All of those yarns that us old FARTS (Foreign Affairs Retired Technicians)
spin about our youthful glory days in the Canadian Foreign Service should only
be told to a captive audience in a bar over in Hull about 2am, and indeed many
of those yarns should be left over there.
In 1966 an advertisement by External Affairs appeared in the North Bay
Nugget. They were looking for Electronics Technicians to install and service
cipher and communications equipment at Canadian Embassies. Sounded like a rare
opportunity for paid travel. About one year later I left my cosy Marconi
microwave job in North Bay and joined External Affairs in Ottawa on January 2,
1967. I had at that time actually forgotten or given up on my application, and
thought ‘my God, our Government works slowly’, little did I know. Four
External Affairs people interviewed me at the high school in North Bay. If I
recall correctly they were Russ Scott, Fred Snow, Bert Smith, and Sid Woodham.
One question that they asked was what my expected salary was. When they told me
the salary range for a Tech2 I said that I would take the top of the range
because that was closest to my then current salary with Marconi. They also asked
me how much I would drink to celebrate a hole-in-one on the golf course to which
I responded that it would be worth at least a mickey of rye. I lied; it would be
worth a 26-ouncer.
1967 was a pivotal year in the electronics world. Vacuum tubes were almost
gone, transistors were in, and integrated circuit chips (RTL and TTL) were
state-of-the-art and just about to happen. Needless to say my first course on
the RX cipher machine was therefore a bit of an electro-mechanical shock, and
was qualified by Wayne Thorne, who had then just recently graduated from
Algonquin College, (very knowledgeable in transistors and knowing nothing about
tubes) when he asked me “What the hell is a screen grid”. My training on
Teletype Corp. mechanical printers was not a great success either. As I recall
the final test was to strip a fully working model 28 printer down to its some
100 parts and put it all back together again. I had a few bars, bails, springs,
and levers leftover, which I threw in a drawer; it seemed to work fine without
them. The telephone systems were also in a transitional mode at the time. The
old Strowger mechanical switching exchanges were on their way out, crossbar
switches were in, and solid-state Northern Electric Pulse 80 electronic switches
were just around the corner.
Some notable things were happening in External Affairs at the time. Satch
(Terry Satchel) was working very hard to bring the IBEW union into External
Affairs. (Aren’t the English big on unions?) I would not join, puritan that I
was, because I felt that an American union, run by Jimmy Hoffa, should not be
brought into the Canadian Government; I would have joined a Canadian union. That
decision, among other things, did not make me very popular with my associates.
The IBEW was brought in about mid-1967 just before I was posted to Beirut, and
almost had its first strike at the same time.
At that time the Technicians’ paycheques were not personalized in an
envelope, instead the Workshop Supervisor handed them out. Then someone noticed
that I was being paid at the top of the T2 salary bracket, and then all hell
broke loose. A union meeting was called to address the problem. There were a
number of Technicians hired before me (Satch was one) who had Navy or Army
experience on cipher equipment and were still only being paid at the middle of
the T2 salary range. Techs usually advanced one step within the salary range
each year. I can recall saying a stupid thing during that meeting when I was
asked by someone ‘what gives you the right to start at the top of the T2
salary range’ to which I replied ‘that is probably because I am a better
Technician than you are’. That day I came very close to being clobbered. Just
as an aside here. Some newsman in Moscow asked Kim Philby, who was the head of
the British Secret Service, and who defected to Moscow in 1966 along with
Burgess and MacLean, if he felt that the Lebanese police were superior because
they were the people who had fingered him as a super spy. His response went
something like: If you define intelligence as an abundance of ignorance and
arrogance then the Lebanese police are brilliant. Now on my own behalf I can
assure you that I was brilliant in my younger days, and if you want to know
something else I think I am still brilliant. The end result of the near IBEW
strike in External Affairs was that the Technicians warned management (The
Colonel) that they would all resign and then reapply for their old jobs from the
street. The Colonel was forced to burp up all the Tech2 salary levels to the top
of the salary range, and so, in my brilliance, I let it be known to all and
sundry that I had got every one of them a salary raise. I had the distinct
impression that some of my associates were glad to see me get a posting.
And so it was that eight months after joining External Affairs I found myself
and my family on a three-year posting in Beirut, just two months after the June
‘67 Arab-Israeli war, and what a shock that was. During my first month there,
out of necessity, I joined the IBEW.
We visited Expo ’67 in Montreal for a couple of days and then took an Air
Canada flight to London where we had to make a quick change to Olympic Airlines
for Beirut. In those good old days we were allowed first-class travel anywhere
east of England. Upon arrival in Athens we were informed that there was no first
class seating between Athens and Beirut, about a half-hour flight, and asked if
tourist class would be acceptable. Since we were the only passengers in
first-class they had simply taken down the partition and filled the aircraft
with tourist-class passengers. No, and still showing my usual brilliance, we
were willing to wait for a day or two until there was first-class seating
available, and would Olympic Airlines please send a telegram to the Canadian
Embassy in Beirut informing them of our delay. I was not about to be cheated out
of my moment of glory, Wow, first-class-travel. So we made like tourists in
Athens for a day or two, courtesy of Olympic Airlines.
August in Beirut is something else. The post Administrators were
non-existent, they were all over in Cyprus. Settling into a post under normal
circumstances is tough enough, house hunting, hotel living, getting to know new
workmates, neighbours and country. We stayed at the Excelsior Hotel, around the
corner from the elite American Phoenicia Hotel. It was to be many months later
when we visited the Phoenicia for a meal that we were told that the hip of beef
was flown right in from Texas. This was indeed a very famous hotel that we had
even heard about in Ireland. Finbar Quohane had told us about a bar in Beirut
that he sat up at where you could see people swimming in the swimming pool in
front of you. And it was at this hotel where your kids could swim in the
swimming pool and look directly into the bar and wave at you. It was just around
the corner from the elite British hotel, the St Georges. Apart from the
100-degree humid summer heat two things happened to make it almost intolerable.
Brenda wound up in hospital from dehydration during our second week in Beirut. I
was the first Technician in Beirut, no tools, no workshop, and then no
Communicator. Allen Bell, who had worked hard alone during the 1967 war, had a
heart attack and was taken to hospital. So the business of running the
comcentere and communicating fell upon me. This was my routine during my first
month on my first post. Get my four-year-old daughter and my five-year-old son
up, dressed, and fed at the hotel and hand them over to some chambermaid, then
head for the Embassy comcentre to run it, mostly as a communicator.
After the June war the traffic would have been an overload for an experienced
Communicator let alone a Tech who had barely seen a Comcentre. There were five
and six pagers going to places I had never heard of and I could barely type.
After work sometimes 7 or 8pm, I would run down to the hotel, pick up the kids,
grab a meal, head for the hospital, dump the kids on poor Brenda, whip down the
hospital hallway with about two dozen questions for Al Bell about the business
of being a Communicator. One day Jacques Montpetit, the First Secretary, came to
the Comcentre asking me if there was a reply to his ten pager to Ottawa, I
couldn’t bring myself to tell him that it had not gone out yet. After a week
or two of this non-communicating Paris advised me to just send the text as I got
it and they would handle the routing. Archie Archibald, who was in Paris at the
time, told me some years later in India, that they couldn’t figure out what
kind of a yo-yo Ottawa had sent to replace Al Bell in Beirut. Not long
afterwards, and we know why, Ottawa decided to send Danny MacDonald to Beirut.
What a ray of sunshine Danny was and boy did he have to cope with some filing
I learned a hard lesson in Beirut about doing business outside of Canada.
