Thursday, 6 November 2014

I was a teenage Cable Monkey

Over the years, I've done lots of jobs. I've been a barman, a delivery driver, a doorman and a bailiff.  I've run nightclubs, helpdesks, and teams of IT engineers.  I've worked for airlines, pharmaceutical companies, councils and hairdressers.  But in all those different jobs, I'm never happier than when I'm lying on my back, with my head under a false floor, plugging cables into boxes with flashing lights on.

I am a hard-wired, dyed-in-the-wool cable-monkey, and proud of it. People I work with tend to find this out fairly early and I tend to get asked to do the 'difficult stuff', The conversation will often go something like this:

Them: Aw, damn!

Me: Whut?

Them: This new thing doesn't work?

Me: Whut?

Them: Well, I've got this iPhone (They show me the iPhone, because they think I've never seen one before) and I want to connect it to... Erm... This duck? (They hold up a duck, which looks much like any other duck, but has a slightly more confused and upset look on its face than usual) and I want them to talk to each other but I don't have the right cable.

Me: Is there a right cable?

Them: Well, Maplins said there wasn't, but there has to be, right? I mean, I can't be the only person who wants to connect a duck to an iPhone

So, I go away and make a cable up and everyone's happy (Except for the duck, obvs)

What I'm trying to say is that I'm pretty good at making things work, Mrs Dandy doesn't ask me if I've managed to fix something anymore, she just assumes that it's now fixed and asks what I've had to dismantle in the process.

So, onto today's story.  In 2005, I worked for a large, international, construction company.  It was halfway through my last week when my boss informed me that there was one, last, special job that I could do as sort of a 'leaving present'.  It was unusual and would involve a huge amount of travelling, but there was an overnight hotel stay at a hotel in Scotland and the company were known at the time for their free and easy attitude towards expenses claims.

It turned out that the CEO of the company had bought himself a castle in Scotland, complete with turrets and archways and a dungeon (probably) and he wanted his office wiring up so that he didn't have to commute to Solihull every day (Not that he did, of course, thet'd be mental) The only downside was that He, himself, wouldn't be there, it'd just be his wife... and she'd requested that I'd be there by 10:00am... and it was a four and a half hour drive, as long as I didn't stop at all, ever.

So the next day came, and I flung the bedroom curtains open to be met by snow.  I threw on my warmest clothes, shoved a similar set into my haversack and clamboured into my Audi (I had an A6 at the time, leather seats, climate control, the whole shebang... It were reet lush)

The trip was singularly unremarkable, except that the snow stopped at Carlisle, and so did I for a frankly overpriced breakfast at the services at Todhills.  I drove on through Gretna (Which isn't as picturesque as I'd though it would be) past Dumfries, the home-town of the irrepressible Scots Mick, to the sunny, seaside village of Rockcliffe.

This is Rockcliffe (photo is actual size,
no, really it is that tiny)

If you take a trip to Rockcliffe, you'll instantly know why the Scots are traditionally described as a rugged people.  The 'Beach' isn't made of sand, or even pebbles - It's made of jagged outcrops of granite that local visitors let their babies cut their teeth on. The entire village is closed throughout the summer months on the grounds that "Anyone who's want ta visit in th' warm weather is a Softy-Walter!"

Luckily, when I got there the sun was out and the sea was calm, by which I mean the water was battering against the seafront cottages, but it hadn't, as yet, put any of the windows through - Which I believe is an ancient Scottish friendship custom.

It took a while to find the castle, it was hidden up an unsignposted track, behind some huge pine trees.  Passing through the wrought-iron gates, I drove up the half-mile or so of gravel driveway and parked inbetween a greenhouse that could have produced a chorusline full of Audrey Two's from Little Shop of Horrors, and an attractive middle-aged lady dressed in the neuvau-agricultural style that you can buy piecemeal from Harvey Nicholls (You know, tight-jeans, rugby-shirt and wellies that cost more than my house

She waved at me and called, "Are you the man?"

I whispered under my breath that "Indeed I was the Gods-damned Man." Then smiled brightly, got my heavy toolbox out of the boot and crunched towards her over the artfully scattered, hand-polished marble chips.

