Computer commuter

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Computer commuter

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In an attempt to avoid unemployment, I signed up for a course in computing at the Polytechnic of Wales, situated in the hang gliding country of south Wales, where, the previous year, I had worked as a hang gliding instructor. At the computer centre, where we used teletype terminals to access a ‘mainframe’ computer in its air conditioned room, the students’ terminal room was closed for a while (for what reason I do not recall) and we used a smaller staff terminal room. A couple of times when I was in there, the computer centre manager, a chap with neat dark hair and wearing a suit (always a bad sign) was there too and I remember speaking to him at least once (about what, I do not recall). After I left the polytechnic, tragedy struck when his wife drove over the precipitous edge of a road connecting the valleys and the wreckage burned.

Down stairs in the computer centre, there was a reception desk where you could hand in hand-written ‘coding sheets’ to get ‘punch girls’ to type in your programs and, after a certain time, you collected your printer listings from them. (Yawn.) One of those girls, with long frizzy blond hair, was rather attractive and I tried to chat to her. It is not every day that an up-and-coming hang glider pilot talks to a computer receptionist. She walked off laughing at me.

Experimental hang glider launching

One of my experimental hang gliders (this one in 1979)

On arriving and sitting down in one particular room, always in the same place next to a window, one chap would throw his duffel bag onto the window sill. In the hot summer he failed to notice that the window was open. He discovered the fact when he reached up for his bag. We all looked out and down — we were two or three stories up in a glass and concrete block — and his bag was on the ground, its contents blowing across the concrete in the breeze. We should all have been concerned about possible loss of his valued lecture notes and whatnot, but instead we were incapacitated with laughter!

After obtaining a higher national diploma (two years of study instead of three for a degree) I worked as a computer programmer, mostly in the defence electronics sector. I rode my Ossa trials bike on the Frimley ranges, right by where I lived, in Surrey. (The place is now a golf course.) I then resumed flying hang gliders, mostly on the South Downs in Sussex.

Two years after leaving the polytechnic, when I was in hospital with my back injury (hang glider crash sub-optimal landing at Steyning) my mother visited me and brought a copy of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, which told of how the computer systems manager at the polytechnic had been jailed for strangling his wife and pushing her car (with her in it) over the edge of the road and setting fire to the wreckage. When he subsequently went off with my blond receptionist, somebody became suspicious of what had been assumed to be an accident and they looked into it further.