Thursday, 19 August 2010

Why I'm Leaving (Apart From Love)

Most people in the office don't wear ties. I guess if you wear a tie for long enough, you start to think about nooses. Neese. Noosae? Noose. I like just "noose". Plural the same as the singular, like sheep. I make up word games for myself between the hours of 10 and 4. My office days are parenthesised by two windows of work first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon. "Parenthesised" makes me think of anaesthetised. On a Monday morning, if you start on the backbeat half a bar earlier than normal, you can sing "thirty-seven-point-five hours to go, I wanna be sedated" to the tune of the Ramones song.

Can you name twenty-six bands or artists, A through Z, who, in alphabetical order, had their creative peak after the previous artist but before the subsequent one? It starts easy; Abba, Blur, Coldplay, but you quickly run out unless you're careful. You can drop the prefix on "The" bands, obviously. You have to start pretty early in the 1950s and even then it gets difficult as you get to the end. You get some interesting combinations, and part of the challenge is matching the progression to the advancements of my own personal musical tastes. It doesn't always work: Oasis; Portishead; Quaye comma Finlay. And the (The) Roots, because I have controversial views on the creative progression of Radiohead, and don't want to get drawn into an argument. As if there were anybody in this office with whom I could have an argument about Radiohead. I'm particularly proud of White Stripes, Xiu Xiu, Yeasayer, but then I got stuck on a recent Z band. The time limit on such games is however long it takes until someone comes to me with some work to do, which makes it unreliably finite. I keep a running list of countries of the world and their capitals on a notepad file in my documents. My knowledge of geography is pretty weak, so small victories like Rabat, Morocco (and spelling Morocco right first time) are what passes for job satisfaction. The best thing about home-brewed mind games is that you can bend the rules.

The worst thing about intra-office mind games is that nobody knows the rules. Animosities roughly follow the chain of command. It's a two-way street; contempt drips down the chain and resentment clambers up. I am stuck somewhere in the middle so that to the untrained eye or pervertedly logical mind or perhaps just a non-English-speaker, between contempt and resentment I appear to have found contentment. The irony appears to have escaped my colleagues only because they don't seem to know what irony is. Or forgot what it was long ago. Irony describes the taste of the water in the office kitchen. We have a tap water cooler, though at least this ensures water cooler conversations that are less pretentious than those in offices which dispense water from those huge bottle which will one day soon become the primary form of currency on this little island. I imagine they make wonderful floatation devices for when the waters rise, and the city sinks at every high tide.

I have two low baffles around my desk; one in front dividing me from the desk opposite, and one to my side, blocking out light from the already-pathetically-light-impoverished window. I have these two low walls because I sit on the end of a row. The guy next to me only has one. Personal items and photographs must be stored overnight in your desk drawer. Everyone has a mug. They commemorate sporting events, or proclaim the drinker-from-which to be a totally crazy chick, or call attention to the owner's love of cats. I have no mug. Well. Actually. I have a mug, and I am very fond of it. It is a cream-and-orange Penguin Classics mug, showing the front cover of an early edition of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four (no hyphen in "Eighty Four". These things are important). It was a gift from someone who appreciates the mundanities of the office life. Working for a government department (War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Unemployment is Work. Arbeit Macht Frei?), I like the idea of indulging my caffeine addiction (coffeeslave in Newspeak) in an Orwell mug. And I call the confidential waste bins that line the corridors Memory Holes, but only in my head. See comment above re: coworkers and irony. But in reality I buy my coffee from the grumpy vending machine in the tiny cafeteria because I refuse to bring my mug to work. It's a small step from leaving personal items overnight to paying into the company pension fund.

Someone told me once that you can't lead a horse backwards out of a stable because it doesn't believe that anything it can't see exists. I am part of the generation that has managed to separate pride from prudence and refuses to think of a future that it can't see. So I have two walls of my own, and these must be surrendered when I leave. Two walls, and a tie.

It's a game. I wear ties that straddle the borders of taste; trench warfare in smart-casual no man's land. I want people to look at me and wonder if I really think that the ties I wear look good, or if I am taking the piss. There isn't enough ambiguity in my office. Some regions have a stark and rigorously-enforced caste system based on pay grade, whilst others are more liberal. Cross-cultural programme try to promote understanding between sections, but the only understanding that is gained is that cross-cultural programmes are a waste of everybody's time. It's the twenty-first century anthropology; studying isolated groups in the same office environment. Does the work done affect the dynamic within the group? Nature or nurture? But back to the ties. I have a glorious blue paisley monstrosity, and an art deco three-tone grey number, and pink, cubist flowers on navy blue silk, which I like to wear with a shirt that looks like it was made from a tea towel. I have a black and orange, diagonally-striped tie just a little too wide at the bottom, and when I wear it with my orange and brown pinstriped shirt I want to start smoking and being casually, institutionally sexist, racist, homophobic, listening to Mud and Slade and generally acting like it's 1975. On those days, I really feel my sideburns.

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