Butros, the local procurement person, told me that three bottles of Canadian
Club would get the telephone installed in my apartment in one month instead of
one year. Being the naive twit that I was I told Butros that I never tipped
anyone to have a telephone installed in Canada and I was not about to start
here, I would follow the same procedure as anybody else. I stood in the Lebanese
PTT line-ups for two very sweaty and smelly successive days where everyone stunk
of garlic. I was the only non-Arab in those lines. There were about six lines,
each with a different coloured tag, the starting line, the admin line, the
get-the-phone-set line, the installation line, the pay line, and so on up to
about line6, the magic line. Here was the man who would stamp and approve your
application. Somehow I always had the wrong coloured tag, so I had to start in
line 1 again. Butros pleaded with me, he would give the three bottles himself,
but being so brilliant I would stick to my guns. Towards the end of the second
day even an Irishman starts to get the message. Because I was getting
dangerously close to grabbing somebody especially the guy inside the wicket on
the last line who kept sending me back to the first line for a different
coloured tag, and who decided to clean his fingernails while shaking his head,
suggesting that some stupid foreigners never learn. I told Butros I would pay
the three bottles. I could have offered a case of scotch at that time and I
would not have got a private telephone line, I had broken the sacred ‘baksheesh’
rule. During the following three years I was never to get a telephone in Beirut,
even when the Ambassador sent a request to the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs
explaining that a telephone was important because sometimes I needed to be
called out in the evenings. It was not too bad during the daytime in our
apartment because there was a building switchboard through which calls could be
placed and received, but the Palestinian Concierge manned it about half of the
time because he preferred to spend his time outside around the swimming pool. It
is interesting to note that some four years later when I arrived at my new post
in New Delhi two barefooted-Indian kids knocked at my door and wanted to test
the telephone. I picked up the phone and having got a dial tone told them it was
okay. Five minutes later they were back to test it again, no dial tone, they
wanted one rupee (7 cents) each. Brenda, who was monitoring all this told me to
stop being an idiot and just give them the rupee each and to remember my crusade
in Beirut. And so I paid them one rupee each faithfully every week for
The Embassy staff shared the task of picking up the Diplomatic Courier at the
airport and delivering him back there the following day. It was my turn to meet
the courier on the tarmac at the airport. His name was Joe Riley. I figured that
it could not possibly be the same Joe Riley, the first Canadian that I ever
knew, when I got off the banana boat from Ireland in 1956, and some twelve or
thirteen years earlier. Sure enough it was the same Joe. Way back, in 1956, I
got my first job in Halifax with the CP Telegraphs as a maintenance technician
on the landline telegraph equipment. While on training, and waiting for the
summer relief jobs to open, CP gave me a fill-in job as an assistant check
clerk, assistant to Joe Riley, and that job was a single man’s dream. The
function of a check clerk was to route telegrams, to take the incoming telegrams
from the Teletype or Morse Operator and take them to the desk of the outgoing
operator. It was a dream job because CP Telegraphs only hired single ladies in
those days (imagine them trying that today), and about fifty of the Teletype
operators were single young females. Joe usually took the prettier one and set
me up with her mate. I lost track of Joe for many years until meeting him again
in Beirut. The Dip couriers who arrived in Beirut were always ready to hit the
town because they had arrived off of the ‘dry run’, that is the run through
the Arab States. In fact they sometimes really hit the town. So much so that one
time my neighbour in our building, Ted Harder, the Purina rep., asked me if it
was a persona-non-gratis that we were escorting out of the Beirut airport as he
was arriving in there, it was our diplomatic courier (not Joe) who had been out
on the town all night and was barely able to walk. It was important to pour him
onto the plane where he would have time to straighten his act out before
arriving at Athens or Paris. I lost track of Joe for a further fifteen years
until I arrived in Charlottetown to work with DVA in 1983 and there again was
Joe Riley. Once in a while we would have lunch together at the Legion and Joe
warned me never to tell them that we worked with Veterans Affairs because we
would get thrown out.
Our apartment building in Rouchie, West Beirut had about thirty apartments on ten floors. Our living room was about the size of two side-by-side bowling alleys with a black marble floor, we also had two bathrooms, each with a black marble tub, sink, and bidet. This place was near impossible to fill with furniture. External Affairs had set a ceiling of a certain percentage of salary on house/apartment rental and furniture rental. The apartment rental was sufficiently low as to allow us to rent a considerable amount of furniture. We went to a furniture manufacturing place and literally designed to furniture we wanted to rent (to buy) over the next three years, from a padded bar (always had my priorities straight), a twelve place dining room suite, and a coffee and associated side table carved from a 4’x8’ foot sheet of onyx (marble), which we also selected, with hand-carved bowed legs. Brenda designed the size and shape of the table she wanted carved; we still have those.
The occupants of that building were like the league of all nations. There were Arabs, British, Americans, Germans, Australians, Indians, even one of the young wives of a Saudi Prince lived there, and who came to visit once in a while. The social life evolved around the pool during the week, while on weekends we spent our time at the beach cottage which had a private Mediterranean beach and the best stocked bar in Beirut. We decided to put our five-year-old Timmy and our four-year-old Patti in the International School rather than in the British or American school, mostly because it was a great opportunity for them to learn French and Arabic. Some six months later it was indeed rewarding to see them fluent in both of these languages. Brenda and I took French lessons at home and even the little we knew was helpful downtown, since Lebanon was under the French rule until 1946. I also attended courses at Hagazian College during the day. It was an Armenian College with most courses in English, so between it and The American University of Beirut I was able to pick up transferable credits to Carleton University so that by the time I returned to Canada I had enough credits to almost enter the final year of their B.Sc. program. I got to know a lot of Armenians but I refused to join their parades against the Turks and to lock little fingers with any of them. When we first arrived in Beirut it looked like half of the Arabic population were gay. We later learned that it was not so, the young men would walk along the Cornice holding hands with their men friends; it was just an Arabic sign of friendship. The only negative thing that I can recall about that apartment building was that there was a mosque nearby and the ‘wailing’ started at dawn every Sunday morning over the loudspeakers, it was really hard on hangovers.
There were some fifteen or twenty kids in that building who ran around like a disaster looking for a place to happen. As kids will be they usually had a fall guy or two among them. This particular week it was a Danish kid, so they decided to tie the passenger side door of his parent’s car with the chain, which was across the parking space when it was vacated. She was in a rush to pick up her husband at the airport and ripped the door right off the car. That episode cost our kids, and cost us a new car door. Another night there was a big sleepover in the Anjulos (the Pan Am rep.) penthouse apartment on the tenth floor. While the Anjulos slept in the following morning our little monsters got tired of tossing down water bombs in balloons at people and things on the side street below, so they decided that a carton of eggs from the fridge would be more fun. All hell broke loose when the British General Electric rep saw his brand-new car covered in fried eggs.
I used to play a lot of squash in those days in an open-air squash court about a mile away from our building. There were a number of mediocre players, like myself, in our building. It was on the way home that we would sit down at a sidewalk café and a shandy (beer and ginger ale) never tasted so good. We figured we were pretty good until this guy called Alex came along. He was an English friend of Ian MacLean’s and I have no idea why he was making visits to Beirut. He was such a good player that we rarely ever got a point in a match even when he took us both on. Alex told us the story of a couple of years earlier when he was in the South African police and he decided to make a trip around the world. A friend of his told him to look up his Uncle Kim Philby when he got to Beirut. Philby could be found at the bar in the St. Georges Club. When he arrived in Beirut he asked a few proper British gentlemen seated at the bar if anyone knew Kim Philby. He said if looks could kill he would be a dead man because it was during the previous month that Philby had defected to Moscow.
After more than a year in Beirut we decided that a trip to Egypt was in order. I sent a message to Cairo that we would like to exchange homes with someone in Cairo for a couple of weeks. Stan and Mary Fockner accepted. We never met Stan and Mary until they became our neighbours in a quiet subdivision near Bayshore a couple of years later. We took a Mediterranean cruise via Cyprus while Stan and family flew into Beirut. We had a pleasant stopover in Cyprus and the trip was fine until we entered the port of Alexandria. I had been aware that the process of disembarking was expensive. Porters climbed up onto the ship far out from the dock and hustled the tourists to bring their bags up onto the deck, while others threw the bags down onto the dock, others took the bags into the money-changing room, then customs, then out to the taxi, and then everyone in turn had to be tipped. I had a better idea; I would pay the first guy double to take our bags off the ship, and all the ways on to the train. The kid tried to convince me that he could not do that, but the pay was so attractive he decided to try it. While the big guy was busy at the gangway throwing suitcases down onto the dock, my guy called his buddy down to the end of the ship and threw our cases down. It was a sight to behold. The dock was strewn with everything. The ship’s deck was about two or three stories above the dock and sometimes when a large trunk was thrown down the guys below just backed away from it. I had to go and see the Captain because somehow Patti’s name was not on the passenger list. As I returned to the gangway a crowd was gathering and in the middle of it all I could see my 100-pound Brenda beating the daylights out of this 300 pound Arabic stevedore with her purse while standing over him on one of those steel rollers (gunnels) used for tying up the ship. After I pulled her off this guy it turned out that as he was bringing his arm back to clobber my porter for breaking the rules he flattened Timmy on the deck, and that’s when Brenda lost it.
