Simon Carr: Who mooned at the chairman? Ok, it was me...

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The Independent Online

No, look, really, I left the car outside the company garage and put the keys through the letterbox. That wasn't me who broke the photocopier by photocopying their butt; the evidence was in the photocopies.

The Smith-Corona that went out of window? No, it couldn't have been me, that could have killed someone. How did I know it was a Smith-Corona? Er, all our typewriters were Smith-Coronas, weren't they?

Those flyers someone posted round the building about the managing director sharing his mistress with the Prime Minister to get the account, because she was found under the table during one of their lunches? Never heard of them.

I'm not sure I want my former work colleagues getting in touch again, not after all these years. The success of the school reunion site has encouraged its owners to start a workplace version. You can get in touch with people you worked with 25 years ago, and they, presumably, can get in touch with you. I'm not sure that would be in my best interests. It depends when the statute of limitations kicks in.

The school site has done a belting trade: they claim two million registrations, although this may not be the same as users (I have registered five times and still can't get into the site), but it's a great hit. The workplace version will doubtless do the same.

There's a big appetite for our past, as the Edwardian census website has shown, with a million hits on the morning it was launched. Genealogy is second only to pornography on the internet. Sex and the past, our big obsessions.

But the past is more elusive than we might think, when we think about it; and more elusive than sex. Meeting old school friends or old work colleagues certainly shows us that. The past is a dream we had together, the reality of which keeps slipping away. It is only possible to understand it from the inside.

Especially the good companies we worked for, even the recent ones. There's a mystery about a good company, like a guild mystery. Strong companies are like a secret society, with a private culture. I remember my first week in one such company being astonished how much less pretty the women suddenly looked and how much less glamourous the men seemed now that I was on the inside. It was like going backstage and seeing the pancake on the faces and the set held together by string.

And it took months to adapt to the way they did things. It was only possible to understand their relationships and operating practices from inside the magic circle.

Then you leave, or you put in your resignation, and while working out your notice you begin to fade from sight. It's a good preparation for dying slowly. People stop talking to you in the corridor. You're no longer useful for gossip or influence; it doesn't matter which side of what question you come down on. There's no point in investing in you.

What you have left when you leave is what you have to discuss in later life.

Of course it also depends on how much you've changed. I ran into some colleagues after two decades, and it was a revelation. They seemed to have remembered a completely different person. Awful, really. Not just rude, but a rather mad young man. One who slipped the back of his trousers down to show the chairman how the presentation went.

A managing director suggesting a chess move, was told: "It's amazing, Terry, how you can get such an enormous brain into such a small head." Who would say something like that? The photocopies, the typewriters, the posters. Who would do such things?

The past, now I think of it, could do with being a bit more elusive than it is.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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