Friday, November 28, 2008

Too Hot To Handle 

“Do we define ourselves by our failures or by our successes?” asked Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, in this morning’s team meeting. “Let’s start with you, Tim.”
This, presumably, in the fallout of the Fleetwood Fudge Festival fiasco.
“Hold on there,” I replied. “You can’t expect me to remember all my failures,” intending it as a joke, which was a failure in itself.
She wrote something in her notebook, looking rather pleased with herself, and allowed a weighty silence to dangle in the room.
“But to answer your question, erm…” and I was about to launch into some spiel - about how it’s better to try and fail than not try at all; that failure is as valid a learning experience as success; some waffle along the lines that everything fails until it eventually succeeds, and there’s no shame in that; that you can define yourself however you want to, so long as you’re not a miserable git about it – but Creepy Keith from Accounts gloated into the room and stole the spotlight.

He was preening because he’s taking Advantage, his lady friend from the Runcorn and Widnes area, to the Accounts department Christmas bash at Chicken, a new restaurant in town where everything is made from chicken – everything - right down to the cutlery and tablecloths. The waiting staff have to wear skimpy chicken costumes, and anybody who objects is ridiculed for being a chicken, so they’ve really covered all the angles.
“Who organised that?” Stella asked indignantly.
“I did,” he smirked. “Advantage can’t wait to meet everybody.”
“Yes. And I don’t suppose you can wait to show her off,” snapped Stella. “That's so unfair. Fuck you, Keith.”
And with that the meeting was brought to an abrupt close. One minute she's up, real happy up, and the next she's at the bottom of a deep, dark hole. That's how it is with her sometimes. We were sent back to our desks without so much as a bourbon. That's bourbon the biscuit, obviously.

Nobody at Company X has ever managed to pull off a departmental Christmas night out before. Any night out, for that matter. They said it could never be done, that there simply isn’t the enthusiasm for social activities. And now freaking Keith has managed to persuade the other freaking deadbeats from freaking Accounts to go out for a freaking meal. She was freaking livid.
She spent half an hour in emergency crisis talks with her friend Becky, which seemed to pick her up somewhat, then spent the rest of the day trying to find some eatery that wasn’t fully booked for Christmas. Preferably it would be Chicken, and more crucially, it would be before Keith’s night out. We were all going out whether we liked it or not.

“Oh well,” I consoled Stella, after the going home bell had rung and everybody had cleared off home. Only a few cars remained dotted around the car park. “You failed but at least you had a good try.”
“I could have killed Keith this morning. He does it just to hurt me.”
I'd spent all afternoon trying to work out what had happened there. We stared out of her window at the tail lights going nowhere on the bypass, flickering like Christmas tree decorations.
“Chicken would have been no good for me anyway,” I said eventually.
“Oh I absolutely love chicken, Tim,” she said. Her face brightened a little. “My friend Becky’s Chicken Breasts En Papillote are to die for.”
“But I take your point about Keith,” I said. “What he said you'd said was just not true.”
“She rubs olive oil into her breasts then likes to waft them around under my nose. She knows it drives me wild.”
“I hate people putting words in my mouth.”
“Becky says I can put them in my mouth anytime I like. Well, actually she makes me wait.” She sighed a dreamy sigh. “They're too hot to handle when she first gets them out.”

I wasn't sure if now was the time to say something.
I hesitated.
Her phone bleeped.
I wanted to say something like, “You know, if you still want a team night out, January's a good month. Everybody needs cheering up in January. And maybe, well... I don't know, but maybe you'd like to ask your friend Becky along. Meet the team and that. Maybe she'd like to come out too,” but when I turned around Stella wasn't there. I squinted into the moonless gloom and saw her shadowy outline skipping across the car park, skipping like a child, towards the gate where her lift was waiting, her lift waiting patiently in the enveloping darkness to carry her home.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Visitors 

There was more rioting on the help desk today, sparked this time by a difference of opinion on the Strictly Come Dancing crisis. One minute they were discussing sequined jackets and the finer points of the Cha-cha-cha, and the next they were laying into each other with table legs and setting fire to the carpet. Such a volatile bunch.
It’s as if the contributors of The Guardian’s Comment Is Free pages had stepped out of the virtual world and been transported madder than ever to the first floor here at Company X, with plenty to get off their chests and a rigid determination to make their opinions known.

Consequently Neil, our former team leader, joined us downstairs for the weekly conference call with Preston Paper Bags, who are currently undergoing a period of climactic change. It may well be an exciting time to be in paper bags but the call was dull as darts for the rest of us, so we passed the time playing our favourite game on the Instant Message thingy.

The game is called “Guess the age of the adult,” and although we already know each other’s ages – except Neil’s - it’s fun to play because of the torment it causes him. He simply refuses to tell us how old he is.
“O cmon Neil Y not? 37? 52?”
“Yeh y r u bein so secretive? 29? 60? Olda dan dat?”
“I don’t want to play. Leave me alone!” he blurted out loud, causing no small amount of consternation among the executives at Preston Paper Bags on the other end of the line. “You never know who might be listening!”

