The Temp: They're playing our song

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The Independent Culture
How do you tell that a company is likely to treat its employees like dirt it's trying to wipe from its shoe? One easy way is that when you call up and the switchboard puts you on hold, you have to listen to three renditions of George Michael's "Jesus To A Child" before they get you back again. The reasons for this are twofold: first, the switchboard is always one of the first areas to be hit by economy measures, so there will never be enough people working there to handle the volume of calls coming in, and secondly, someone somewhere has a slightly grotesque sense of humour when it comes to picking the piped music callers have to put up with.

I think it goes something like this. There you are, you own a piped music company and one day you wake up and realise that you're bored: so bored you think, however profitable the business is, you're going to have to throw in the towel and walk away.

Then as you drag your weary feet into the office again, you hear peals of laughter from the postroom as you pass through reception. So, wondering if perhaps these simple folk have found the secret to happiness, you pop your head round the door to find that they're playing a game. It consists of shouting out the name of a company and matching it with a song. So: "News International!" "How Deep Is Your Love!" "Marks and Spencer!" "The Way We Were!"

And that's it. You have your new business plan and a way to make your life full and happy again. You run up the stairs to your executive office, get on the phone and order new brochures. "Let us take the headache out of choosing your switchboard music! We will study your company briefs and pick appropriate songs." Firms put in an order, and what you actually do is send out industrial spies to report on the real nature of the beast so you can pick something really appropriate.

I've spent a lot of time on hold in my life; calling some companies is like phoning dial-a-disc. Here is some of the stuff I've been forced to listened to, handset clamped between my ear and my shoulder until I cut off my circulation and fall off my chair, and what I think they really mean:

"Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine" (James Brown): Our chairman recently remarried. His wife is 22.

"You're So Vain" (Carly Simon): We work in the fashion industry.

"Two In A Million" (S Club 7): Everyone who works here is 12.

"Copacabana" (Barry Manilow): Everyone who works here is menopausal.

"Love's Got A Hold Of My Heart" (Steps): Everyone who works here is gay.

"No Matter What They Told Us" (Boyzone): Sales down, job cuts looming.

Anything by Fatboy Slim: We work in IT.

Anything by Guns 'n' Roses: We work in IT.

Snoop Doggy Dogg, Puff Daddy or anything else from the Gangsta oeuvre: We work in IT.

"Respect" (Aretha Franklin): No one gets out of here before eight o'clock.

Mozart's Horn Concerto: We're accountants.

"Millennium Prayer" (Cliff Richard): We're churchgoing accountants.

"The Final Countdown" (Europe): We're showbiz accountants.

"Two Little Boys": The New Saatchi Company, how can we help?

"Money, Money, Money" (Abba): Give us yours and we'll close down, change our phone number and never send you the goods.

"Changes" (David Bowie): Board fear for their jobs

"Your Tiny Hand is Frozen" (from La boheme): British Gas emergency line. All our operators are busy at present. Please hold, and we will try to connect you.

"Feed The World" (Band Aid): Monsanto GMO division. How can we help?

"Only The Strong Survive" (Billy Paul): You're through to the NHS. Putting you on hold.

And that's the story. There really is a company out there that has specialised in this sort of thing, and its share price has rocketed, orders have never been so high.

Earlier this year, they launched a new division to help yuppies to programme something more appropriate to themselves than "Colonel Bogey" into their mobile phones. Soon, our buses and trains will resound to the strains of "My Old Man's A Dustman" and "What Can I Do To Make You Love Me?"

And the postroom operatives who thought up this dastardly plan in the first place? Why, they're still working in the postroom, of course.

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