Fuzzy Message

Somebody rang yesterday and left me a voicemale. It was just static.  Like an obscene phone call from a Van De Graff Generator.  I’m not ringing them back.  I keep my phone turned off for the express purpose of avoiding talking to people and/or sinister white noise monsters.   Although thinking about it, maybe that’s what has trapped me in a job at the shape shifting plant?

Maybe I should ring them back? It might be one of the thousand and one people I’ve sent my CV to in the last month/week/day.  They want to call me in for an interview at the Geiger Counter Factory.  “We like the cut of your gyb, and we’d really like you to come and help detect radiation with us!  Yes, you’ll be completely hairless and start peeing kidney chunks within a month, but we have a great vending machine…”

No, I’ll leave it. If it’s important they’ll ring back and leave some more fuzz.



Confessions Of A First Aid Thief

I’m stealing the contents of our First Aid Box. I say box, it’s more swish Perspex carry case. Like luggage from the future. I could imagine running through a war zone in 2087 carrying it. Dodging my way to the front line to pop a fusion plaster on a young robot grunt’s knee.

I seriously want a box like that. But stealing the box is too ambitious. Even Danny Ocean wouldn’t contemplate trying to get that out of the Shape Shifting Unit. So I’m doing the next best thing. Stealing what’s inside. A sterile dressing here. A roll of adhesive tape there. A pair of nitrate disposable gloves here again. Slowly, over the course of months – maybe years, if my crime is suspected and I have to slow my thievery down – I’ll build my own First Aid Box at home. In that empty Quality Street tin under the bed.

(It’s lucky I don’t work in a hospital. They must have some impressive kit. An IV drip here. A shiny bed bath there. Defibrillating paddles here again. All aching to be smuggled out and popped inside that empty Quality Street tin under the bed.)

The sad thing is, the contents of the First Aid box are the only things worth stealing at work. And let’s be honest, petty pilfering is one of the few perks for the working Joe. That ability to go home with your pockets loaded with Post-It notes, paper clips and enough Tippex to have a really dangerous bath in. What have we got where I work? Bugger all. Sure, you can sidle out with the odd resin ovoid in your pocket. Or maybe a big coffee-stained spoon from the kitchen. But honestly, as workplaces go, it’s an appallingly poor environment for the crook. Still, there’s always petty arson. And god knows, I’ve got enough conforming bandages to soak in paraffin and start a fire with.


Big Massive F

Suddenly there’s a big “F” on the front of the building. I’m sure it never used to be there.  But it’s there now.  Two metres high and one metre wide.  I noticed it yesterday when I peddled towards the prefab cube that is my workplace.  A giant  F.  In Ariel, by the looks of it (Ariel?  Would it have killed them to go for the funkier Comic Sans, or seductively sophisticated Andalus?).

When I got into the unit I asked around– co-workers, my team manager, the cleaner – but nobody knew anything about the big sixth letter of the alphabet. Some hadn’t noticed.  Some claimed it had been there since Day One.  They’re full of it.

So what is it? Are we being graded?  A warning to people applying to work here, that they can only expect an F level job.  Although F seems a bit generous.  Tops, we’re a P.

Or maybe we’ve been marked by aliens, so that when they invade they’ll know that everybody inside are Fighters. Or F*****s.  If we’re the former, we can expect heavy annihilation early on.  The latter, our new alien overlords will keep us around to do meaningless soul-destroying tasks for minimum gruel rations.  So basically what we’re doing now.  Boom, tish, here all week, etc.

I’m just glad the F isn’t over the bike shed. It doesn’t look safe.  It was wobbling in the breeze as I left.  Rattling against the building in a most unhealthy way.  One ferocious storm and it could fly lose and hit someone.  And a big flying F could prove, well, fatal.


Houdini Laces

I’ve got a great pair of boots. They’re not massively expensive, or a particularly trendy brand, they’re just bloody good.  Smart, durable and cool in a subtle way.  Boots Indiana Jones might wear on his day off.  Boots you could go into the jungle wearing …or a nightclub in Madrid.  Boots I want to be wearing when aliens invade and I have to become an urban guerrilla, specialising in pipe bombs and trip wires.  There’s just one problem.  The laces keep coming undone.

