robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Thu Sep 8 16:29:31 EDT 2016
Forty years ago I more than once heard freshmen explain that "Hitler was a
communist." (Well, maybe twice.)
This is still alive and well and happily propounded by the alt-right community.
The argument runs:
Hitler founded the National Socialist Party
Socialists are Communists
(Therefore) Hitler was a Communist
Liberals (i.e. Democrats) are Socialists
(Therefore) Democrats are Communists.
Makes perfect sense to me ...
(once a premature anti-fascist, always a premature anti-fascist)
Actually, off-topic but slightly associated, does anyone here still draw a
distinction between Sein Fein, Provisional Sein Fein, the IRA, the Provisional
IRA, and Real/Continuity IRA? I partly ask because, while working the phones in
London in the seventies, I was cheerfully informed by someone who might just
possibly have been connected to the Provos that my occupation made me what was
termed "a legitimate target". Legitimate targets were liable to be bombed
without warning. Civilian bombings were supposed to be flagged beforehand.
Then it gets complicated ...
Say what you like about the Provos, those chickens were anything but dumb.
There was a (strictly unofficial) agreement between the Provos and the Powers
That Be that any bomb attack on a "civilian" target was flagged by a coded
warning given between twelve and twenty four hours ahead. The details of the
actual code (which was shared by the Provisional IRA, and maybe five national
newspapers and BT) was well above my pay grade, but everyone working the phones
at the time knew about this in general terms. The reason for The Code was to
allow the authorities to distinguish between the 99% of false warnings and the
"real" bomb warnings.
Except that some clever-clogs in the Provo management structure worked out the
exact ratio between authentic bomb warnings and false bomb warnings that you
could get away with before the system fell to bits. The ratio was 1:10.
This meant that if your average drunk phoned in a bomb warning, it was simply
ignored, but *every* coded warning had to be checked out. From the point of
view of the Provos, this meant minimum effort, maximum return. Morality aside,
it was a brilliant strategy.
Sometime during this period, I looked up over my shoulder in the course of
fielding a call from an irate punter who'd been cut off by someone else in
mid-call, to find a policeman looking over my shoulder. My first reaction, I kid
you not, was to think how young he looked.
"That looks difficult," he said cheerfully.
"Nah," I responded, "it's easy once you get used to it."
Then I looked around and saw that the floor was absolutely crawling with cops.
"Um," I said, "If you don't mind my asking, just why are you here?"
"Oh," he replied, still cheerfully, "someone phoned in an official bomb
At that point, I (and I think at identically the same moment, nine of my
colleagues) screamed, "Where's the fucking union rep?"
The union rep, it turned out, was somewhere off to the side, chatting to the
police sergeant in charge of the detail, no doubt swapping tips on how to fiddle
the overtime rota. Take it from me, the overtime rota was a big deal among the
working stiffs in both the phones and the force at that time.
The point was that while only one in ten bomb warnings were legitimate, they
were supposed to, at the least, *tell* us when one had been phoned in.
After our token protest, we all simply got back to work, me and the others on
the floor fielding calls and the fuzz off to finger collars elsewhere. Even
official bomb warnings, given the one-in-ten ratio, were viewed with scepticism,
though they all had to be checked out.
Silver Street Telephone Exchange in Edmonton in North London in the 1970s was
beyond weird ***, I have to say. There was a virtually 50/50 split between Real
People, usually in their late forties and older, who'd worked their way up
through the system, and the rest of us, mostly card-carrying intellectuals who
were too stupid to have realised that the *only* qualification you needed to
work for the BT International Exchange was O-level French.
That was one of several points of agreement between the two sides of the floor
-- that International were overpaid pricks who tore up £50 cards to save on the
paper work, while we only got to tear up 50p ones, while Directory Enquiries was
where you sent anyone too stupid to work a phone but not dumb enough to be
This would usually come up when one or the other of us would field a call
supposedly going through International and find ourselves running a translation
between a Frenchman on one end of the line and an International operator on the
The usual reaction to this was for someone to snigger, "See, if you hadn't been
dumb enough to sign the wrong contact, they'd be *paying* you to do that." True
enough. Lots of us might have had educational qualifications of various kinds,
but we tended to lack street smarts.
My 50/50 ratio is an educated guess, as not everyone on the floor was out. I
was sitting next to a younger West Indian colleague on the tube after work one
day, and he turned to me and said quietly, "Robin, can I tell you something in
"Sure," I said, slightly curious, "go ahead."
"Well, don't tell anyone this, *please*, but I'm studying for a law degree at
"Ah, c'mon," I replied, "that's nothing to be particularly ashamed about. I'm
signed up for a PhD, and everyone knows it."
Oddly enough, while a few of us were prepared to admit to our unsavoury academic
qualifications, I don't think anyone ever out-and-out admitted to having a
drinking buddy who was connected to the Provos but (again, an educated guess) I
suspect this would include half of us working the floor.
This was about when I developed the concept of the Dear Green Place -- a place
where you can be for a time, feel totally at home, but know that you won't be
able to stay. Talking though the concept of the Dear Green Place with someone
who'd better still be nameless but who, though he never said this, was connected
with the South Timor Liberation Front before this was vaguely respectable, he
described a time when he'd been briefly manager of a New York restaurant that
was [his words] a front for a crips gang running drugs for the CIA, comparing
this to the time when I'd worked on a Glasgow building site in the sixties.
"Basically, Robin, we were pets."
X as a kneeblank in the midst of a black New York gang, me as the only middle
class university-educated Protestant in a group of basically
left-[high]school-at-sixteen working class Glasgow Catholic gang members -- we
weren't token, we were pets -- fascinating, exotic, and [this is important]
Those were the days.
*** Just to explain why Silver Street was crawling with moonlighting students,
more than any other of the various London BT exchanges then ...
Silver Street (Edmonton) was, at that point in time, the very first auto-manual
telephone exchange to be opened by BT -- still, then, officially part of the
Royal Mail. The result was that those of us who worked the floor there were a
mix of operators who'd worked the older manual system, and retrained, and a
flock of new entries, lots of whom were, like me, students in search of some
sort of work to pay their way. It was good for students as it was night work, 9
pm to 8 am, so you could study at the British Library during the day. If you
could manage to stay awake.
This was a right bugger when it came to overtime. No one who'd trained at
Silver Street could work overtime at any other BT (as it now is called) exchange
-- I couldn't and still can't work a manual board to save my life -- and no one
who'd been trained in the old system could work overtime at Silver Street.
*But* someone who'd trained at Silver Street could moonlight in a London hotel
which was using the new system. Whereas those of us who were *already*
moonlighting ... Go figure.
The end result was that for all those in my position, the only name in the game
when it came to supplementing standard hours were overtime hours at Silver
Street itself. Not a big problem when I was there, as there were usually more
than enough hours to go round, but it could have been.
It was also not just closed shop -- par for the course -- but everyone who I
worked under had started on the floor, and worked their way up to at least
Supervisor status, when most of them glass-ceilinged due lack of formal
educational qualifications. I'm sure there must have been someone high up in
ranks who didn't start on the floor, but if so, I never met one.
That only became a problem for me when the time came that I decided to leave ...
> On 08 September 2016 at 15:26 Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> High-paid CNN anchor:
> "But Vladimir Putin is a communist!"
> I.e., dictator; totalitarian.
> Forty years ago I more than once heard freshmen explain that "Hitler was a
> communist." (Well, maybe twice.)
> Cf. '60s "fascist" : 'a conservative politician.'
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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