Hemhemballs II - The Programmer Strikes Back!

by Chris Johnson

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OK, I admit it, the end of the first missive was a hoax.

And the story has an ending, or at least it has a continuation.

Picture it if you will, the few of us remaining folk from the days of Joe-boy are standing around the bar, all drinking my health, or maybe drowning their sorrows at the thought of let another old pillar of the outgoing establishment being knocked away. Oh don't get me wrong; I'm not putting myself up here as an object of worship, but when one sees a formerly unassailable person like me getting the bullet, it makes you fear for your own future career, and former Housing folk in Hemhem are increasingly rare. Few were given new jobs, more were given their marching orders by Antfarm and Simple.

However, it did not stop in the snug of the old Woollen Beer Dispensary. The story went on from there. You see, to start with, I didn't immediately go into my enforced redundancy. Well, Hemhem owed me a couple of weeks of paid holiday, so I took them! Well, why not? However part of the office and the store room were occupied with the trappings of my sixteen glorious years, and Derek and Clive were agitating to get rid of it. Mostly because they were getting fed up of tripping over it! So on my final Friday, I go in and start to load my dear old jalopy, Akiko, with boxes of stuff. I move round to the store room to grab the last of it, only to encounter Pimple, who was already feeling left out as a result of hearing that a new programming manager had been appointed to oversee Derek and Clive, which meant that he would now have to do some proper work for a change.

He is somewhat puzzled as to how I can have so many boxes to take away. I state that sixteen years of letters, newsletters, books, magazines and goodness knows what else can fill an awfully large number of boxes. He doesn't believe me, so I invite him to open a box and see. He's expecting to see lots of contraband goodies or corporate secrets to sell to the enemy. Goodness knows, I would have liked to have done just that, but the idiocy of the Hemhem hierarchy is hardly a state secret! All he finds are files stuffed with letters. Maybe he would find something if he were actually inclined to sit there and read through every single piece, but then why would he do something in minutes that took me sixteen years to do? So... take your boxes and never darken our house again!!!

Or that was how I saw it.

Anyway, here I go into the wild and wacky world of unemployment. I decided to give December a miss, what with Crimbo and all the trimmings, and went to sign on in January. All was quiet until February, when I suddenly got a phone call. Something had gone kablooee in the testing of the new system that was to take over my old stalwart benefit system, Hubus (Hemhem's Useful Benefit User System). They wanted to roll back and start again but had lost the cuts that I had made before I went. Well, my answer was "look on the ftp server". It could just have easily have been "go stick your head in a pig" (or was that "share and enjoy?") but I was feeling somewhat magnanimous at the time.

Some minutes later I get another call from the kiddies, asking if I might consider coming back to sort things out. My response? I reminded them of the "thou shalt never return EVER" clause in the terms of my redundancy (here's tons of money, now sod off and don't come back!) The phone doesn't ring again for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile I have a blazing row which threatens to wreck my family life (if there is such a thing, but that's another story) and when I get back I find a Hemhem offer on my answering machine. The offer is "come in and let's talk turkey".

The turkey in question is a little problem that only I can address. The problem was that when Simple Sadie wrote the new line up, she assumed that all programmers were equal. Yeah, kill Chika off, he's expendable, the other two can take up the slack! The problem was that "the other two" couldn't because they didn't know how, and (so I was told) didn't want to anyhow. I couldn't blame them for that. So here they were with a Benefit system that needed to be pumped for data, and nobody available within the confines of Hemhem that knew how to do that. And the End of the financial Year was looming into view as well!

So here I was at something after 5pm on a Monday in early February sitting in the office of Hatty, the head of the Revenues section. To do him justice, he had tried to keep me on, just as he had done with the Bartman, our long standing and potentially redundant chief housing accountant and oldest surviving housing man. The problem was that while he had no problems keeping someone over whom he had direct control (thanks to the reorgasm), he could do diddly to keep me on, thanks to the vindictive and by this time rather sheepish Simple Sadie. You see by this time the brown stuff had hit the whirring thing in great amounts, and now Simple was disassociating herself with her masterpiece of political chicanery, while Dougiepoo was firmly pointing the finger and everyone associated with the business end of this project had bullets with Simple's name on. Again. She never learns...

Chika! I am your father.

No way, man! I was born in Drofmor and I know who my parents were!

You will join me. You will turn to the dark side.

Well, only if you pay me enough.

OK, let's do lunch and talk telephone numbers!

