South Africa Calling
Ahem I got a call one morning from the MD of our South African company. "Our major customer (a bank) has an unresolved problem. Our engineers can't fix it. The customer is going to throw the machine out if it isn't resolved by the end of the week". It was already Wednesday.
I have certain skills - like finding the guy who wrote the suspect software. "Fancy a trip to South Africa to fix it" I asked nervously. This was in the days of white rule and the anti-apartheid calls to boycott. I was asking him to do something I'm not sure I would do myself though I was already an unwilling accessory. Fine he said (it was winter here and summer there as he advised me).
"Would tomorrow be OK?"
"I'll just check". 5 mins later, "Yep, I'm up for it".
What a relief. Called travel department and he was booked on the next day's noon flight out of Heathrow. Rang back the MD to assure him the only man who could sort the problem would be there the next day. He could tell the bank to relax. Sat back in relief that I had triumphed again and everybody knew it.
The guy rang back a couple of hours later. I forgot to say I haven't got a passport (nerds in the 70s didn't all have 'em). S**t - I could see my P45 being enveloped.
What to do? It was already late afternoon. Then I remembered that as the company did a lot of secret work with obscure government departments we had a secret office that dealt with sensitive matters in a very quiet way. I rang them, I explained the situation to a reassuring ex(?)-military voice.
"So it is a matter of national interest that we maintain this strategic economic link at all costs?"
"Yes", I spluttered
"Leave it with me I'll ring back in an hour"
He did. "Ring the chappy and tell him to drop into Petty France (then the passport office HQ) on the way to the airport. Its all sorted.
"Don't you need his details, photos ..?"
"No, we have that already".
And yes that guy made the flight, fixed the problem and that bank continued to bust sanctions with the aid of our equipment. My job was not only saved but enhanced.
I made an inadequate donation to the AAM in penance. It is something I am not proud of. But I do remember it as an example of what government can do when it wants too. And how scary those people in the shadows really are.