A Visit to ICL (West Gorton)

Presentation of the Queens Award for Industry to ICL on 10 Oct 1985


This disastrous day began with the realisation (around midnight) that the batteries in my alarm clock needed replacement. Foolishly disregarding this evil omen, I prevailed on British Telecom to wake me in time for the 0715 train to Manchester, which they duly did. British Rail however was less satisfactory. Said train, having staggered through the Midlands in a desultory manner, finally collapsed inside the tunnel leading into Birmingham New Street, where it was officially declared in a memorable piece of BR-ese "a failure awaiting replacement engine", just as the connecting service to Manchester departed. The next connecting service to Manchester was also twenty minutes late, for good measure, so that I missed another connection at Crewe. So it was that my Shakespeare demonstration was presented to royalty while I wandered disconsolately around Crewe station in search of something remotely interesting to read. I finally arrived at W.Gorton at 1245, just in time to hear D. Daice's last sentence on receiving the coveted gong (in fact a large slab of perspex) from the hands of a well-tailored George V look-alike.

There were about fifty ICL CAFS luminaries present, and about half a dozen users all from the CAFS CUA WP, while HRH Price Michael of Kent (the aforesaid lookalike) fielded a modest team of four minders in very natty suits (though not as natty as his own). Over lunch (a visually dramatic if bland cold collation of salmon disguised as submarine, turkey disguised as frog, veal disguised as chicken and roast beef in a party hat) I learned that the Shakespeare demo, handled by Les Teare, had gone down well with HRH, who had also been presented with his very own OPD. This was incidentally the first time anyone had told me that my humble PQR program was to be given the regal once-over (and on an Estriel too). I had also missed one of H. Carmichael's rapid summaries of the wonders of CAFS which was variously described to me as too technical (by A. Hutt who also confirmed that PDS was now a dead duck and asked why we didnt write our own PDS to QM bridgeware in Prolog) and really comprehensive (by the appalling D. Lovegrove who wanted a certain compromising passage in the CAFS WP Report altered). I met various dignatories from the history of CAFS, only previously known to me as names in bibliographies, such as G. Scarrott, J. M. Evans, L. Crockford and also V. Maller. From T. Wansborough I learned that the Fortran Interface was also a dead duck; in fact probably the only good news for OUCS to come out of the whole ridiculous affair was the promise of a pre-release of DCI-200 this year, endorsed by both K.Watts' boss and G.Haworth. After lunch and the royal departure, we were all presented with a nice commemorative medal now on display in my office (please form an orderly queue) and the option of a guided tour round the premises. I foolishly took this up, and was consequently rather bored by vast acreage of unnaturally tidy machine room, stainless steel boxes, 600 megabit cables, girls rewiring boards etc. Just before rushing to catch a train which didn't actually exist, I met L. Teare who had a few interesting things to say about running my software on series 30: guess what, it sometimes gets the counts wrong, just like our very own CAFS engine.

Back in the hands of BR, I was only mildly surprised when the train I did finally catch (the 1725 from Manchester) suffered an engine failure somewhere near Dudley, fairly resigned to the hour's delay at New St while a new engine was found, and almost amused when, some ten minutes later, on the way into Birmingham International, the wheels of the coach I was travelling in began to give off smoke due to faulty braking systems. An unfortunate BR executive on his hols was also on the train and did much energetic rushing up and down and apologising to passengers. Mirabile dictu, the train to which we were all transferred then ran without incident, arriving in Oxford a mere 15 minutes after its scheduled time, i.e. 2245. Cycling home I calculated that of seventeen hours awake so far, eleven had been spent on a train in various stages of collapse. There must be easier ways of getting a free lunch.