I tie them in the morning and before I even leave the house, they’re loose. Flapping on the floor like epileptic worms.  So I tie them again, stand up, look down and … they’re undone!  I get sneaky and tie them in triple horndock fisherman’s lock… I look away, look back and – FFS! – they’re free.  And doubtless sniggering.  So I staple them – or think about it.  Sellotape them.  Tungsten screw them.  Nothing works.  They’re Houdini laces, breaking free of whatever I try.

Of course I could just buy some more laces. But the laces are an integral part of the boot.  They match the boot.  Besides, getting rid of the slippery fellows would be like chopping a toddler’s hands off because he’s a bit unruly.  No, I’ll just learn new knots.  Fiendishly complex knots it takes seventeen minutes and a tag partner to tie.  I’ll fray them up with sandpaper.  I’ll Pritt stick them to together when they’re not looking.  I’ll….oh, look, they’re undone again.


What We Do When Visitors Visit

We had some important people visiting yesterday. Very important people.  Big cheeses.  Top knobs.  Fancy pants.  Head honchos.  These visits from higher ups happen every now and then.  And when they do, they follow three distinct stages:

Stage 1: The Big Clean

Before we’re even told anybody’s coming we’re told to clean. We’ve got cleaners, but they aren’t great, so we’re taken away from the vital work of sorting rhomboids and told to smarten the workplace up a bit.  Brooms, squeegees and cloths are handed out.  We don’t mind.  It makes a change to do another form of pointless soul destroying work.  And as with our normal jobs, we do it quite poorly.  Smears on the desks.  Little piles of grime dotted everywhere.  Bins emptied into already overfull bins, making perilously unsafe Mr Whippy’s of garbage.

“It looks worse than before we started!” our Team Manager will say with an edge of desperation in his voice.

Stage 2: The Big Brief

After the Big Clean we’re given the Big Brief. Our Team Manager troops us down to the Meeting Room.  We’re told who the visitors are and how important they are in the Blue Sun corporate structure.  We’re told what to say in the event one of them talks to us.

“Keep it simple,” our manager will say, with an edge of pleading in his voice. “Answer any questions they may have, but don’t feel like you have to elaborate. And remember: smile while they’re here.”

They even have photos culled from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to help us recognise them. You know, just in case a complete stranger stumbles in, asks us a question, and we accidentally give them a non-elaborate over-smiley answer.

Stage 3: The Big Day

Then it happens. They arrive, looking only vaguely like their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pictures.  Not that we can really tell, since we only see them from a distance.  They’re hurried in and hurried out.  If one of them breaks free, a manager zones in on them and steers them away from the unwashed masses (and quite a few of us don’t wash).  And then they’re gone.  Out of our lives forever, unless we choose to look them up on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  “It’s over!” our Team Manager will say with an edge of relief in his voice,

And that’s what happened yesterday. The visitation from the bigwigs lasted exactly six minutes.  And I’m a company man to the marrow, so for that six minutes I wore a medium smile on my face.  Or, as I like to think of it, my stroke-look.


Fewer Bald Steve Guttenbergs

A lorry spilled its load outside work today, so when I left there was white powdery stuff everywhere. Everywhere.  Think explosion in an Aspirin factory.  Think twenty giants with dandruff head-banging above.  Think post-apocalyptic scene from Threads, but with fewer bald Steve Guttenbergs.

I didn’t think anything of it until I cycled through it and got an eyeful of grit and powder. I was blinking and squinting so much I nearly veered off into the oncoming traffic.  And what exactly was it I’d ridden through?  Asbestos?  Albino gunpowder?  Weaponized Styrofoam?  None of that’s good for the eyeballs.  I may have cornea cancer now.

Worse (well, not worse – nothing’s worse than cornea cancer), when I got home my clothes were absolutely covered in the stuff.  It was like I’d been mugged by a man made of sherbet.  So I had to take my work trousers off, flap them insanely, and then hang them on the line.  They’re out there now, although there’s no wind so I’ll probably have to go out and give them another rigorous manual flap.  Or beat them with a broom handle.  Then come back in and Google “cornea cancer cures” for the seventeenth time today.