"It's in here!" she said as she disappeared into the kitchen, which looked a bit like the one from Downton Abbey, except bigger... It had the bells on the walls and everything.  She ambled through a selection of oak-panelled corridors, asking about my trip and making the concerned noises when I told her about the early start and the over-priced breakfast.  Then she took me upstairs. (For the benefit of the professional tradesmen reading this, yes, I stayed the prescribed four steps behind her all the way up the stairs so that my face was level with her backside) "Here we are." She indicated a large room, completely empty but for a selection of cardboard boxes. "There should be everything you need, he'd like it over there I think."

"Sorry?" I replied, genuinely non-plussed, "I'm just here to connect his laptop and make it work."

"Oh, right you are. Is someone else coming up to build the furniture?" She looked between me, my burgeoning toolbox, the pile of boxes that now obviously contained the office furniture, and the Long-Haired Border Collie that had appeared out of nowhere and was busily sniffing my genitals. "That's Bruno, come off Bruno!" (His name probably wasn't Bruno, but it was something like that, I can't really remember, but you know the sort of thing) She smiled again, and said, "Well, if you just build the table, you can put it on there can't you?"

And because she was... Is handsome a word you're allowed to use for an attractive lady of a certain age? and I'm a sucker for a damsel in distress, and Bruno was getting even more insistant about his desire for my gentleman's area, I agreed.  She turned and went downstairs, with the dog following her closely, and I opened the G-Plan box that contained the desk.

After about an hour of scratching my head and inserting tab 'A' into slot 'F', there was a call from downstairs. "Excuse me, Mr Man? Could you give me a hand?"  I amazed myself by only getting lost three times on the way back down into the kitchen to be presented with the sight of Mrs. CEO surrounded by a sea of carrier bags. "The shopping's just been delivered... I don't suppose you'd give me a hand putting it away?" And I did, because: Knight in shining armour remember?  Then she made us a coffee and we sat at the hand-made kitchen table on hand-made kitchen chairs drinking it from hand-thrown pottery mugs watching the Red Deer frolic in the 'As far as the eye could see' garden.

I went back upstairs and slid back under the desk, tightening the odd screw and greasing the draw-sliders.  Then I cracked my head off the corner of a board as I felt a hand travel up my leg, inexorably towards my Magical Boy Garden of Delights.  Once the dancing stars had faded, I looked down to see Bruno's nose, rather than the hand I had first thought.  I shooed him away, and he looked crestfallen.  I waited, straining my ears trying to hear him trot down the stairs.  When I thought I was 'safe' I carried on with my work.

So, you can imagine my surprise when minutes later a hard rubber bone was dropped onto my scrotum from a great height and I received a similar bump on the other side of my forehead, giving me something of the air of Hellboy.  This time I actively chased Bruno from the room and locked the door behind him.

I finished the desk... Then put together a chair... Connected the broadband up and built the laptop... Built some shelves... Unwrapped the bin... Made up some curtains... embroidered the lampshade and finally made to leave sometime in the mid afternoon.  As I re-entered the kitchen she was stood putting her Barbour coat on.

"Oh, I was just about to ask how long you were going to be, I have to pop out for a few hours." She shook my hand and said thanks, I thanked her for the coffee and she asked if I was driving back to Birmingham.  I said no, and that I was staying locally and driving back in the morning.  When I mentioned the name of the hotel she said, "Are you sure? Because it's closed for the season." She shrugged and I followed her out of the house, jogged to the car and checked the booking form.  It was the right hotel, but there was a note at the bottom of the page that said "check-in from 19:30 onwards." It seemed that I had a couple of hours to kill, so I parked the car at the very closed hotel, walked through a deep, dark forest to find the nearest pub, had a few pints surrounded by very suspicious looking natives and convinced myself that I was firmly in the grip of a local am-dram society's remake of 'An American Werewolf in Scotland'.

When I returned (through the deep, dark forest) the hotel was open, but they had no food available, so I drank whisky until it was time for bed.

I woke up at around 10:00 the next morning.

The snow had followed me.

And due to the fact that the temperature was -45 deg. the car refused to start.

And I was marrooned.

And I died alone and unloved by anyone... Except Bruno.

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