At the train station in Alexandria I experienced real fear for the first time in my life. A hostile crowd encircled us, so much so that Patti hid her head in her moms dress and asked why they are all staring at us like that. This was not a curious crowd; I saw hatred in most of the faces. As I look back upon it this was a foolish place to be at the time. We were in the midst of people whose army had been totally demoralized the previous year by the Israelis who were in turn supported by foreigners like us (Americans). I was indeed thankful when the train arrived. There are two trains from Alexandria to Cairo, the express and the diesel, naturally we opted in for the express but it was the wrong one. It was so beat up that the coach seat was nailed up at one end and on the floor at the other end. I wound up holding Timmy out the window (well – where the window used to be) to do his thing because we could not get near the toilet hole in the floor for all the beep-beep lying around it. It stopped at every village and for every cow and goat on the track. Our return trip on the diesel was such a luxury in contrast; it was just like being on an aircraft. I was so pleased to get double the bank exchange rate for some American dollars from the camel drivers at the pyramids until Frank Weibe told me that I had to account for them on the way out, fortunately I was not asked. One afternoon after playing golf at the Ghizira golf course with some of the Cairo Embassy staff I had a quart of Stella beer and returned to Stan’s house for a rest. My heart started pounding so fast that I thought I was having a heart attack. Brenda said my pulse was about twice the normal rate and she was about ready to call the ambulance when it went back to normal again. Mary Fockner had a lot of nursing books around the house and we were able to identify it as palpitations of the heart. I felt that it must have been brought on by the beer, so before boarding the ship in Alexandria for the return trip back I had another Stella beer with the same result for a couple of minutes. The American Medical Association had listed palpitations as having no known cause; I should have given them one cause: probably polluted beer water from the Nile.
On New Years Eve 1968 our good upstairs neighbours, invited a bunch of us other tenants up for a few drinks. We had a good view of the Beirut airport a couple of miles away, and watched flares bounce off the highway near the airport entrance, and then fly off in the distance. This went on for over an hour and we could see the traffic starting to back up just below our apartment. We put it down to some sort of celebration, but it was far from that. Our host that evening was a good Scotsman Ian MacLean who was a Kuwait Airways pilot and was due to fly out the following day. Ian returned home without flying out and filled us in on the carnage at the airport. The flares that we saw were real flares. Three helicopters of Israelis had landed at the airport and took it over. It seems that one helicopter group took over the tarmac and lounge, a second group took over the control tower, and the third helicopter was parked over the four-lane entrance to the airport and fired flares out both sides of the helicopter and stopped all of the traffic in and out of the airport. The new control tower crew landed all the incoming Middle East Airlines planes and gave instructions to the MEA pilots to line them all up way off the runways, while the new ground crew took all passengers into the lounge for free food and drinks. The Israelis landed and refuelled all other foreign aircraft and sent them on their way. This was apparently the single time that year that all thirteen MEA jets would be landing or passing through Beirut International Airport. Then they blew up all thirteen MEA planes in retaliation for a Palestinian attack on an Israeli school bus some months earlier. According to Ian the airport was littered with carcasses of jumbo jets. The amazing thing about it was that not a single person was killed or injured and the Israelis were gone in three hours. Just a few years later I often felt that when the American Embassy people were held hostage by the Iranians that they should have got that same Israeli crew together and asked them to go into Teheran and get the Americans out.
I covered the Ankara and Teheran Embassies on a fairly regular three-monthly basis. I used to take PanAM1 to Teheran and return on PanAm2. Travelling first class on Pan Am was a luxury; often I was the only one in first class. After the first couple of trips the hostess would bring down the bottle of Canadian Club, a bucket of ice, and a bottle of ginger ale and tell me to help myself (to the Canadian Club, that is). Pan Am was my kind of airline, a shame that they closed it down.
I was a shoo-in for handling all the ordering and distribution of the Peter Justensen duty free shipments. That is when I became a connoisseur of good spirits. When the Ambassador ordered a few bottles of the brandy of Napoleon, I ordered one, when the First Secretary ordered a particular wine, or whatever, I ordered one, I was proud of my bar selection, you name it, I had it.
My visits to Ankara in Turkey were mostly uneventful. All aircraft entering Turkey had to land at a place called Adana because that is where the customs was, can you believe it, what are the odds that the Turkish Prime Minister was born in Adana? You had to disembark, identify your luggage on the tarmac, re-board the place and continue on your trip. Ankara was a coal-burning city if you put your hand on a railing it came off black. A sore throat was par for the course after a day or two in Ankara until someone gave me some pills, which helped.
The Teheran visits were most eventful. The Asian trade fair was held in Teheran in 1973 and this very hippie-looking character came to see me at the Embassy. He was a tall guy in his late twenties with black hair and a black beard all the ways down to his chest and he walked bent over like Charles Manson. His name was Andre Letalier and he wanted me to install a Northern Telecom SE2 demo telephone exchange at the Canadian Pavilion at the Asian Fair site. Andre was anything but a hippie; he was the designer of the Canadian pavilion for the Canadian Trade Commission and he was getting it built at the trade centre by local contractors. I told Andre that I would tee it up with my department and his, to which his reaction was strong: then it will never happen. His option was to bring two Northern Telecom installers from Turkey or Ottawa, pay their fares, hotel, and a high per hourly rate. Well I was always one for saving the Canadian Government some money so I installed the exchange in a few days with mud up to my ears because there was no roof on the pavilion at that time. But I had a couple of good local electrician helpers who dug the trenches, laid the conduit, and pulled in the 25 or 50 pair cables for about 40 telephones within the pavilion. In addition to a much lower hourly rate the deal was that I would get a couple of telephone sets after the fair was over. This was the first time that I had seen a telephone with the rotary dial on the handset. We were both staying at the Sheraton Hotel and would have a few beers there in the evening after cleaning off some of the mud. I always wanted to eat in the hotel restaurant but we never got in because Andre refused to wear a tie. One evening he said he would show me the real Teheran, which being a Moslem country was a dry country except for a few decadent western-owned hotels. Well we headed downtown and it was just like the roaring twenties. Andre would make a special knock on the door, the peephole would open, and the bouncer would greet him with open arms, and the booze flowed freely. On my last night there Andre appeared with the most gaudiest tie I have ever seen, it was more like a hand painted wild coloured scarf, he must have sent someone from the site to pick it up at the local market. Anyway we never made it into the hotel dining room because by the time we got there they had closed up for the evening.
