It was many moons ago in the wrong half of the seventies and I was working as a programmer in the Department of Health and Social Security in Blackpool. We programmed in Cobol and I still get shivers when I think of those little binary digits. The department was made up of about twenty programmers and three systems analysts under the leadership of Geoff, a tall, thoughtful, lean man in his early fifties. Apart from having a strategically placed desk where I could glimpse the knickers of the sixth-form girls at the secondary school next door playing netball, the job had little to recommend it. The printers spewed out vast rolls of graphed paper which were checked endlessly. The computers were vast boxes with spinning tapes occupying football pitch-sized halls.
I decided, after several months, this was beyond a joke and determined to hitchhike around Europe with my guitar for a couple of years in the time-honoured manner of troubadours and poets over the centuries. This was, needless to say, viewed as a poor career option by my already-old geeky colleagues .
But you could have knocked me down with a wet fish when, upon hearing of my plans, our somewhat distant leader Geoff invited me out to a restaurant as he wished to put a serious proposal to me. I can’t remember what we ate, Chinese I think it was but I was intrigued and just a little suspicious that his designs might be of a sexual nature.
We bantered a bit and then Geoff leaned forward with a serious expression and said ‘ you know Tony, my wife and I have never had children, though we dearly wanted them.’
I nodded while hovering up some Chop Suey. That’s a shame’ I empathised.
‘Yes but what I really wanted Tony was a son. I wonder if you could be that son?’
I stopped eating and stared awkwardly at Geoff and then the table. There was a pathetic kind of pleading in his voice that made me resist my first impulse which was to laugh. It was if he had just told me he had fallen in love with me. In fact he had. He wanted to be my daddy…and frankly that position had been openly available for some time and was now one that I considered a tad redundant.
‘Er…Er…’ I took a deep swig of beer.
‘Well I don’t know what to say Geoff…I mean..’I trailed off.
‘You see’ he continued as if I’d said nothing and he appeared to be growing in excitement, his eyes began to twinkle.
‘Computers are the future Tony. Oh I know it’s hard to believe now but they will get smaller and smaller till one day they’ll be the size of a wristwatch with holographic projections, perhaps even beyond that. But you see, when they get the size of a television say, then people will buy them for their houses, and very soon there will be a computer in every home in the country. People will talk to each other with them, they’ll play games on them, put photos on them, write letters on them. There will even be small computers for carrying in a briefcase. In 20 years time it would be as strange not to have a computer as…well…a car!’
His voice had taken on a quivering quality as if he were truly aroused by the vision he had just painted.
‘And I intend to be there’ he continued…’All these computers will need programmes, will need software, they’ll need operating systems…Just happens to be my speciality, and I want you to be part of it. I want you to come into the business with me. I want you to take it over when I’ve…when I er…mmmm’ He trailed off, lost in a sea of primogeniturial complications and just looked at me expectantly.
In hindsight it is strange to admit that Geoff’s predictions seemed less mind-blowing and truly prescient than they did twenty years later when everything came to pass just as he said it would.
‘But I’m going hitch-hiking in Europe.’ I said somewhat lamely. Geoff’s eyes clouded with disappointment and possibly a hint of disbelief. He had offered me the riches of Croesus and I was going hitch-hiking? It made little sense.
I did go hitch-hiking round Europe and must have sung ‘Strawberry Fields’ a thousand times. I got back several months later and got a job in the Cleansing Department as a road-sweeper. One of my ‘roads’ was the one outside the Computer Department and my ex-colleagues would view my fallen status with a strange mix of compassion and outright glee.
Me? I thought-alright you bastards, you may be laughing now but I could’ve been Bill Gates! The richest man in the world!