Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Joy of Bluffing

The reason that I’ve worked in the telecommunications industry for 28 years is as a direct result of a very short conversation that took place in the Army Careers Information Office on Fountain Street in Manchester, in February 1985.
Having done as much research as a sixteen year old can do, without anything as useful as the internet, I walked in and addressed the recruiting Sergeant confidently.
“Hello, I would like to join the Military Police.”
He looked me up and down, with a squint and replied,
“Nah, son. You want to join the Royal Signals.”

Unaware that I was simply helping him fill quotas, I folded faster than Superman on laundry day and agreed with him that the Royal Corps of Signals - whatever it happened to be - was the organisation to which I should commit my immediate and long-term future.
Almost three decades later, I’m working in the same industry and occasionally find it as bewildering as I did at the age of sixteen.
I was on a four day course last week that left me wondering, “How the fuck did I end up doing this?”
At one point, the excited instructor, after making a particularly technical point, exclaimed,
“And that’s the beauty of Quadrature Phase Shift Keying!”

I wanted to cry. I know you haven’t got the first idea what it means, but neither have I! The difference is, I’m supposed to know. The only thing I had in my armoury was the classic bluffing action of nodding sagely, but not giving him enough eye contact to further engage me.
I then moved it on a step and pretended to be reading something in the précis that accompanied the course.
I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a very long time. When you’re a consummate bluffer like me, you have to learn fast and employ various strategies to ensure that no one knows you’re bluffing so that you get to keep your job, car, house, family and the capacity to pay for takeaways and beer.
Since 1985, whenever I’ve been asked something I don’t know - by someone who knows that I should know - whether on a course or going about my daily job, I’ve done one of the following things to manage the situation:
  • Changed the subject.
  • Pretended to have seen something really interesting over the other person’s shoulder.
  • Farted and wafted.
  • Answered a phone that wasn't ringing.
  • Forced a coughing fit.
  • Pretended I couldn’t hear them.
  • Nipped to the toilet and looked up what they were asking me on Wikipedia.
  • Promised them an answer at an unspecified date in the future.
  • Paid them a compliment.
  • Fabricated some confusion by asking if we were in the same unit in the army.
  • Did that ‘yawn - stretch thing’ to give myself a couple of valuable seconds to invent an answer.
It’s very tiring and you always have to be thinking, but after a while it becomes second nature.
I often wonder what the ratio is, of bullshitters like me, to people who actually know what they’re talking about.

Even on the course last week, our instructor - ten levels higher on the boffin scale than any of us in the class and a man who spoke in mathematical formulae - fucked up a couple of times and revealed a couple of chinks in his intellectual armour. When someone timidly put up an arm and questioned a couple of his figures, he checked and rechecked, realised he’d fucked it up, then forced a coughing fit and promised them an answer at an unspecified date in the future.
Maybe everyone’s at it. It would be a comfort to imagine Einstein getting home after a day working with the Olympia Academy and confiding in his wife that he’d nearly been rumbled by blagging Conrad Habicht that he knew all about Experimental Physics, but had extricated himself from the situation by pointing out of the window and shouting,
“Look! It’s a tawny owl!”

I suppose it would be better to focus on the things I’m good at, despite them having no practical use whatsoever, and let the bluffing tactics carry me through to 65, 67, 69 in my day job.
What I can do, that I think is good, is:
  • An excellent impression of a newborn kitten.
  • Recall all the words to the Hovis ‘Runaway’ advert from 1979.
  • Remember pretty much everything that’s happened to Ken Barlow since 1977.
  • An uncannily accurate impression of a milk bottle emptying.
  • Half decent robotics in the car, whenever Kraftwerk are on the radio.
  • Hide food items under other food items in the work cafeteria so I don’t have to pay for them.
  • Eat an extra large Zam Zam’s kebab in the time it takes me to walk home from The Lloyds pub.
When you look at it objectively, that’s not a bad little bunch of achievements for 44 years on the planet.