On one visit to Teheran I fitted up a new comcentre with new RX cipher equipment which Buck Arbuckle had hand-carried from London, and we retired the old iron Chinaman (the enigma, of Second World War fame). It seems that the kiln in Ottawa had burned up (or down) and the decision was made to dispose of it at the site. Unfortunately for me, and unbeknownst to me, Tommy Ito, the Communicator and Bob the Registry Clerk decided to hold off on its disposal until I would arrive on my next trip, supposedly I knew about identifying the more sensitive parts or something. I had taken Brenda along on that trip for her first and only visit to Teheran, by cashing my first-class airline ticket for two tourist class tickets. Bob selected a secluded spot at the end of a highway, which was being constructed, near the Koradji dam, about sixty miles west of Teheran. The game plan was to break it with sledgehammers there because flying white metal in a room might be dangerous, then hire a boat and dump it bit by bit in the dam. That particular Sunday afternoon was a quiet one in the Iranian countryside; we took Brenda and Bob’s wife Suzanne along for a picnic. We had almost finished breaking it with the sledges when someone noticed that soldiers manned the surrounding hills with machine guns pointing at us. We gathered up as much of it as we could, locked the two boxes, and loaded them into the station wagon, just as a military jeep approached us. They advised us that we were under arrest and being charged as spies caught in the process of breaking up our radio equipment. It didn’t help that my passport said that I was born in Ireland with Lebanese and Turkish airport stamps all over it, and they had Tommy Ito down as a Chinese, whom they hated. We were escorted back to the local police station; at least the police Captain spoke some English, which helped a bit. It seems that the site Bob Tessier selected was right beside where the Iranian Army were doing manoeuvres and we were spying on them. We would not be released until they inspected the contents of the two locked boxes. Knowing full well that we would be in deeper trouble with our own security people if we let them inspect the contents of the boxes, because this equipment, antique as it was, was still classified and being used by some countries. And so here was the impasse. Bob, Tommy, and myself in the police station, while Brenda and Suzanne stayed in the station wagon with an armed guard with fixed bayonet marching around it all evening. At one point, after insisting to Savack and military people, that we were simply disposing of old typewriters. I even brought in a bashed up piece of keyboard to show them. I was to experience some fear again when a young soldier started pushing us around with his bayonet. Towards midnight we were starved, and were treated to a meal. We decided that there was no graceful way out of this situation so we called the Embassy in Teheran. Enter Boris Chickorsky. Boris arrived there about 1am. He said two things right away. Leave the wives go because Suzanne has children in Teheran and if anything happened to them the Captain would be held responsible, this he did. Secondly on whose authority were we being held, Boris didn’t care if it was the Shah himself, he was determined to go back into Teheran, get this guy out of bed, and bring him back to the police station. Then we would talk. Boris was one hell of a take-charge young Admin. Officer, I could get to like him. Nobody was about to wake up the Chief of Savack, the Iranian secret police. We caught a couple of hours sleep in the station wagon, again with our not-so-friendly soldiers marching around it. So near daylight we were escorted into Teheran with a young army officer holding a gun on us for the whole sixty-mile journey. Boris assured us that in a few hours time the Ambassador would call the Chief of Protocol and we would be released. At about 9am we were free to go. Ali, the local embassy driver appeared, and offered to drive. Now we still had the damn smashed-up Iron Chinaman to dispose of. Ali drove us around the countryside for an hour or two and we dumped that stuff bit-by-bit into fields, rivers, and lakes.
I was asked in Teheran not to mention anything about this schimozzle back in Beirut or anywhere else. So upon my return I put in for about thirty hours straight overtime, which suggested that I had worked for at least 38 hours straight. John Carriere said that nobody stays awake for that long and they would never buy it in Ottawa. I asked John to trust me on this one, that for the first time in my life I had truly earned it, I would tell him later about it; which I did. Ottawa paid the overtime without question.
We returned to Canada in July of 1970 after spending a couple of weeks in Ireland with my folks. On our connecting flight from Montreal to Toronto, just before landing at Malton airport the stewardess asked the guy in the row ahead of us if he knew how to open the emergency exit beside him, so she nervously showed him how, seeing that makes for a great comfort factor. After landing, the plane taxied off the runway onto a field. Then the emergency chutes were released, and someone with a loud hailer shouted ‘Get out get out’; and so we did. There were fire trucks all around the plane. Later, in the airport, we were told that an FLQ bomb scare had been called in for that flight. What a welcome home after three years, and anyway who the heck was the FLQ, we had never heard of them in Beirut.
About this time a thing called ‘red circling’ was happening to the Technicians. Basically it meant that there was a freeze put on advancement within the EL4 (T2) group and Technician to be red circled were selected according to a ‘reverse order of merit’. (Aren’t we great in the Government for coining positive-sounding phrases). It should have been called what it was: an order of demerit’, and that order of demerit was based on the Techs previous two or three work performance appraisals. The appraisal system in External Affairs was pretty sad at the time. A couple of years later a Communicator told me that the Communicator who got the promotion had seventeen ‘outstandings’ out of a total of eighteen categories. Now nobody is that perfect, not even us Irish. It seems that some Admin Officer at some post asked him to fill out his own appraisal form. If an Admin.Officer at a Post followed the rules some Techs found themselves on the ‘red circled’ list. Well crusader Connolly was not about to accept this bull so I got myself a Lawyer and sued External Affairs. The IBEW rep Garry was a bit pissed off at me for getting a Lawyer, so I had the IBEW and my Lawyer represent me while Buck and someone else represented management. A Treasury Board Lawyer was the Judge. My Lawyer cost me $300 and we won and that was the end of the ‘reverse order of merit’.
Fred Snow was the first Technician in India and he married a lovely Indian girl Yvonne. When I was considering taking the post in New Delhi I asked Fred about it. One thing he told me was that when playing golf at the New Delhi Club to watch out for the snakes in the trees when I found myself in the rough, also to watch out for the monkeys on the third green. I thought that Fred was having me on about the monkeys, until I played the course. The third green was elevated with about a twenty-foot flagpole. This particular day I hit a 100-yard blind approach shot onto the unseen green. I figured it surely must have hit that green so I edged on up the hill on the side of the fairway to have a glance while the other guys took their approach shots. Here was this baby monkey on the green with my ball, so I ran towards him waving my club and shouting, when all of a sudden this king-size monkey came out of trees towards me, needless to say the golf ball was the last thing on my mind. When I tried to tell the other guys that my ball was really on the green but this baby monkey bla bla bla. They said Yeah sure tell me another one.
Our 1972-1974 posting to India leaves us with many good friends and wonderful memories. It was an exciting time of our young lives in a lovely country of friendly people. I had made a trip to New Delhi in November of 1971 to install the telephone exchange with Clem Coulomb just as the new Canadian High Commission building was near completion and occupancy. It was also a good opportunity to look the place over before accepting the posting. I learned something from Clem. (Though with my brilliance one would think that there was nothing more to learn). Clem insisted on doing the ‘visual’ inspection of the exchange when it arrived from Northern Telecom in Ottawa. We spent the better part of two days inspecting and ringing out every one of those 500 wire-wrap connections to the SE2 relays. We found about ten shorted or open wire-wrap connections, which would have taken us a full week to run down through troubleshooting procedures. Ever since then I have always done the ‘visual’, even today in my retirement while repairing monitors for the Charlottetown computer stores. I have to specify ‘retirement’ here because otherwise I would not qualify as an old FART.
We were in for some surprise when we took a look at the 50 and 100-pair cables that were installed throughout the three building floors and to the outbuildings. Some contractor had installed underground outdoor cable in all the conduits. Neither of us had ever seen this cable before. It was called layer cable. It was shielded with steel wire about the gauge of coat hanger wire and all the cable pairs were greased up so that a bulldozer could pick up this cable without damaging it. Layer cable meant that on the outer layer there was a guide pair, which was coloured differently, then each pair had the same blue and white colours around the circle or outer layer. Then you took the same approach for the next layer inwards, and so on into the centre of the cable. That took us the first day to figure it out, and the second day we decided to see if we could live with it since it would require winches to haul this stuff out of the conduits. We selected a fifty-pair cable going a distance of 100 yards from the exchange room to the diesel room. It took us a couple of hours to identify the first pair, running back and forth, so that we could connect a battery powered telephone between the two of us. It took all day to ‘ring out’ fifty pair, the biggest problem was that we never figured out that at one end of the cable you count pairs clockwise, while at the other end you count counter clockwise. So we decided to have it all hauled out and sent back to Northern Electric for some drums of 50 and 100 pair of standard colour-coded telephone 22 or 24-gauge telephone wire. Thank God for Ma Bell System Practices. We got a local contractor with some winches to haul this stuff out of the conduits while awaiting the arrival of the Northern Electric drums of cable. Then the Indian-Pakistan war broke out. It was lights out in New Delhi every night. Our telephone room was located in the basement of the High Commission building with no windows so we needed light even during the daylight hours. No flashlight or batteries were available and when I arrived back in New Delhi a couple of months later with my family I found that exchange room covered in candle grease, we had punched on the cable pairs by candlelight.
One day I was told that some Indian man wanted to see me. Len Herema, who was the building Architect, took me to meet this guy. He was an older Indian man in a white suit with a peaked cap and he rode up in his bicycle. He assured me in his best English that he was the best cook in all of India and would be honoured to be my cook in India when my family arrived. So Len and I started to read some of the dog-eared references he handed to us. His name was K.C. Anthony and I swear to you that he looked exactly like Mahatma Ghandi. Most of the references were ok but Len handed me this one which was from some previous American Embassy staff member and it read something like this: To whom it may Concern: Anybody who hires this guy has got to be an absolute idiot. He will rob you blind, he cannot cook worth a shit, and he is an absolute moron etc. etc. K.C.s problem was that he could not read English so we courteously handed him back the resumes while he kept insisting: good Sahib, good Sahib. And I cannot be sure if I felt sorry for the guy, or liked his bullshit, or thought that it might be a nice gesture to Brenda to tell her that she had a servant awaiting her in India for about $10 per month. Of course Brenda never had a servant before and never knew how to manage one, especially an experienced conniver such as K.C.
