Tales From The Alarm Industry, Part Twelve

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Stories from my time spent working for an alarm company.

This Time: Titanic, a regular visit to the convent and a bit of trouble.

Amongst all the businesses and domestic customers, there will always be some that are favourites. One of those was a lady who was a Lady.  The Lady in question was in her seventies and a widow, her husband had died about five years previously. She lived in a large house which was now looking a bit neglected on the edge of a village. She was fiercely independent, there was a cleaner who came in regularly, however I think this was more for company than any cleaning that may have been done. It was a regular call for me and I always allowed extra time as she would always want to talk. Over the years I had been going, the rooms she used had become fewer and fewer. Going into some of the rooms was like going back into the fifties, the walls were covered in wood panelling, portraits hung on the walls in the hall and rugs covered the floors that would once have been polished to a high shine. I checked the alarm and had to remind her that it should be set when she goes out and when she goes to bed. “I didn’t need it before and I don’t need it now, my son made me have it.” I had heard the same thing on many of my previous visits. “Come into the kitchen when you have finished.” I could smell the cakes cooking long before I got to the kitchen. “I knew you were coming this morning so I baked some cakes for you to have now and take away the rest for your family.” On the table was a pot of tea, cups and saucers, a milk jug and a sugar bowl. A biscuit tin was open and the cakes were sitting on a wire rack further along the table. She poured the tea out and I took a biscuit from the tin. “My son and his wife took me to the cinema last night, we went to see Titanic,” have you seen it. I said that I hadn’t. “Don’t go, it’s a ghastly film, everything about it is wrong, the classes would never have mixed like that. Everyone had a place, and everyone knew their place. He would have been sent to the brig, and they would never have got near the bow of the ship. My son had to tell me to shut up.” I laughed at the thought of her in her posh voice going on about the classes not mixing in the middle of a packed cinema. She asked about my family, she always did, I doubt if she remembered what I had said the last time, but I appreciated the fact that she did ask. I asked about the house and if she was still able to manage it. “My son who lives down the road, wants me to swap houses with him as his is easier to manage. I told him he can move in when I’m dead and not before.” She put the rest of the cakes in a bag and said for me to take them with me. I thanked her for her hospitality and generosity. “Be careful when you get in your van,” were her parting words. I put my tools in the back and with my bag of cakes, I opened the driver’s door. On the seat was a tray of thirty eggs, some still with feathers stuck to them. She really was a true Lady, she lasted another ten years and reading her obituary it said that during the war, she had worked at Bletchley Park. A remarkable lady the like of which we don’t see nowadays.

Another of my regular and enjoyable calls was to the convent in Loughborough. The Sisters of Providence Convent. Most local people know of the fee paying school attached to the convent but very few including me knew about the convent itself. I serviced the fire alarm and would visit every three months to do this. This was a two man job and if possible I tried to make sure that I had Colin with me. There were several reasons for this, He was in his sixties and was always happy, he understood the need to be quiet and not intrusive but the main reason was that he managed to charm the nuns in the kitchen to provide us with tea and cakes. I had been there on many occasions before going with Colin and had never had a drink. “Leave it to me he said,” and by the time we had finished he was in the kitchen making tea, the cakes came when we sat down. The convent was unlike most in that it had a hospital wing attached to it. This was to care for nuns who were waiting to go on their final earthly journey. Adjacent to the convent was a graveyard which would be their final resting place. Despite this, there was never an air of depression. With them being ‘brides of Christ”, when they died, they would be off to see their Jesus and his dad. The only person who never smiled, at least when I was there, was the Mother Superior, she always had a stern expression. There was always an air of peace and tranquillity around the convent. Many of the nuns who were not involved in the care of their elderly were to be found in the local Catholic schools, Mrs 10210 was taught by nuns when she was at primary school. With Colin making the drinks and homemade cake to accompany them it was always an enjoyable morning.

