Saturday, 24 December 2016
Chapter 12 Using technology
Arthur was keen to take the department into the 21st century and insisted on buying in and using computers to aid us in our attempts to spread knowledge and awareness of French language and culture. His prescient thinking was ahead of its time to the extent that internet access was not yet available throughout the school at that time – few departments had gone in that direction, though the Doc (in the room directly across the corridor from mine) knew a lot about computers and had organised the installation of an internet access point in his base.
Arthur got the go-ahead to share science’s internet connection, so all that remained to be done was to set up a cable connecting the computer in our base to the socket in the science base across the corridor. Running the cable along skirting boards, up door frames and across the corridor ceiling was the obvious solution, but visible wiring offended Arthur’s sense of aesthetics so he sought a solution that would be more pleasing to the eye.
At that time, quite a lot of work was being done to the school – a lift shaft was being built and the entire building was being rewired, but the new wiring was channelled into conduits fitted along the join between the top edge of the walls and the ceiling. Arthur decided he would run our cable in these conduits which ran along the top edges of our corridor walls, so it had to run the width of my room plus the width of the corridor, then back 20 feet or so to reach the window above the science base – a fair-sized job, but it did mean there would be no ugly wiring running up walls and door frames, and across the ceiling.
His first attempt was not a great success. In the lift shaft several workers were busy setting up the pulley system and the electrics within a dark and enclosed space, illuminated only by artificial light. After inserting a length of our cable into a section of conduit, Arthur slapped the cover into place and this was accompanied by a bright flash immediately followed by yells of panic and confusion from the gentlemen at work in the lift shaft as it was plunged into darkness and chaos.
The electrician took it very well and repaired it very quickly, shaking his head yet amused at the same time. We decided to wait until the next in-service day before persevering in our task.
Shortly afterwards, on a day when there were no pupils to disturb us and no construction workers for us to disturb, Arthur set about opening the conduit casing, inserting the cable and closing it again, while I was to take care of the connections themselves.
Clearly, I could not do my part until Arthur had completed his task. At morning interval, I stepped out of my room and into the corridor where Arthur was working. He was about halfway along the width of my room, perched on a large table which allowed him to stretch up and reach the conduit casings running along the top of the wall. I engaged the Doc in conversation at his doorway, so still in the corridor itself.
As the Doc and I casually conversed about what we had done that morning and the progress Arthur was making with the wiring, we were suddenly interrupted by a loud and persistent shriek, “AAAHHHH…”.
I spun around to see Arthur on his table, arms stretched up and hands seizing the conduits, his body shaking violently as he screamed incoherently. The man was being electrocuted!
Instinctively, I started running toward him to help but it struck me that I also would be electrocuted if I touched him, so with reason-defying logic I put my right shoulder first and prepared to launch myself at him, hoping to knock him off the table and break the flow of the electric current.
When I was about four feet away from the table, Arthur suddenly released the conduit, crouched, pointed at me, pulled a face and cried out “Na, na, na-na, na” in the manner of a child who has just fooled a friend. I don’t know if I have ever felt such a wave of mixed emotions – relief, anger, embarrassment and amusement.
I no longer remember exactly why, but for years after that our computer was connected to the science base internet socket by a cable that ran across the ceiling between our two rooms. I suspect my nerves couldn’t take the pressure of pretty wiring.
Despite such an inauspicious start, this was the beginning of what proved to be a life-changing development in my life and I owe a debt of gratitude to my Higher class, my colleague Arthur, and of course my wife for leading me to the water of Les Mis in the first place.