I have moved.
After nearly twenty years in the same shitty space, the same off white walls and scuffed linoleum, the same fucked chairs and knackered desks and flickering fluorescents, I have finally picked up my keyboard and computer and moved.
From one end of the factory to the other.
I am now in a bright, breezy office that feels like an airport terminal. I have a new desk and a new chair and fluorescent tubes that do not flicker.
Gone are the stuttering whirr of dying cooling fans in the back of ancient, dust-clogged PCs. Gone are the vacant, staring faces of inquisitive morons peering through fly shit-speckled glass at us, gawping in wonder at a job they perceive as exotic and aspirational simply because it doesn’t involve getting covered in ink or listening to the deafening clatter of aging print presses.
No, in the airport terminal it is deathly quiet. All sounds are magnified to an excruciating level. I found myself actually sucking crisps the other day, because the crunching was exquisite agony and people looked up owlishly from their desks to find the source of the hideous din.
I am not alone in this cavernous office.
Curious creatures dwell here, have dwelt here for decades. People who have never, ever set foot on the factory floor, have never seen a printer or a print press or reams of paper or squat tubs of dark ink. These be-suited bovines shuffle slowly to work through quiet corridors that avoid noise, dirt, sweat, work. There are stairs to the office, but they drift upwards in a shiny steel lift, jostling into the metal box on one level, belched out on the next carrying tupperware and biscuit tins, cake boxes and pie. They arrive at nine, yawning and bleary, meander towards their twee-cluttered terminals and fire up the blinking screens.
I have already been working for three hours.
As their computers come to life the office workers fill an over worked fridge with their wares, and begin to boil gallons of water for the onslaught of endless tea breaks to come.
They always arrive at work at the same time, move around at work together, murmuring reassurances to each other, repeated phrases that induce polite laughter or resigned sighs. They are an odd shoal, a troop of shaved and nervous apes wearing expensive spectacles and crisp shirts, smelling of lovely cologne and a hint of red wine from the night before.
My new desk is clean and flawless, empty of everything except a screen, a phone, a keyboard and mouse, a pen, a ruler, a cup.
I have been sterilised.
I now wear a dinky little uniform consisting of blue polo shirt with a cheeky gold logo, blue stay-pressed pants, a blue jumper for when I get chilly, and if I turn up without any part of this uniform on I get told to fuck off home and I’m not allowed to return unless I’m dressed like everybody else.
The office bovines do not have to wear the dinky little uniform.
They can wear whatever they like, as long as it is officey and smart.
The male of the species wear shirts of various hues and ties ranging from ‘sober’ to ‘wacky’.
Smart trousers of grey, black or brown sheathe their weak lower limbs, shiny shoes finish off the ensemble.
The females are more flamboyant. Bright swathes of aquamarine and azure waft around their sagging, bulging forms; arms that flap with excess fat are caressed by pastel chiffon; goiters and scrotum-necks are coyly draped in crushed silk scarves.
The currency of this curious community is food. They arrive every morning rich, they leave each evening poor. I can honestly say that I have never seen such unashamed gluttony in all my life. It never stops, never ends, they never get full, they never tire. The mornings are crammed with an orgy of conspicuous gluttony, from trips to the canteen for pale, quivering bacon in bland baps, to the microwave ping of porridge, scrambled eggs, beans on toast, pastries. Wednesday is pork pie day. An especially rotund woman takes a list for pies on the Tuesday.
“How many pies do you want, love?”
“Yes, pies. How many?”
“Erm… what sort of pies do you mean?”
“Pork pies, love, baked fresh. Wednesday is Pork Pie Day. Every Wednesday is Pork Pie Day. I fetch pork pies in, fresh from the butchers, still hot. How many would you like?”
I like pork pies, but it’s a slippery slope. I like scotch, but I try to avoid it at breakfast time.
“No pies, thanks.”
“No pies?? But Wednesday is Pork Pie Day! Every Wednesday is Pork Pie Day! Now don’t be silly love, how many pies?”
