The Temp: Zere is an invective

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The Independent Culture
Week four of our temp's first foray into selling ad space:

PAY DAY at last. Since my first ad two weeks ago, I've sold another 20. Gary, Daniel and Lucia turn over five or six a day each, but I've only just started, and I know that some people couldn't sell space if it were on the side of the Millennium Dome, so I'm optimistic. I've earned more than pounds 1,000 in my first month. I should be able to make a living at this.

I've been watching the others, and picking up tips. Ivana may believe that the job is a matter of reciting the script until someone bites, but it's more than that. You have to have a personality. Not your own, which could get bruised when someone goes, "I'm sick of you lot bothering me. Bugger off", but a telephonic personality that draws the listener in to feeling that they're conspiring with you instead of being conspired against.

Gary brilliantly manages to make everyone he speaks to know that he is gorgeous, and make them feel, male or female, that they are in with a chance if they buy a quarter page with an illustration. Lucia has the innocent-Sloane-sharing-unmissable-opportunity act off pat. Daniel does the "I'm hating doing this as much as you hate being cold-called, so let's just do some business" routine.

The course of my first calls made it obvious that I should just play dumb. So dumb, in fact, that I couldn't be wily. So dumb that the recipient of my calls believes that they are getting the better of me. I know a woman in the City who has been getting away with this for years, off-loading unwanted shares on arrogant males just before the markets plummet. Everyone calls her Thicktoria, but her bonuses get healthier. I have to put up with people patronising me, but I long since got used to that in my old line of work. Besides, it fattens them up nicely for the kill.

The only fly in the ointment, apart from the fact that Martin hasn't yet acknowledged my existence, is Ivana. Working for Ivana is like having a part in The Great Escape. Once we've tunnelled to liberty, I will spend the rest of my life listening for a voice hissing "Gutt luck" and a hand clamping down on my shoulder. "You sink you are gutt," she barks in her daily pep talk, "But you are not gutt, you are bett. Ent if you sink ze invective scheme -" (I think she means the incentive scheme), "- pays out to losers, you vill be wrong."

She's the demon boss. She has a pair of headphones hidden beneath her hair, and you can never tell if she's got them plugged in until you're in the middle of a sticky sell and a voice suddenly barks "Close, now. Demmit, do I heff to do zis myzelf?". Two weeks ago Gus stalked out after she brought a ruler down, thwack, on the back of his hand as he fiddled with his cigarette lighter. Lucia she tells off about her clothes every day. "You ken not vork looking like zis," she says, "Vot vill the clients sink?" "But Ivana," says Lucia, "It's a telephone job." Ivana does the smirk and double head-flick of the zealot. "You sink zey can't tell how you are dressed? Id comes oud in your breezink."

Monday comes, and I wake up singing. Ben's been good about the rent, but at last I can pay him. The bank will see a large single deposit, and assume me to be a proper member of society with borrowing rights, collateral, maybe a cheque guarantee card. Instead of walking from Stockwell to Brixton, I treat myself to a Tube to work. Everyone's there on time, as they have been on pay day in every office I've ever been in. We wait, make calls, await that moment when the tear-tape on the side of the envelope comes apart and the money is truly ours.

At 12.30pm Ivana emerges from Martin's office, clutching a handful of envelopes. Goes over to editorial, still hunched over their layouts, almost receives smiles. Comes to us, grinning grimly. "Pay," she says. Everyone sits up as if it's the first they've heard of it. She circles the desk. "Karry," she says, "Loochia. Tomasz. Tenyell. Marrie. She pauses beside me, fixes my eye with hers, and her smirk gets a little wider. Then she walks past me, and hands an envelope to Susannah.