I was on call on a Friday night and had been out to a couple of false alarms in Leicester and I was now heading home. It was around 01.00 on Saturday morning and I decided to go through Loughborough and stop at one of the burger vans for something to eat. There was usually one parked at the end of the market place and with a pull in by the bus stops next to it, an ideal place to park. It was cold and I was wearing a high viz coat. There were girls walking about who must have impervious to the cold as their skirts only just covered their bums. The night clubs hadn’t yet closed and it wasn’t too busy. I parked up and made for the burger van, with lashings of onions and tomato sauce on my burger, I stood back from the van as I ate it. I didn’t want to eat it in the van as it would have stunk it out for days afterwards. I wiped my mouth with the serviette that had been wrapped round the burger and chucked it in the nearby bin. As I walked back to the van, I was suddenly aware of something out the corner of my eye. The next thing I felt was pain in my shoulder then I heard the sound of a bottle breaking as it hit the ground beside me. I grabbed my shoulder while at the same time looking round to see where it had come from. Across the road were two lads walking past Burtons, one had a bottle in his hand that he was drinking from, the others hands were empty. I thought he must be the bottle thrower. There was no way I wanted to start anything with two lads, one of whom still had a bottle. Perhaps I was a coward, or maybe I was smart, but I made for the van and got out of there as quickly as I could. As I drove home, I thought that six inches further up and it would have hit me on the head, it sent a shiver down my spine. When I got home, I checked my shoulder in the bathroom mirror to see if it was OK. The pain had gone and there was no sign of any bruising. I went back down stairs and made a drink and sat there thinking if I still wanted to do this job. If I told Mrs 10210 she would have had me put in my notice the following Monday. I decided to say nothing however a seed had been planted in my head and over the coming months it would grow.

