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Sovereign House Computers

by Howard Wheeldon


Although they are totally unsuitable for publication in the local or any other press for that matter, the mention of Paddy Walsh and the early days of the Hollerith Tabulator and ICT computer installation remind me of a number of untoward events, the knowledge of which fortunately for the peace of mind of the then HMSO computer system users, was controlled by exceedingly strict ‘need to know’ procedures.
 
For example the Night Shift Operator who regularly used a manager’s office to repair Fiat Gear Boxes, the Continuous Forms Printer/High Speed Photocopier to copy Fiat Technical Manuals, and his Deputy Director’s telephone to contact the Fiat HQ in Turin to discuss any stubborn technical problems arising out of his gearbox endeavours.

The Night Shift Manager who, after a celebratory late night meal in The Crome hostelry, of loving memory, succumbed to a particularly virulent attack of projectile vomiting over the inside of the loading bay doors in Sovereign House and then proceeded to attempt to clean the aforementioned doors with punched cards intended for use on that night’s Stock AX/BX scheduled computer run — apparently some of these ‘pre-processed’ cards were, by accident or design, actually fed into the card readers, much to the understandable chagrin of the resident ICL engineer — (no doubt some residual Supplies Division aged retainers are still attempting to reconcile some unusual Stock Balances).

The mysterious and repulsively stained carpets in the inner sanctums of a number of senior offices which initially gave rise to fevered accusations about the nocturnal social activities of several members of staff, but which were eventually tracked down to a serially incontinent pet dog belonging to a permanently befuddled, but highly efficient, member of the managerial team.

The clock repairing hobbyist manager, who after a somewhat heavy lunchtime drinking session fell asleep at his desk with his head resting on the horological innards of a disassembled timepiece, and after been unceremoniously awakened to ‘meet and greet’ a group of potential Civil Service customers, spent the first fifteen minutes chairing the subsequent meeting with two one inch diameter cog wheels embedded in his forehead.

The numerous extra marital ‘social shenanigans’ are still subject to the Fifty Year Rule and cannot even be hinted at, suffice it to say that subtlety and subterfuge were hardly the order of the day, one individual springs to mind — ‘Two Coat Dave’ who left one jacket permanently draped around the chair of his desk in Norvic House to (successfully) convince his management of his presence in the building, which enabled him to scurry over to the Sovereign House Computer Block to leisurely pursue his current belle de jour.
 
Jerusalem may have its Wailing Wall (on his first visit to which, I understand that President Bush took his harpoon) but the Sovereign House Computer had its ‘Weeping Wall’. This edifice backed onto the car park facing the Odeon Cinema and was permanently damp, very damp, and would often literally run with water.

Accommodation staff tried every trick in their voluminous book to identify the source of the water, employing high pressure hoses on the exterior of the building, coloured dyes, sealants etc etc, to no avail. The adjacent computer staff willingly accepted the inevitable, adopted the wall, christened it the ‘Weeping Wall’ and adorned it with plastic ducks, little green frogs and starfish (the 20th Century equivalent of Well Dressing?). Suggestions that the wall be sanctified and the water be pronounced to possess curative properties were reluctantly rejected by local management, fearful of being inundated by hordes of frenzied HMSO staff praying for successful computer runs and correctly addressed Invoices etc.

Stung into further action, Accommodation provided the ultimate solution — Internal Gutters! Accordingly several yards of tried and tested grey Marley Guttering were installed to collect and transport the unwanted water into an adjacent empty and unoccupied computer room where it was deposited onto an area of plastic sheeting, which in time collapsed under the weight etc.
 
Enough! Suffice it to say that a recent perambulation around the Anglia Square branch of QD enabled me to roughly identify my old ‘work area’ (I use the term in its loosest sense!) in the old Computer Block, and see that it was still occupied by disgruntled, dishevelled, dissatisfied and disorientated individuals, complaining about shoddy goods, poor service and unacceptable Customer Care — plus ca change !
 

Howard Wheeldon

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