Some people insist that moving house is right up there with major personal traumas, such as divorce, for its capacity to induce stress. Let me add something else: switching one's ISP. (ISP, for the uninitiated among you – and how I wish I were still uninitiated, too – is your Internet Service Provider.)
It all started when we bought a new computer. I had been hankering after a wireless "hub", like my brother's, for a couple of years, so that I could use my sleek silver notebook anywhere in the flat. But when we asked our computer person whether he could fix up a system where one computer worked with wireless and the other one didn't, he fiddled around, brought something that wouldn't work, and said No. So we stuck with the wires.
That was two years ago. For six weeks now my husband has had a smart new computer – wireless-ready and goodness knows what else. His old one was taking what seemed hours to start up and its keys were dropping off, so it was past time to replace it. But buying it turned out to be the easy bit. We tried to install the programme to make it work with our existing broadband account, but it steadfastly refused (a weekend gone to waste). An internet search showed that the particular service we subscribed to was notoriously incompatible with almost everything. Time, I deduced, to "switch".
So I took what seemed the least ambitious option, a return to good old BT. They even had a special offer. But the more you investigated, the more complicated it became; and the more "packages" they offered, the less "offer" there was – and anyway, before you did anything at all, you needed a MAC.
Now a Migration Access Code is a wonderful term, which should by rights be applicable to many other circumstances. Where internet providers are concerned, though, you must communicate with your existing supplier if you want to get one. And if you thought that your existing ISP might burst into tears at the prospect of losing your patronage, and feel obliged to offer you a better deal (especially after nine loyal years), you would be wrong. What it actually does is relegate you to the end of the telephone queue, then tell you that your MAC will take "five working days" to produce and will be sent to you "in the post"! So five becomes 10 becomes, well, whatever the Royal Mail decides.
You also receive a distinctly tetchy email from your (almost former) ISP, instructing you to make sure that you cancel this service with due notice OR you will be charged. Oh yes, and the MAC, rather than the neat little four-item I had envisaged is – in their parlance – a "17-18 digit alphanumeric code".
Alas, the process is not over yet. The "home hub" BT promises has yet to arrive – another of those "five working day" jobs. I have no confidence whatever that I'll be able to connect it up successfully in the few nano-seconds it seems will be available from eventual arrival of "hub" to the demise of our previous service. No chance of running two services alongside each other, it seems. And if the trauma hasn't yet fully got to me, it has got to my sleek silver laptop, which has summarily given up the ghost.
As I say, switching your ISP is right up there with moving house and the rest. As for switching my bank account or my gas or electric supplier, as consumer advisers keep urging, I'm amazed that anyone even contemplates it. Switching my ISP is more than enough anxiety for one year.
More miserabilism in this winter's moan
I hadn't intended to make any judgement in print on Winter's Bone, a recent American film set in the harsh Ozark mountains that has received almost universal acclaim in the UK. It seemed too mean, somehow, to say anything that might be interpreted as casting aspersions on the performance of 20-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, whose depiction of Ree, the daughter of an impoverished family subsisting on the edge, has been hailed as heralding a scintillating career.
But a bit of a controversy has been whipped up about the sound quality in this film and in The Social Network. Apparently we native Brits find them both a bit hard to understand. Certainly, the first quarter hour of Winter's Bone escaped me, and I only got to grips with The Social Network because of intensive exposure to West Wing repartee when reporting from Washington.
Sound quality, though, wasn't my main beef with Winter's Bone. It was the way the film seemed to luxuriate in its mawkishness – though I have seen a good deal worse in the benighted US backwoods – and the way critics seemed to preen themselves on this supposedly rare depiction on celluloid of the American dream gone wrong. For me, this was just another hit for modish cinematic miserabilism. And if the makers had been serious about showing the true downside of American life, they should have ditched that clichéd happy ending.
Ex-ministers don't need casual shirts to look relaxed
Anyone who believes that politicians don't take their responsibilities seriously should take a look at some former Labour ministers. One way or another, I've come across quite a few in recent weeks, and they're different people. The cares are gone from their faces; to a man and woman, they seem to have shed years – to the point, in some cases, of being almost unrecognisable.
They can conduct real conversations, in proper English; they're not perpetually radar-scanning the room. David Miliband really didn't need to don that disastrous Paul Smith shirt after he lost the Labour leadership to his younger brother, or wear it outside his trousers. That he was now free from the constraints of office was transparent in his whole demeanour, but you could read it most of all in his face.