Friday, November 28, 2008

Neither mirth nor woe, but essentially true although possibly containing traces of fiction: Night Time

Neither mirth nor woe, but essentially true although possibly containing traces of fiction: Night Time


On the dot, somewhere in nineteen ninety-something.

I stride into the control room at our luxuriously-appointed headquarters and take over from Cameron, who had been in charge of the throbbing console area for the best part of twelve hours.

Sitting in front of a bank of TV monitors and receiving equipment, I'd be spending the night making sure that our particular arm of The World's Greatest News Organisation continues to be The World's Greatest News Organisation.

"Nothing to report," says Cameron, "Except they've got one of these new-fangled PCs in the News Agency department".

"Right. I might go and look at it later."

"They've left some games on it, so I'm told."

The new technology.

We were, finally, moving from a clunking great mainframe system and were slowly but surely rolling out a PC-driven production network. Less than ten years earlier, mind, we had been on typewriters, and when the news editors spiked an item, it really did end up on a big nail in the newsroom.

So. 9.15pm.

Only twelve hours to go.

The first hour would be spent organising the video and audio recordings for the following day, making sure the right thing got onto the right tape.

In these days of satellite and internet broadcasting, it is easy to forget that not so very long ago, news got around the world on scratchy shortwave radio signals. It still does, by and large, but the modern listener and viewer is spoiled by the simplicity of it all. Back then, fishing a radio signal out of the ether was an art. These days, it's an art still practiced by bearded men in sheds and whole populations for whom television and internet is unaffordable luxury.

Still, nine hours to go, and the 'old media' forerunner of this site needs tending:

"Dear Fiesta, You won't believe the incredible thing that happened to me the other day..."
Eight hours and fifty to go.

"Dear Escort, I didn't think I had a chance with the divorcee next door, but I couldn't believe my eyes when..."
And, of course, the real paydirt:

"Dear Special Interest Monthly, There I was, rubbing linseed oil into my harness, when who should knock on my door but former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher looking all hot and flustered..."
And then it is 4.25am.

I turn the page in the log and the familiar instruction glares back at me:

"0425 – BAKHTAR 12145kHz CW RX4"

Yes, that's gibberish to you. To we highly-trained control room operators, that is the cue to walk down to the Haunted News Agency Section at the other end of the building, tune a radio receiver and wait for the state-owned Afghanistan news agency to begin its morning transmission, which would spill out from a printer that may or may not still be switched on.

A glow comes from Haunted News Agency Section.

A glow that could well be some poor, dead console operator, KILLED TO DEATH in the line of duty, ready to pounce and eat my spicy brains.

I hold my breath, make the sign of the cross, and leap through the door.

"MWAAAAAAAAAAARGH!" screams the ghoul.

"MWAAAAAAAAAAARGH!" I reply, before realising it is, in fact, Cameron picking himself up off the floor.

"Now see what you've done," he eventually says, bags evident under his eyes as he basks in the glow of the PC screen, I've lost again."

"Wait... what?"

"Just ... one ... more ... game."

Exactly seven hours and ten minutes earlier, Cameron had discovered Tetris. Or, it might have been the other way around.

"Go home, mate. You're relieving me in five hours."

"Yeah, sure. Just as soon as I finish this level."

And back to the grind, and only one more trip down the haunted corridor OF DOOM before they pour me out of the building, one 15p Luncheon Voucher the richer.

"0900 – TANJUG 12212.5 kHz RX2", or to you, the Yugoslav state news agency it all its steam-powered radio telegraphic goodness.


"One more go. I'll beat this bastard if it kills me."

"See you in twelve hours, guy. I'm off home."

"What... What time is it?" he gibbers, looking more dead than alive.

Twelve hours later, a day and a half after leaving the bosom of his family - who had to be informed that he was not dead in a ditch somewhere – he fled the building, and seeing multi-coloured blocks raining down from the heavens upon him, was immediately sick in a hedge.

Moral: Remember to take your screen break

TEH END (or is it?)

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