I Miss Meetings

You know you’re in a bad job when you don’t have meetings. Or rather, Meetings.  Don’t get me wrong, just because you have meetings doesn’t mean you have a good job, but it does mean you’re further up the employment totem pole.

I used to work in jobs where we had meetings. Sometimes about important stuff like projects that were six months behind schedule and twenty-two thousand over budget.  Sometimes about unimportant stuff like whether we should change who we buy our paper towels from because they were crumbly and left green bobbly bits everywhere.  Sometimes we even had meetings about when we were going to have another meeting.  “I need to check my diary, but the thirteenth definitely sounds doable.”  Then we’d check our diaries and find the thirteenth definitely wasn’t doable, but no matter, we’d just have another meeting to decide when to have another meeting.

Sometimes meetings would be in somebody’s office, but if we were lucky it’d be in a boardroom.   Look at us, we’d think with our chests puffed out like pompous pigeons, we’re having an important meeting in a posh boardroom.  Wow! Is that tinted glass? We should see if we can get this boardroom again for the thirteenth, which isn’t doable but let’s pencil it in anyway.  Literally, pencil.  In fact, let’s discuss pencils at the next meeting.  Run down some lead hardness data and HB stats.

Sometimes meetings came with refreshments. Croissants.  Sandwiches.  Cinnamon buns.  Donuts.  Once, ginger biscuits that had quite a kick.  And even if there weren’t any store bought refreshments, you’d at least have a jug of water and a glass.  I miss pouring water from a jug.

Now I just do my shift. At my automated shape-sorting desk.  For eight hours a day, minus breaks.  I miss the sheer pointless time-wasting genius of meetings. I might arrange one with the cat when I get home.  See if the thirteenth is doable for him.



Misshapes, mistakes, misfits. Raised on a diet of broken biscuits. Oh, we don’t look the same as you. We don’t do the things you do, but we live around here too. Misshapes, mistakes, misfits. We’d like to go to town but we can’t risk it. Anyway, that’s enough Pulp, I want to talk about misshapes (mistakes, misfits – yeah, done that).

Every week thousands of misshapes are delivered to the unit where I work. These are broken and damaged shapes. Crippled squares, chipped triangles and lame ovoids that nobody wants – except somebody does want them. You see, in amongst sorting and dispatching normal shapes, we’re also expected to sort and dispatch these ruined objects. Trouble is, nobody likes doing them.

For starters, they’re often yellowed and brittle with age, like bones from an old leper cemetery. And after doing a tray, your desk is covered with dust that no matter how much you blow and rub and scrub, you can’t get rid of. Then there’s the smell. Misshapes have a terrible mildewed stench. After an hour doing them it’s like you’ve been pick-pocketing sodden tramps all day.

Worse, it’s hard to tell what some misshapes are. Smashed and worn by age, they could be anything. Calcified jellybabies with spondylitis. Elderly sharks teeth. Broken bollards. Castle turrets. Frozen spaghetti. Kites in a stiff breeze. Splintered whale tusks. Stalagmites. Stalactites. Three-dimensional doilies. Poor man’s chalk. Factory returned chess pieces. Snowmen in distress. Popes in a sack race. Plectrums in a tumble drier. Polar bears kickboxing. Warped snooker cues. Astronauts and Klansmen on a trampoline. Imperial Stormtroopers fighting Buddhist monks on… you get the picture.
So what do you do with these sad abominations? Which tray to put them in? You end up agonising. Or not. I just shove them in the ‘Various’ slot. But with some people, it’s a quest to find what they once were. They stare and stare at them, trying to see back in time to when they were a glistening new baby shape straight out of the shape womb. Which means that not only are misshapes smelly and messy but they take a disproportionately long time to sort.
Unfortunately, we’re contractually bound to sort and despatch them. And wherever they go they become even more broken and end up, in six to eight weeks, back on our desks. A pile of misshapes, mistakes, misfits. Raised on a diet of broken biscuits. Oh, we don’t look the same as you…


Earthquake Proofing For Dummies

We don’t live in an earthquake zone, but apparently the building I work in – the giant pepper pot I spend forty hours a week in – is earthquake proofed. No, I don’t know what that means either.  Sturdier girders?  Walls that bend like reeds in the wind?  A roof made of sugar so when it shatters and falls, we’ll be lightly dusted with tasty powder and not cut to shreds?

