There’s a man in a box out by the gates. I say box, technically it’s a Portacabin. A good one too. Sturdy. With thick glass and a door you’d need a Jeep to yank off. The sort of Portacabin you could transport to the moon and it would make a perfectly adequate lunar base. You can’t see much through the heavily tinted safety glass, but it looks nice in there. A flat screen television, monitors, a DAB radio, a jug kettle and two wall-mounted phones. It belongs to Solar Security – a subsidiary of Blue Sun – and the man inside is either Nelson or, when Nelson isn’t at work, Not Nelson.
Nelson’s in his fifties and has a fabulous head of well quaffed hair. Like Johnny Suede or Shakin’ Stevens at his peak. Coupled with his meaty sideburns he looks like a man from a bygone age. Perhaps the Portacabin is actually a time machine and Nelson’s a Time Warden? God knows he’s not much of a security warden. In fact nobody’s quite sure what he does. He doesn’t let people in through the gates – we have blue swipe cards for that. He doesn’t let visitors in who ring – reception does that. And he doesn’t walk the perimeter. In fact, he’s rarely seen outside of his fancy box.
The guy who isn’t Nelson is actually three or four guys. But we think of them all as Not Nelson because none of them make much of an impression. And there’s quite a turn over, which makes me think Nelson has some unsanitary habits you wouldn’t want going on in your Portacabin.
We’ve asked at employee forum meetings what Nelson actually does and we’re told, “He’s responsible for security.” That’s it. We’ve mentioned about him not letting people in or walking the perimeter and we’re told, “He’s responsible for security.” We’ve asked why his shed needs to be so Lah-De-Dah Gunner Graham and we’re told, “He’s responsible for security.”
I wish I was responsible for security. I want that cabin. I’ll happily become a Not Nelson and put up with Nelson’s farting/racism/finger painting with old placenta just to spend my days watching a flat screen and boiling a jug kettle.
On the way to work yesterday somebody asked me for directions. I hate when people ask me for directions. I know nothing about my geography. Nothing. I don’t know where Loot Street is. Or Butterball Industrial Park. Or even which way is left. So don’t ask me where somewhere is. And when I do stammer my way through some half arsed directions, don’t let your eyes glaze over. Or cut me off midway through when you realise I’m an idiot, because you stopped me.
And why even ask for directions in this day and age? Ask SatNav, Google Earth or Cortina. Don’t stop me on my bike. I know nothing and you’ve almost certainly got a device in your pocket that can tell you to the millimetre where you should be going.
So yesterday morning I was flagged down by a man in a lorry asking the way to Business Unit 5t. At least I think that’s what he was asking, since not only was he a classic low talker, but he’d also left his engine running to drown out much of what he was saying. Ironically, on the sixth attempt at asking I realised I did actually know where he wanted to go. “Oh, hang on, I actually know this one! It’s over there,” I said excitedly. “OVER THERE!” I repeated, and pointed to … well, over there.
“JUST FOLLOW THIS ROAD, TURN LEFT, AND YOU’RE THERE!”
Nothing. Blank face.
“THIS ROAD – FOLLOW IT! THEN LEFT – YOU’RE THERE!”
Maybe a flicker, maybe not. So I shouted it a fifth time. He nodded slowly, thanked me, and drove off in the opposite direction. The definitely Not Over There direction. And that’s another reason I hate giving directions. Even if against all the odds I know and tell them, they won’t listen.
Brett’s a great guy. He really cares about his fellow co-workers. I know because he’s forever buying cards and bringing them around for us to sign. Somebody’s leaving – get them a card. Somebody’s turning forty-seven – get them a card. Somebody’s just got over mumps – get them a card. Somebody’s been diagnosed with ankle cancer – a card. Somebody’s a bit bald – card. Somebody’s been accused of whispering sexually inappropriate rhymes to a co-worker – card. Somebody’s discovered a portal to a parallel universe in their Coco Pops – card.
Brett’s single-handedly keeping Clintons in business. And these aren’t small cards. He buys whopping great paving-slab sized cards. With enough space for us all to write something. And he’s relentless at getting everyone to add a message of support/condolence/congratulations. He’s Jehovah Witness intense. Pretend to go to the toilet all you like, he’ll just wait for you to come back. And then wait again when you actually go to the toilet because you only pretended to go first time.
I shudder when I see him walking towards me with another cardboard behemoth under his arm. What am I going to say on this one? Good luck with that flat tyre! Wishing you and your guinea pig well at this difficult time. If it hadn’t been for those pesky kids you’d have got away with it! And I can’t refuse. Refusing to sign makes you a person of suspicion.
