It was a memorable prank. I was working as a programmer in the early 1980’s on a project designed to run on an IBM S/34, a big metal “cupboard” on wheels that sat in the corner and churned away. I worked on the project with one of the guys from the company, a nice little guy I will call Arfa because he was probably born within the sound of the Bow Bells. We had set him up with a database on the S/34 to manage his passion, breeding budgerigars. Arfa was one of those pet owners who some would say bore a resemblance to his pets with a beaky little nose and a cheeky and curious personality.
One Friday afternoon another one of the company workers came to me and asked whether there was any way that I could get back at Arfa for him. Brian was one of a group of workers who regularly played euchre, a card game, at lunchtime and they wanted to exact revenge on Arfa because they had just discovered that he had secretly removed all the jacks from the pack of cards they played with. Anyone who knows the game of euchre will realise that this had a great impact on the way the games were played when the players were making play decisions without knowing that there were no jacks in the pack. It was just the sort of cheeky prank Arfa would play and he would be having a quiet chuckle at the way this would be affecting the games.
Over the weekend a revenge plan came to me while I was cleaning out the cockatiel cage at home. I saved some of the discarded bird feathers in a plastic bag and took them into work with me on Monday. I spread the feathers on the inside base of the S/34 right under the housing for the two large disk drives that contained all of the S/34 data. I showed this to Brian and cued him on what I was going to do. He could hardly contain himself at the prospect. I then set to making some access changes to Arfa’s database so that it looked like all his budgie breeding data had disappeared. Brian’s office was just across the corridor from the computer room and he waited there in anticipation of Arfa’s arrival. We knew that one of the first tasks that Arfa did on Monday’s was not company-related, but it would be to update his budgie records.
So it transpired. Within minutes of Arfa’s arrival he rushes into the computer room with a certain amount of agitation and asks me to look at his budgie database because it seems to be empty. Brian keeps his head down but I know he is listening intently. I go through a few things on the screen and say I can’t see what is wrong but let me just check something on the computer. I walk slowly over to the S/34 and open the large door on the side and stand back so that the feathers are clearly visible laying on the floor. I turned to Arfa and said “When did you do your last backup?” I can still hear his strangled voice crying “Oh no, oh no” followed by multiple repetitions of an expletive that I will spare you here. Just then a chorus of laughter explodes from Brian and a number of other company guys who had gathered to witness Arfa’s discomfort and Arfa suddenly catches on that these feathers aren’t really the problem. “You bastards” he cries to which Brian responds “Put the jacks back in the pack then”. Arfa rushes back to his desk and returns with the missing jacks which he hands over to Brian. He then turns to me and pleads with me to fix up his database so that he can get into it. I do so in a couple of seconds and that was the end of Arfa’s interference with the euchre game as far as I know.
I was prompted to write about this because I was recently contacted by the project leader at this company who I hadn’t heard from for something like 30 years. After we caught up with all the changes in our lives he told me that he had finally tracked down Arfa after losing contact with him some years ago. The source was an obituary notice for Arfa who had died just a week before we reconnected. He had lived to a ripe old age of 86 and I remember him and the times we shared with much affection, he was good man.