Secretarial: 'Allo darlin', let me tell you a love story...

The Temp
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The Independent Culture
THIS IS a horrible office full of stuck-up snotbags with a grossly inflated opinion of their own importance in the world. And, though this description effectively applies to 90 per cent of the offices I've had the misfortune to work in, it's doubly applicable here.

After three-and-a-half weeks, nobody has bothered to give me the time of day, say good morning, say goodnight, or offer me a cup of coffee when they go to the machine for each other. I was beginning to wonder if I existed at all, or if I'd turned into some ghost-like extension of my computer, when finally someone spoke to me.

Jeff, the managing director: in an earlier generation he would have been a barrow boy, and been slapped in irons if his entrepreneurial spirit had led him to try for anything more. Blue shirt, with a thin white stripe and white collars and cuffs.

An accent that could have earned him a fortune going "Leave id ahhhht" behind the bar at the Queen Vic. Pinky ring the size of a knuckle-duster with a cockerel rampant on a bed of nails. Those trousers whose pocket- tops bulge out to the sides as though the contents below the zip are more than the cut can handle.

"Allo, darlin'," said Jeff. "How are they treating you around here? All right?"

"Hello," I said. "Well, I can't really tell, to be honest, as none of them has spoken to me."

Jeff sucked air in through his front teeth as though preparing to groom a horse.

"Don't surprise me," he said. "Tell you what," he leant down, gave me a cheeky-chappie grin, "let's you and me go out to lunch tomorrow. Give 'em something to talk about."

An hour later, it was all round the office. The three other PAs were giving me the evil eye. Bradley, one of my boss's team, came over with some figures. "See you're making friends, then," he said. I don't think he meant it nicely.

Lunch: sausages and mash in a pub with pictures of cricketers on the walls. Jeff has exchanged the shirt for one with a faint pattern of maple leaves in the weave. Hangs his jacket over the back of the chair. Turns out he's picked up on the fact that I write, and wants to do a co-operative effort.

"A novel," he says. "Maybe a screenplay. Set in the language schools around Brighton during the Gulf war. Young bloke, East End boy looking for something more, working down there, meets Iraqi girl. Fall in love, eat candy floss, stay out all night. But her family don't approve of him and his family don't approve of her. War and that."

"So what happens in the end?" I ask, having sussed that this is in some way autobiographical. "War ends, she goes to America. They never see each other again. I think she married a doctor in California."

I try to let him down gently. "Look, it sounds like an excellent story, but I think to be honest it's not my bag. I'm trying to work on stuff of my own at the moment."

Jeff gets sulky. "Well, excuse me. Just thought I could help you out of a hole. Turn round a nice little profit for both of us. Thought I was doing you a favour. Still, if you feel like that ..."

We drain our half-pints of bitter, walk back to the office in silence. But he walks me back to my desk, says goodbye nicely. You can cut the atmosphere with a knife.

Andrea and Mandy walk past my desk talking in loud voices about people getting above their stations.

Bradley comes back, waggles an eyebrow. "Nice lunch?" he asks, as though we've been locked in a hotel room somewhere.

"Yes, thanks," I say.

"You're certainly a fast worker."

"What?"

"Mates with management? After a job, or something else?"

I lose my lid. "Tell me," I say, "What's my name?"

"What?"

"What's my name?"

He looks lost, then shrugs. "Dunno."

"No, you don't, do you? None of you do. You've not made the first effort to give me the time of day since I got here, but the minute someone does, you're all over me like a swarm of wasps. Well, forget it. I don't give a damn what you think. Why should I? It's not like you've got any manners."

Bradley starts back. "Blimey," he says. "I was only having a joke, love."

No doubt about it. I need a holiday.

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