THE JOKE IS ON YOU Michel Trépanier
After reading Terry Hayes April fool’s story, I was compelled to tell you our story. Our story because, there were three of us involved in these unbelievably funny moments. The trio was composed of Brian Harper, Dave Sanderson, and moi-meme, Michel Trépanier. It all began on March 31st 1994 towards the end of a typical work day before heading home while posted at the Canadian High Commission in London.
The few remaining communicators at that time in London were Ed Smith, Bill Neiling and Clifford Swellin. Ed came to us in the tech shop with this strange look on his face, his glasses hanging at the end of his nose with a telegram in hand. He showed us the message handed to him by the High Commissioner, Frederick Eaton. This message was to be sent first thing the next morning to the area management office to request funds to enhance Canada’s profile in London, and more specifically, the Canadian High Commission on Grosvenor Square in London.
The High Commissioner’s message read something like this:
While I have been sitting in my office, over time, I have noticed the American flag across the Park at the American Embassy always seems to be blowing in the wind proudly displaying the stars and stripes. Our flag on the other hand, mostly hangs limp and droopy on its mast.
One would think the wind conditions would be the same being such a short distance and affect both flags in the same way. Having made several inquiries through the various channels available including our private eye folks, it was revealed that the Americans actually use a wind generator to prop up their flag.
I have had the High Commission obtain three quotes and in short we could get a generator for , 53, 78, or 105,000 dollars. We believe the middle quote would satisfy our need to raise the profile of the High Commission in London.
Please provide coding in the amount of 78,000 dollars soonest.
Canadian High Commissioner
This message did not pass before blind eyes. With our wheels turning, we decided to come up with a quick plan for a good April’s fool joke. In a matter of minutes, a plan was partly hatched. Dave thought it would be a good idea to place posters in each elevator before leaving the High Commission with essentially the April fool’s bait. Brian thought it would be nice to have people call in to leave their name and phone number. We had yet to come up with a compelling enough story to cause people to react to our message and call in. The text on the poster was to become a creative writing exercise where the ideas were challenged and reformulated as it was being written. After a few minutes of brainstorming, we had a written text to post in the elevator which would have looked something like this:
To: All Staff
From : The Technical Services Section
Subject: Telephone lines static
We have been receiving a large number of complaints over the past year concerning the static noise on the High Commission telephone lines. As one would expect, this is a common occurrence given the constant state of renovations which took place at the High Commission during the past years.
To remedy this problem, the Technical Services will undertake the blowing of the telephone lines beginning tomorrow morning. Due to the limited number of dust bags available, the dust bags will be provided on a first call, first serve basis. Please call extension XXXX and leave your name and telephone number and number of bags that will be required.
Technical Services London
An old answering machine was quickly connected with a brief message asking callers to leave their name, extension number and the number of bags required.
The next morning, many calls were already on the answering machine. "I need one for my own phone, one for my boss, I would like to get one for the other secretary who is away today, and one for her boss as well." Another stated " This is administration calling, make sure that all heads of programs have a bag." Probably 20 calls in all.
This was to be a very funny day, indeed. While in stitches, we had to come up with a plan to execute this April’s Fools triumph to take it to the next level while looking credible at the same time. The ultimate plan would be to catch the High Commissioner himself. We opted to do a trial run first to see if it was workable or needed to be modified.
We had no idea at this point how this was going to work. First we needed bags. Well, since there were no bags to be had, I suddenly remembered that the CMs had a shredder machine which had giant oversized bags. In fact these bags were so big that you could have fitted a regular size refrigerator inside a single bag. The fact that these bags were clear, see through would help us make this April’s Fool joke much more workable.
So the three of us put on our white smocks to give a sense of professionalism. I put on my tool belt and we proceeded to the office of our very first victim who had faithfully left us a request for a bag on our answering machine. She happened to work in Public Affairs Section. Incidentally, she was also the LES union representative for the High Commission. Dave and Brian were to be the mouth pieces for this telephone wires blowing event and I was to be the bag man who was to do the work sealing the complete telephone set within the bag and using a tie wrap around the phone cord near the wall.
We appeared at her door, and the dialogue went something like this:
Brian: Good morning Mam. We are from the technical Services and we are here to do your phone this morning. You requested a bag, is that correct?
The Public Affairs (PA) lady said " Indeed, I called late yesterday. Thank you so much for doing my phone first.
Brian: Well, first call, first served. Lucky you!
I was trailing behind Brian and Dave, still in the hallway positioned so that she could not see me as I was laughing hysterically with tears running down my face. Imagine me, dragging a 10 foot long plastic bag down the hallway while other staff members were looking on with a grin and great curiosity wondering what was going on.
After doing a bit of small talk with the occupant, Brian called me in to proceed to do her phone?
