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Pick a window – you’re leaving – true tales from an ex-IT support man Episode 15

This is less of a techie piece, more a walk down an ageing memory lane, but I hope you enjoy it, nevertheless.

Having moved over to JCB (see Episode 14), I began a new technical chapter in my career. I was trained in the use of a networking software system and I was responsible for keeping it going so that JCB staff could dig themselves into more holes.

The chap (Tony) I for whom I worked at the company had a team of people – some of the most talented people I have had the pleasure and privilege to have  worked with, proof of which is the way their own careers progressed. One of the techies, an Asian guy (let’s call him Ahmed) was adamant that he could out-eat me as far as hot (as in spicy hot) food was concerned. We used to have green chili pepper eating contests, with a bag of the peppers having been procured from an Asian supermarket just off Petticoat Lane, a few doors down from our favourite Indian Restaurant, the Dilchad. There’s a knack of eating these vegetables without burning off one’s tastebuds – he didn’t know the technique, by the way, which meant that I won almost every head-to-head. Seeing as how spicy food was part of Ahmed’s culture, he just couldn’t swallow the loss. Literally. I never told him my wife won’t let me cook chili at home as I usually add half a bottle of West Indian hot sauce into it – basically, I like my food so spicy that my ears flap.

Speaking of the Dilchad reminds me of another eating contest, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember where I was working at the time. No matter, we were speaking with one of our counterparts in the USA and the subject of spicy food came up. The US guy reckoned he could take any heat of food, and he was due to come over to the UK, so he threw down a gauntlet for me to pick up, meal-wise. The challenge having been accepted, we agreed to a curry-eating event when he was in London. I mentioned, above, that the Dilchad was a favourite haunt of ours. So much so that when we wanted a special dish cooked that was not on the menu, they obliged. So, we arranged for the American (we’ll call him Roy) and I to take on a chicken phall. Phall curries, for the uninitiated, are a British invention and are, essentially, white heat. All you taste, if it’s done right, is heat. Anyway, we arranged with the chef at the Dilchad to cook up a phall for us. OK, so MAYBE we said that Roy’s one would be a LITTLE hotter than mine… So, having told us that he could take a 5-alarm chili (pah – child’s play), we started in at the meal.

At this point I will describe the table: we both had a pint of lager each, and there were the usual poppadums and naan bread on the table.  There was also a small vase with some flowers. I could see Roy was in trouble from the first mouthful: his face started to flush from the chin rising to his eyebrows, he stopped chewing and started huffing and breathing with his mouth open as it was obviously too much for his palate. The flush having travelled to the top of his head, he started sweating profusely. He threw down his silverware and grabbed his lager. Down it went, without him taking a breath. Not sated, he then grabbed my pint, which also had less of an effect than Roy had hoped for. Next, he ripped the flowers out of the vase
and downed the liquid therein (I assume it was water, but who could tell?). Still in trouble, he shoved back his chair and ran into the gents’ toilets. Several minutes later, he hadn’t returned to the table and I was quite concerned for his welfare, so I went to check on him. I walked into the gents’ and found Roy, head jammed under the tap in one of the sinks, with the cold water running over his tongue.

I think you could say that was a win for the UK.

In IT, we worked hard (ish) and played hard – I recall one Christmas do which was held in a Greek restaurant in the West End of London which sort of got out of hand and ended up with one of the techies, being three sheets to the wind, dancing on one of the tables. He was so drunk that while he was up on the table, someone bit his arse, hard.  He didn’t even feel it, but the next morning he apparently woke up next to his other half with a set of teeth marks on his buttock and I would love to have been a fly on the wall while he explained THOSE away. The funniest part was that we convinced him that one of the ladies in the office was the one who bit him, when in fact it was one of the guys. We kept that going for a good few days.

In 1987, there was the hurricane – the one where Michael Fish, the BBC weatherman, pooh-poohed the calls he’d received about a hurricane coming, and then came it most certainly did.

My hours at JCB were usually 7am through 3pm – this was to make sure that I could check the networking hardware and systems were fully functioning before most of the users were at their desks. The morning of the hurricane, I woke up as normal and noticed that all the street lights were out but, not having access to the internet, nor owning a mobile phone, let alone a smart phone, I was blissfully unaware of the weather other than experiencing a very strong wind when I stepped out of my front door. I walked (leaning into the wind at a precarious angle) to the bus stop, observing the lack of traffic, but still oblivious of the true nature of the weather.  After about 20 minutes, no bus having arrived (they were usually every 5 minutes), I decided to walk the three-quarters of a mile to the tube station. It still hadn’t occurred to me that there was a severe weather event in progress. I reached the station and the subway tunnel leading to the tube was fully lit, so I proceeded down the escalators and caught the train to the City. The train was almost deserted, but I was still oblivious of the environment, and exited the train at my usually station, normally a hubbub of commuters, this morning just a few souls walking about. I walked (ok, struggled) to the office. It was in total darkness. I went to open the front door and a security guard opened the door.

“What are YOU here for?”, he asked.

“I work here” and showed him my ID card.

“No, I meant WHY are you here – everyone else has stayed at home because of the hurricane.”

“Hurricane?”, I asked myself…”That explains a few things.”

What a twit. Home I trudged.

Our department was the hub of the desktop and networking help desk -  similar in nature to my previous company, with the users being equally non-technical. There was a skeleton staff over the Christmas 1987 period and I was one of the few techies in the building, and a few days before the break when I received a call from HR that they were having a problem with their LaserJet printer and would I come and assist? I attended the call and noticed that there were some sheets of A4 on the stack, so I removed these and couldn’t help noticing the content – they were notices of redundancy. I made out that I hadn’t read them, fixed the problem and returned to my office, whereupon I told Tony what I’d seen. At least we had been forewarned.

The following Monday (Christmas week), there was an announcement by the boss that everyone was to assemble in the restaurant downstairs. When we all arrived, some of us were asked to go to the boardroom, while others remained in the restaurant. The group in the boardroom, of which I was one, were waiting for a couple of minutes wondering what was going on (although I had an inkling due to my printer encounter a few days previous), when the boardroom doors swung open and the company managing director, a little weasel of a man (or excuse, thereof) strode in and stood in the doorway. He said (and I quote – I’ll never forget this) “You’re services are no longer required by the company. Please pick up a letter on your way out of the room”.  He then turned on his heel and disappeared.

Brutal. Pick a window, you’re leaving.

We later found out that the group that was left in the restaurant had been spared and would be moved to another part of the company and, presumably, they wanted those of us who were being let go to go to the boardroom to hear the bad news as there were too many knives in easy reach in the restaurant.

I was called into the boss’s office and I was told that I would be leaving at the end of March, but that Tony was leaving immediately. It was then that they realised that I was unable to work by myself as there would have been far too much to do in terms of winding down the networks, so they immediately asked Tony to work for the three months as a contractor. He would still be in charge and he and I agreed that to keep the business working, the decommissioning would have to take place at weekends, for which I could claim double time overtime pay, plus I would receive a bonus on top of my redundancy package.

In reality, the “decommissioning” involved wiping a couple of hard drives and switching off the servers.  I made more money in those three months than I had the entire previous year. There was a test program on the network called Snipes, which was an interactive (but very basic) shoot ‘em up game.  Also, the PCs we used, although DOS-based, had BurgerTime loaded on them. Suffice to say, we were both paid a fortune to play games every weekend for three months.

And all that with a clear conscience