Saturday, 15 March 2014

A Work-A-Day Self Assessment Handbook

This is going to be a long haul. On the calendar it looks like this right now. A long stretch of numbers and four crosses. Four fucking crosses.

X   X   X   X 

There’s at least twenty more smiling open friendly dates out there. 

HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA
HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA   HA

You mustn’t grumble you musn’t grumble - how else are you going to get your daily food rations?
But it’s so boring it doesn’t make any sense!
It is only boring if you make it so Padawan.

Maybe even he has a point. (The classic tragic pissed-himself-again war veteran, lost hat, hanging by a bin in Hyde Park.)

Every day’s a school day and today and everyday I walk past guns to work. Guns. That’s because it’s mini-America and they have a gigantic swooping-down eagle made of gold stuck on their Embassy rooftop. Someone should really bring up hubris in the White House. When you see the gunmen first time round you’re miffed. I’m miffed. I feel like pulling out my own gun and casually hanging it down by my side then nodding a friendly hello at my brothers. They’re coppers though with guns, not some am-dram American colonel, which would make for comic effect. No. Brits in their stab-vests and chequered caps look sort of foreboding.

‘Morning mister Magpie.’ I say to myself as I give the guards a nod.
They smile but incrementally tighten their grip on the trigger guard.
I wonder if I ran at them if they would shoot me?

Sure the office is pretty nice. I get a room to myself and it’s in a listed building and an ex-prime minister lived there and some original 17th century features remain on the walls. It’ll do. The kitchen smells of death and Janet the most miserable ward-nurse if ever I met one tells me to ignore the elevator. Thats fine. Why is she so miserable? Is it because she’s wearing a see-through top and is clearly overweight with teeth that look like chalk sticks?

In the brief the director-chief-in-general pops in to the room, he stomps and glides at the same time with delusions of grandeur and a double-breasted blazer; I told him it was nice and that I liked the buttons, they were shiny you see, and he told me his wife re-sewed them on for him because he had got too fat and couldn’t do up the jacket. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh but I did, and so did he, and from then on we got on. Been at the company for over thirty years, he doesn’t have a clue where it’s all gone but he did say to me arms outstretched in effect waving like weary jazz-hands,

‘Only tw-o more years to go until retire-ment.’ Forgot to mention his voice is rather sing-song. I’m sure at diplomatic dinners when he tells a joke some guests would misjudge him to be bellicose, which is also why I like the fella.
‘Oh really?’ Nauseating feigned excitement, don’t over do it. You’ll give it away you’re lying or trying or whatever, ‘What are you going to do, I mean do you have any retirement plans?’
‘Plans hm.’ Gives it a ponder, he sort of reminds me of Winnie the Pooh, ‘probably sit in my back garden and drink beer. Cheerio.’
And off he pops.


Director-chief-in-general: Are you alright for photocopy paper Thomas?

Clerk/Thomas: We may need a few more.

Director-chief-in-general: Few more of what?

Clerk/Thomas: Photocopy paper you did just ask.

Director-chief-in-general: Is that sheets or reams or what are we talking about here?

Clerk/Thomas: Never mind. I’ll get the paper when I need it.

I call him the clerk because that’s the power relationship I see there. I actually know he has a proper job title but so do the rest of them and I’m not giving them the credit they deserve. My office and Thomas’ is partitioned by a soft-foam screen with outdated posters of conventions stuck on them. Can’t help but remember Murray’s office in Flight of the Conchords. 

Clerk/Thomas: Do you drink coffee?

Me: Yes.

Clerk/Thomas: We really need to get a coffee machine.

There are lists of companies that trade. They buy and sell things and to perform these economic exchanges the companies attend trade fairs where they meet buyers and sellers and do their thing. I call them one by one and try and convince them to go, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a show. The names of companies I like most are the really obvious ones, in what they trade that is. Like, Coloured Rocks which deals in coloured rocks; or Cornish Cakeboards; or Fantasia Ceiling Fans with the catchy motto ‘The greener way to move air’. Yes no way to put the function of a fan simpler than that. Moves air.

Clerk/Thomas: We’ve got another chap to look at the carpet. There’ll be two of them wandering around - you won’t mind will you?

Me: No.

Clerk/Thomas: If you do you’re welcome to take the cordless phone on to the stairs. I’ll let you know via a sign if a group are coming in for a meeting. Though I highly doubt it.


Lunch breaks are my time. Office work is their time. You have to split it like that to keep sane. If you watch people when they are having their lunch breaks you get all sorts of examples of how people want to spend their time. The best is in a contained area like a park or a square, where there are benches placed orderly around a perimeter (often demarcated by a path). If there’s a monument like a big fat flagrant statue of President Roosevelt and some fountains then even better, people will gather there in good weather. Most of the time unfortunately for me, people use their lunch breaks in the most obvious of ways - they just continue what they were doing before but with the addition of food. People talk on the phone, look at their phone, read the paper, talk to a colleague, go for a light stroll, go look at some shops. But what gets me is that there’s no sense of freedom in these lunch breaks. Everyone is still in work mode. I just remember at school when the lunch bell would ring and you could you have your break it was a joyous moment. Kids would flood out to go kick a ball, throw some dirt, swing on a branch, catch a glimpse of something not in books. Play was a lot more part of our lives. I think we needed it. But either that need for play gets shed as we get older and we do it in other ways which usually involves alcohol on the weekends, or we’re constantly kidding ourselves that we don’t need it anymore. 

Whatever, I still need it. 

So I’ve devised a set of activities you can do on your lunch break which are acts of quiet rebellion against the status quo. Not enough to get you in trouble with the law (or shot by a gunman) but at least little acts of play that let you imagine you’re in a game or having fun with the boring reality of it all:

Find a McDonalds and get a banana milkshake.

Milkshakes from McDonalds, especially the sickly yellow ones that taste like bananas grown in nuclear reactors is probably the most unnatural thing you can drink. But I trust in the mistrust of McDonalds so I actually know that these milkshakes can’t really harm me otherwise the Food Standards Agency would withdraw them, or sanction them, limiting adult consumption of McDonald banana milkshakes to one per week and one per month for the over 65s. They taste shit and awesome at the same time and if you wander around sucking at a McDonalds straw it goes against expectations of an upper-pay-bracket luncheon area.

High five a traffic warden. 

Tell him really loudly he’s doing a great job! Do it in earnest so that you can try and make out the confusion in his/her/other people’s faces.

Wolf-whistle some pretty tweed intelligentsia boys.

There are so many tottering around with briefcases, scuffed patent leather shoes, glasses and unkempt hair. They all look like the new younger on-trend M in James Bond. Wolf-whistle one and see what they do.

Go for a run in your office/work clothes.

All the people who jog during lunch break look like superheroes in hi-vis lycra and sometimes even goggles (goggles for running in!) It would in fact be as subversive to go jogging in shorts, plimsoles and a baggy T. But yeah, just leave the office when you clock out for lunch and just start jogging. People will think you’re simply in a rush but be happy in the knowledge that no one else gets it.

Wait at a zebra-crossing and keep letting cars have right of way.

It’s unexpected and a fun way to pass the time. If a car driver actually beckons or even tells you to cross, just answer politely back ‘I’m not waiting to cross the road’. 

Bring a ball or a racket and shuttle-cock to play with.

Playing catch by yourself is actually quite a lot of fun. You can also bounce the ball off things so there’s some skill required in that. It might even lead to you conversing with a stranger who is also off for their lunch break and then you can play catch together. Hurrah. And the same goes with the racket and the shuttlecock. 

Enjoy your lunch breaks! They can be fun!