Skip to main content

Comms is a profession - true tales from an ex-IT support man Episode 10

My career as an operator gradually migrated towards communications and IT support.  The communications support was a great time – being immersed in new technologies like protocol conversion between ICL and IBM data from mainframe to mainframe, and I feel privileged to have been involved at the cutting edge of that technology, albeit it commonplace today.

It kindled in me the desire to move off of shift and into a more 9-5 workplace in our offices in Moorgate(OK, so it was my impending marriage that sort of gave me that impetus). 

Speaking of my marriage (a digression from my normal narrative, but bear with me…), eventually, having previous had two venues which had to be cancelled (one due to the sound system restriction of 93dB, the other because of the NUPE strikes at the end of 1978) we lighted on the Glaziers’ Hall at London Bridge, adjacent to Southwark Cathedral. 

As I knew I’d be driving home that night, I’d previously parked the car outside the hall the night before the ceremony. This turned out to be a bad decision.

While my new bride and I were watching almost 400 people stuffing their faces and drinking my free booze inside, several of my colleagues had planned a surprise for us.  The shaving cream everywhere on the outside of the car (including inside the exhaust) was not really a problem.  What REALLY caused the problem was that those bastards (I mean that with all the love and respect for them as I can muster) had pinched the chad from the machine room and spread it neatly over my air vents.  Chad, for those of you not in the know, are the little pieces of card that are punched out so the data is readable by the mainframe.

The weather the day of the wedding was freezing – it had been snowing all week.  Anyway, after the reception was over and we’d kicked out all the drunks, we packed everything into my little Corolla SE, got into the front seats and I opened up the heater vents, with the fans on full, and then fired up the engine. At that point, we had a blizzard INSIDE the car, as about a month’s worth of chad was billowing around us inside the car. Like I said, bastards. It was months before I could finally clean it out of the car interior.

But, I digress. Several things during my comms career stand out.  For example, the BT 13B modems we used for the leased lines were, in the main, stored in a cupboard on the same floor as the computer suite.  No air-conditioning, of course, so there were frequent occasions when equipment overheated and needed our attention (“our” being myself and my little boss, Truk – a genuine nickname so I don’t need to worry about incriminating him without him knowing, assuming he reads this).  On such occasions, we’d draw straws to be the one to open the cupboard and do the work – very democratic. I usually lost, by the way. The temperature was always AT LEAST mid- to high-90s – I remember one time being well into the 100s.  Our own, personal sauna.

Eventually, the mainframe computer was migrated to the Moorgate offices in a purpose built suite, complete with a man-sized space next to the air-conditioning plant so that the operators could stand there and scream without being heard.  Try it – it’s very therapeutic. The comms cabinet was also migrated to its own larger room and I was then installed as the sole occupant – it was also air-conditioned and housed all the comms racks.  I had my
own desk and there was a window panel in the door about 6 feet from my desk so I had a nod to natural light.  The reason I mention that fact? One summer, several of us decided to meet up for a drink at one of the boozers in the City of London.  This was a Davey’s pub – they sell (or used to) Davey’s Old Wallop – as flat as a board, with a specific gravity of about 6.  You didn’t drink it, you had to chew it. It had a reputation which lived up to its name.

Anyway, this particular afternoon, I went into another pub around the corner for my lunch – a plateful of cauliflower cheese and a Guinness. I might add at this point that Guinness, in my humble opinion, is best served chilled or, at least, cold.  However, the chillers had broken down so I ended up with a warm one – I persevered with this as well as with the cauliflower cheese and returned to my desk to continue work. At the end of the day, we all met up in the Davey’s pub as arranged and, after a couple of pewter tankers each, filled from pitchers brought to the high-top, we left to go our separate ways (I actually had more work to do so I went back to my office).

One of the attendees (the one I dropped on his head in the kitchen, as it happens) lived, at the time, in Leighton Buzzard, a town reputed to be the geographical centre of Britain.  To get there, he had to take a mainline train from Euston which terminated in Manchester with several stops on the way, one of which being Leighton Buzzard. He discovered why Davey’s Old Wallop was called Davey’s Old Wallop whilst on the train –
unfortunately, he hadn’t eaten much before entering the pub and a few minutes into his journey, he apparently succumbed to the ale’s effects, fell asleep and ended up somewhere in Manchester.

Me, though, was a different story.  Having returned to my desk, I also felt the effects of the ale and put my head down for a power nap. I set an alarm so I could wake up at the appointed time and, when the alarm sounded, I woke up, did the work with the people at the other end of the link (in New York) and then started to go home.  I say “started” as, as soon as I stood up I knew something didn’t feel right. The combination of cauliflower cheese, warm Guinness and a couple of pints of Davey’s Old Wallop, together with the warm temperature of the comms room in which I was working, all these had a, shall we say, detrimental effect on my person. On standing up, I turned to my left and immediately projectile vomited the constituents of my stomach into the window panel of the door, filling it up. It was quite a sight – lumps of undigested cauliflower cheese, in a black slime (from the Guinness).

I panicked.  I ran over to the door with a wastepaper basket to catch what I could and then ran out of the comms room, cleaned myself up, got my stuff from the comms room and ran downstairs, telling security that some drunk had thrown up in the comms room, by the look of it, and then belted it for the tarin station to go home.

I really felt sorry for the cleaners, that day.