Friday, December 17, 2004

The Duke of Kent Story

Suggest. Oh.

Blimes. You are an imaginative lot, aren't you?

Tell you what, there's an awful lot of suggestions to get through, so I'll spend the week working out a) a story and b) how to ping Charles Clarke's enormous jug-ears until he passes a law on ear-pinging. Next Thursday (a day early for staying-at-the-parents-in-law-woe reasons) will be a Christmas Spectacular Tale of Mirth, Woe and a small boy with a limp saying "God Bless us, every one!"

Naturally, the whole exercise was just an excuse to foist the Duke of Kent story on you. So...

The Duke of Kent Story

I once met the Duke of Kent. Lovely chap, even if he represents an outmoded hierarchical system of feudal power, and probably eats live mice in his spare time.

I managed not to offend him too much either. Okay, only a little bit.

"Born in 1935, HRH The Duke of Kent is the son of the late Prince George, fourth son of King George V, and the late Princess Marina, daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece", says the Royal Family website adding, making the lot of them sound like a bunch of interbreeding country bumpkins, "He is cousin to both The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh." The website fails to mention where he gets his annual freebie to the Cup Final from, but by the sounds of things, it's to keep him quiet about that nasty business about Princess Anne marrying a horse by mistake.

Any road up, they spent millions of taxpayer's money building a whole new wing on our building, with a lovely shiny computer room, and a lovely shiny mainframe computer which they only got working properly a week before it was replaced. With all this cold, hard cash *cough* invested in new technology and stuff, it was only right to ask a big name to come and open the place for business. We couldn't get The Krankies or Jasper Carrott, so they sent the Duke of Kent instead. Which would have been nice, but they made us take all our camp beds and nudie calendars home.

Come the big day, the place is crawling with security, though it has to be said, rather less than when Ian Paisley came to the offices of my previous job in his capacity as loud shouty person to scare the shit out of our slimy boss. Totally non-plussed, I thought I could spend the day ignoring the whole event, feet up on the computer console, reading Viz. And that's exactly what I did, with some quality scratching of the bollocks added for effect. After all, the Royal Party was coming nowhere near where I was shacked up - just a quick peek at the mainframe at the other end of the corridor and away to far more exciting things, such as the free buffet.

Slight diversion:

One of my female colleagues is on a nightshift. With very little doing on a barely functioning system, she is doing what every other bugger does on nights - getting a good ten hours' kip on a camp bed. Much to her surprise, the phone rings. Our one and only user is on the other end, and his VDU screen has gone, to use the technical term, "tits".

"I'll see what I can do," she says, leaping from her pit and running into the computer room. A couple of taps on the console keyboard, and she darts back into the office to see if the user is happy. No he isn't. Back into the mainframe room she goes, reboots the chap's computer, and at last he can get on with his life.

It was at that point that my esteemed colleague realised that she was totally naked.

You don't get that on the twilight shift at B&Q.

Back on topic...

But no, HRH turns out to be a hardcore computer nerd, and a mere glimpse of the throbbing majesty of two Honeywell DPS8000 mainframes and a dozen DPS6 support processors (only one of two systems like this in the world, fact fans!), the cutting edge of late 1980s computing technology, was not enough for him. He wanted it all.

Before I knew what was happening, my quiet corner was filled with stern-looking men in suits, some of whom I knew as senior management, torn from their natural office environment and into alien space where people actually worked. The other chap I instantly recognised as the chap from the Cup Final. And they wouldn't even let me finish "Buster Gonad" either, the bastards.

"Ah," said the General Manager, realising he had no idea who, or what, I was, "Ah. Could you should the Duke our computer system?"


I could, but I wasn't actually logged in to show him anything, and there lay the nub. There were difficulties, you see. I tried to lecture him on the advantages of a mainframe text-based system over a linked computer network, which all experts agreed would never catch on. But no, he wanted red-hot computer action. I would have to log in. There was no escaping it - I would have to brazen it out.

You see, these were the days before your password came up as ****** when you typed it in. It didn't matter as most people didn't bother changing their own from the day the behemoth had been switched on, and "1" was good enough for them. Not me. Oh no! I had to be different. I had to be clever. And now the Duke of Kent was over my shoulder, and he and the Head of the BBC World Service were going to kill me. I typed:


No going back. Just do it, and collect your cards in the morning. I typed the second letter of the alphabet. Then the fifteenth. Twelfth. Twelfth. Fifteenth. Third. Eleventh. Nineteeth. Enter key. It was done. The screen cleared itself and presented the user menu. Not a word was spoken, except my nervous tones as I explained Europe's largest text-management system to the Queen's cousin and Cup Final gatecrasher. Then, at last, they left to unveil a small plaque in the Atrium. And breathe out....

Nothing happened the next day, or the day after that. It was only the following Monday that my manager put his head round the door, and in his broad Dublin accent said just one sentence to me:

"Scary, there's a chap - change your password."


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