I bought a 90cc Honda motorcycle from Terry, the Military Attaché’s Sergeant and it was great for beating the traffic on the way home to Visant Vihar from the High Commission each day around 2pm, we stopped early in the summer. This particular day the traffic was especially bad because the Indian police decided to have a traffic check of licensed truck drivers. Most of the drivers took off across the fields and the traffic just backed up. I used to sit out in my wickerwork chairs on the veranda and K.C. would serve me my drinks, while the $10 per month gardener asked me if it would be ok if he planted fiery anvil roses near the bougainvillaea on the wall. I had educated K.C. to the point where he was starting to get the knack of it. K.C., now, the dark stuff is rum and coke and they go together; and the gold stuff is Rye and ginger ale and they go together, and the light stuff is gin and tonic and they go together. I told Casey that if I ask you for two fingers this is it, two fingers sideways on the table, or four fingers. Anyway that particular traffic backup day I asked K.C. for two fingers vertically. A week or so later Brenda asked K.C. what the hell he was doing because he was measuring my drinks with two fingers vertically and I wondered why I was getting so stoned on the first rum and coke. Someone told me that if my put my vodka in the fridge it would get thicker and taste better, as I think back about that how can 40% alcohol and water get thicker by cooling it anyway I thought I would try it. We had to boil the drinking water and the only bottles around to store it were liquor bottles. This particular day Timmy had been playing soccer outside with some of his friends and his habit was to grab the first bottle he saw in the fridge and take a long slug out of it. We had vodka all over everything in the fridge.
It was not the electrocuted mouse in the toaster that got to Brenda, and it was not the geckos that ran all over our ceiling, and it was not that when she had soaped herself up in the shower that the water ran out, and it was not the monsoon rains, and it was not that when the water ran out that she had to get the two buckets and go down the road when the water wagon arrived. It was K.C. that got to her, and it was not because at mealtime he would serve Sahib first, Then Timmy sahib, then Memsahib, and finally Patti Sahib.
I arrived home one day and my dear Brenda informed me that either K.C. had to go or she would go. Well by this time he had completely taken over. He had installed Vivian and his family in the servant’s quarters; a good cook must have a cook’s bearer for bearing the foodstuff from the marketplace and washing dishes. Now I had two families and some six kids or so to provide for. Casey made the fatal mistake of not allowing Brenda into her own kitchen. I had to call K.C. aside and ask him a simple question. K.C: “Either you or Brenda has got to go, which one do you think it will be”?
After a year on the post it was time to see a little of the real countryside away from the summer heat of New Delhi. We drove through the Punjab, through the Jammu Mountains to spend a couple of great weeks living on a houseboat in Kashmir. The houseboats were a luxurious leftover from the British days in India; they built and furnished the houseboats because they were not allowed to own land in India. The kids rode horseback to a mountainside glacier and went tobogganing (Snow in India – really!) while we played golf in the highest course in the world. I loved one of the holes on that course, you could tap a ball off the tee with a putter and it would roll some one hundred yards slowly downhill onto the green. On our way to Kashmir from New Delhi the only accommodations available in the small country towns and villages are Dak bungalows. These are barebones rooms with some rope beds (then I realized where the biblical expression ‘take up thy bed and walk’ came from). We stopped at one in the Jammu Mountains where we were treated like royalty and they would not accept any payment. Having seen the maple leaf on my car plates the owner explained to us that his village nearby was snowed in for a couple of months each year with no access to the highway. Canada had supplied a snowplough with driver and mechanic instructors, and it was a blessing. That humble Jammu Innkeeper made us feel so good. It occurred to me at that time that perhaps L.B. Pearson’s peacekeeping idea should have been taken a little further and that perhaps our military should be providing real aid (instead of, or led by CIDA) to places like this by building bridges or whatever, instead of squandering resources on boring manoeuvres in Ontario. The military is a country unto itself with all its own resources from cooks to engineers and dentists, and its own land sea and air transportation systems. What value that could be to the third world host country and to us in terms of our own foreign export economy and international goodwill. I somehow doubt that many Somalia-type incidents would arise under these different circumstances.
It was always nice to have another resident Technician in a neighbouring country and we had a very pleasant visit with Fergie and his family in Raulpendi in Pakistan. We were told that it was customary for Embassy personnel to take a bottle and some newspapers to the head of customs of each country at the India-Pakistan border at Lahore. We felt a bit guilty at the border because we were ushered up to the front of the line-up and asked in for tea with the head of customs. Of course, the forty- ouncer of scotch had nothing to do with it. The newspapers were because neither country had contact with each other at the time, and that tradition was started some years earlier when, at Christmastime, a cavalcade of Canadian Embassy cars used to go to Pakistan from New Delhi to pick up the goodies that used to be delivered there by an RCAF aircraft. There was no more need for that when the Canadians and Australians were allowed to join the American commissary, and what a luxury that was.
In 1972 Randy Stansfield was a young Admin Officer, junior to Bill Hoogendyke, on his first post in India. Randy drove one of the good-looking slow-back sporty mustangs. One evening we walked over, with the kids, to a party at our neighbours, Ben Sells house. We thought that Randy was a bit of a show-off in the car and that it would not look so flashy without the fancy hubcaps. So on leaving Bens that evening Timmy and myself decided to swipe Randy’s’ hubcaps. They were displayed prominently next morning outside of the entrance gate to the High Commission, with a big sign ‘For sale: 1 Rupee each’. Later that day a Gurka guard came to see me and apologized profusely for having told Randy, under duress, who had put them there. I used to give them the odd bottle or cigarettes from time to time so it was a dilemma for them. He threatened to fire them all if they didn’t tell. Randy told me that each hubcap would cost me and that I would never know when or where.
A couple of weeks later a message arrived from Ottawa advising all post technicians that they had finally gotten the diplomatic status at posts that they had sought after. After many congratulations at the poolside and I might add after buying a dozen or two drinks, including two or three for Randy, he announced that that was hubcap #1 – Gotcha. It was to be many years later before all ‘substaff’ did get diplomatic status. Can’t remember what #2 was.
I used to pitch fast-pitch softball in the American compound and it was the team’s habit to retire to the adjacent American ACSA lounge to celebrate or drown our sorrows depending on the outcome of the game. Sometimes we retired there too long and would walk home or take a taxi and leave the car in a small parking lot at the entrance to the American compound. This particular afternoon when I went to fetch my car an Indian policeman insisted that the car was reported stolen and that I had to go to the police station to prove that it was mine. I told the police chief that all he had to do was to call the High Commission to verify that it was mine. 00ps, guess who answered the phone? Randy told the Chief that they had no employee by the name of Connolly but they were ever so grateful to him for finding the stolen car. After five cups of chai in 110 degrees, and a lot of grovelling, Randy finally came clean and asked to speak to me and said ‘That is hubcap #3 but watch out for #4. I never found out whether he had set it all up or whether it just happened that way.
We started getting thank-you calls for the invitation and a number of our friends said they were looking forward to it but nobody would tell us what the event was. A couple of days before this puzzling event we received an invitation card ‘Mr. and Mrs Ted Connolly would like to invite Mr. and Mrs. Ted Connolly to a gala costume party at their Visant Vihar residence on such a date, costume: Asian. Good old Randy had a bunch of our invitation cards printed up and sent them to everyone with a warning not to let us in on the picture. Randy and Gail came over early that evening to help with the punch and arrangements like removing the chairs and throwing cushions on the floor. The costumes were great but John Sheardown took the first prize for the most original. John became well known later as the number two man to Ken Taylor as the Immigration man in the ‘Canadian Caper’ book and movie where the Canadian Embassy people got some of the American hostages out of Teheran, posing as Canadians. He arrived as a Sikh buffalo herder complete with a herd of buffalo and two real herders. Try as they did to drive the herd through the living room they couldn’t get their horns through the door, and much to Brenda’s’ relief who had visions of cow beep beep all over her carpets. It was a great evening and needless to say I didn’t pull any more stunts on Randy, however, in retrospect, I must say that he was a breath of fresh air (sometimes hot) at the High Commission in New Delhi.