Of course, the reason he’s reluctant to reveal his age is that it would uncover the truth that he is in fact an alien from outer space. Mike and Terry reckon even at a conservative estimate, calculated on the proximity of our nearest potentially life supporting galaxy, Neil must be hundreds if not thousands of years old. Little wonder he’s keeping mum.

“You know all of our ages,” I typed, incapable of finding it in myself to use txt speek. “What’s the worst that could possibly happen? Other than being taken to a secure location and probed by government scientists?”

The latest hypothesis regarding Neil and his origins is this:
He was on a coach trip - or flying saucer trip to be more precise - with some of his alien pals, visiting a few of our popular tourist attractions: Houses of Parliament, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bolton’s Middlebrook Retail Park, and so on. The flying saucer pulled into Charnock Richard Services on the M6 so that the driver could take his mandatory half hour toilet break, and while Neil was stretching his legs and browsing through the cheap CDs, everybody else sneaked back onto the ship and pissed off without him. You could hear them laughing from here to Alpha Orionis.

It could certainly explain the abandonment anxiety – Neil’s grim insistence that somebody always join him whenever he visits the gents – not to say the Pavlovian terror that accompanies anybody entering the room with a Costa Coffee or shrink wrapped tuna and sweetcorn baguette.
In some respects it would take a very hard heart not to sympathise.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Sound Of Silence 

You can always rely on some chump to trample all over the two minute silence on Armistice Day.

Charlotte, Bill Surname's loyal PA, had announced the start of the silence with a deep voiced and sombre Bing Bong, and everybody downed keyboards and looked into their laps.
Outside my window a bugle called and Bill Surname's retired army chums stood statuesque on the parade ground, stolid in their flapping trousers. All around Company X no phones rang, no mouses clicked, no sound sounded at all but the dull tick tock of the clock. You could have heard a pen drop.

Neil, my former team leader, blundered into the office and announced, with all the accomplished pride of the newly toilet trained, that Ken Dodd got arrested last night.
Nobody lifted their heads, nobody moved.
“I said, 'I see Ken Dodd got arrested last night.”
Still nobody stirred.
“Giving me the old silent treatment, huh? I knew I shouldn't have stolen those ginger nuts.”
Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader scowled and gestured wordlessly to shut the fuck up, we're paying our respects here, but in Neil's defense it was the same look she gives him on an almost daily basis, so how was he to know that this time was any different? Presumably they don't observe two minute silences on his home planet.

“I say 'Ken Dodd got arrested last night,'” explained Neil. “And you're supposed to reply 'Did he?' Come on guys, we practiced this yesterday.”
Stella scowled again, nodding her head and mouthing “Not now,” and then she scowled at the rest of us, like it was our fault.

We've been trying to teach Neil to tell jokes and have started him off on the basics.
“Hey Neil, my dog's got no nose.”
“Well, if you find it, Tim,” he replied, “pack it in ice and get to the vet's pronto. You'd be amazed what they can do nowadays.”

“Knock, knock.”
“Is that you, Mike? Come on in. I'm looking at porn on the computer.”

He's enthusiastic enough but his timing leaves something to be desired.
“Hey guys,” he tried again. “Did you see on the news that Ken Dodd got arrested last night?”
“Did he, Neil? That's interesting,” he replied to himself.
“No. Doddy!”
“Doddy? But Neil, who's Doddy?”
“You know, Neil. Ken Dodd. Doddy!”
“Oh right. I get it. What did you say he was arrested for?”
“Don't know, Neil. Didn't say.”
“Didn't he?”
“No. Doddy!”

Poor Charlotte must have become distracted – it's a difficult time for her , what with... oh, I'm sure you get the picture – because we waited and waited for the closing Bing Bong to chime but it never arrived.
Everybody looked at their watches and fidgeted impatiently in their seats, waving their mugs at each other and scribbling “Fancy a brew?” on the office whiteboard, and at four minutes somebody giggled, and Stella shusshed them, and some else shusshed her back, and on five minutes, Terry threw a crumpled piece of paper which hit Neil on the nose, and when he read what Terry had written it silenced him too.

“Ken Dodd's dad's dog's dead? Oh, that's a shame. Why didn't somebody say?”
“Sshhh! Didn't we?”
“Doddy's dad's dog. Dead." He sighed. "What happened?”
“Nose fell off,” whispered Terry.
“That would explain Doddy getting arrested then. Must have been an awful shock.”

Eventually the special Armistice Silence petered out and became boring old regular Everyday Silence, and people switched their phones back on and Mike stood up to fart then drifted off to the vending machine, and I dripped yogurt down my shirt while outside my window, Bill Surname's retired army chums folded away their flags and wiped their eyes and headed back to their encampment to drink hot toddies and tell stories of unbelievable courage, to remember the fallen and the sacrifices made, and life carried on as it always has and always seems to have a knack of carrying on doing, all by itself.

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