Friday, February 10, 2006

Mirth and Woe: The Operator

The Operator

These stories have been told in fragments over the space of several years. Now, the time has come to bite the bullet, and admit the full, shameful tale of my short career as a computer operator. It was a time filled with woe, a desire to make as much money as possible by doing very little work, and the hope that once day, with a following wind, I might actually end up doing something worthwhile. This has yet to happen.

Enough time has passed for me to name names. And the name is: Motorway Tyres and Accessories, a company green with envy at Sir Tom Farmer and his Kwik Fit fitters. I worked in the company's head office, a rather low quality office block just outside Reading town centre, just handy for Whitley and a constant supply of weed for Wayne, my Rastafarian supervisor. This job came courtesy of my brother, who had resigned to become something medium-sized in the city, and they were thrashing around looking for someone, anyone to work their aging computer system.

I knew my way around a QWERTY keyboard, appeared to have very few mental defects and didn't smell like a corpse, so I was in. And at a whopping nine grand a year, I was on easy street.

Unfortunately, having left the cushy nine-to-five life as a civil servant behind me, I was actually forced to work for my fortune, and this meant working evenings. Still, once I knew what I was doing, I was able to set up the largest batch jobs possible, slip over the road and rack up the hours in The Crown public house, with handy diversions to a rather good Chinese fish and chip shop just down the road, and a local newsagent that had a top shelf so large, it actually filled three shelves, with a tiny second rack for all your other non-porny needs.

After any session at The Crown, I tended to forget the most important rule of drinking: "What goes in, must come out" - and lacking the usual judgement whilst slightly pished whilst undertaking the company pay run and a huge stock-taking job, I would urinate into a paper cup and set it on my desk meaning to pour it down the bog on the way out.

You know how things go when you're in a hurry at the end of a long working week.

And you're bladdered.

And the pub is still there, over the road, beckoning.

I forgot.

It was a Bank Holiday Weekend.

On Tuesday, I arrived to find the cleaners complaining about the huge "coffee" stain on my desk after the acidic piss had eaten through the paper cup and gone everywhere.

You would have thought I had learned, but I did it again the very same week. However, I had the presence of mind to use a plastic cup this time, which I threw out of the window as I arrived the next morning, pre-empting pointed questions from the terrifyingly large-chested cleaning supervisor, who had got the job by having the largest chest and an enormous collection of Elizabeth Duke jewellery.

My office was above a bus stop.


Still, as this little episode closes, I made a vow. Never, ever, if working late at the office - internet access or filthy newsagents round the corner notwithstanding - attempt a quick one-off-the-wrist in the computer room if you suspect that you are the only person in the building, because there may, on the floor above you, be a long-running board meeting just breaking up, with the directors deciding to tour the building on the way out. Because it never happened, right?

Moving on, and a new job. I lied through my teeth and managed to get another computer operating job, earning the princely sum of twelve thousand a year. Coining it in, and once again, not smelling like a corpse and the ability not to attempt sexual innuendo with the interviewers swung it for me.

This job was a completely different kettle of fish. From a computer system dying on its arse, held together by sellotape and semen, this was a brand-new start-up with a cutting-edge operating system (one of only two in the world, and it stayed that way right up to the day they switched it off again) and a staff of several, some of whom actually did some work every now and then. I am not at liberty to name this company, as some of the people are still there and remain on speaking terms with me. Those terms being "blab about us on your website and we set the Bumming Dogs loose." Which is fair enough, all told.

As with all new systems, the whole thing was incredibly flaky, and would come crashing down if you so much as breathed heavily in the computer room. In fact, one crash was rumoured to be caused by passionate thrashing between two of my former colleagues who had taken rather a shine to each other, and had, in their lust rogered the big red "power off" button.

So, we suffered a major system crash, and spent several hours, as usual, running round swearing until the monster was fixed.

All you can do is keep your head down and fix the thing, and then let the punters know they might be able to log back on and rescue the remnants of their work.

The Boss sticks his head round the door and says "Scary - do us a favour - send an on-screen message to all users to let 'em know the computer's no longer fucked."

So I did.


We laughed.

Then, I dropped my coffee mug. It landed on the Enter key.

Our network had several hundred users in many varied locations round the world.


After hardly any time out of work, I landed a new job. There's lucky.

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