19.12.04

M is for moonlight, memories and uncertainty


I've managed to do my back in again and because of this I've been shuffling about the house like a 90 year-old. It is more uncomfortable than painful, and I just can't get comfortable at all. It all began many, many years ago when I was a planner for British Telecom. Back in the mid-1980s, Britain was just discovering the possibilities of fibre optic cables to link our towns and cities. As planners, our job was to draw up schemes to get the cables in the ground, and get the old, expensive and unreliable copper co-ax out. Back in those days, however, BT wasn't sure how to proceed, and decided on caution. We were told that fibre cables were not allowed to share duct space with copper cables: not even a 20 pair local cable. This meant that for every new fibre route, we, the planners, had to open just about every manhole en route, pump all the water out of them, get down inside and check to see if there was an empty ductline, and, failing that, if there was a duct with enough space to take a subduct for the fibre. Let me put this into context. There was one main cable planning group for southwest Scotland. There were five of us in total, and our area extended from the English border at Gretna to Langholm and Newcastleton, right across Dumfriesshire and Wigtonshire to Stranraer and Portpatrick, then up to Ayrshire coast to Irvine, then inland to Motherwell and south again to Biggar and Beattock. We also had Bute and Cowal, right up to Loch Lomond. Every town with a main telephone exchange was to get a new fibre cable, and every fibre cable was to have a partner that travelled on an alternative route. Let's put it this way: that's a hell of a lot of manholes to be opened and pumped out - and the vast majority of the manholes had not been opened for several years, meaning that they were difficult to open. It was back breaking work. But I was young then, and I didn't notice the damage I was doing to my back at the time. That said, however, I had a wonderful time back then: I was out in the beautiful Scottish countryside (Dumfries and Galloway is gorgeous in the extreme) and getting plenty of exercise, plus I was being paid triple wages and mileage for almost four years for the privilege. Perhaps a back twinge now and again isn't that high a price to pay after all. How does this relate to the photograph? To be honest, it doesn't really. I have just been laid up for most of the day, and this is the first picture I took.

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