the temp

Surprise, surprise, Phil gets fired and takes his Pringle sweater. Opportunity beckons...
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The Independent Culture
Strange things happen. Mike called me over to his corner yesterday. Big boss Mike, with whom I've exchanged the same words every day: "Here's the mail." "Thanks." This week we've seen even less of Mike than usual, because he's been locked in meetings about his request for a mobile air- conditioning unit.

Incredibly this man, on just over pounds 60,000 a year (secretaries come across all sorts of documents if they use their natural espionage skills) isn't allowed to sign for more than pounds 200 without authorisation. As the unit he's after costs pounds 219.99, the entire bureaucracy of a giant multinational has ground into action.

Justifying this outlay has so far involved: Mike filling in a form (10 minutes) and writing a memo (30 minutes), repeating the information in two hour-long meetings with senior executives, and seniors having an hour- long meeting with less senior executives then sending their findings to head office for big cheeses there to have a meeting about. Next week, a time-and-motion person will descend to give their opinion. Mike's time, at pounds 32 an hour, has cost pounds 85.32 alone. Blinding sense.

Anyway, he summoned Phil. Balding Alec had been giving both of us these arch I-know-something-you-don't looks and making busy phone calls with his hand over his mouth, so it was no surprise. Phil spent two minutes sitting in Mike's corner, then came stomping back, clutching a black bin- liner. Alec, mysteriously, had vanished. "Well, that's it," said Phil, "I'm gone."

"Oh, Phil," I said, "I'm sorry." "Naah, sod it," said Phil. "I've got two weeks' money and I couldn't have stuck another day of Woody Woodpecker anyway." As he piled his beer tins and a Pringle sweater into the bin- liner, Dave and Kingsley mumbled sympathetic obscenities. Phil returned to my desk just as Mike was approaching, turned his back on him and said "I'll be in the King's Arms. See ya." Not the sort of dramatic sacking you see in Hollywood movies.

Mike hung back until Phil had left. Execs are terrified of the reputed violence of the blue-collar response. Then he took his glasses off, smiled cheesily, said "Can I have a word?" and walked back to his lair. I slipped my shoes back on under the desk and followed.

Mike sat down; I followed suit. "Now," said Mike, "I've been wanting a word with you. I've been watching the way you work, and we're pleased." "Thanks," I said. "I hope you'll tell my agency." He leaned back, laced his fingers together and said "I think we can do better than that." My heart lurched. "You know," said Mike, "that you were covering while we found a replacement for Jackie?" "Yes." "Well, we've decided we've already found her. You'll have to keep it quiet to the agency, of course, and we want you to get at least one more suit, but we're going to offer you a contract. Congratulations."

He sat back with a "what-do-you-think-of-that?" look. I was speechless. All these months hauling arse to interviews, and finally, unbidden, a job offer. Thoughts of holiday pay, sick pay, happy bank managers, danced through my head. "Um," I said, "thank you." "I'll give you a moment to think about it," said Mike. Heart thudding, I returned to my desk and thought: This is the chance to get into a strong position and dolly up my CV - no more fear-stained bank holidays. The post had arrived: another pile of things to scan and file. I eyed the accoutrements of my last month's work: the date stamp, the number book, the little pile of yellow slips... Just think: new clothes; Greece before the summer's over; no more panic at the thought of buying birthday presents. Alec, now that Phil had cleared the building, swanked back with the look of the Big Man who has vanquished the historic enemy. He came over, stuck his hand out and said "Congratulations. Welcome aboard." And I knew what my answer had to be.

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