The Indian PT&T telephone system was fashioned after the British telephone system on a pay-as-you-use basis. It made no difference that during our Kashmir vacation, or home-leave, that system registered the same number of calls each month and there was absolutely no point in questioning it. The telephone system had a 50% uptime rating, meaning you had a 50-50 chance of getting a dial tone when you picked up the receiver. The residential telephone lines were nailed to trees, sides of houses, everything, except telephone poles. On windy days it was a common occurrence to see Brenda heading down the road with her extended two-handled broom separating the phone lines. But I still had to pay the two rupees each week to the two barefoot telephone testers whose only English vocabulary consisted of ‘one rupee sahib’.
While writing this I spoke with my daughter Patricia, who is now 41 years old and living with her family in Spokane, Washington. I asked her if she had any recollections of India when she was all of about eight or nine years old. She is now a District Court Judge (we must have done something right) and wound up in Washington State because she was born there in 1962 when I worked with ITT Canada at the time when the RCAF and USAF radar sites were being combined into the SAGE (Semi Automatic Ground Environment) system. When she wanted to enter law school she applied to US and Canadian law schools because she had dual citizenship. She told me the story about the American flag that currently flies in her courtroom. Timmy traded it with her for something else in their young days. It was the flag that used to fly over the American Embassy in New Delhi. It seems that Tim was a buddy of John Moynihan at the American School and when we were returning to Canada John decided that Tim needed some memento of their time together and so one night they lowered the flag and stole it. John is the son of Senator Moynihan of New York State who was the US Ambassador to India at the time.
I was asked to make a trip to Bangladesh to look at their Embassy telephone exchange, which had totally failed. Upon reaching Dacca I thought I had come to the end of the world. At the airport as they were bringing in the suitcases from the aircraft, there were about ten guys pulling and pushing the cart with another half dozen or so sitting on top of the luggage. The garboard on the cart broke and there were broken suitcases all over the tarmac, mine included. The taxi from the airport to the hotel was totally stripped of any instruments and halfway between the airport and the hotel I wound up pushing this taxi trying to get it restarted in about 110 degrees heat. I asked myself what is wrong with this picture. While registering at the hotel desk I tried to call the Embassy for a driver to pick me up, when the guy standing beside me heard me asking for the telephone number of the Canadian Embassy he said not to bother trying because the lines were down, then I told him that that was why I was there. He said that his driver would run me up to the Embassy in the morning, and in the meantime I should join them for a drink. These were three transportation consultants from Nova Scotia who had spent the past three months in Dacca trying to get Canadian foreign aid wheat moving from the dock warehouses out to the countryside where it was needed. They had even met with Mujib the Prime Minister, and still were unable to get it moving. The first reason was that they had no trucks, so Canada sent out a bunch of trucks and they still couldn’t get the wheat moving. The new reason was that in had rained and the numbers that had been written in chalk on the trucks had got washed off and could not be identified with the bill of lading. They told me that the wheat was diminishing fast because it was being sold out of the warehouse; they saw other warehouses with other foreign aid supplies such as soap from previous years still in the warehouse, what was left of it. A small empire had been created around the trucks. There were drivers to test drive them, mechanics to repair them, cleaners to wash them down, and security guards to protect them. They had given up and were headed back to Canada the following day.
The following morning found me working on a Seimen’s telephone exchange that I had never seen before, worse still all the service manuals were in German, and I could not find the bank of batteries that were supposed to run this exchange. Somebody decided that the batteries were not needed and had converted the battery charger to directly run the exchange. This was broken down and after a trip to the German Embassy to translate some of the manuals I got it working, but the hum was something fierce. So I scrounged some big filter capacitors and arranged with the British Exide Company in Dacca to put some acid in the empty batteries, which we found in a storage room; and then I was glad to go back to India.
It was decided that two secure steel rooms would be installed in the backroom of the comcentre, one as a secure speech room and the second to house the cipher equipment. Stan Dabrowski was one of the assembly crew who arrived from Ottawa to install them. Stan was the only man I ever saw who could be sound asleep standing up against a wall. A couple of months later as I arrived for work one morning I saw the smoke pouring out of the steel room housing the cipher equipment with Ken Tremblay inside the room. The pushbutton would not open the steel door and I tried to shout in through the door to Ken to hand crank the door open from the inside, since that was the idea of the secure room there should be no communications in or out of the room, verbally or electronically. He must have heard the banging on the door, over the noise of the machines, and he was able to hand crank the door open. After examining the burned-out door motor it seemed that a ‘stop’ micro switch failed to operate after the door was closed, the motor kept on cranking and burned itself out, and Ken was lucky to get out alive. I guess an additional failsafe micro switch was added to sense the ‘fully closed’ or ‘fully open’ condition of the steel door.
About half way through our posting the embassy compound part of the whole structure was nearing completion and we got our waking papers out of our homes around New Delhi into our new apartments in the compound. The quarters were so cramped that even an extra chair could hardly be placed in the bedroom or in the combined dining room/living room. It had two tiny bedrooms, and we needed separate bedrooms for the kids at that time. I was about to leave on mid-post home leave and asked to be moved back to my house in Visant Vihar, or that the quarters needed to be enlarged. I suggested that a door be knocked between my apartment and the adjacent single-person quarters. Lo and Behold it was done when we returned from home leave. Furthermore many of the other compounds dwellers got larger and more realistic quarters. We found the compound living not a great idea. People tend to become isolated from their local environment. We used to socialize and interact with our neighbours who were Indians, Brits, Australians, Americans, Irish, Danish, almost every nationality, and that was healthy and interesting. On the other hand it is very unhealthy to work all day and then live next door to the same people; there was so much bickering going on in that compound.
I had a one hundred watt ham radio transceiver with a kilowatt linear power amplifier connected between it and the antenna. Bill Blake, the property manager at the embassy, said that there was no way that a three-element rotary beam antenna and mast could be supported on the roof of my apartment and public works in Ottawa would never go for it. A couple of months later Bill and his son helped me install that rotary beam. I was able to talk all over the world with that kilowatt. I talked to other ‘Hams’ in about 100 countries in a matter of three month, even back to Canada. Winnipeg was half way around the world from New Delhi so one evening, about 6 or 7pm, as I was talking to a ham in Halifax N.S. he asked me to hold on while he took his daughter to the school bus, on his return we swung the beams 180 degrees and were able to talk again around the other half of the world. My call sign in India was VU2TED and my call sign today in P. E. I. is VY2TED.
Just before we were about to leave India and return to Canada, my replacement, Harry said he would bring a duty-free set of golf clubs for me in his air shipment. The Pro at the New Delhi Golf Club had been after me to sell him my set because they could not import clubs from outside India. I told the pro I would sell them to him for the same price that a new set would cost me on the street back in Canada. My set of Campbell’s would cost $700 in Canada and that is what I sold them for, and the Pro was very happy to get them. My air shipment was all crated outside on the lawn when Harry and family arrived, and it took a couple of 40-ouncers of Scotch to get Harry’s shipment cleared at the airport. We then rooted through Harry’s air shipment, found the clubs, unwrapped them, hit each one into the lawn to get some Indian soil on them, and repacked them into my exiting air shipment crate. As I write this in January of 2004 I just got a new set of clubs for Christmas because when Tim took them to his friend to be regripped they guy said he didn’t know how anyone could play with an antique set of clubs such as these, the same ones that Harry had brought to India 30 years previously. Tim said it didn’t matter anyway because his father couldn’t play golf anyway.
We returned to Canada in mid 1974 and after spending a few weeks with my family in Ireland and Brenda’s family in Parry Sound, Ontario we returned to our house near the Bayshore Shopping Centre. It was in some shape, the lawn grass was nearly up to the top of the fence and our good neighbours had some tall tales to tell about our tenants. We had rented the house to the Children’s Aid Society as a group home before leaving for India.
Part way through our post we received a letter from the Children’s Aid Society advising us that rents had increased in Ottawa and they were automatically increasing the rent by an additional $50 per month, and I thought, my kind of tenant, until we got home, that is. It seems that the three or four teenage girls were a bit wild (boy-wise), such that there were six-inch nails in our bathroom windows downstairs. The two big dogs did not help either. We had to replace most of the scratched up windowsills and smelly carpets. Apparently the group home ‘parents’ spent most evenings down the road at the Bayshore Hotel.
