Sunday, 25 September 2005

The Photocopier, 'Re-organisation and Cricket

Things really haven’t moved on since Victorian times, I mused as I twisted my hand inside the photocopier, as if I were a vet struggling with a cow's rectum. In the mills and factories of the industrial revolution, small children were often forced to place their limbs inside dangerous machinery in a bit to stop it from clogging. Now, in these supposedly more enlightened times, I am regularly called upon to risk my fingers extracting troublesome paper jams. I hate the photocopier. It sits there smugly, blinking its lights at me as it stubbornly refuses to do my bidding. I instruct it to print double-sided A4, it laughs in my face and prints the document in extra small size on an A3 sheet of paper. Since I held no great desire for the thing to transform the minutes of last weeks meeting into an optician’s chart, I find this habit immensely irritating. Most of the time it jams after several copies and buries the paper within its deepest darkest recesses, refusing to continue until it is removed. The photocopier-repairman’s union obviously had a word with the manufacturers and the equipment is notoriously difficult to manipulate into clearing the blockage. Often the offending scrap of paper remains tantalisingly out of grasp. As well as having the work ethic of a truculent teenager, the photocopier also fancies itself as a minimalist artist. I am often asked to reproduce a document 200 times, only to discover on my return, that the errant machine has reinterpreted my original vision with a series of criss-cross black lines over every copy.

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I often describe myself as ‘the photocopier’s bitch’, yet I've come to believe this is a slightly too simplistic analysis of our relationship. In truth, I could easily switch to the more reliable photocopier downstairs. However, like a bad relationship, I just keep coming back to the 3rd floor copier, no matter how badly it treats me. There is a certain comfort in familiarity.

I want to kick the damn thing, but sadly it’s higher in seniority than me. As the last temp in the office I am living out a precarious existence, placed on a knife-edge between wage-slavery and redundancy. Were it to be discussed at a departmental meeting whether to get rid of me or the cardboard cut-out of Darth Vader that stands imposingly in a corner of the office, I would almost certainly get the chop, or ‘reorganised’ as it is termed at Rottingham-on-Trent city council.

‘Re-organisation’ is occurring all across the exchange buildings at the moment. This process occurs at public authorities when higher management feel the need to do something to show they have a purpose beyond writing waffle-ridden memos to each other. ‘Hey!’, ‘one will say to the other’, this office needs a shake-up so we can improve communication and efficiency within the team’. ‘What a great idea’ the other will say, ‘how can we achieve this?’. ‘We’ll move everyone to different desks’ the other will say, uttering the words as if they are somehow akin to the revelations of Archimedes.

Management have been having this eureka moment for generations it seems. ‘I’ve been moved six times in the four years I’ve been here’, moaned our poor finance officer, as he engaged in yet about round of ‘musical chairs’. Such re-organisations are counter –productive since many important documents are lost as everyone moves to the next desk along and tries to get to grip with their new surroundings. Perhaps more could be achieved if the entire department was axed altogether. Rottingham-on Trent’s unemployment problem could be far better solved by extensive carpet-bombing of St-Anns.

I cant help feeling that as spiritual beings with a limited life span, we should be spending our days pondering the nature of our existence and engaging in hedonistic pleasures. Instead we spend vast quantities of our precious existence staring at a computer screen, compiling boring -and often highly inaccurate- stats and being patronised by ‘Council initiatives’. The latest ‘initiative’ from senior management is that we must answer the telephone within six rings. If this target isn’t met, then there will be serious consequences when the next quarterly review comes around. Given that half the department are getting laid off before the next quarterly review, I’m surprised senior management expect anyone to give a flying fuck about their pointless proposal. I have little interest in answering the telephone. When I lift the receiver, I usually find myself talking to a member of the public, a vast proportion of whom, appear to be ignorant and rude. ‘Humphrey’, said one of my colleagues on my first day, ‘as you’ll soon discover from working here, quite a lot of these people are unemployed because of their obnoxious personality’. I may be a servant of the public but that doesn’t mean I have to respect them.

One of the more contemptible practices of the English is our habit of taking ancient and established local pastimes and turning them into boring, overcomplicated sports, saturated with unnecessary rules, regulations and codes of ‘etiquette’. In medieval times, the sole premise of football was to get a sheep’s bladder to the other end of the village whilst causing as many injuries to the opposing team as possible. The Victorians took this noble pastime and converted it into the shambles we see today. By far the worst of the sports created on these fair shores is undoubtedly Cricket.

