Cooper has news about NATO exercises in Europe, and events in Afghanistan. Ronnie contemplates sabotage. Over tea at Debenhams, Mel reveals her conundrum regarding her other boyfriend.
This chapter focuses on Ronnie, with a newfound paranoia about his work in the office. How do you hide something within the filing system so you can put your hand on it easily, but nobody is likely to stumble across it by accident? When I worked in the civil service, I was trained in the correct way to file things—the human way, as opposed to the dumb computer way. Take my own name: McMinn. A computer will file Mc names after names like Matthews, because Mc comes after Ma in a strict alphabetical system. But, a name like McMinn could easily be spelled MacMinn, in which case the relevant file would be with the other Mac names, and before Matthews etc. It’s an important idea, a kind of fuzzy human logic. Because McDonald, spoken over the phone might be MacDonald, you file all the Mc and Mac names together, as if they were all spelled Mac. It’s one of the great disappointments of the infotech era that no alphabetical ordering will take that into account.
Ronnie is learning to distrust everything: the filing system, the photocopier, the telephone system, his colleagues. You leave your desk for lunch, someone might search through it while you’re gone. A state of hyper-alertness takes over: a parallel to the cold war manoeuvrings concerning Operation Able Archer. Ronnie, like NATO, is approaching Defcon 1.
Meanwhile, Mel reveals something about her other boyfriend that hints at the precariousness of her position, but also at the true nature of The Obald.
Another moment in this chapter: the inspiration for the title: that sewing machine shop with its neon sign, and the warm girl who kept letting bus after bus pull away so she could stay for ten minutes longer.
A revised ebook of The Obald is available:
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The paperback edition has also been updated and revised.
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