Back in the L.B. Pearson Building in Ottawa Stan Dabrowski came into the workshops one day and told us that Honeywell were looking for some maintenance people for their model 28 and 33 Teletype machines around the city and over in Hull. That is how T&T (Terry and Ted or Ted and Terry) Electronics got started.
Terry Satchell (left) and I had a meeting with the Honeywell maintenance people and as we sat down I said to Terry that this one was in the bag. The Maintenance Manager was none other than Garry Minor from Parry Sound who I had met some years previously when he was a Radar Sergeant on the Kamloops Radar Base and I was one of the civilians testing the radars and height finders, on behalf of ITT Canada. Brenda went to school with Garry in Parry Sound and they lived a few doors apart. Towards the end of the meeting, having convinced them that we were the only two experts in all of Ottawa on the models 28 and 33 Teletype machines, they asked what our charges were, so Terry said $20 per month per machine. That was a surprise to me because we had never discussed it but you bet Terry had thought about it. We signed the contract. Honeywell had a lot of minicomputers running the traffic light system in Ottawa while they had others in various government departments, and some over in Hull. I did the machines in the west end of Ottawa while Terry done the ones in the east end and we shared the maintenance over in Hull. It was after about one year, perhaps around the middle of 1975, that the Head Stationary Engineer at CRC at Shirley’s Bay asked me if we could find a way to turn off the four teletype machines in their office when they were not operational. For the first minute of every hour they scanned some sensors in the research buildings and then sat idle for the remaining 59 minutes. I talked to Garry Minor about Honeywell installing a software delay loop and a relay to turn off the printers after their one-minute printout, and then start them up again when data was being received. He said they had no programmer around for these minis and did not want to change their programs, but Honeywell would buy a box from us, which would do the job. So after work at External Affairs workshops we would stay for a couple of hours most evenings drawing black box circuits that might do this job.
Left - Rear View Centre - Front View Right - Top View with cover removed.
Photos by Jim Rogers (Device from the Lou Berube Museum)
After a couple of months we settled on a circuit which would delay the incoming data for a second or two, start up the teletype motor, and send the delayed data to the printer a second or so later when the motor had got up to full printing speed. The shutdown circuit would sense the incoming data line, and if there were no activity on the line after a minute or so it would shut down the motor. Terry built a bunch of them while I continued to modify and refine them a bit here and there. Even though it was in a Radio Shack Box Terry’s silk screening of T&T Electronics Corporation Motor Stop looked very professional with its CSA Approved Stamp (also silk screened onto it). Satch spent a week building a test power supply which the CSA guy from Toronto wanted us to provide when he came up to Ottawa to test the box. He wanted to test the AC cord to ensure that it did not arc over at about 1000 volts. Satch made a fine 1kv power supply with a voltmeter and milliamp meter on it. And so T&T paid his airfare to Ottawa and whatever else the approval stamp cost. Terry gave him directions to his home, told him where the key was, and told him to go ahead while he could be contacted at External Affairs if needed. Satch was some pissed off the next day, the guy had blown his fine power supply and the meter needles were bent out of shape. We sold and installed a bunch of these boxes for Honeywell throughout Ottawa and Hull for $300 bucks a pop. We never realized it until after installing them that they became a valuable maintenance tool because the printers were now running for only a minute or so per hour instead of full time. We had to grease and oil the printers about once every six months instead of every month. We still collected the $20 per month per machine. In retrospect it was a fair accomplishment for two flunky technicians (Satch would tell me to speak for myself) to literally take an idea, design an electronic circuit to do the job, package it, and sell some thirty of them.
It was to be many years later when I was back in Hull with Employment and Immigration and living in Cantley. Satch and Christine stopped off on their way back from skiing and he told me the story of his then recent trip to Cuba. Satch had found the perfect job as RCOT, part of which was covering the Americas rating the performance of resident Technicians at these Embassies. When he reached Cuba the young Technician informed him that the Russians had changed the signaling system from a negative-going start pulse to a positive going one and the little blue box under the teletype machine stand would no longer work. As the story goes Satch told him that he needed a positive-going one-shot trigger pulse instead of a negative going one and all he had to do was pull R3 up to the +5 Volt rail and put C4 in series with it. The kid thought Satch was a bloody genius when it worked. Satch told me that that particular printed circuit board was a mess inside the box and when he looked at the serial number it was 001, the first box that he himself had built for External Affairs and it had been modified about 20 times before getting sent off to Cuba. At the end of the week he told the young man that he was having him on and he was one of the Ts in T&T Electronics on the outside of the box.
In order to operate in Hull and in Ottawa we had to become a Corporation rather than a Company Ltd. We had to present a record of all Corporation transactions and activities at the end of each fiscal year to Consumer and Corporate Affairs. Needless to say we were too busy to bother with such little details. We were the only Teletype maintenance company in Ottawa in the yellow pages. One day I got a call from the Russian Embassy who wanted us to service their teletypes. Satch figured it would not look so good on the RCMP cameras to see two External Affairs Techs with top-secret clearance going in and out of the Russian Embassy so we declined that job. It was about that time also that we started doing the equipment conversations for External Affairs people going overseas, and converting their stereos, tape recorders, turntables, etc. when they returned to Canada. It usually meant changing a 60-Hertz pulley to a 50 hertz one and changing some taps on transformers from 115v to 220v. We were starting to have busier evenings than days. Satch would come over and ask me if I wanted to be the President or the Secretary for our yearly corporate meeting, but nothing ever got filed with Consumer and Corporate Affairs. There was no way that either Terry or myself could sort out our shoeboxes of bills and receipts, but being good civil servants we were able to hold them off for long durations. When the notice came from some clerk we took no notice, when it was escalated to a chief we took no notice, we took a little notice when the warning came from some Director but when it came from a Director General we took notice and responded. We told him that we had to let our accountant go and was breaking in a new one and as soon as he was up to speed we would file the required corporate records. Then it would all start off again at the Clerk level. Finally we took a trunk-full of boxes down to this guy who was moonlighting from ABC Accounting. He told us that he could sort out the mess for $1500 where ABC would charge us $3000. He finally did put enough together to satisfy Consumer and Corporate Affairs before they closed down T&T Electronics Corp. Then something happened which was to change my whole life.
One day I met my old Ambassador from Beirut in the lobby of the L. B. Pearson
Building. Christian Hardy had in the meantime spent two or three years on some
Arab country posting while I had been in India. He introduced me to the
soon-to-be Canadian Ambassador to Ireland. We talked a bit about Ireland and I
gave him my brother’s address on the farm in Cork and told him to look him up
if he was ever in Southern Ireland. Afterwards Mr. Hardy and I had a sandwich
together in the cafeteria. He was the one who had approved my daily absences
from the Embassy in Beirut in return for no weekend overtime. He asked me if I
had ever finished my degree, I told him that I still had the final year to go
and that I was seriously thinking about going back to industry. For a lowly
Technician at a post I got along very good with Mr. Hardy. If I was fixing his
stereo, or wiring, at his residence he would ask me to join him for a cigar and
a glass of brandy afterwards, and while I was back in Ottawa between my Beirut
and Indian posts I looked after his appliances and stuff for his Tenants in his
rented Ottawa house. He suggested to me to apply for paid education leave to
Carleton University to finish my degree. When I suggested to him that the
education leave system was primarily to assist diplomats who were being primed
for an ambassadorship to get their PhD, because Dr. Smith sounded better that
Mr. Smith. He said I should apply anyway and to get my application on his desk
by the following Monday morning. A week or two later he called me and asked me
how I would feel about going back to Carleton full-time for a year on full
salary. Wow… I was not prepared for this; little did I know that Mr. Hardy had
been the Director of the Board for the selection of education leave applicants
Now I had a real problem on my hands because I was not at all sure that I could make the final year. I met with some science and engineering people at Carleton and opted for an Integrated Science major, a combined Science and Electrical Engineering major, I would need seven more full credits and the normal load was five full credits. Well I still had the summer and the following summer to pick up whatever was necessary, so I started into 1966, the heaviest year of my life. Worse still I had to review such subjects as introductory and intermediate calculus in preparation for advanced calculus since I had taken those prerequisites many years previously. My immediate middle managers at the time wanted to make it clear to Senior Management that there would be no position available to me upon my return to the Technician group and in my own way I did not take kindly to that which I considered an unnecessary piece of crap, but by then it was a fait accompli anyway.