Whatever it means, in the event of a major ground wobbling incident, we’ll be safe. In theory.  I still think if the soil rises up against us, open ground’s your best bet.  Like the Lidl car park. Or that old brown field behind the abandoned Slinky Spring Factory.  That must be pretty safe, aside from the rusty slinky springs riddling the ground.

I digress. The last people who rented our building earthquake proofed it.  Heaven knows why.  Unless they had an incredibly panicky staff that saw the 2015 Dwayne Johnson film San Andreas, and didn’t want that happening to them.  Although we were here in 2015, so it couldn’t have been San Andreas they’d seen.  Maybe 1974’s Earthquake?  Or that tremor in Short Cuts that saves Sean Penn’s brother from a rape charge?

I digress again. If you’re not in an earthquake zone, how can you prove that the building is earthquake proofed?  It’s not like you can get a giant over to vigorously shake it.  No, the more I think about it, the more I think the last company to rent our building were taken for a ride by a dodgy local contractor.  “I don’t want to worry you, mate, but you want to get this building earthquake proofed.  Council catches you without proper seismic protection and you’ll to get a nasty little fine.  Tell you what, my tools are in the van, I could do it for you now?  I’ll charge a monkey and be out your hair by the weekend? Wicked!”


Fun With Lanyards!

We had some fun at work yesterday. I’m still chuckling at the pure mad joy of it all.  If I had to write it as a formula it would look something like this:

Levity × Mirth ÷ Delicious Daftness = Yesterday

It’s a day I’ll cherish until I’m an old man looking back at my life. “That day with the lanyards!” I’ll say to the poorly paid care worker giving me a brutal bed bath.  “I’m still chuckling at the pure mad joy of it all!”

Here’s what happened. One of our security measures is colour coded lanyards.  Standard operatives and managers wear a green lanyard.  Visitors get a blue lanyard.  Contractors –orange.  If we see somebody without the correct coloured lanyard – or without a lanyard at all! – we’re meant to challenge them.  Or, if challenging isn’t our thing, tell a Team Manager, who’ll challenge them.  Unless challenging isn’t their thing, and they’ll tell … somebody who likes challenging.  Jeremy Kyle?  Malcolm Tucker?  Worf?

Yesterday I went in – all innocent like – only to learn that a game was afoot! At some point during the day somebody would walk around the building not wearing the correct coloured lanyard.  Or perhaps – get this – not wearing a lanyard at all! You can imagine the excitement that generated.  We were abuzz, our eyes aroving.  Looking for that incorrectly lanyarded man.  Or woman (although it almost certainly would be a man).

Hello? Who was this walking towards us?  Only the ruddy Site Manager in a blue visitor’s lanyard.  “You’re not wearing the right lanyard!” we cried.

“Am I not?” replied the wag, and disappeared into his office and came out ten minutes later … in a black lanyard.   We didn’t even know those existed!  What was black for?  MercenariesNinjasSith lords?

“You’re still not wearing the right lanyard!” we cried again, getting into the Panto spirit of it all.

“Am I still not?” he rejoined and disappeared into his office and came out ten minutes later … in the correct green employee lanyard. We tried to hide our disappointment – some were hoping for a pink lanyard, others a sparkling glitter one – and he seemed to sense it.  “The day’s not over yet!” he winked and swaggered off.

We were all so high on fun that Comical Barry decided to take his lanyard off and replace it with a brown lace. We roared.  Then Joking Jenny removed her lanyard and replaced it with a ribbon from her handbag.  We roared again.  Then Droll Dave swapped his lanyard with a bandage from the first aid box.  We roared again, before being taken down to the Meeting Room and warned that removing our lanyards on the premises was a disciplinary matter.

What a crazy day, though! And in honour of it, I’m writing this in a yellow lanyard I kept from the last place I worked.  What am I like?