The Temp: Faking it

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The Independent Culture
FOR A change, I'm writing this in real time. Usually, even though I often find myself sitting around playing solitaire with my screen turned to the wall because there's not enough meat to the job I'm doing to keep anyone with half a brain cell occupied for more than half a day, I am too nervous to write my own stuff in my employers' time, especially when that "own stuff" is all about them. But today is different. Today we're under strict orders to look as if we're working feverishly, and the only way I can do that is to plug myself into a pair of headphones and write this.

This is without doubt the weirdest assignment I've ever been sent on. All the agency knows is that I've been booked for two days and that I'm working at a market research firm. What they don't know is that this firm exists only in the minds of Lance and Bob, which is how it will stay unless they land the Kangapop account.

Which is where we come in. Kangapop has pounds 1mavailable for R&D and, obviously, they're not going to hand it over to any old tin-pot outfit. They want to see conspicuous success. And this is what Lance and Bob, recently arrived from the States to try their hand at dominating this small pond, are going to show them. They think big, these guys; they're not going to wait around for years of work to bring them up there with the big boys. Instead, relying on the fact that they are new, and foreign, and no one's ever heard of them, they are concentrating on an elaborate sting. A lot of business is 90 per cent illusion; this is just taking the illusion to the limit.

Everything in this fabulous, minimalist West End office is temporary. The furniture comes from a conference organiser, the pot plants from a rental firm, the lighting from a theatrical supplier, the fridge full of assorted drinks on sale or return from an off-licence, the laptops from a specialist "everything-for-the-travelling-businessperson" firm that also provides the serviced premises in which we squat over this two- day period. The staff, apart from us secretaries, come from Equity.

They've hired real secretaries because only real secretaries can look as though they really are typing. And while the actors improvise from a tightly shaped script that they spent the whole of yesterday rehearsing around, the three of us are under strict orders to keep our mouths shut, smile and make coffee, and to keep it up all day in case clients drop in unexpectedly. But if you have no work to do, it's difficult to look busy. I've spent the morning feeling like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, typing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over until it drives me over the edge of insanity.

The clients are in right now, closeted in the "viewing facility" with Lance and Bob. We bustle about outside, setting off phones, walking up and down to the printer, while people walk over to where they are likely to be heard through the closed door and hold conversations about debriefs, in-depths and trips to San Francisco. I've been in, dispensed Kangapop, and offered round the sandwiches, which are the only things that have been bought and paid for in the expectation that they aren't going to go back. And it looks as if it's working. Kanga's MD is sitting back in his chair saying "Look: we've had agency pitches before, where the big players do the selling and a load of juniors do the work. How do I know that that's not the deal here?"

And Lance and Bob are quite truthfully able to gaze back into his eyes and reply: "We guarantee you, Graham, that every stage will be conducted entirely by senior management. In fact, we can guarantee that it will receive our personal attention throughout."

Kangaman will never know how true that is.