The Temp: Management cracks as the millennium bug finally strikes

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The Independent Culture
IT'S BEEN a good week for money and a bad one for my social life. The money I'm glad of, as I would have to emigrate to Saudi Arabia if I wanted to earn a crust to over the Great Shutdown. The social life - well. I don't really enjoy polite conversation, I can't afford to be dog- sick hungover with this workload, and anyway, no one ever asks you to their office party when you're a temp - not even firms you've worked for on and off for years. I probably wouldn't have had the time or energy: 12-hour days take it out of you.

How this state of affairs came about is probably most easily explained by a conversation I overheard with my beady little ears last week. I went like this:

Stacey, brand manager, stalks across the floor and halts in front of Paul, junior executive: "Paul."

"Yes, Stacey," says Paul.

"That Marshalsea report."

"Yes, Stacey," says Paul. "It's all in hand."

"Good," says Stacey. "Only I'm going to need it on the 21st."

"The 21st?" Paul makes a slight shriek as he utters these words. "But Stacey, it's not due until after the new year."

"Well, I know that," she says. "But I'm going to the Bahamas on the 21st, so I want it by then."

"But Stacey," Paul's voice trembles with the horror of one already working nights three times a week, "I've got that presentation for Anil that's due on the 23rd."

"Well," says Stacey. "So you can to get this in for me first?"

"Look," says Paul, "I was going to have it on your desk first thing on the fourth. The client isn't expecting it until the seventh, anyway."

"Yes," says Stacey, "And I'm going to be run off my feet when I come back in. I can't afford any cock-ups. I have to have it to get on with the moment I get back."

Paul takes a second to digest this statement, then says: "So you're not going to be taking it with you, then?"

"No!" Stacey snarls. "I'm on holiday. What are you saying? That I don't deserve a holiday?"

"No, no," there's an edge of panic in Paul's voice as he looks forward to a pre-millennium run-up of all-night panic sessions. "Of course not. But if you're not going to be looking at it over the break, why can't you just have it first thing afterwards?"

"Because I need to know it's there!" Stacey's voice begins to rise and I suddenly realise that she, too, is on the edge of panic.

"I need to be sure it will be there when I get in! What if the computer system breaks down? What if you fall in the Thames and drown on New Year's Eve? What if we get burgled and lose the hard disks? No. You have to get it to me in hard form before I leave. I cannot go on holiday unless you do this for me."

Paul bows his head and shuffles tearfully off to his long night's work. He knows that the millennium bug has finally struck. Because, although most of us have managed hitherto to stay calm about the threats of Armageddon - the page-fillers about how the millennium is going to change us; those black insect posters - senior management, those notorious control-crazy dudes, have, faced with two weeks of enforced leisure, finally cracked, and are bugging everybody within range.

They've been in full-flow panic for the past fortnight, convinced that life will fall apart without them - even though the entire Western world is going to have to close down. And of course, their minions are the ones who suffer.

So last week was a bad week for executives. This week, it's the turn of the support staff. I'm typing double-speed, doing things with Powerpoint that I scarcely thought possible, living on coffee and dreaming qwerty keyboards during my brief periods under the duvet. And the thought of the moolah due to me has kept me sane, as my own millennium angst has been finally allayed.

Until, that is, yesterday morning, when the agency circular dropped through the letterbox, tucked in to a cute Christmas card of a secretary in a shorty Santa outfit and reindeer-horn deely-boppers smiling from a leatherette executive chair. "Temps please note!" It said. "Because of the millennium break, our accounts office will be closed from Friday 24 December until Tuesday, 4 January. It will not, therefore, be possible to process cheques until Friday, 7 January. Please get your time sheets in by 27 December to ensure prompt payment. Have a great Christmas, and a Fabulous New Millennium!"

Serena Mackesy's novel, `The Temp', published by Arrow, pounds 5.99