The BT Engineer cometh 

If the auditory cues are in any way reliable, we have a menagerie living in our telephone lines.  Conversations with Member Firms, FCA and product-providers are enlivened, and probably not exactly enhanced, by a cacophony of pops, crackles, rattles and sudden mysterious silences, reminiscent of the jungle at nighttime, when the tiger is on the prowl.  Interaction over the phone becomes progressively more embarrassing, as the suspicion dawns that the other party thinks that I am somehow guilty of all the noise - a little like when you sit too close to a stranger at a formal dinner, and it becomes apparent that they are somehow 'throwing' their scary abdominal rumblings in your direction. 

After a little while, one starts over-compensating, talking too loudly, to try to drown out the explosions - talking too much, because you can't hear the person at the other end as he or she is being overwhelmed by an invasion of aliens with faulty plumbing.  After putting the 'phone down (with some relief), you have to consciously re-acclimatise to normal modes of communication, when your staff complain about all the shouting.  Your next job is to register the fault, which usually involves negotiating some significant linguistic and cultural differences with someone in Delhi, and then we await, with interest, the arrival of the BT Engineer.

The BT Engineer is a phenomenon.  Firstly, there is the capacity for coffee.  Secondly, there's the intriguing ability to manage his physical, bodily presence simultaneously between our office, the exchange and the nearest junction box which is half a mile away.  Thirdly, there's the business of burrowing into small spaces and what can only be described as Spaghetti-Juggling.  Fourthly, there's the plethora of mysterious black-boxes, each of which have unique LED configurations, and are designed to go Beep in quite distinctive ways.  And fifthly, there is the stream of consciousness narrative about life, BT, egregious profits, and the apparently randomised availability of high-speed broadband, despite the massive government subsidies paid to contractors.

At the end of it, the BT Engineer packs his various bags, and with a friendly wave lurches off into the blue yonder, leaving us wondering if anything, really, has changed.  Tentatively, almost reluctantly, we take the first incoming call.  Yup, the menagerie is still in residence.

We might laugh wryly about the BT Engineer, as he is something of an institution - but, if we are not careful, miss the obvious parallels.  The IFA can certainly get through a lot of caffeine (indeed, much of the stuff we're required to read makes stimulants mandatory).  We can appear to be very busy, doing hundreds of things - and perhaps even (briefly) amaze the unwary client.  With relatively little effort, we can make our role appear wondrously complex - we have our own mass of cabling, and all kinds of black boxes we use (sometimes quite randomly) to generate results that we scratch our heads over.  And talk!  We could talk for Britain in the Olympics - and, with just a little encouragement, replicate the whole lot in blockbuster reports that the client will use to prop up furniture on an uneven floor.

But, at the end of all that, have we actually solved anything?  Is there still a fault on the line?  Have we left a legacy problem for someone else to trouble-shoot?

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Kevin Moss, 25/09/2015