Coales' Notes: Root problems

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: I did say that, for historical reasons, it would be better if I had no direct dealings with any project involving Alan. However - Di being away - he is in my lap.

A complaint has come from Steve Parkett, Personnel Manager at the Head Office of Imbrex UK, where Alan is apparently on an 'Artist Attachment' (I would of course have advised against).

I have been preparing my ground by going through the relevant brochures. It is one of Di's massive over-sells. (What can an Artist Attachment do for your business? Blob, Motivation. Blob, Integration. Blob, Fertilisation. Blob, Nourishment, etc.) Obviously we're not going to have a leg to stand on.

TUESDAY: I had a complicated phone conversation with Mr Parkett, trying to ascertain the nature of the complaint. He said: 'As was explained to your colleague, we are belatedly in the process of transitioning the entire organisation from a stick culture to a carrot culture, and what we understood we were taking on board here was a carrot, and a very large and sweet carrot at that, a carrot that our people would want to use, and feel comfortable with.'

I asked, were his people not comfortable with it then? Had it gone down the wrong way? He said it seemed not to be going down at all. I asked, what was the sticking point? He said, what sticking point? I said, the sticking point at which the carrot was getting stuck. He asked what I was talking about. I confessed I had no idea.

He said: 'Look. What I am saying is quite simple. This was a potential carrot, which we were promised, and which we have payed for, but we are still waiting for a bite. Right.' I said OK, I'd better have a word with the carrot.

I gleaned that Alan had in fact completed one project (entitled You Don't Have To Be Mad) which consisted of him 'making himself known to each employee individually and imparting a personal greeting.' But that was a month ago. So, it's the old problem.

Indolence is not the word.

WEDNESDAY: Trying Alan's number all day. I finally got through to him late in the afternoon. I got the distinct impression he had been asleep (which does not bode well). I said it was urgent to have a word. He said sure, he'd see me at 7.45 in the morning, at his favoured greasy spoon in Camberwell. Very tiresome.

THURSDAY: My talk with Alan was rather inconclusive. I am always pretty groggy that early. Alan on the other hand seemed almost fit to drop. He arrived, jogging, and more or less collapsed at the table. So it was difficult to put the work point across very forcibly. I told him about Imbrex's concerns. He replied (through yawns) 'I am working a lot.' I said people needed to see that he was working. He said 'Yeah, they will.' We sat there blearily. I asked if he had been up all night? He said: 'Mm, rescheduling.' At 8.30 he looked at his watch, and said: 'Right. Off to work then.' And he dragged himself up and jogged off.

I had another call from Mr Parkett in the afternoon. I told him I'd now spoken with our man, he seemed to be working, and I trusted they'd be seeing something soon. He said: 'Don't worry, we've seen it.' And he thought it best if, before anything else, I saw it too.

FRIDAY: To the Imbrex building, the appointment being for 5 o'clock. Parkett was waiting at reception. He handed me a sheet of paper: 'Take a look at this and make of it what you will.' It read:

'DAY BREAK / NIGHT SHIFT.

In opposition.

Day/ Night. Work/ Rest.

Upright/ Horizontal.

Motion/ Time.

Towards partnership.

Cheers, Alan.'

I agreed that it didn't seem all that much, but it bore the unmistakable hallmarks of an artist's statement - a start anyway.

Parkett said: 'I'm told he's in Sales today.' I followed him into a lift. He went on: 'Now you will understand, we would be very reluctant indeed to have any show of force on the premises. That would be totally counter to our developing philosophy of flexibility and humour.' We arrived, and entered a large open plan office.

Not very far inside there was a divan bed. And in it, in his pyjamas, lay Alan - to all appearances absolutely sound asleep.

We went over to it. I asked how long he had been like this. Parkett thought it was since first thing. He got the security men to move the bed up, turned in as people were arriving, and just slept there through the day, dead to the world.

I said we should try to understand it as basically a performance piece. He said 'No, he's definitely asleep. They prodded him in Accounts yesterday, and it didn't make any difference at all.'

People were beginning to leave. As they passed us, several called out sarcastically 'Night, Alan]' Parkett said: 'I don't have to emphasise how potentially demoralising a man asleep in bed can be, in an active working environment.'

I said, absolutely. The situation was plain. If the clients were in anyway unhappy with the artist we had supplied them, Ars Longa's policy was always - without any argument - to take the artist back at once, and replace him with a new one. He seemed content. And we got the sturdiest security man to pick Alan up, carry him down, and place him in a taxi home.

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