. I also now have an irresistible urge to go and back everything up, so thanks for the cautionary tale! Hope you really have got everything back that you need.
Enid Richemont said…
Deepest and profoundest sympathy. Now I'm scared - must get myself a knowledgeable computer person because I wouldn't know how to handle that apart from screaming VERY loudly.
Unknown said…
Delighted to see that people are now checking their backup procedures! I am more or less back to normal, although some things are in a different order to what I expect. And the laptop isn't surplus to requirements after all - it's ideal for Zoom meetings, as I can move it around to get the best light... and background!

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