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Gothic Monster(July 2009)

©Ian Buchanan July 2009 www.thejettyjournals.com
"Keep moving! If you stop moving, you die." The air conditioning system from hell.

The drill bit burst through the wall, narrowly missing Gavin's head. It was a huge, water-cooled concrete drill, and a shower of brick mud sprayed out over the room. It dried instantly, leaving a gritty red crust on Gavin, his desk, papers, computer, keyboard and monitor.

Gavin shared the office with four others and they shouted and screamed when the drill gouged its way in. Although startled, Gavin didn't move, and he continued to receiving a muddy spraying until the drill operator shut down his equipment. The five of them watched as the huge drill bit was tugged back through the jagged hole, and then saw a single eye peering through.

I was in the next office, and came bolting in when I heard the noise, in time to see the eye blink, then disappear. I ran out the office, out the front door and round the side of the building, where an overalled tradesman was hurriedly manhandling his monster-drill down off a scaffold.

He saw me. He'd already seen me through the peep-hole, and knew I was wild and had come to give him a mouthful. But I didn't. I simply said, "Come with me!" and stood aside to let him go first. He didn't have a lot of options...come with me or bolt.

I took him into the office and showed him Gavin and the mess. "You did this. You nearly killed this man, and there's a good chance you're ruined all this equipment. All these people witnessed it. What the hell were you doing, drilling through this wall? Who asked you to do this?"

I should have known the answer, before I even asked it: "Davo".

Davo. Of course. The building was actually three old warehouses, with a few doorways knocked through the walls here and there. It was constantly wearing away at the edges, needing perpetual patch up work, and Davo was the "building engineer" responsible for its maintenance.

He was probably constrained by an unworkable budget, but Davo was the master of the cheap fix. He used filler, tape and glue more than anyone I know, and his repairs were ugly, short-term, and often fell off within the hour. He might not have the funds to get the 19th century (timber-framed!) goods lift fixed, but the "Out of Order" sign was the best quality laminated cardboard.

My office had four lights on the ceiling. Two of them blew one afternoon. For a couple of weeks I left messages for Davo about it. Fed up, I emailed him and cc'd his boss, sarcastically pointing out that 50% of the lights in my office didn't work.

The next day, while I was at lunch, Davo came in and removed the two light fittings with dead bulbs. Didn't replace the bulbs, removed the lights! I could no longer say I only had 50% of my lights working....I now had 100%. Problem solved, no expense.

So I was surprised, when quizzing the drill-man further, to learn that he was installing a commercial air-conditioning system. Air-conditioning! The power was intermittent, the toilets often blocked, the lift never worked, and every year we roasted in the baking Melbourne summer. The idea that we were getting air-conditioning installed was frankly almost unbelievable.

But when I heard it was reconditioned unit, pulled from a demolition site, it made sense. Davo had picked up a bargain. A day later it was installed, and a gothic monster it was, all creaking coils and hissing pipes.

It didn't work, of course, merely pumped hot air into the building for a week. We were almost driven insane by the increased temperature, flopping listlessly in the plastic chairs and running in sweat. Twice I saw people break down and cry, they were so heat-stressed. The first time I took the weeping programmer out for an iced tea in a nearby, air-conditioned cafe, but the return blast when we walked back in was so shocking I couldn't bear to do it again.

Davo never answered his phone, was never in his office when I stormed up there in a fury. In the end I manufactured a project crisis which got senior management's attention. The CEO showed up to kick the heads of me and my team and got a first-hand taste of working in a furnace.

So the cooling system got regassed, or whatever it was that it needed. I walked in the next day and was astonished: it was so cool! Joyously, we laughed about how hot it had been, how tough we were to survive it. By mid-morning, I was thinking that the thermostat needed a bit of adjustment. It was a bit too cool.

Davo, unusually, called by to see how it was going, but hackled up immediately when I suggested the system needed adjustment.

"Yer all whingers! It was too bloody hot, now yer too bloody cold!", he raged, and stormed off.

It got colder.

I didn't think to bring a thermometer in for another couple of days. By then, despite it still being hot enough outside to roast a knob of meat on the pavement, inside we were wearing heavy jumpers, coats, even hats and gloves!

A glass of water left overnight on my desk developed an ice crust, and when we spoke our breath frosted. The thermometer showed we were wintering it, while the rest of the city continued to swelter through summer.

The air-conditioning unit had come from a freezer warehouse. It was designed to cool an aircraft-hanger sized space, and was perfectly capable of freezing whole carcases. But cheap!

"Keep moving! If you stop, you'll die!" I told everyone. This time I went to the CEO directly, quite prepared to quit, and knowing half the development team would walk out with me.

He was incredulous, initially, but agreed to visit. It took him less than 2 seconds to agree with me.

The eventual solution was a typical Davo one. It took a few weeks of trialling to get the formula right, but he settled on running the system twice a day for 20 minutes.

©Ian Buchanan July 2009
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