The Temp

You knew he was approaching because the place fell silent and the temperature dropped
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The Independent Culture
Have you read Finn Family Moomintroll? There's a character in this fine children's book called the Groke. Here is her first appearance: "She sat motionless on the sandy path at the bottom of the steps and stared at them with round, expressionless eyes. She was not particularly big and didn't look dangerous, either, but you felt that she was terribly evil and would wait for ever. Nobody plucked up enough courage to attack. She sat there for a while, and then slid away into the darkness. But where she was sitting, the ground had been frozen!"

I've worked for a Groke: a man whose management strategy was to sack as many people as possible and make the lives of those who remained hellish in the hope that they would resign. You knew he was approaching, because the place fell silent and the temperature dropped.

He was a big cheese in small packaging, one of those little people who can make others feel 2ft high. I once travelled 23 floors with him in a lift. Not a word was exchanged, but he stared at me, expressionless, from the moment I pressed the "doors close" button to the moment I hauled myself up and clambered out.

If you think about it, everyone in an office is already a children's character. Here are a few:

Gollum (`The Hobbit'): Similar to a Groke, only less powerful. Inhabits dark corners, often finance or accounts, grumbling, asking impossible questions and waiting to pounce viciously on the unwary.

The White Witch (`The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'): A woman of a certain age, who fought her way up when the system was much tougher on women, developing an icy carapace and a belief that she must rule with a rod of iron. Great clothes, no sense of humour.

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion: These usually travel in threes, performing junior management jobs. One has no brains, one no heart, one no courage. The Tin Man eventually turns into a Groke; or shuffles off, full of resentment, to become a Gollum.

Noddy: The yes-man.

Aslan (Narnia series): The Good Boss, rarely reaches the pinnacle of management because he/ she is more of a co-operator than a backstabber. The person everyone turns to for advice because they are the only true competent in the place. Constantly fighting off attacks by White Witches, Gollums, Grokes, etc.

Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby (`The Water Babies'): The office mother, male or female; tries to smooth over the worst of office politics and get people to be nice to each other. Believes in fairness and is permanently disappointed.

Any one of the famous five: Graduate trainee, hideously enthusiastic. Cycles to work, brings tomato sandwiches and ginger beer to consume at desk.

Artful Dodger: Ace salesman, no taste in clothes.

Willy Wonka: Crazed personnel officer who latches on to every employment fad and inflicts endless personality tests on potential employees.

Little Lord Fauntleroy: Has read two self-help books and regales colleagues with small homilies on how to run their lives. Everyone wants to hit him.

The Nice Gentleman (`The Railway Children'): Patrician boss of the old school: believes in responsibility toward his retainers, loyalty and lunch.

The Little Match Girl: Extra-thin, lank hair, believes herself to be terribly put-upon. Goes all droopy when asked to do anything.

Cruella De Vil: Divorcee: fingernails, designer clothes, rock-hard hairdo. Works as troubleshooter. Often seen drinking champagne in wine bars with senior managers.

Postman Pat: Delivers the mail. Has a lengthy excuse about overturned milk floats for why it's two days late.

Teletubbies: Genial types with lovely round tummies from lunch times eating Tubby Toast in a greasy spoon and early evenings gulping pints in the local pub.

Cinderella: Only got her job because her shoes fitted, but somehow nobody seems to resent her. Probably because she represents the fact that promotion can be secured by anyone, given a little luck.

Prince Charming: The office dish, and boy, does he know it. Consistent butt of Teletubby ribaldry.

Shoemakers' elves: IT people. Perform miracles that nobody understands. People believe they exist only when something goes wrong.

Barbie: Starts as a secretary. Rarely stays one for long.

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