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9:03am on Wednesday, 6th January, 2010:
The snow that was dumped on the rest of the country yesterday finally reached Colchester this morning. Naturally, the convention that the slightest sight of snow entails closing schools meant that we wanted to find out whether my younger daughter's school was closed. Furthermore, we wanted to find out before she caught her 8am bus.
OK, so the first thing to do is to check the school web site. This is the first thing everyone does. The web site is unable to take the strain and crashes. People then spend the next 20 minutes reloading the page in an attempt to keep it crashed. The smart thing to do if you know you're going to get two thousand parents hitting your web site at the same time is to replace the home page with a short, quick-to-load piece of basic HTML that says "the school is closed" or "the school is open, click here for the regular web site". You don't want it to open a system of fancy frames you have to click through to find the actual information. If you do, you'll wind up getting, well, I'd show you the screen shot if there was one. Instead, you'll have to make do with a screen shot of what the Firefox tab said:
The next thing to do is to check BBC Essex. They never crash from being over-hit, but in part this is because their data is often so old that school has started before you find it's closed. This time round, they didn't know any schools had closed: the front page links to Essex Snow: Essential Information, which links to Essex school closures information, which links to the front page.
Next up is Colchester Heart FM, the local radio station (formerly SGR Colchester). Their web page is crashed; unlike that of the school, though, it knows it's crashed, and helpfully offers the web sites of nearby Heart FM stations as alternatives. No, I don't want to check out school closures in Cambridge, thank you. I switch on the radio, and the Heart FM presenters are telling everyone to check out the web site. Hmm, it might be an idea if they check it out themselves, just so they get an idea of what happens when everyone does check out the web site... They do, however, have a list of closed schools they will read out on air; all we have to do is listen to some ghastly piece of 1980s pop music, some advertisements, and some woman reading the news EMPHASISING the wrong WORDS in an effort TO sound pacy and EXCITING. Then some more advertisements and another pop song.
In the meantime, well let's just phone the school direct. Ah, it's an answerphone message, telling us that they can't answer the phone. Perhaps if they were to change it so say "we can't answer the phone but the school is open" or "we can't answer the phone and the school is closed", they wouldn't actually have to answer the phone? Oh well.
After my daughter had caught her bus, Heart FM listed the closed schools. Hers was not among them. However, according to the radio all the buses in Colchester had stopped running, too, so they couldn't exactly be trusted for the accuracy of their information. They did get their web site running, though — another festival of frames and click-throughs, made slightly more irritating because if you move your mouse wrongly it gets interpreted as a mouse-over and changes the frame underneath it. So it's "Colchester snow info" then (carefully) "More" then "Snow cancellations" then (carefully) "More" then yippee! The online list they've been telling us to consult. This is what it looks like:
I'm guessing that around lunch time my daughter will phone to tell me to come pick her up...
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