The Temp

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I know I go on about how people treat temps, how they patronise us if we're lucky, never bother to learn our names, include us in lunch, say goodnight or good morning, give us a phone list. I know I'm full of resentment about the assumption people make, if you're a temp, that your IQ is scarcely high enough to hold a knife and fork, that we're workshy, that we don't have permanent jobs because of some fundamental inadequacy. Then again, it's a while since I came across a Lorna.

I assumed, when I arrived, that Lorna must be staff. She was on the phone discussing her personal life. "He's a bastard," she was saying. "I shan't speak to him at Camilla's." I sat down and waited for her to finish, about 10 minutes later. "You the new temp? Lorna Hyde-Smith." "Hello." "You might as well get started by doing some filing," she said. I picked up a wodge of letters, set up piles on the floor. "What are you doing?" said Lorna. "Getting them into alphabetical order. It's quicker this way." "You clever girl," said Lorna, in a voice so full of sugar and patronage I almost snapped a molar. Lorna got back onto the phone.

"Rory? Lorna. Yes! You? Oh, you know. Ghastly. Helping the managing director out for a couple of weeks, getting things sorted out. Going to Camilla's on Thursday? Well, don't speak to Mark. Bastard..."

A woman drifted in, saw Lorna on the phone, rolled her eyes. Saw me on the floor, bent down. "Are you my new PA, by any chance?" "Oh. Sorry. I sort of assumed I was working for Lorna." She rolled her eyes again. "No. Lorna's doing the filing for us." She gave me a hand up. "Can we do some letters now?" As she passed Lorna's desk, she stopped, said "when you're ready, Lorna" in a loud voice. "Sorry," said Lorna to the phone, "got to go. I'm needed."

Half an hour later, I came back with my little shorthand pad. Lorna was sitting with a file open on her lap, pulling letters off spikes and reversing their order so that the newest letters were to the back.

She put her file down as I hit the keyboard. "I hope you don't mind me asking," she said, "but how much is your agency giving you?" I told her. "But that's almost twice what I'm getting!" "Er -" there's no nice way of putting this. "We're doing different jobs". Lorna let out a wail. "But I've got a degree in English from Cambridge!" she cried. "Um, well, I can type." So far in my life, that typing course has stood me in much better stead than the BA after my name.

Lorna made a noise that was somewhere between a "pish" and a "tut". "Of course," she said, "I'm not really the secretarial type. I'm just doing this to fill in. I'm a writer-director." "Really?" "Yes." "What have you done?" "Well, of course, I did loads of stuff for the Footlights," she said. "I'm really only doing this to collect characters". She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "I might as well tell you," she said. "As I daresay I won't be using you. I write for The Independent". "Do you?" I'm about to comment on amazing coincidences when I suddenly get suspicious. "What do you do?" "Oh, I have a column called The Temp. Don't tell anyone, though. They'll probably throw me out on my ear." "Golly," I say. "you must be ever so clever." "Oh, they jumped at the chance, you know".

Hayley, my boss, came in, looked in the filing cabinets, said "Lorna, I'm sure there was some more du Maurier correspondence". Lorna heaved a sigh. "You'll find it under D." "Ah", said Hayley, "we've been filing it under M before". "The surname's Du Maurier," said Lorna. "Yes, but the du just means of. The actual surname's Maurier." She exited with the D file. "Well, I've got my subject for this week," said Lorna. "She'll be wanting me to file the McIntoshes under I next". Turned back to the phone. Punched the keys. "Dad? Me. Look, Dad, you can't expect me to live like this..."