Do the recipients ever look at these cards? Squint at the signatures wondering who Jimboloin is and why he’s scribbling about the Christmas party they never went to? Of course I’m just bitter because I’ve never got a card at work. Ever. I tend to get in and out of all the places I’ve ever worked like a stealth bomber without any bombs. Still, some self-harm with a sharpened Brazil nut and maybe Brett will add me to the list of the carded.
And the reason I’m writing this? Brett brought another card round for signing yesterday. Somebody’s had a baby. Although I don’t really know her put my name on the card. Followed by a tick, for some reason. √
Six months ago somebody at work recorded a programme about a man who had plastic surgery to look like a squirrel. He finally watched it yesterday – “I chuffing well forgot all about it!” – and wouldn’t stop yammering about it over break today. Boy, would he not stop yammering. “He had whiskers, a button nose and buck teeth… He looked a right tit, and lost his job because of it! The chuffing great moron!”
That got us discussing what animals we’d have surgery to look like. Everybody, without exception (although I did only discuss it with four people) wanted to look like a big cat. A lion, a tiger, a puma and an ocelot.
Not me, why be something that’s being hunted to extinction by James Bond villains and wealthy American tourists? No, I opted to be remodelled as a swan. That way it would be illegal to kill and eat me. And I could break a man’s arm with my wing.
At the start of each week nine boxes of fruit are delivered to our workplace. These oranges, pears and bananas aren’t to be sorted into the sphere, ovoid and crescent trays, but to be eaten. By employees. To make us healthier and less likely to contract rickets or scurvy. Sadly, the boxes of fruit arrive at eight on Monday morning, and by ten they are all but empty, save for the odd bruised apple or unsettling purple banana. People are taking more fruit than they’re entitled to. Yes, there are fruit thieves amongst us.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for stealing at work. I’m all for strutting out at home time with a knapsack full of binders, ink cartridges and waste paper bins. But then the only victim is the company. The greedy corporate gobble-monster. I draw the line at fruit that’s meant for me and my fellow bottom-feeders. That’s – like the vending machine up the corner of the canteen – largely out of order.
So who are the fruit thieves? Who are the plum pilferers and the lemon larcenists? There are plenty of suspects. Pasty Face. Miss Piggy. Scabs. Scabies. Weird Yellow Eyeballs. Mr Odd Smell… Trouble is, as their nicknames suggest, they don’t look the sort to eat a lot of fruit. Certainly not the quantity vanishing each Monday morning. Unless they’re taking it for other reasons. To throw at paedophiles at the local court. Or to work on their forgery of Adrian van Utrecht’s The Pantry (which would explain why the boxes of crabs, monkeys and dead birds are also raided at the start of each week).
Perhaps we need to start looking at the unusual suspects? At people who look beyond reproach. The too-good-to-be-trues. Squeaky Clean Pete. Barbarella. Gym Jim. Sir Lord Saintly. And let’s not rule out the managers: Naked Ego, Gay Stereotype, Please Like Me and Chocolate Spoon could all be citrus bandits, laughing their way to the vitamin C bank.
Then again, I managed to get to the fruit early this week and… I didn’t fancy any. There were fingerprints on two peaches. The rind on a Clementine looked like it had been punctured by a thumbnail. And what was that covering the grapes? Tears? Spittle? Jism? Yeah, maybe I’ll just bring my own fruit.
The giant tinfoil hat I work in has a Big Sun Corporation sign on the front, which as you would imagine, has a big blue sun on it. I say sun, looks more like a Rorschach inkblot. So if you’re in a good mood: it’s an arctic sun. Not so good mood: it’s a dirty protest from a Smurf.
When I started, four and a half years ago, we had a Tyrell Corporation sign on the front of the building because that’s who we used to belong to. It was okay, nothing special, just a small yellow shield against a black backdrop. But the shield was too small and the backdrop too big, so it looked like somebody had squashed a wasp. And the sign was quite old because the paint was peeling and flaked, as if it had spent two decades exposed to acid rain and toxic smog.
Then we were taken over, gulped whole, by the significantly bigger Weyland-Yutani. So we got a new sign on the front of the building. Better than the last one. Bolder. Clearer. Essentially a big yellow W, and our slogan “Building Better Worlds.”
Then the company had a slight PR problem – something to do with ill advised forays into biological weapons research – and we went in for some hefty rebranding. We changed our name to Blue Sun Corporation and got our third new sign in nearly five years. Providing we don’t get involved in subliminal advertising or weaponizing emos it should be there for some time.
