Helpline Operator

Towards the end of last year, a small but ambitious software app which is like Zoom but not Zoom applied a software upgrade to its operating system. The work was carefully planned by experienced engineers, with the co-operation of front-line support staff. A schedule was drawn up and agreed to and, preliminary work was undertaken without incident, and everything seemed to be progressing smoothly. Well, not entirely, as it turned out. The house-sized housefly hurtling towards the ointment was the sudden decision by a major search engine to review and tighten its security policy. For arcane but important reasons, the upgrade now had to bought forward and Frisbee-d at the server with fingers crossed months ahead of time. Initially, the server swayed but remained standing. However, small stress points began to appear deep within the binary algorithms. Stress points became frayed, and then slowly began to dismember themselves. Patch after patch was thrown into the gathering mayhem but the damage was irreversible; whole blocks of code slipped their moorings and drifted into each other. Some parts of the now bewildered server began to shut down. Others started to overload as software that had hitherto performed excellently and without complaint now went bananas, and the whole thing began to buckle as the various components waged murderous war upon each other. The app which is like Zoom but not Zoom begun to stagger and lurch.

Phones rang and rang and rang.

Emails bayonet-charged their way into inboxes where they sat, unread.

The people behind the inboxes and telephones, struggling gallantly, were overwhelmed. Starved of the support of the engineers, who were engaged in a furious struggle to prevent the entire platform collapsing, they left. There was now nothing between the stricken app and beckoning oblivion. In short, it had all gone completely tits.

At this critical salient, in rural East Anglia during a tiny gap in COVID tiers, the app’s fraught designer was collecting his daughter from Runton Hall, where she had been running around the woods dressed as Dory from Finding Nemo. A conversation took place between him and Joe. From what I gather, it seems to have gone like this:

Designer: I’m having a shocker, Joe. What I need is a small, elite customer service team with an excellent level of front-line technical ability that can wade into an absolute nightmare and stop my business destroying itself.

Joe: Yeah, I can do all that.

Designer: Really though? It’s just that this is incredibly important, and I only ever see you mending fences and getting bitten by goats.

Joe: No, honestly, I can.

App Designer: OK then.

Even my last interview up the Council was more rigorous than this, and that was basically dictated by public sector nonsense. For example, with all the important stuff out of the way, I was asked if I had had any new experiences recently. I replied that yes, I had listened to Stairway To Heaven properly for the first time on the way in, and didn’t really rate it. It just seems a bit up itself, I explained. Remembering that this was an interview, I hedged my bets by saying I did like the bit where the drums come in, in case that was the answer they were looking for. Basically, I’m all about pop and ska and almost biologically incapable of listening to classic rock, although I didn’t say that in the interview in case they thought I was mad. I got the job, too, although did come unstuck at a previous one where I was able to garnish my ‘Thanks for coming in’s and ‘Did you manage to park OK?’s by mentioning that I had just found a beagle on the A140 at Marsham. It was a heart-warming experience to see an A road – or, as we call it in Norfolk, motorway – come to an immediate and uncomplaining halt as dog food and water bowls appeared out of nowhere and people formed a gentle rolling cordon to herd the lovely old lady, untroubled by the experience, into the car behind ours. From there, she went to the vet at Aylsham for a nice nap and then, I am happy to report, safely back to her owners. ‘Were you looking for a dog?’ asked the horrendous old slag conducing the interview. ‘Yes – and then I found a dog’ I replied, seizing upon a chance to reference the Smiths’ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, which got minor lols but essentially fell upon fallow ground I think. In failing the interview I became the only person ever to have not got the job they had already been successfully doing for six months, although I did hate it with an intensity that bordered upon homicidal fanaticism, so it was probably for the best.

Public Service Announcement: We’ve cut off a bit abruptly, as this turned out to be an enormous ramble and I’ll put the next bit up in a couple of days. As cliff hangers go, it isn’t the most nail-biting, unless your idea of winning against the odds involves becoming a part time IT help desk. If that is your idea of winning against the odds, then hang on to your hat because there’s a roller coaster a-coming. Nonetheless, it is entirely down to Joe’s fortitude and hard work, although I will be overlooking that and claiming all the credit for myself.




Main: my entry-level fixed gear workhorse bike. Unglamourous but reliable, this has cranked out thousands of miles. I can’t bothered to explain what a fixed gear bike is at this time, and I know the chain is looking a bit unhappy. They get stretched because you are obliged to ride quite aggressively with this type of bike, and it was just about to go for a service. Incidentally, the frame stickers are the crest of the City of London, the crest of the State of Alabama, both places I have spent more time than most cycling through, and at the rear my competitor number from the 2018 Norfolk Autumn Classic.

Top inset: Michael Caine by Brian Duffy, and an oil painting of Ronnie Barker. Christmas gifts a few years ago from John the Boxes, London’s richest market trader, still adorning the dining room.

Middle inset: Food hub from last year. Spent days splitting pasta and rice and noodles into 500g bags and putting a nice sticker on them during the first Lockdown. Myself and one of the Council’s licensing officers could eyeball it to within 10g after a while.

Lower inset: Beagle about to go to the vet in Aylsham with this nice man and his basic tattoos.

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