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Racism, sleep deprivation and golf - true tales from an ex-IT support man Episode 9

We were more of a family than a team at the American bank I’ve been writing about the past couple of editions.  Like all families, we had our squabbles.  Also, like all families, there was a mix of personalities and types of

One of the most notable squabbles occurred one Christmas period: I had previously mentioned that there was a mini-kitchen in the basement, along with the lavatories and the data safe.  The kitchen was used all day by all shifts for lunches, dinners and hot drinks, and there was a proper oven installed and one Christmas we decided to have a proper Christmas meal with all shifts, admin and programming staff and management invited.

While our girl Friday slaved over a hot stove getting the turkey and all the trimmings ready, those of us with less manicured hands (i.e. NOT the programmers or management) prepared the upper floor ops area with several trestle tables and chairs.  I guess there must have been around 16 people sitting down to the meal being cooked
in the kitchen downstairs.

The make-up of the team was very cosmopolitan with British nationals as well as Brazilian and South African members, among others, but the latter two nationalities figure large in this instance. The Brazilian guy (let’s call him Leo) was brown-skinned – his family originated from the Indian sub-continent before migrating to Brazil.  The South African (I know what I should be calling him, but let’s say his name was Arno – I looked up South African names and that one was at the top…) was a hulk of a man.  Rumour has it he had played rugby for the Springboks.  He was about 6’2” and almost as wide.  He also had a cauliflower ear and a strong sense of racism. He was also a senior member of the management team.

As luck would have it, when we sat down, Leo ended up sitting next to Arno at the meal, with me sitting to Leo’s left.  The meal was progressing nicely but, every now and then, Arno would make a racist comment, usually indirectly, about Leo’s “look”. I could see the effect this was making on Leo, who just ground his teeth and suffered in silence, albeit internally seething as the comments kept coming.  Arno was pulled up a couple of times by the boss and others (myself included – having been subjected to anti-semitic abuse, I felt for Leo), he quietened down for a while but after a short while resumed his barrage.

This abuse continued to the end of the meal, at which point several attendees, Arno included, helped clear away the dishes by taking everything downstairs to the kitchen for washing up while the rest of us dismantled the tables and put away the chairs. 

I happened to be standing next to Leo when, all of a sudden, he squared up and hit me smack in the mouth.  Not hard enough to knock out any teeth but enough to take me aback and end up on my large arse. Leo then outstretched his arm and helped me up.  I asked him why he’d hit me, as we were friends. He explained that it was BECAUSE we were friends that he’d hit me, whereas he knew that if he’d hit Arno, not only would it not have the same effect (Leo was about half Arno’s weight and considerably shorter), but he’d probably have been fired as well.  

Fair enough.

The kitchen was an essential part of the workings of the unit – we usually congregated there at shift handover in the morning for a coffee while debriefing, but it had a very low ceiling – nor more than 6’6” above the basement floor.  Take note of that fact for later on, below…

The American Banks Club (surprisingly, it is what it sounds like) held an annual golf tournament and I decided one year to enter the ray – I think the course was Woodlands Manor in Kent.  At the time, I was a member of a club near to where I lived (with my parents) and was an 18 handicap.  As I was on the night shift for the week leading up to the tourney on the Friday of that week, I cleared it with my shift buddies that they’d do the work that week and I, representing the Data Centre, would sleep in the safe at night, allowing me to play a few rounds during the day to practice for the tournament.

Robert Burns said that “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley” – how right he was…

Having played a couple of rounds during the daytime on the Monday, I went into work and around 11pm settled down on the cot in the safe for a kip. At midnight, a massive problem occurred with the processing so my operators came into the safe to wake me up and brief me, as the programmers were on their way down to the suite to see what had happened and to try and fix it. That meant I had had about an hour’s sleep.

The problem took several hours to fix and, once the programmers had left, there was no point in me trying to curl up in the arms of Morpheus, so I left work a little early, drove straight to the golf course (having picked up breakfast, en route) and put in another couple of rounds, after which I went home, showered and changed and then headed back out to work, intending, as previously agreed, to bed down in the safe.

Once again, I got my head down.  Once again, another error occurred and, once again, the ops woke me up and I had had another single hour of sleep.

In programming terms, the entire week was a while/End loop until Friday morning.  A total of around 6 hours sleep in the past 4 nights, I was dead on my feet but was determined to play in the tournament, so I drove to the golf course, bleary eyed, with the windows wide open and loud music on the cassette player (later than 8-track, older than CD) and eventually dressed for the game.

I almost forgot to mention - every morning, as I said, we had a debrief session in the kitchen between the shifts handing over and the incoming shift.  The morning of the tournament, I was so punchy from lack of sleep I wasn't really aware of what I was doing.  One of the incoming shift members, built very much along the lines of Pete in the previous episode, made a comment to me which sort of annoyed me, so I picked him up and held him above my head jammed horizontally to the kitchen ceiling.  Unfortunately, one of the others in the room told me my shoelace was undone and, without thinking, I just bent over to tie them, forgetting I was holding my oppo, who then dropped to the floor.  Oh, how we laughed.  OK, not HIM, but the rest of us...

To my horror, the first hole, called the Eiger, lived up to its name: a par three, with a climb at around 20 degrees to a green about 140 yards above the tee, with fukawi (heavy rough slang) all the way from the tee to the green.  Anyway, I was so knackered that I addressed the ball, and I remember swinging the club back but not the shot itself – I think I may have actually fallen asleep for a few seconds while making the shot.  I was woken up by the applause and the comments that I was a bandit.  I’d put the ball about four feet from the pin – seems I was so tired, I didn’t move my head during the swing and made a great shot.

Suffice to say, the rest of the round went similarly – I played almost the best round of golf I had ever played and ended up coming third in a field of about forty, so all’s well that ends well (for me, at least), even with the annoyed looks from my fellow contestants.

Boy, did I sleep that weekend