I practically live on my computer. It's the first thing I turn on when I get up in the morning, and the last thing I turn off at night. It lives beside me in my bedroom – and when I wake at night to go to the bathroom, I see the friendly green and blue and yellow lights reassuring me that my best (but not quite only) friend is there waiting for me.
That was before. Now I turn it off almost as soon as I've turned it on. I unplug it all the wall everytime I stop using it – certainly when I am going to be away from home for awhile. And when I get up at night, the room is pitch black – reminding me that my friend has turned into a fearsome thing.
I'm trying to remember just when it started. Probably not even a month ago, and when it first started, I didn't really think much about it.
The first sign was music. I would be typing away, or playing a game, and suddenly, out of the speakers would come music that I certainly hadn't chosen. Or had I? Was there some button that I inadvertantly pressed that brought up another programme. I know so little about how computers work, and am forever amazed by what they can do. So I turned the speaker off, as it was distracting me, and put it from my mind.
During the next week, this happened again and again. I was pretty sure by now that it wasn't my doing. Someone, somehow, had gained control of my computer and was forcing their choice of music down my ears. Each time I became more and more spooked. “I don't want another virus,” I thought, having been through the route of a previous one that ended up with me having to buy a new computer – never to regain some of my favourite pieces of writing.
It was like a game. I got up earlier and earlier. At 5 a.m. I had the room to myself. Even at 6 and 7, I was safe. But then somewhere between 7.30 and 8, the phantom took over. If it had been my sort of music, I might have been willing to investigate, but this was mindless pop – no melody. Not that I heard much. All it took was for the music to start, and the computer went off – unplugged – so that if I was inintentionally somehow supplying the phantom with my wifi system for his own use, I was going to deny him that use. Or at least I think turning off the power means the wifi won't work. I don't know. But of course I was denying myself too. Now I have to think of other ways of filling the countless hours of the day when I am not involved in some sort of activity or there is TV worth the effort of watching. So my drawers and cupboards are a lot straighter and cleaner as a result. But I am running out of spare jobs.
I thought it I turned on the computer but not the speakers, I could type and play games without being upset, but always at the back of my mind was the thought of what might be going on inside my speaker, waiting to get out. And the iplayer is a big part of my life too, and that is useless without the speaker.
So gradually I started turning the speakers on again, and sometimes I would get almost all the way through Pointless or Two Tribes, and then the music would start, and my experience was ruined yet again.
But now it has got worse. Now I can hear voices. They seem to be chatting and always laughing. No doubt they are laughing at me, stupid me, allowing them to use my wifi. Music was bad enough, but the voices really tipped me over the edge. These are real people, and they come uninvited into my bedroom and are laughing at me.
So a few days ago, I decided to use my interference clear time from 5-7 to see what I can find out about the experience. I googled, “random music on speakers coming out of computer uninvited” never for a moment expecting to get a response. But there were lots of them. Pages on pages of people who had had similar experiences – some with music only, some with people speaking, some with adverts.
The advice given was varied, but more or less boiled down to this. Wifi is different now that it used to be. You used to be able to block anyone stealing your signal, but now it was a much easier thing for people to do. It sounded like the person doing the stealing (which when someone was taken to court somewhere in America for doing this was let off) is usually someone within the near vacinity of your house – although there were ways of doing long-distance stealing too apparently.
There were those whose who suggested that wifi signals were like flowing water, and if the water you used in your taps flowed out of the gutter into the street, there was nothing stopping the neighbours from catching and using it.
Some people thought it was a viral problem – or malware. They gave instructions on how to download various programmes that would check it out and clean it up. It sounded very difficult and I hesitate to download anything unknown, with my previous experience of virus problems. I used to have a virus checker on my computer, but when I had my last virus, the checker system had not picked it up. And with my new computer, my son-in-law who bought it and installed it for me, said it had a built-in security system, so I didn't have to pay out for a virus checker. Certainly there are notices listed frequently saying that Norton virus has done its checks and all is well. They occasionally ask for money too, but my not giving them doesn't seem to stop them doing their work.
Somebody said they traced their wifi thief to a nearby caravan, so that made me wonder which of my neighbours might be my thief. I lived in a semi-detatched bungalow and the man who lives in the other half doesn't even have a computer. Across the road there is a new family, whom I have not yet met, but they are a middle aged couple and off to work by 7 most mornings, and not around when the activity seems the greatest. Next to them is a family with two young boys – who are outside playing football most days. Their dad is a teacher. The oldest boy is now in high school, so probably is computer literate, and probably the most likely of all the neighbours to get a kick out of this sort of thing. But they will have their own computer and their own wifi, surely. On the other side of me is a older man who lives with his mother. He owns a second hand car dealership and brings the cars home to spit and polish them, so he is home a lot. But I can't imagine him giggling over getting control of my wifi system. He helped me start my car once – and offered to buy it off me, if I found it too much to to cope with. (I nearly took him up on the offer this week when it failed its MOT twice and cost me £600 in repairs.) Kitty-corner to the right is my friend Joan who goes to the same bridge group as I do. She doesn't have a computer, I don't think. Kitty-corner to the left are people who are a bit of a mystery to me, and although I have never met them, I have already built up quite a scenario in my mind about them.
Here is what I know about them: They get up early, as their curtains are open often before mine are – and that is early. Their TV is always on, and I can see the screen lit up from my bedroom window.
They used to have a caravan, and went off in it very early in the morning – 4 a.m. quite regularly but were back by the evening. I thought there was something very odd about that. The wife hangs her wash out most days, but often doesn't bring it in, so I see it out in the wet when I open my curtains. They have a black cat that once disappeared, and I was so hoping somebody had poisoned it. It must have been friendly with the woman who lived her before me, because it seems to consider my place its second home, although I have never given it any encouragement. It leaves shit parcels on my lawn, as it expressed its contempt for me, and I am very tempted to shovel them back across the road to where they belong. But as to whether the are likely to be stealing my wifi – if I could blame the cat I would, but the others seem pretty unlikely candidates.
Yesterday I made a discovery. One of my favourite programmes (which I added to my favourites) is something called Scrabble Sprint. You are given 8 letters and the challenge is to make as many words like you would in scrabble in a given time, but you aren't using a board as such, although the spaces have double and triple values as you would get in real scrabble. After I have read my emails and replied, and posted my story and comments on ABC for the day, I usually play a few games, and end up with five goes on this Scrabble Sprint game, with my aim to get over 500. I do it quite often and feel very pleased with myself. But as I was busy making words yesterday, suddenly my speaker said in a childish voice the words, “as clean as a washed potato” and I thought of the advert for toilet paper. So I turned off the game, wiped it from my “favourites” and haven't played it since. And you know what, my phantom has disappeared too. Although as I write, I keep looking at the speaker, waiting for it to prove me wrong.