The Temp: `Follow ze scribt'

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The Independent Culture
Part three, in which the Temp enjoys her `big break' into magazine publishing

TELEPHONE ADVERTISING sales being essentially a job in which you recite a script over and over, most of the people who are any good at it are out-of-work actors. Whenever Ivana, our mad German overseer, stops cracking the whip (barely metaphorical - she's been known to clout someone round the head with a rolled-up periodical), and stalks off to Martin's office, they all start gossiping and referring to Joan Plowright in those rather pitying tones as "Dear Dotty", and rolling their eyes a lot.

"I was in an adaptation of Kafka at the Almeida," says Gary, whose lean, blue-eyed, black-haired, stubbled face is ill-suited to his drawn-out vowels, "And I swear one character was based on Ivana." As she looks nothing like a beetle, I assume he's talking about The Trial. Euan refers to her as Goneril; Lucia and Daniel call her "The Scottish One", which I finally interpret as Lady Macbeth. They all hate her, with a campy, admiring sort of loathing. Me, I hate her in a deep, probably racist way. Working for her is like being back at school, with no breaks and no bunking off to the chip shop.

I'm selling ad space for Fireman's Trousers (aimed at safety officers) and Muckspreader Monthly, a freesheet for the farming community. Every day I am handed a list of names and numbers, and have to ring them all by 5pm. We are supposed to stick rigidly to the script, but as it was written by Ivana and is full of strange Germanicisms - "So, you will see the advantages that with us placing the advertisement brings, no?" - it's not easy. I quickly realised that the person at the other end thought I was stark, staring bonkers, and began to adjust accordingly.

The script also assumes that everything will go according to plan. I once asked what to do if it didn't, and Ivana simply said "Thed is because you are not followink ze scribt correctly." So, although hardly anyone on the list is still working at the firms involved, we are supposed to plough ahead regardless. Often, when you call a tiny firm that makes double- knit asbestos jockstraps for the specialist market, the conversation goes: "Ah [the `ah' is specified], good morning. May I speak to Shaughnah O'Connell, please?" "She left two years ago." "Ah, well, who replaced her, please?" "John Marks." "Thank you. Could I speak to him, please?" "He left three months ago." "Ah. And who replaced him?" "Me." The script has long since been left behind...

When I finally sold my first ad on Muckspreader, I put the phone down and whooped. Gary bashed me on the shoulder, and Lucia embossed me with bright red lipstick. "Yes!" cried Daniel. "Champagne in the Bug Bar!" I thought of the fruits of 10 per cent on a pounds 500 ad, and how rosy life would be once I got up to half a dozen a day.

Ivana emerged from her headphones. Stalked over. "Vot do you sink you are doing?" "Congratulate her, Ivana," said Gary. "She's sold her first ad!" Her lips spread in a death-mask smile. "Zo I hert," she said. "Ent I say again, vot do you sink you vere doing? I vas listenink. You expressly dizobeyt my orders. I heff tolt you ent tolt you. You vill follow ze scribt. Zere is no room for you here if you do not follow ze scribt."