An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Sunday, February 11, 2007


It's gone 3 in the morning. It must be - we're waiting for the other crew to come back from their first break. We're working a night shift. One week of nights in three. That's the deal. A shift made up of maybe 13 guys. Only guys, no females. 13 testosterone charged young guys. Maybe the shift leader, Pete, is past his early twenties but none other. We're talking teens and early twenties. No marrieds - well Pete perhaps. Yeah Pete definitely - a father figure for all the boys. Pete is running the other half of the crew - he's on break. Ian's running this half - Ian acts as though he's married and old but it's just an act. Ian's just boring. And acting old and responsible. One day he'll grow into the reality of his pretence. One day soon in fact but that's hindsight speaking.

The computer that we are all slaves to surrounds us. The arithmetic logic unit runs for probably 20 feet behind us. Parallel to it and maybe 12 feet away s the run of cabinets that house the processing unit and the core storage unit - the main primary memory of the machine. At the far end, furthest from me, and between them, closing off the third side of an odd rectangle is the double fronted drum unit. Secondary storage for the machine lives on a pair of massive magnetic drums, each with it's own cabinet. Each of these cabinets stands seven feet tall. Each cabinet was manufactured by Mulliner of Park Ward, the guys who then made Rolls Royce bodywork. Each in two shades of grey. Many tens of coats of paint layered onto each one. Cabinets whose doors close with a whisper on high class hinges that never squeak. A small grey haired man whose face has collapsed where his teeth have been removed or have been lost hangs on for dear life to a mechanised floor scrubber that is almost as tall as he is. This is Charley. HIs pal and oppo, Bill, is over by the two banks of one inch tape drives that rock in action beyond the ALU as records are retrieved to keep the company running. The tape units have clear perspex fronts and the huge reels of tape move rhythmically, mesmerically, on all ten drive units. Each drive is cleaned thoroughly as one tape is dismounted an another takes its place. This bank of tape drives is served by three operators. Three highly sexed young men who will run back and forth and clean and mount and dismount hundreds of 7 pound aluminium hubbed tapes onto and from these monsters in shifts all night until 8:30 tomorrow morning. Heavily built metal trolleys full of these tapes stand waiting.

In front of the parallel rows of cabinets sits the command console, L shaped. At the corner of the L is the teletype machine from which the beast is monitored and managed. The rest of the console is a massive array of lights that flicker on and off as the machine crunches through its work and beneath this impressive array of little lights is a set of hand key switches that are used to power this thing into life every day. An operator uses these switches repeatedly to enter a tiny machine code program into the main memory. Once complete the operator commands the machine to jump to the beginning of the program and begin executing it. The tiny program reads in the bootstrap code from a paper tape reader that nestles at the end of the long arm of the L. The program now in the memory of the beast is complex enough to read the rest of the operating system from the first of the tape units and prepare for itself for its daily load.Now though the beast is in full flow and at the teletype sits an operator monitoring and controlling it.

He is a short almost plump youth of maybe 20 years. His hair is thin and bouffanted - strawberry blonde verging on pale ginger. His name is Smallbone and he wears the regulation operator's jacket, much like the linen jackets that you might see old men wearing on the bowling green. This is a climate and dirt controlled environment. The whole vast space that the beast occupies is a clean room. Even the viewing bay beyond the control console is clean. Parties of visiting dignitaries and stock brokers are ushered into this cathedral of technology with the sole aim of impressing them. They have their own place - the viewing bay. But not now. Not in the middle of the night. For now only the lower order of the priesthood tend the machine and satisfy its needs. To the right of Smallbone are ranks of job trays piled high with work yet to be done. Wire mesh or grey plastic trays depending on whether they are production or development jobs.

Smallbone is a well known wag amongst the priesthood. In many ways more mature than his years and yet in other ways a man with a child's sense of fun. HIs place in the annals of the priesthood is assured already. There are several oft repeated amusing stories of his antics but the guarantee of his immortality lies in the story of "When Smallbone stuck his prick in Pound's ear". Another, an earlier, night shift. Perhaps a year or two ago, just after they started the third shift. Pound was on duty at the control teletype and Smallbone had come into work slightly inebriated and very tired. He had turned up an hour late. He had been out at club before work. He wanted Pound to give way and let him take a stint at the teletype to take the weight off. Pound ignored his every treaty, feigning deafness. Pound was in reality a little deaf and he played it up when it suited him. Smallbone stood beside Pound and announced in a shout that if Pound didn't give up the seat he would stick his prick in Pound's deaf ear. Pound continued with his deaf and dumb show and Smallbone made good on his threat.

This night though Smallbone is rightfully at the teletype and several long jobs are running. The panel of lights flickers, tapes turn on all ten decks. The beast is working hard and Smallbone is relaxing in the lull. He is mellow and smiling. With the pen in his hand he beats a rhythm on the control console desk and accompanies himself on voice. He repeats the opening bars over three times and then all hell breaks loose as he improvises in a strange and hypnotic way. Smallbone is playing jazz. Smallbone is playing Ole by John Coltrane - on pen and voice he is playing Coltrane. Above the drone of the beast; amid the bustle of a working shift, Smallbone has just introduced me to John Coltrane.

Thank you.

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