She scowls at me with undisguised suspicion, then waddles away to the far end of the office.
I can hear her muttering with her clan:
“Mumble mumble… no pies!…mumble.. but it’s Wednesday!…mumble… bit strange…mumble… ooh, bit of brown sauce…”
They are staring at me over an ocean of monitors and blue partitions. They look shocked and afraid, as though I have rattled their belief in religion, questioned their faith and found them without an answer.
I stare back at them.
They look away.
I go back to my work.
The next day Pork Pie Wednesday goes ahead, as it does every Wednesday.
All the great traditions are observed.
The Passing of the Brown Sauce. The Drinking of the Salty Liquor from the Bitten Pie. The Consuming of the Second Pie then the Third Pie, The Rapturous Enthusing over All Things Pie…
The clan are comforted by their rituals, the Gods of Pastry and Mechanically Recovered Meat are appeased.
My own liking for pork pies has diminished quite considerably through witnessing the tragic spectacle that is Pork Pie Wednesday.
The clearing of a throat in this silent world is like a gun shot. To cough is to sin. Laughter is sacrilege.
But there is one who wallows in the discomfort of others, one who has taken the art of throat clearing to a new rarefied plateau, one who clears his throat with the ostentation of a judge attempting to quieten an unruly courtroom.
I don’t believe that silence should necessarily be observed in silent places; quiet should not demand quiet. We should be able to talk, cough, fart, sneeze, laugh and curse as we see fit, as long as it does not offend others too greatly. This cough, however, this throat-clearing that drifts on the air conditioned breeze of the deathly silent office is too much. It is a throat clearing that demands attention, a throat clearing of the sort you might make if you were trying to draw a friends attention to their open trouser fly, accompanied by a subtle downwards glance to their pants.
And who is this Craftsman of the Cough, this Pharaoh of Phlegm?
The Bog Wanker, that’s who.
Not satisfied with flagrantly masturbating in the toilet cubicles of the factory, this utter fuckwit takes his antisocial behaviour out of the bathroom and adjusts it for the consumption of a wider community. His curious tred is accompanied by that attention demanding ‘aHEM’, triggering something deep in the subconscious to involuntarily swivel the head around in his direction, and feast your eyes on The Bog Wanker.
He is portly and balding, hunch shouldered as though he doesn’t want the gazes and attention his ‘aHEM’ demands. He walks in a very strange way, as if he is wearing skis. Little steps, lifting each foot with care and effort before placing it carefully on the ground a little way ahead, moving his torso with the energy of one speed-walking, though he is in fact moving with painful slowness.
He is carrying either a cup to make tea, or a huge plate of random foodstuffs to place in the microwave.
I have on one occasion watched with teeth grinding irritation as he boiled a kettle, *aHEM* poured it into a Pot Noodle cup, *aHEM* and while it bubbled and festered he carefully chopped fresh mushrooms *aHEM* before lovingly garnishing that grim, rehydrated crap with them.
Why? Why why why??
I haven’t had him wank next to me in these new toilets yet.
There is still time.
To think that he travels the long distances between toilets in this huge factory, propelling himself with that painfully slow, invisible-ski walk, all the while intending to have a wank when he eventually reaches that distant destination, well it quite frankly boggles my mind.
The mad scramble of five o’clock has passed now, and it is quiet. It is always quiet, but now it is a very different quiet. This huge room is empty now, except for me. The silence is of my own making, to be broken as I see fit, not by the cough of a chronic masturbater or with the unwanted offer of pie.
The gaggle of chipper shirts and skirts waddled their merry way to the door at five-on-the-dot carrying empty sandwich boxes, flaccid carrier bags, vacant tupperware, full stomachs.
I watched them go with a flood of relief, glad to see the back of them, just as I’m sure they were glad to see the last of me.
Because this is their domain, not mine. I am the one shunning the Sacrament of the Pie, I have rejected their tentative, food-based offers to become one of them, to join them.
I’d rather fucking starve.