In which a bit of fluff yields up its terrible secret!
Ethel works in Admin. I generally see her at 11 o’clock in the morning and half-past three in the afternoon. We meet by the drinks machine in the foyer of Building C. The machine dispenses a tasteless brown liquid
that goes under the assumed identity of tea. If it’s sunny we stand outside while Ethel smokes. Ethel is generally in a better mood when it’s sunny but she is more informative when it rains. This morning it was raining and Ethel was positively babbling...
“That Mr Tattler in Accounts,” she said, “Has hairy ears. Have you noticed?”
I had to confess that I had not.
“And as for Mr Sharple in IT...” – my ears pricked up. Sharple, I knew, was in charge of the personnel database which I had recently modified without authority – “He’s getting more and more paranoid. Says someone’s tampering with his data. I told him, at his age he should be grateful for small mercies.” Ethel laughed. I’m not sure why. She’s like that at times.
I decided to change the subject. “Lot of soldiers on site just now,” I said. She didn’t respond. “Never strike you as funny? I mean, this place is run by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so you wouldn’t really think they’d need soldiers about the place...”
She looked at me as though I was mad. “Soldiers have to eat too, you know,” she said.
I spent the rest of the morning cleaning the keyboards in the Accounts department. They didn’t like it. The thing about accountants is that they get panicky when they are separated from their accounts. “I’m sorry,” I tell them, “But it’s my job, you know. Cleaning computers. It’s what I’m employed to do.” But I can tell they hold me personally responsible. “A typical computer keyboard,” I inform them, “Contains more bacteria than a litre of pond water. You are 3.7 times as likely to get food poisoning from a keyboard as from eating an uncooked egg. In the UK last year, 275,350 people contracted preventable skin diseases from their keyboards.” None of this is true but the statistics keep them happy.
Ethel was quite correct, by the way: Mr Tattler in Accounts does have exceedingly hairy ears.
I was moved into Data Processing this afternoon. This was on the orders of General Darnington-Withers who, I gather, is pretty
high up as generals go. It was he who spotted me yesterday as I was chaining up my bike. “Why in blazes is this chap cleaning keyboards?” he wanted to know. The director clearly didn’t have a clue who I was or what I did. She ad libbed impressively, informing the general that I was presumably cleaning keyboards on the assumption that they might be dirty.
“Dirty keyboards, by blazes!” rapped the general, who clearly was not fooled by the explanation, “This chap’s a top-notch computer forensics fellow, not a blasted char lady!”
If you happen to be involved in computer forensics, you may wonder why the General was under the impression this was an area of expertise in which I was well versed. Let me be honest. I may have permitted myself a small degree of poetic licence in the writing of my CV. It has always been my experience that people tend to look down upon a fluff expert. Whereas if tell them you are in computer forensics, they immediately snap to attention, go red in the face and – at their very earliest opportunity – delete their browser cache.
If you look up ‘forensics’ in a dictionary you will see that it means “the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence in a court of law.” My knowledge of fluff is second to none and if I ever happen to be cleaning the keyboard of a serial killer I shall be only too happy to pop down to the Old Bailey and give the judge an earful. However, as I was soon to discover, the thing that was troubling him was the tampering that had been going on with the database system. He wanted me to find out who was responsible, which is something I felt sure I could do, since the guilty party was me. Frankly, this left me with a bit of a dilemma.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention – this morning I received the lab analysis of the piece of Number 37 Fluff which, as you may recall, I surreptitiously extracted from the director’s keyboard. There was nothing unusual in the large-scale composition of the specimen: a mixture of hair, dust and assorted grot. What was interesting, though, were the residual traces of an as yet unidentified molecule characterised by a six-membered benzene ring joined with a five-membered nitrogen-containing pyrrole ring and... well, look, I won’t bother you with the details but, put simply, what this means is that this is not just an ordinary, everyday bit of fluff. This fluff is hallucinogenic! !
Dirtection, Part 4 will appear in our next edition, out March 2008. In which we learn more of horseflies and pajamas...