Secretarial: My busy, busy bank holiday

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The Independent Culture
NOW, WHILE those of you with real jobs have been enjoying your bank holiday, there was a vast tranche of the population for whom it was nothing but a bind. Me, I hate bank holidays - I think most temps do - because if you don't work, your month's budget is thrown out of kilter, and if you do, you have to put up with the boredom of there being absolutely nothing to do.

But, hey, at least it's time-and-a-half. Ronda and Kadisha, the other receptionists, being salaried personnel, spent their Monday queuing up for rides and hot dogs with a million screaming kids in the nation's leisure facilities. I spent it manning a switchboard in an almost-empty building.

Working bank holiday really makes you sympathise with nightwatchmen; one day all alone with nothing to do has been enough to last me, ooh, until the August bank holiday.

By 11am on Monday I had eaten two Brie and tomato sandwiches, a packet of cheese and onion crisps and an apple. Filled in five personality tests in glossy women's magazines and discovered that I am either mostly a) very well balanced, or mostly b) someone who wasted so much of her time in the sixth form filling out personality tests that I know exactly which answers will put me in the extremely well-balanced category. Put two calls through to unanswered extensions and one to someone who had come in to spend the day working uninterrupted and forgotten to tell me not to put any calls through. At midday, I ate a KitKat Chunky and rang my best friend in Bristol to find she'd gone out to a theme park to celebrate bank holiday.

Burgled Ronda's desk and chewed an Airwaves gum from her drawer. Checked make-up in hand mirror, practised 30-minute lips as explained on beauty page of glossy.

1pm: Lips like small dead lizards; decide that 30 minutes is too long. Too early for lunch; stomach still distended from late breakfast. One phone call: a small child wanting his granny. Rubbed tummy, discovered that Kadisha had left her contraceptive pills in her top drawer, read the fire regulations; checked proximity of nearest exit.

2pm: Wandered over to the lift, pressed button, timed how long it took for the car to arrive. Collected bundle of specialist magazines and settled back to read them. Reached third contributors' profile ("Jim Brophy started his career at Peat Marwick in 1965...") and fell asleep.

3pm: woken with a start by the ring of the phone. Someone wants to know if anyone's working today. "Not really," I say. "Oh, OK. Just thought I'd try," he says. Went to the water cooler for a drink. Sipped three cupsful, slowly.

Lunch. Sausage roll, smoky bacon crisps, Picnic bar. Coke from the vending machine. Found Kadisha's contract of employment in her bottom drawer, found out that she gets four weeks' holiday a year and must not discuss her salary with anyone. It's pounds 13,000 a year, by the way.

In the kitchen, found a first-aid booklet and read it from cover to cover, feeling for my own pulse and fretting that I might be dead when I couldn't find it. When I didn't pass out, I returned to my desk to find that the time was now 3.30. Tried seeing how long I could hold my breath for, timing it against the second hand of the clock. Managed a minute and a half. Damn. Must cut down cigarettes.

4pm: CV fiddled with until it's completely beautiful; headings in Broadway, body text in Americana. Pile of machine coffee cups on desk: 13. Artistic photocopy of own head tucked into plastic wallet for future use on bedroom wall.

4.30pm Decided to build a ball out of rubber bands. Set off around empty offices to collect as many as possible. Searching for a large envelope to put them in, I suddenly realised that the phone had been ringing for some time. Ran back through the empty corridor, skidded across the faux- marble flooring in reception, flung myself on with the customary salutation.

"Ah," said a huffy voice that sounded suspiciously like the MD. "There you are. I've been ringing for 10 minutes."

"I'm so sorry." I put on my brisk, efficient, holding-the-fort voice. "I'm the only one in today and I'm doing three people's jobs."

"Poor you," he said. "You must be run off your feet."