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Because they dug themselves into so many holes - true tales from an ex-IT support man Episode 14

At the end of the previous episode, I mentioned that I was moving on to another company within the group of companies that owned the American Bank for which I worked. The initials of the firm were JCB.  No connection to the firm that created the diggers and construction plant, other than we reckoned it was appropriate, given that they dug themselves into so many holes, as the title of this piece suggests.

The offices were in a modern set of buildings in the heart of the City of London, with my office being on the 1st floor, directly overlooking the only patch of grass in the area, measuring approximately 50’ by 20’. The technical staff, a mix of technicians, analysts, and management, were situated in a large room adjoining the server room in which were housed the network servers and various other pieces of equipment, all of which were now under the control of yours truly.

When I joined the company, it was in the depths of winter and the potential of the view didn’t dawn on me at the time. However, came the spring and that potential suddenly was raised into my consciousness. As the weather became warmer it became increasingly apparent that the patch of grass was a magnet for everyone trying to relax at lunchtimes (and others), ostensibly to eat lunch.  I say “ostensibly” as it was an excuse to sunbathe and, while not exactly a nudist beach, suffice to say that flesh was definitely “on display”…

Being entrepreneurial as a second nature, I set up a mini-kitchen in the server room on the back counter which was used as a workspace/technical bench, with a Breville sandwich maker and other comestibles. I then let it be known, discretely, that the kitchen was open for any of the IT geeks who were interested, and that there was a view to behold whilst eating, as there were many “lonely” (ok, perverted) geeks around with a need to practise the art of peeping-tommery. Totally non-PC now, but back then PC meant Personal Computer or Police Constable. Charge for entry was included in the price of the sandwiches. In actual fact, I was running a Jewish deli, complerte with beigels (yes, THAT'S how it's supposed to be spelt),, smoked salmon, chopped liver etc. My attempt at drawing ing the gentiles to the light. It was a reasonable success but was short-lived as I got fed up doing the cooking.

The crew I was working with was a nice bunch, although there was one analyst who was obnoxious beyond belief, and who was always being wound up. We put his obnoxiousness down to the fact that he was independently wealthy, having married into money, and he treated everyone around him as something he’d stepped in and couldn’t be bothered to scrape of his custom-made shoes. He was a reasonable analyst, though, but he could have been nicer to his colleagues. I remember one period when he had been particularly irksome, so my boss and I contrived to execute another wind-up on the guy.

Anyway, this guy was REALLY getting on our nerves, so we wrote a file that ran a spoof program on his PC which appeared to be inexorably destroying his hard drive, no matter what he did to stop it. We installed the file (when he’d popped out for a few minutes) and went back to our desks to watch the fun. He started typing on the keyboard after returning and we watched for any reaction. We were rewarded beyond our wildest dreams: first, we observed
puzzlement on his smug face as he was looking intently at the screen. Periodically, we heard him muttering annoyedly and watched as he punched the keyboard keys with increasing ferocity. The program we had installed reacted to any keys being used, and displayed the following script:

First key pressed displayed “The following program will lo-level-format your C: Drive.  Are you sure you want to continue? Y/N” – mutter, mutter, mutter… (We smiled inwardly).

He’d then press the “N” key, so the program would say “You have selected Yes – are you sure you want to continue? Y/N” This elicited a loud  “What the hell is going on?” from him, followed by a forceful thump of the “N” on the keyboard. (We struggled to keep straight faces).

Following the last key selection, the program then displayed “Formatting…” and the disk drive LED then started rapidly flashing as though in the process of formatting the drive.  At this point, he started shouting and yelling that his life was flashing before him, as he didn’t have a recent backup for his work. It was at this point that we could no longer hold it together and started laughing uncontrollably, which sort of gave the game away. He glared at us and, having threatened all sorts of retribution if we didn’t help, we went over to his keyboard, used a pre-defined key combination and stopped the program.

By this time, the whole office was rolling about on the floor, laughing. Suffice to say, when he’d calmed down and complained to the big boss of what had heinous deeds been set upon him (our boss was also in on the jape), when he realised the boss was in on it he completely backed down and even accepted he’d been had. He was still an obnoxious arsehole afterwards, but he was less of one than before – so he got the message.

The office telephones were multi-line devices, with loudspeaker for conferencing. What my boss didn’t realise was that, even if he held his hand over the mouthpiece to tell someone that they had a call before transferring it, the microphone in the handset was still able to pick upwhatever was being said. I would say that we discovered this when he answered the phone one day and it was for me. My boss (whom we shall call Tony) knew the caller’s relationship with me, and he also knew that the caller had a problem with, shall we say, personal hygiene…

“Barry,”, yelled Tony, hand over the mouthpiece. “It’s that smelly man, line 1”

I pressed line 1, and the voice down the end of the phone said “What does he mean, “Smelly man”?”.  That took a bit of artful dodging, word-wise, suggesting that Tony had said something else. Close call.

Tony was also responsible for other embarrassing incidents at my expense.  The foremost of these was after a particularly long phone call from my other half. I was quite busy when she called up one day, so after a few minutes holding the phone between my face and shoulder, I said to her I was going to put her on loudspeaker. She obviously didn’t listen to this (she has a tendency to hear, but not listen…) and carried on with the conversation. 

I can’t remember the subject matter, but once the loudspeaker was on, the whole of the office could hear her yammering on about something probably inconsequential to me, but a matter of life and death to her. Her whole family is notorious for obsessing about trivial matters and she obviously inherited that gene. Anyway, I learned at an early stage of my marriage that the two words, “Yes, dear” were to be used frequently in my lexicon of life, and this telephone conversation was therefore reduced to my wife talking at me, overheard by the office (which
had gone completely silent so they could hear better), with an occasional “Yes, dear” from me. Eventually, my beloved Rottweiler let go of the aural grip she had on my gonads and I hung up.

I thought nothing more of this until the next day, when she called again. Again, Tony picked up the call, held his hand over the mouthpiece and said “Barry, it’s Arkle”. Puzzled, I picked up the call and my wife said “Did he call me Arkle?”. “I said I thought he did, but I had no idea why. Maybe we’d both misheard him, but this was a relatively short conversation and ended soon afterwards, so I then turned to Tony and asked if he’d called her Arkle as we thought.

To tee up the significance of the name, a few years previously there was a famous racehorse called Arkle who was winner of many high-profile classic races.

So, Tony said I was correct in hearing he’d call her Arkle.

“Why?”, I asked.

“Because she’s an old nag”, he answered.

We still call her Arkle to this day.

I’ll leave it there, this time, but the next episode involves racism, lollygagging and fraud(ish), so watch this space…