117. Under the Thumb

Internal email

From:        Willy Wonga, Managing Director, SupaMail
To:             All Departments.
Subject:    Factory Orientation Sessions.

Dear all,
As you may or may not know, God has decided to retire this year after successfully running the SupaMail Group for many years. I’m sure you’ll all join me in wishing him well for the future or whatever,  and more importantly, in giving your support to the new head of the SupaMail Group, me.
As your new boss, I would like to take this opportunity to familiarize you all with the work we do here, because it seems like some of you simply don’t have a clue! Ha ha! Joking! Well, joking a bit. Actually not at all.
You are all sort-of familiar with your own departments, but there is much more to this wonderful factory than the little hole you have worked in for fifteen years or whatever, only raising your head to go to the toilet, canteen, or scurry off home. You will find that it is a magical place, filled with the latest innovations that the direct mail industry has to offer.
Therefore I will be personally guiding you on a number of tours around the factory with the aim of enlightening you as to what we do, why we do it, and why it is important that you should start to care about it.
(These tours are mandatory. Any SupaMail staff member not attending their allotted tour will be subject to the harshest disciplinary procedures. Any staff members found to be asking Mr Wonga any questions deemed ‘stupid’ will be subject to the harshest disciplinary procedures. Think Before You Speak.)
I’m really looking forward to meeting you all and answering any questions you may have, and going forward, I hope to make these ‘SupaTours’ a regular feature of our Staff Orientation Enlightenment Infrastructure Program.
yours Sincerely,