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Whilst I applaud the efforts of my fellow countrymen in wrestling the ashes from the Australians, I feel I also have to condemn it. Generations of school children, including me, have been forced to play it against their will, and frankly this process is equivalent to child slavery. At school I launched a one-man boycott of cricket because I felt it was wasting valuable seconds of my life that could be better spent engaged in less futile activities. This attitude was sparked by one infamous incident. One sunny afternoon at the crease, I went to slog a ball and was hit firmly in the bollocks by the bowler’s delivery. As I slumped onto the ground in agony, I was disgusted to hear the other team appeal and the umpire accordingly raised his hand to send me back to the pavilion. After that, I refused to play and I was subsequently put in charge of the scoreboard. Since I never bothered to learn the rules, this rapidly descended into a farce and the board never had any sort of link to what was occurring on the pitch. This left me the subject of some scorn and I recall my master shouting at me:

'I think its disgraceful that a lad like you is going to my former boarding house at Uppingham when you clearly have no appetite for the 'gentlemen’s game'

(This isn't a working class hardship story)

Since I was often relegated to the sidelines, I had the advantage of pondering how utterly worthless the game is. Cricket is essentially a battle between the bowler and the batsman. Everyone else in the team is rarely called into activity and is effectively excluded from the proceedings. Occasionally the ball comes to you, you throw it back, that’s the sum total of your participation.

It’s very much an allegory of life, large periods of suffering and boredom in which nothing very interesting occurs. When something exciting does happen, you are rarely involved. Cricket is the most boring, over-complicated, field sport ever conceived, and to claim that it could ever supersede 'the beautiful game' is farcical in the extreme'. Any movement to establish it as the national sport will force me to turn to terrorism.

Sunday, 11 September 2005


My boss sauntered over to my desk as I was reading the BBC news online page for about the 20th time that morning. ‘We are just having a bit of an office reshuffle, would you mind moving back over to Amanda’s desk’ she said. I always seem to get moved on from desk to desk in this fashion as if I’m a particularly troublesome family of Travellers. I’ve subsequently learned that this seemingly innocuous sentence is actually management speak for ‘we have just sacked your best mate in the office, get over there and keep quiet or the same thing will happen to you’. I had been wondering why my unfortunate comrade had been sitting there in floods of tears for the best part of the morning – I had assumed it was just that the drudgery of mail merging had got to her. Eventually she could no longer take it and stormed off home in distress.

‘Did she leave her security pass when she left’, my boss asked. This seemed a tad insensitive until I realised that this is simply the way of the workplace; we are all expendable cogs in the bureaucratic machine and must routinely blame all our mistakes on other people as a method of survival. The office is similar to that show ‘Big brother’, and as a temp I am constantly up for eviction. I learned subsequently that there was a debate over which temporary employee to sack and I came out on top - no so much survival of the fittest, more survival of the fattest.

Apparently Amanda was sacked for being incompetent. This seems to me to be a tad harsh as the entire organisation is founded on incompetence. Instead of putting some money towards improving our abysmal crime statistics that are wreaking the city’s reputation, we are spending £300,000 on hiring a bunch of P.R people to spread propaganda. Crime in Rottingham-on-Trent is both troubling and hilarious. Apparently my neighbourhood is infested with a bunch of louts called ‘The Waterfront Gang’. This explains why there is infantile graffiti all over the place saying things like ‘WFG tru soldiers for life’ and ‘P.C Johnson is a black bastard who smokes crack’. One of the gang members who is being tried for the Danielle Beccan murder, apparently had his postcode tattooed on his head. It goes without saying that this is incredibly stupid - what happens if he moves to a different area?. The only possible advantage I can see it that when you get whacked in a drive by shooting, or something of that ilk, you can be posted back to your neighbourhood. Its incredibly silly, but I suppose that’s what happens when you spend your days sniffing glue and pretending you live in south central Los Angeles and not a sleepy English suburb called ‘The Meadows’ – its not the most ‘Gangsta’ sounding placename.

Another thing to come out of that meeting is that the council employs a rather KGB-esque group of busy bodies, whose task is to spy on our Internet history and make sure we aren’t sending any dodgy emails. They seem to have twigged that the working day of me and a large percentage of my colleagues consists of playing solitaire and googling random stuff on the Internet. The truth is that my job involves a lot of mindless data entry and I need something to keep my brain going, hence I read encyclopaedia articles in between rare bouts of activity. If I didn’t do this I would probably go insane, declare an ‘office jihad’, scrawl ‘Help Me’ on my chest in biro and set about attacking my colleagues with the Referrals folder. This, I suspect, would be more of a barrier to productivity than me wasting time on the internet.

I’ve been trying to think of ways to fight back against ‘the machine’. The only plan that I’ve come up with so far is to send normal office emails such as ‘Here are the stats for quarter March 05 – August 05’ but to give them snappy titles like ‘Anal Hardcore Action XXX’. This should fox those nosy parkers who spy on all our correspondence, or get me fired.