I managed to compose myself and put on a reasonably straight face, walked in the office with part of this huge bag still trailing in the hallway. I placed her secretarial phone set within the bag on her desk feeding the bag down the cord all the way down to the connector outlet at the wall. I then installed a very long tie wrap/zip tie to close the bag tightly close to the wall. I could hardly contain myself and I quickly made my way back out of her office to try to keep my composure.
I receive and place a lots of calls she said, what am I supposed to do while this thing on my desk?
In a very calm manner, Dave explained that she could still place and receive calls by pulling the receiver within the bag and by placing it against her face. You do the same for the keypad if you need to place a call by bringing a portion of the bag directly over the keyboard.
Dave performed a quick demo which she repeated successfully by calling the operator.
She was satisfied that it worked.
As Brian was walking out, she asked him how long her phone would be like this?
I thought he would say an hour or two at most, but before I could say anything, Brian responded " Well, probably not more than two, perhaps three weeks". At which time I blew up laughing out loud in the hallway. As this lady was standing behind her desk, Dave quipped "Oh, by the way, should you see the bag inflate suddenly, we recommend you leave your office at once."
She said, but why?
Dave said, " well, you see, the bag is very big, and it could actually inflate to the point of filling your office and possibly blowing up".
Brian added "There will be a lot of dust coming out from these wires and this dust could well be toxic."
She quickly jumped over the bag from behind her desk and made her way in the hallway next to me while talking directly at Brian and Dave. I had partly stopped laughing, and I was wondering how we were going to tell her that this was an April Fools day thing. As she was discussing with Dave and Brian the fact that this was rendering the workplace unsafe etc etc... I turned to her and asked what day it was? April 1st she said before resuming her talking with Dave and Brian. Again, I asked her what day it was? Again, she replied April 1st while giving me a strange look. On she went again, so I asked, once more. What day is it today? She looked at me and said, I told you twice already, and then all of a sudden, it must have clicked in her mind.
With all her might and strength she proceeded to punch me on the shoulder and was I would say somewhat upset, ok, rather upset, no, very very upset. There were at least ten other people in the hallway who were trying to grasp what had just happened. When she saw the other staff members looking on, she displayed a wry smile and gave us a look that could kill. We removed our phone bag, and we thanked her for having a good sense of humour.
Bottom line, other than a four knuckle bruise on my shoulder, it went rather well. We were now ready for the High Commissioner.
Dave and I were to undertake this challenge alone. This time I was to be the front man and he was to act in the capacity of a back up.
As we entered the High Commissioner’s secretary’s office, Mr. Eaton was on the phone, but he could see us through the opened door. He motioned that he would be with us shortly after his phone call was completed.
I proceeded with some reluctance to his desk when motioned in, dragging this pathetic plastic bag. He stated that he had a few more calls to do and that he would be working from the official residence for the rest of the day at which time we could blow all the wires we wanted.
I said " Sorry sir, but we have 400 phones to do and our installation of this bag would only take a minute or two."
He was sitting in his chair and his face started turning red at my insistence.
Without waiting, while his hand was still on the receiver, I grabbed his phone and proceeded to pull the bag up to his shoulder while asking him to let go of the receiver. I told him that Dave would show him how this was going to work at which point he withdrew his arm from the bag which gave me the opportunity to place a tie wrap at the end of the phone cord.
The High Commissioner said, No! No! No!, I only have a couple calls to make. After all I am the High Commissioner !.
I argued that time was of the essence and it would take only a few minutes to do this. I added, "I am sure that we will encounter much resistance with the staff throughout the embassy and you Sir, should really set a good example." "It would be really nice to have your support."
He said: " Surely, you can give another phone."
To which I replied: " Yes, you first, then the heads of programs, their secretaries, and on and on. We only have 3 spare phones in this building and this will not only cause us problems, but it will also cause us delays.
Again he said: "But I am the High Commissioner".
His face could not get any more red. I felt that we probably had reached the limit of what he was to tolerate at which point I said: "Well sir", while I grabbed and raised his phone and bag while looking out of his window towards the American Embassy, I said "This is easy, you can do this I am sure. All you have to do is receive or make your calls through this bag while looking at the American flag beating in the wind. Surely this cannot be too difficult for someone like you."
He caught on right away. He got up swiftly, walked from his desk to the middle of the floor, layed down on his back on his Persian rug, started kicking his feet and arms up and down, shouting, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT !!!, YOU GUYS GOT ME!!!. He was crying in laughter.
He eventually got up, shook our hands and congratulated us on a very very well executed April fool’s joke.
He desperately begged us to replicate the joke with his deputy, whom, was definitely not known for his sense of humour. We did it with his agreement to be nearby to intervene if necessary. As expected, his deputy did not think it was funny at all.
Mr. Eaton, called us later on that day to thank us again and to tell us he had called all of his friends and family worldwide to tell them how he was fooled on April Fool’s day. A very memorable day which he said he will never forget as long as he lives. Maybe some day, he will have a chance to read this story which would no doubt bring back some laughter.
© OFARTS Canada 2011 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.