BOFH: Putting the gross in gross insubordination

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles


BOFH logo telephone with devil's hornsEpisode 6 It's a law as old as the jungle itself: there comes a time when a young lion will desire the pride-leader's role for himself.

Tired of being excluded from the full rewards of leader of the pride, bored with the second fiddle role and unhappily familiar with the sharp sting of a cattle prod, he will engage the leader in battle.

And as the PFY feels he's had a few thousand volts too many this year, he's decided that I should take up the assistant's role – no doubt after a lengthy stay in a medical facility. A stay that I'm fairly sure would be punctuated by a series of incidents where a saline drip becomes inexplicably contaminated with chilli sauce moments after I fall asleep.

Best not to dwell on it.

Obviously, as IT professionals, we will not decide this simple dispute with some loutish display of primacy – but rather an unspoken Karpov/Spassky battle of wills. The PFY plays his pawn, I play mine. The PFY sacrifices a bishop, I push one of the helpdesk guys down the stairs because I see a suspicious shadow (which turned out to be nothing). All's fair in love and war.

My arrival to work is greeted with some disturbing news. The Boss has slipped in the toilets, clocked his head on a basin and landed heavily, breaking his hip. Part of me feels bad for him, while another part says I should have mentioned the missing can of silicon spray lubricant I noticed yesterday afternoon.

Another pawn has fallen – though neither of us can claim a loss or a victory.

History has taught the PFY and myself that Mission Control and its adjoining rooms are not in the field of play. However, hiding there gives your opponent the opportunity to prepare surprises for your eventual exit.  In addition, hiding too long might also give your opponent the opportunity to argue a technicality and send something in to find you – so it's best to keep on the move.

I'm currently in the Director's office ordering an onion bhaji pizza in the PFY's name in an effort to draw him out. I have no idea where he is, but I do see the tell-tale dust from ceiling tiles in the corridor so I know there's something waiting up there for me – unless of course it's a bluff.

The PFY launches a knight to king 4 when I hear my car alarm go off and a quick glance out the window reveals a small-form-factor desktop machine embedded in the laminations of my windscreen. Ordinarily, this would demand an immediate retaliatory attack – but that's just what the PFY would be expecting.

Besides, I sold the car to one of the accountants last night because it looked like it was riding uncommonly low and I wasn't interested in discovering I'd got several jerry cans of petrol in the boot – rigged to the 17th brake light activation – while pulling 70 on the motorway.

The pizza delivery guy arrives and I use the diversion to relocate. I know the PFY's not going to go for the pizza, but I also know that he'll be focussing his attention on that immediate area to see if I'm surveying it as well.

The CCTV system is useless. Those cameras that weren't obscured will have been reorientated to point at walls and ceilings – something that will annoy Security when they wake up from their nightly carb coma at the end of their shift. That said, I take a look anyway. Only one camera is still working and it's immediately outside the room to which I was intending to relocate – which means the PFY is either reading my mind, in the room concerned, or he wants me to think he's in the room.

It looks like I'm going to have to sacrifice a pawn. I call down to Security, waking one of them from their nap, and tell him I noticed a delivery person wandering the hallway near the camera carrying an onion bhaji pizza whose owner he couldn't find. He will have sensed a stirring in the Force when the pizza entered the building in the first place, so in less time than it takes to put his boots on, do his belt up, walk to the lift, press the button, wait for the lift, go back to his office because he forgot to take a packet of barley sugars for the trip, return to the lift, press the button again, wait for the lift again, ride the lift to the second floor, put the empty barley sugar box in the bin and amble to the corridor in question, he's there.

The door opens to an empty room and my thoughts start turning to the topic of détente, as this may be a battle I cannot win. I don't know where the PFY is, he seems to be anticipating my every move and I'm running out of ideas. Time to relocate again to consider my options.

I step out into the corridor at the same time as the PFY steps out into the corridor barely ten meters from me. The PFY's expression of fear and doubt mirrors my own.

"Maybe we should …" the PFY says hesitantly, as the security guard blunders around the corner behind him "… call this off?"

I see that the tide has turned, and that as adversaries neither the PFY nor I will be able to maintain the upper hand. It was inevitable really – over the years I have imparted to him every lesson from my Machiavelli-tinged Art-of-War playbook.

We are equals.

"He ate your pizza," I say to the tired and hangry guard, pointing at the PFY.

Well, there's always room to add another play to the playbook …

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