Carleton University, at my ripe old age of 41, along with 14-hour workdays seven days a week was some shock to my system. And on behalf of T&T Electronics I still had to do my teletype maintenance of the Honeywell printers and the equipment conversions for External Affairs people going abroad. In all fairness to Satch he was very understanding during that year and helped me out a great deal. I can remember many early mornings in my study with bleary eyes and with the blinds pulled, the only indication I had that it was morning was when I heard the birds singing outside. Brenda would tell me to have breakfast with herself and the kids, and to get a few hours sleep before my lab at 11am or so.
At Carleton I learned to hate those smart-asses who would leave a two-hour exam a half hour after it stated and before I had even got started. I was that smart-ass in the fourth-year engineering labs, I would have my lab project finished while the other guys were still trying to set up their oscilloscope or figure out the colour codes of resistors. One project we had to do was design a touch-tone telephone dialler using the circuitry of our choice; the rotary pulse diallers were in vogue at that time. When I was demonstrating my results to the prof we ran out of time so I told him that the pulses would still be on the scope the following day, he disagreed, so I pulled the power plug on the scope and lo and behold when I turned it back on there were the pulse traces on the scope, he didn’t know that they had memory scopes. It seemed to work good both ways, I would help out some guys with the practical electronics and they would help me out with things like Fourier analysis. On one occasion a young man asked me what I was doing in University at my age (old at 41-really?). I explained to him that I was Irish and it took us a little longer. Another time the Physics prof called me into his office and told me that if it were not for the fact that I was not competing with the young fellows he would have flunked me in advanced physics. He told me that I did not have a clue, that I was asleep most of the time in his classes if I ever showed up, but he gave me a D- and suggested that I do not take any more physics courses. He was absolutely right because I had no foundation or interest in such things as equations relating to advanced mechanical wave motions. I was thankful for the D- and it was the closest I got to flunking a subject. There were so many other subjects of real interest.
The first microcomputer had just come on the street; you had a choice of an Intel 8080, Motorola 6800, or one other brand. They were all barebones pc boards with a CPU chip, a UART input/ output chip, and about 10k of RAM and 10K of ROM memory; no keyboard, no monitor, and no power supply, wow: what computing power. I took the first microcomputer course ever given at Carleton and got one of the few A’s that I ever got. Then I had to select a fourth-year electronics-engineering project.
External Affairs had a cypher system called a BID610. You would have to ask yourself what the BID stood for: perhaps British Intelligent Devices. Now this device was of British design, it was about the size of a coke-dispensing machine, about six feet high and 20 inches wide and deep. It was mostly transistorized but it still had some tubes in the power supply. Integrated circuits were in and Satch and myself were fascinated with them. It really was amazing that you could take one hundred transistors and package them into something so small that it looked like a caterpillar. I asked Satch what he thought about the idea of taking that BID610 coke machine and putting it into a briefcase by rebuilding it around the microcomputer, and using IC chips to replace the transistorized logic circuits. My Carleton project advisor was Professor Archie Bowen who was giving the first microcomputer course. He loved the idea because it was a natural application for the new microcomputer. It was with the clear understanding with Dr. Bowen that I could present the power supply design to him along with the unclassified sections of the cypher system but under no circumstances could the top secret coding sections be discussed. Ideally I should have applied to External Affairs Security for permission to go ahead with this project but Satch and myself both knew that they would never approve it. And so I spent many an evening with Satch, after regular working hours, in the L.B. Pearson building tech workshops, drawing circuits, on the blackboard, of the secure sections of the BID610 because that was the only secure area that we could work in. You could hear statements like “holy shit: you know this circuitry that the Brits call a pulse-plus-bias gate is nothing more than a lousy AND gate. Then we were able to identify and reduce all of the circuitry down to simple AND/NAND, OR/NOR, and XOR/notXOR standard logic gates. More exciting was the fact, that for less than a dollar, a chip containing eight of these gates could be purchased down the street at Zentronics. There is no better way to get to know your equipment than to redesign it, Old Bert, who gave us the original course on it, would probably have felt that we were not entirely so stupid as we appeared to be when he gave us the course some nine years earlier. We were able to put the entire coding sections on a printed circuit board six inches by four inches and containing about twenty integrated circuit chips. It was originally housed in two 19” wide by 9” high by 18” deep cabinets. The whole machine would indeed fit in my briefcase, including the power supply, but without the keyboard or monitor. I got my second A at Carleton for that project and I was disappointed when our External Affairs Managers would not even give me a hearing or pursue the idea of developing it because it was not developed in a secure environment. I figured it might have been a rare opportunity for us to move right into the cutting edge of the coding technology. I was not one of the chosen few, hell; I was not even a member of the unchosen few among External Affairs Technicians; had rocked the boat one or twice too often I guess. So many years later when we both had retired Fred Snow and Yvonne visited us in P.E.I. on their way to Newfie. Fred told me that way back in the dark days the general consensus among Techs was that I considered myself superior to the other Techs, so I explained to Fred that it is well known in Psych101 that anyone who try to project a superior air about themselves generally feels inferior. In my brilliance defined as an abundance of ignorance and arrogance it goes without saying that I was indeed superior. As I look back upon it now I should have recommended to External Affairs to develop the new modified BID16 in a miniature package but I should have recommended that Satch would do the presentation, because Terry could sell fridges to the Eskimos. The British might have a few not-so-kind words to say about the whole thing also. Well to heck with it I got my A and that was the name of the exercise after all. In the spring of 1977 my grade-point-average was too low and I had to redo two subjects to meet graduation requirements, so I picked a couple of C’s to redo: Statistics, and good old Fourier analysis. We went down to Brenda’s folk’s cottage on Georgian Bay and I spent a few pleasant weeks working on those two subjects while we all took a well-deserved holiday. I graduated with the fall convocation class of 1977 and only beat my daughter Patti by a couple of years. Here I was, an Irishman who had flunked the primary cert (grade 8) twice in the Gaelic language subject, never attended high school, with a Bachelor of Science degree. It was a bloody miracle that I ever made it through and I felt good about things. During this time Brenda was working at La Petite Cuisine, within walking distance, in the Bayshore Shopping Centre, and for that year she had to become Father and Mother to our kids and I am forever grateful to her for putting up with all the beep-beep that she had to. I fully intended to return to Carleton to pick up a further four mechanical engineering subjects required for the Engineering Degree but I never got around to it.
Back at External Affairs I was offered a posting to Athens but it was suggested to me to look around for another job, so I did. I met with a couple of guys from Statistics Canada who were looking for someone to start-up and head up a Technical Support Shop supporting a couple of mainframes and a slew of minicomputers with about 300 terminals switched onto them. It was six years later, at my going away do from Stats Canada to DVA in P.E.I. that my old boss related a story that I had completely forgotten about. He said that when they were interviewing me for the job they asked at the end of the interview if I had any questions. John Derkash said that he had interviewed a few hundred people for jobs over the years but they were not ready for my response. I assured them that they had the right guy for the job but first we had to discuss the price. It seems that I said that after my first year I wanted to go from the EL2 category into the CS2 category if they were fully satisfied with my performance, a year later I joined the CS2 Group and the rest is another story.
I must say about my ten years in External that it was probably the most exciting time of my life, the most interesting, the most challenging, and that the Department of External Affairs gave me considerably more that I gave back. I worked with the greatest bunch of guys, we were all so young at the time, so madly in love, and we all thought that the world held nothing but promise for us all.
I will say this however about the security in the Department. Initially we
were brainwashed into thinking that around every corner was this Russian blonde
who would give us a good role in the hay for a few secrets, well that was
bullshit, because I searched every bar from London to Hong Kong and from Jamaica
to Caracas and bars in between without any success.
Now in 2007 at the ripe old age of 71, and as I look back upon those great
years with great guys in External Affairs, I leave you with this thought:
But I am as good now once as I ever was"
© OFARTS Canada 2007 Old Foreign Affairs Retired Technicians, Canada The opinions expressed here are those of the contributors. Accuracy of facts has not been verified in all cases.