Nippon works on the Shape Dispatch Desk. Last Friday he went to the dentist to have two teeth out. The dentist ended up removing twelve. Twelve! That’s over a third of the traditional thirty-two adult tooth quota. He’s twenty-four years old and has – or had – twelve rotten teeth. A dozen decaying fangs. How does that happen? Was he brushing with jam and rinsing with Sunny Delight? Moisturising his gums with Lemon Curd? Flossing with spaghetti?
Anyway, Nippon hasn’t been saying a lot this week. Or even opening his mouth much. His lips are vacuum sealed. He’s like a fashion model, all pouts and smouldering glances. Only once did I see him unfasten his maw more than a millimetre and it was like looking into a vandalised graveyard. Half the stones were missing and somebody had spray painted the rest with urine.
I actually feel sorry for him. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a petty spiteful turd with all the likeability of a petty spiteful turd, but he’s twenty-four and just lost twelve teeth. Twelve! Anymore and his face will start to collapse in on itself. His flesh will look like water going down the drain of his mouth. He’ll look like he’s swallowed a black hole. He’ll look like a pensioner who’s had seventeen facelifts.
Still, thinking about his dental demolition derby has taken my mind off the omnipresent heat. And the droning industrial fans that just move it from one bit of the building to another… twelve, though? What the actual hell was the idiot doing?
This building we work in is essentially a big tin shed. A shipping container on steroids. There are no windows, just corrugated steel the colour of an exsanguinated corpse. It’s the sort of place they keep genetically modified battery chickens with massive uteri and tiny wings.
For some reason, portions of the concrete floor are sticky. Like sap’s seeping up from below. We try to avoid walking on these patches, but every now and then you forget, and you hear a squee squee squee, and realise you’ve inadvertently wandered across a forbidden zone.
Not that we move about much. For the most part we all sit at our desks. We’re like cannabis plants, with no natural light. Except cannabis plants are snug – too snug, that rosy snugness is how the catch cannabis growers, with infrared cameras from above. We’re not snug. We’re anti-snug. You can’t heat a giant corned beef tin effectively, so in winter we freeze. Despite being allowed to wear gloves and bobble hats, we still shiver and shake at our desks. Sure, they bring in industrial fan heaters to heat the place but the heat just goes up and out of the ropey roof.
It’s worse in summer. We boil. Despite being allowed to wear shorts and t-shirts we sweat and pant at our desks. Sure, they bring in industrial fans to cool the place, but the fans just move the hot air around. And they’re noisy. Droning like maimed bombers heading for a crash landing, giving us all headaches to go with our stickiness. It’s a good thing you only need a minimal level of consciousness to do our jobs.
Recently management has addressed the problem of how depressing the work environment is. With pot plants. There are now seven dotted strategically around the building. Aspidistras, I think. They aren’t doing too well, what with the cold and lack of light and the glares of two hundred clinically depressed shape shifters. That and the fact the cleaner keeps forgetting to water them. So now we work in a big tin shed with seven dying pot plants.
This is a blog about my job. My not quite dream job. My dream job – since you ask –would be being the first man on Mars. I’ve even jotted down some momentous first words: Another small step for man, another giant leap for mankind… Thanks again to Cadbury’s for sponsoring this voyage… It’s not as red as I thought it would be… What do you mean; one way trip?
Until I can make that happen, I’m making do with being a Shape Shifter. Which sounds good. But isn’t. Essentially I sit at a desk putting shapes in trays. I get given a big box of different shaped shapes – round, square, triangular – and I sort them into the corresponding trays. Discs go in the disc tray. Cubes go in the cube tray. Squiggles go in the squiggle tray (although we rarely get any squiggles).
I do that for eight hours a day. Five days a week. Fifty two weeks a year (minus holidays). It’s not the most stimulating work. I’d even call it dull. Dull with no bells or whistles on whatsoever. It’s the job people leave because there’s a recently painted wall at home that needs watching. It’s the job Sisyphus quits after a week, saying, “Could I go back to the boulder? It’s smooth and sexy and keeps me buff. Plus I like the fresh air in my Noel Edmonds beard.”
For the sake of argument, we’ll say I shift shapes for the Blue Sun Corporation. I don’t, but aren’t all these mega corporations the same? We’re just another identikit conglomerate with fingers in all manner of global pies. Transport, infrastructure, building, property development, drugs, energy, entertainment … name a pie, any pie, we’ve got a digit in it. Including pie making. Although I think the pie division is in trouble. And the pi division, ironically.
So to reiterate. In this blog I’ll blather on about what it’s like to do a crummy job for a cruddy company. But not today. Shifting shapes takes it out of you.