The Temp: Fond farewell

The Temp
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The Independent Culture
BY FRIDAY, I had contrived, by dint of blackmail and charm, to increase the Melanie Martineau leaving present fund from pounds 19.78 to pounds 23.45. So off I set to the shops, to find that, this being one of those hubris- ridden Docklands developments where no practical shops are allowed in to lower the tone, there were pitifully few options available after I'd spent pounds 4.99 on a giant card covered in weeping teddies.

The florist sold black-edged roses, ornamental cabbages, and that blue convolvulus that I'm sure my mum used to pull up as a weed, for pounds 3 a stem. I stood there thinking "How would you feel if you got a bunch of thistles and artichokes in return for 10 years' service?" and before I could stop myself I was digging in my pocket for another pounds 10 to jazz them up. And to think people consider temps are stupid.

But this was awful. I couldn't go back with just a bunch of flowers from 100 people. The next thing I knew, I was in the hand-made chocolate shop buying pounds 10 worth of Belgian soft-centres.

Melanie Martineau had hired Claret's, the local wine bar, which tries to hide the fact that it's in a tower block basement by scattering sawdust on the floor.

As I snuck off to the Tube, Big Cheese Clive grabbed me. "You've done all the work," he said, "You have to come to the party. No - I insist."

So we go into this bar and it's almost empty. In a space intended to hold a good 100 Docklands yuppies, a knot of hag-ridden colleagues surrounds Melanie Martineau. Her little heart-shaped face is pinched into a pucker of rage.

"Good of you to turn up," she snaps. "Where's everyone else? If they can't be arsed to turn up on time, they can sod off. And who the hell are you?"

"This," says Clive, "Is the girl who's been filling in for you. I thought she deserved a drink."

"Oh, great," yelps Melanie, "So you've brought the temp down to blag off my float." I apologise, make to flee, but Clive clamps a hand round my wrist and forces a glass of white wine on me.

I stand miserably eating Twiglets, as Melanie makes the rounds. I can hear her as Clive attempts desultorily to ask me if I like temping: "The trouble with you is that you can't take criticism ... Remember when you screwed up that huge order?... Won't miss him in the slightest; he's a bastard anyway... Seen the state of her hair? She looks like my granny."

At 7.30 prompt, after three people have slipped off to cries of "Bye, then. See you", Clive checks his watch, taps his glass with his keys. Melanie laughs ironically as he says that no one will forget her and how invaluable she's been, and finally, signalling to me, gets the flower- and-choc treat into her grasp.

She sways slightly, then starts to laugh. "Is this it?" Everyone goes pink, looks away. "Some dead flowers and a box of Milk Tray? Who bought these?"

Clive points at me.

"Well," says Melanie, "They're crap."

She stalks from the bar and disappears into the night, dropping the bouquet into a litter basket on the dockside.

"Phew," says Clive, as everyone relaxes and pours themselves another drink. "I thought that went off quite well, considering."