I am installed the following day into a cubicle in the vast sweatbox of the Revenues open plan office the following day with the order to sort out the end of year, grab the Hubus data and write an interface between the remaining rent account system, Processed Inter System Standard Accounts, a real dinosaur of a system written in Basic PLUS and the whizzy new benefits system provided by some College outfit.

I didn't rejoin Hemhem, however. I was given a choice; do it as a self-employed contractor or join an agency and sign in as a temporary person. I took the latter (well, it saved paperwork). However, I did the numbers and made damn sure that I got a better rate than I was getting before! It was only for eight weeks so if I was going to have my search for a job interrupted by Hemhem, I was going to make it worth the effort!

So had much changed in my two month absence? A good question, if ever I heard one. Actually yes, a few things had changed. I got to meet my "replacement" (yeah, Simple bent the rules again!), one Tony Prost. This was my second giggle after the one that got me back here, as he had been put into position despite Simple's wishes. It appeared that someone had got wind of Simple's peculiar employment tactics (i.e. only hire toadies with the same knowledge of IT or worse) and had insisted on having some input into the hiring of this new manager, hence Tony. Simple had to grin and bear it, but made damn sure that he was kept in meetings up to his eyeballs so that he never got a chance to actually exercise his knowledge in a meaningful situation.

Did I mention that Simple has a technical phobia?

Actually, Simple's immediate boss, Ferment, was fed up of being stuck between Simple and Dougiekins, and had decided to go. Pity, since he was somewhat more knowledgeable about IT than Simple was. Remember what I said about Simple not getting her way a paragraph ago? Guess who?

However upon meeting my successor, I was pleasantly surprised. He had the knowledge, but beyond that he had the healthy cynicism that I had always striven to maintain through my years at Hemhem. OK, he didn't have the beard, but I noticed upon visiting the old domicile that Derek and Clive now sported nests of their own! Oh yes, and they are still disputing their contracts.

However the whole reorgasm is going down the pan fast! I now read that after all the effort of killing off the Housing Department, they are now recreating it! It seems that the Powers That Be have finally realised that Housing and Social Disservices don't mix, and have created a new Housing Exec post and directorate which will effectively pull the whole of the housing function back to its own niche and away from Dougie and his sycophants. He was given some more leisure stuff to compensate, but that hardly seems an adequate exchange. Dougie's empire is crumbling, and it would seem that the Antfarm is probably eyeing up his next victim!

How this would affect Simple and her crones is unknown. The whole IT infrastructure is slowly being drawn into the I See Tee (FORE!!!! Thwack!) section, and it would not surprise me if Simple eventually returned to her former task of producing numbers, arguing about peecees with Icy Tea and generally getting in everyone's way. I could be wrong, though. Maybe I will be called back for the final throes of PISSA's demise when they bring in another new off-the-shelf-dusty-as-hell-but-some-other-council-uses-it-so-it-must-work-eventually package which needs an interface, and Simple has become the new Emperor.

It is useless to resist, Chika. It is your destiny!

Now for Chika's Final Thought. Working this long in the trailing edge of technology produces a special type of cynicism. Working for officious idiots. Working for fools. It all adds up and really sours you. The only thing that keeps you going, apart from the pay packet, is the people that you eventually end up working for, by which I mean the people at the sharp end, not the managers.

What brought it home to me was that, on examination, the only thing that has kept the housing function alive and kicking in Hemhem in the years since the announcement of the Brave new organism was the structures put in place by Joe-boy, now long gone, and the people that have to carry out the day to day tasks of taking in the rent, taking care of the customers, taking care of the properties and taking care of the folk waiting to get into one of our luxury domiciles. The ordinary officers. The folk that get things done, often in spite of the idiocy above them. My analysis and programming work kept me in touch with this layer in a way that most managers never imagined and would never stoop to, locked up in their offices, in perpetual meetings, stalking through the night in the wee small hours in an oversized duffel just to avoid public gaze and possible retribution.

It shows that all you really need is one good manager and many willing officers. Treat your staff well and they will serve you well, and the public will benefit from it and be satisfied.

Until then,

Shit's happening in Hemhem!

See how it all started! If this story seems a little confusing, then chances are that you have joined the mayhem part way through! To read the original Hemhemballs, click here and suspend your belief!
©2002 Chris Johnson

PDP-11 and RSTS/E is a trademark of Digital Equipment Co., part of HP/Compaq

All characters in this document have had their names changed in the interest of saving my butt legally and getting a few cheap laughs in places. Anyhow the events within this document actually happened but anyone who knows or can work out for themselves who the actual folk are, keep it to yourselves since I'm not interested in appearing in court to protect myself from this bunch of slimeballs.

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