Willy Wonga,
Managing Director,


Tuesday morning, ten o’clock, I’m stood with a dozen other employees, grumbling and scratching and scowling with undisguised belligerence and hostility at the man in front of us.
Willy Wonga, the new boss.
He wears an ill fitting suit of some dark, shiny material, baggy around the ankles of his short fat legs. The suit looks like it’s wearing him.
His red face is pocked by a voracious dose of teenage acne that seems to have damaged his ego as badly as it ravaged his skin.
He stands on a palette to bring him up to eye level with his staff.
He sweats.
“Good morning, team!” He squeaks, running a finger around a tight, damp collar.
Somebody near the back of the group mutters, ‘Wanker’.
Wonga’s eyes narrow, shows he might not be as soft as he looks.
He hisses something to Fat Supervisor at his side. Fat Supervisor mutters back. A name is jotted in a small book. The huddled group fall silent.
“Good morning, team!” repeats Wonga. “Welcome to Phase one of my Staff Orientation Enlightenment Infrastructure Program.”
Someone says, “What’s that mean?”
Wonga stares at him, then carries on.
“Today I want to re-familiarize those already familiar with the SupaMail plant with the innovations that might not be so… familiar.”
We look confused. He coughs, turns a deeper shade of red.
“What I mean is, some of you are quite happy in your own little corner of the factory, doing what you do best, or barely adequately, in some cases. What this tour is designed to do is show you what everyone else does… or something like that.”
Wonga mutters, ‘Set of arseholes’ under his breath and hops off his palette. He scurries to  a doorway. Fat Supervisor picks up his palette, waddles after him. He says, “Come on, y’cunts.” over his shoulder. We cunts follow.
Wonga swings open a door.
“Here we have the readers!” he bleats. We cram into the small room. I know the readers well, I know what to expect.
The radio is on quietly in the background, against company regulations. Pops snoozes in the corner, against company regulations. A stack of neglected work is wedged in a rack labelled ‘TO READ’.
We all watch Pops for a moment, then we watch Wonga’s eyes bulging in their sockets. It’s quite a moment, I can tell you. I’m starting to enjoy myself.
“Why is this man asleep??” snarls Wonga to Fat Supervisor.
Fat Supervisor shrugs. “Coz he can’t be arsed, coz he couldn’t give a fuck, you know, the usual.”
Take his fucking name!” Wonga turns to Pops. “You! Wake up!”
Pops wakes up. He glances at us blearily.
“Now then Luci.” he says.
I give him a little wave. Wonga stares at me. Fat Supervisor writes my name in his book.
Fuck it.
Pops shuffles to the ‘TO READ’ rack, pulls out all the work, crams it into the ‘READ’ rack. He returns to his seat, pulls a Racing Post from his drawer and works his way down the horses with a greasy pencil stub.
We wait a moment longer.
Wonga retreats, with us in his wake.
He swings by various machines and we see various people slacking off in a variety of interesting and novel ways. Men kicking machines and calling them cunts, women talking and ignoring machines altogether, men and women on mobile phones while machines judder out of control.
We ask, “Mr Wonga, what’s that machine do? What’s that machine for? What does he do?”
Wonga replies, “You don’t need to know, none of your business, it doesn’t concern you.”
We’re all starting to enjoy ourselves.
We arrive at a long machine, covered in scurrying workers. Spanners are spanning, hammers are hamming, screwdrivers are screwing.
A long stream of printed paper whirrs from a huge reel into one end, wrapping around rollers, churning through ploughs, folding and gluing and cutting and splicing it to within an inch of its life. A fat man stands on a wobbly bucket over two whirring blades, nervously dropping sachets of scent into a hopper.
Willy Wonga waves at us frantically, suddenly enthusiastic. Fat Supervisor places the palette on the floor and Wonga hops onto it.
“This is the jewel in the SupaMail crown, ”He yells over the chattering racket of the machine.
“This is the Gunther, our inline finishing machine that takes reels of printed paper and blah blah blah blah…”
We all zone out. I watch bucket man, wobbling away. He’s one small slip away from feeding his arm into those blades. I watch as the little sachets of scent are smashed down onto the paper with a blob of glue to hold it in place, then off it goes to be crushed into a different shape near a man with a bacon sandwich.
Suddenly the whole Gunther Machine shudders to a halt. Wonga goes ballistic.
“What’s happening?? Why have we stopped?? Start the Gunther! Start the Gunther, you set of bastards!!” He hops off his pallet and scuttles along to the end of the machine. Fat Supervisor follows him. We follow Fat Supervisor.
At the end of the machine a lad is wandering around, looking for something, he looks vaguely annoyed.
Wonga screams at him. “Did you stop the Gunther? Why did you stop it? Nothing is wrong! Run the Gunther, for the love of Fuck! Run the fucking Gunther!!!”
The lad keeps looking. “Can’t run it ‘till I find it…” he mutters.
“Find what?” asks Fat Supervisor.
“My thumb.” He says.
“What?” says Wonga.
That’s when we notice the blood. The emergency stop button is covered in it. Blood is spattered on the walls. Blood oozes from between the lad’s clenched fist. He lets go, and I glimpse a thin stick with scraps of meat hanging from it. His thumb had slipped between rollers, the flesh was sucked from the bone. Someone is quietly being sick into a bin.
“Fucking Hell!” snarls Wonga. “We can’t stop the machine for long. All of you! Look for this clumsy arsehole’s thumb!”
We start looking. Wonga is arguing with the lad.
“How the fuck did you manage that? Where are the safety guards?”
“Over there, Mr Wonga, stacked by the wall where you told us to put ‘em.”
“I told you to do it? Why would I do that?”
“So we could clean the machine as it ran, rather than stopping it, and so Tubs could put in the sachets without tripping the safety.”
“Shit, forgot about that. Do you really need that thumb? Can you keep working?”
“Er… yes and no, Mr Wonga.”
“Yes to the thumb or yes to working?”
“Er… the thumb.”
“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Quickly, you lot! Find that thumb! I’m starting this machine in two minutes. If we haven’t found it, tough.”
“But Mr Wonga, I need that thumb!”
“Don’t worry, lad. They’ll just sew a toe on there instead. I saw it on Discovery.”
“But I don’t want a toe instead of a…”
Wonga goes purple. “Stop bothering me! We have to get this machine running! Where is that thumb! Fuck me, it can’t have gone far!”
Fat Supervisor tugs Wonga’s sleeve, points to a large metal cage.
In the cage are stacks of envelopes. Thousands of them. When the Gunther machine takes that stream of printed paper that whirrs in at one end, wraps it around rollers, churns it through ploughs, folds it and glues it and cuts and splices it to within an inch of its life, after all that it slips the printed product into an envelope and a labourer stacks all the envelopes into the metal cage, ready to send.
Perhaps the thumb hadn’t gone far, but if that cage was sent to the post office, the thumb might go to Milton Keynes, Southampton, Bromwich, London, Torquay, Leicester…
Wonga stares at the cage, his face pale. Find the thumb or miss the mail date? Open thousands of envelopes and reprint the job, or let it go?
Wonga swallowed. “Fuck it. Mail the thumb.”
We all stare at him.
Wonga says, “Oh, just fuck off, the lot of you. The tour is over.”
He walks to his office, his little corner of the factory, and we return to ours.


Internal email

From:         Willy Wonga, Managing Director, SupaMail
To:              All Departments.
Subject:     Factory Orientation Sessions.

Dear all,
I have decided to temporarily suspend the Staff Orientation Enlightenment Infrastructure Program for the time being, as it conflicts with the busy factory schedule and also because it might not be fully appreciated buy the less cerebrally gifted of the workforce.
Also, might I warn staff about taking extra care around machinery in motion. We have had a complaint from a member of the public about a ‘foreign body’ discovered within one of our mailpacks. We cannot disclose what the object was as yet, but it goes without saying that any member of staff inserting body parts into any of our direct mail products, whether intentionally or unintentionally, will be subject to the harshest disciplinary procedures.
Yours sincerely,

Willy Wonga,
Managing Director,


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3 Responses to 117. Under the Thumb

  1. Pingback: Reprographics - The repro man blog - Page 43 - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed

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