The office had booked me in for a ‘take over’ on a system in a manor house way out of my area near Melton Mowbray. An existing customer was moving and they wanted to have our company take over the existing system in the new house. It was either going to be Stevie or me who did the job, I was chosen as their business premises were on my area and I was known to them. I was to be there on a Wednesday morning at 09.00 to carry out the work, it was down for a two hour job and I should be back on my own area in the afternoon. I arrived just before 09.00 and as I drove up the long driveway I knew there was no way it was going to be two hours. There were cars everywhere and two removal lorries both open and ready to unload. Inside the back door the place was like a mad house. I could see the alarm keypad but the area was so busy there was no way I was going to be able to work on it. I opened a door and was in the kitchen. It was huge, probably bigger than the ground floor of my house, there were three people in there, two were cleaning and the third was sitting at an island unit with a clipboard full of papers. “Have you seen the new owners,” I ask. “Who are you,” comes the reply from the woman sitting at the island unit. I tell her who I am and what I am here to do. She shuffles through the papers on the clipboard and stops at one which I guess is about the alarm, she goes back to the top page and then ticks off a box. From where I am, I can see there are more empty boxes than ones with ticks. “Do you know what you are doing,” she asks, “sort of,” I reply, “can you get on with it then.” I leave her and start to walk round the house looking for other keypads and the main alarm box. I eventually find the alarm control box, it has been installed on the stairs going down into the cellar. There are three keypads, one by the back door, one by the main front door and the third one in the master bedroom. I go back to the kitchen to see the woman sitting at the island. There are others there so I have to wait my turn. “I ask her if she has the alarm codes on any of her bits of paper. She flicks through and shakes her head. I tell her that I am going to have to de-power the alarm system and the outside bells will go off. Back on the cellar steps, I look round to see if there is a log book from the previous company but there is nothing, I follow the steps down into the cellar to see if it is down there. The only thing that is down there is a musty smell. I know that as soon as I open the panel the internal sounders will go off and when I depower the panel then the outside bell will sound for twenty minutes. I quickly open the panel and depower the system. The outside bell is ringing and it’s only a matter of minutes before people are saying they can hear an alarm going off. “The lady from the kitchen is in the corridor asking if anyone has seen the alarm engineer. I pop my head round out from the cellar steps, “here I am,” “can you stop that bell going off?” “Yes and no,” I reply, “yes I can stop it if I get my ladders and climb up to the bell box, open it up and disconnect the wires from the battery inside it, but that will take around fifteen minutes to do and by that time it will have stopped.” Without saying anything, she turned and went back to the kitchen. My main task now was to figure out what detectors were on each zone, I went through each cable, fortunately they had been labelled up by the previous company and I filled in a new log book as I went along. I found out that there was also an expansion module on the system but no indication as to where it might be. Back out on the hunt I eventually found it by tracing the wiring from a panic button located in the master bedroom. It was in a cupboard on the first floor, there was a power supply next to it. I had to go back to the van for my steps to reach it and find out which zones were connected to it. With this done and the log book filled in, I was ready to power up the system and default everything back to the factory setting to start again. A thought then struck me, I was sure that I had read somewhere that the codes for the alarm system could be reset but everything else in the programming remained the same. I went back out to my van and came back with my box of manuals. I went into the kitchen to see if I could make a drink. I hadn’t noticed the paper cups and kettle on one of the work tops. There was a jar of coffee, a box of tea bags, milk and sugar. With a hot cup of coffee I returned to the cellar steps and sat down to go through the manuals. There was nothing, I picked up a manual for a different version of the same panel, it had instructions on how to default the codes only. I tried it on this panel but had no luck. I then phoned the manufacturers technical support, I explained the situation, he wanted the model number and the chip version, I gave him all the info and I could hear him flicking through papers. “Do you have an engineer’s keypad,” “yes, plugged in and ready to go,” “try this,” he then gave me a series of instructions and codes to punch in which were similar but slightly different to the method I had tried earlier. It worked and the default codes were now in and the programming for the zones was still there. There was a sigh of relief and with the coffee finished I went through the zone descriptions to make sure everything matched with the log book. I changed the engineer’s code but the customer code was still ‘1234’, it was time to go back to the kitchen. By now it was 12.00 and my pager had gone a couple of times. I asked when the new owners were going to be here. “Not before 14.00,” was all she could tell me. I rang the office to let them know the situation and that there was no way I was going to be done before 16.00. “But we have jobs for you this afternoon.” “Shall I pack up and leave then,” I wanted to know. “No, don’t do that; just get finished as quickly as you can.” I had my lunch and filled in the rest of the time by checking the system would set and unset. It was difficult with all the people coming and going, but I managed it once. Having done this, it was then that I remembered that I hadn’t replaced the chip in the communicator to change over the identity of the site and the number it would dial. I went back out to the van and took the box containing the chip from the glove box, I put the system on test before I replaced the chip and then sent signals to check everything worked. With that done, it was just a matter of waiting for the owners to arrive. They arrived shortly after 14.00 and were immediately surrounded with people wanting to ask them all sorts of questions and make decisions on various issues. I waited, there was no point in trying to speak to them about the alarm when there were still so many in the house. Eventually as decisions were made and questions answered the house gradually began to empty. I went to see the lady in the kitchen who was still sitting at the island, her papers were now spread across the island and she was talking to the owners. When there was a lull in the conversation, I butted in and introduced myself, I said that the alarm system had been sorted out and was ready for testing and ready for new codes. I said I needed them for around half an hour to show them everything on the system and how to set and unset. I had to wait fifteen minutes for them to complete what they were doing before they had time for me. I showed them how to enter a new code, which they did and then I walked round the house with them pointing out all the alarm points, the panic buttons and the keypads. I also showed them how to part set the house so that downstairs was alarmed but the first and second floors remained unset. With all that done, it was nearly 16.30. I called the office to let them know I had finally finished and that I was going home as it was too late to pick up any calls. They weren’t happy, not pleased that I had been on the one job all day and not happy that I was going home. I said that by the time I got back into Leicester it would be after 17.00 but they still had a moan about it. I was fed up, not with the work, but the way, due to poor recruitment, that Stevie and I were being treated. The time had now come…

Next time: Time to go.

© 10210ken 2023