Secretarial: The Temp: Why I deserve a pain in the neck

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The Independent Culture
ON SATURDAY, I wake up in agony. My shoulders and neck seem to have seized up, and there's a stabbing pain just inside my left shoulder blade on a level with my bra strap. As I hobble to the bathroom, I turn my head too quickly to see if there's any post on the stairs, and bang! An explosive white-light agony brings me to my knees. I never knew that cricking one's neck could be such an intense moment, one where you feel that you've just left your body and come face to face with the afterlife.

So I go and see Paddy, an old friend who, while the rest of us were doing exams and trying to make ourselves employable in the office sphere, trained as a masseur, and has never had the employment/income/self-image problems everyone else has. All day people come to see him in pain and leave with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. He gets asked to every party going, has bumper stockings at Christmas. Paddy's is a nice life. I should never have listened to my parents.

So Paddy gets me to take my top off and lie on his bed-with-a-head-hole, and starts to dig his fingers into the lumps of jangling nerve endings which have proliferated overnight from the base of my spine to the base of my skull. "Christ," he says. "What have you been doing?" "Nothing other than usual. I swear." "But you must have been. I usually only see this sort of thing in people who've been carting huge weights around. Are you sure you've not been doing DIY or something?" "No," I squeak, as he pulls my shoulder blade out of its socket and prods the pigeon's egg of crystalline deposit buried underneath.

And as I'm leaving, tears streaming down my face, thanking him profusely, I pick up my bag and he says "Well, there's your problem. You can't carry something that size around on one shoulder all day without something seizing up".

We sit down to go through the offending object. "You're mad!" cries Paddy. "You can't need all this, can you?"

Paddy upends the bag and with a floomf! the kitchen sink hits the floor. He starts sifting, going "what do you need this for?" and I start explaining. "Okay," says Paddy, "I can understand one novel, but two?" "Well, there's the improving one so I don't feel like my brain is entirely atrophying and the blockbuster for when I'm knackered coming home from work." "A- Z?" "Love, I work in a new place every week." "Dictionary?" "You don't think anyone leaves their dictionary out for the Temp to use, do you?" "Yeah, but surely computers have spellchecks, don't they?" "Well, yes, and they're brilliant if you're American." "TWO pairs of tights?" "Splinters."

"Okay. Clean shirt and the phone book fair enough, but why do you need a pair of shoes?" I tell him the story of the time when my heel snapped off and I spent the entire day being referred to as Hopalong. "And the chocolate?" "Sometimes you get to a place and find it's a mile from the nearest sandwich shop."

Paddy delves further, enters my walking pharmacy and discovers the jumbo pot of Ibuprofen, the pain-killers for abnormally strident air conditioning systems, the eyedrops for same, the hand cream, the vitamin tablets, the Rennies, Bach flower remedy crisis drops, Fisherman's Friends, Olbas Oil, tampons, hair mousse, cleanser, cotton wool, the handful of biros, post- it notes, shorthand pad, spare keys, mobile phone, bottle of scent, deodorant. "Okay," he says. "I can understand all that. But why on earth do you need the monkey wrench?"