I once worked for the government. It was my first job. I worked in a little town called Ramsgate. I was a temp. But no, of course, I wasn't called a "temp". That's was too common. I was an Administration Assistant. I didn't do administration. I didn't assist.
I was a filing clerk.
(The irony is not lost on me that I called this blog, FilingWords. I must change that one day.)
That was my job. It was a thankless, minimum wage, task. I turned up on my first day in a suit. Everyone looked at me kind of funny. Like, who's the kid in the suit? Did head office send us another one...? I stood outside and waited. As it was governmental, you couldn't get in until the place was open unless you had one of those numbers you punched into the pad. They all looked suspiciously at me as I waited.
Everyone was wearing jeans.
Not customer facing, you see. Doesn't matter what you wear. That day, my first day, was the last time I wore a suit to that place.
I got in, eventually, and was "inducted" by a man who looked like Penn Jillette, apart from being bald on top (but still with a pony tail) and who looked like he had been in a motorcycle accident and slid down the road face first. He talked about things like "time keeping" and "cogs" and something about "ingredients".
He didn't ask me if I knew my alphabet. I thought that might have been important. (After a month or so, I realized that my predecessor clearly didn't, so it was a superficial skill.)
I worked there for three months before management changed around and Penn was replaced by a short, fat, Burt Reynolds-a-like. A week later I had the keys to a four story office block, and was instructed to attend at six-thirty in the morning to unlock the building.
I was to walk floor to floor and check there had been no break ins, and then begin my day. The windows were regularly left open, and there was no alarm system. I was young. Stupid. I took it in my stride and kept my head down. The timesheet I had to fill in didn't allow me put down that I started at that time. "Flexi-time" didn't start until eight. So my Department Manager made up my hours.
It would have been a wonderful alibi should I want to murder someone.
I did that job every day. That, and filing.
The "temps" were whittled down over time. Originally there was one - or more - in every department, and with each new month, they were let go. Replaced by permanent staff, with recruitment policies that meant that we couldn't even be guaranteed an interview for our own job.
Eventually, there was just me.
I was the sole temp in the office building. I liked my Department Manager, Clive. He had fought for me. He knew that losing me would not be in benefit to the department. I was worth the pittance they paid me.
And then the call came through. Clive got up and came over to me. He stood over my desk, and said, "Burt Reynolds would like to see you."
The office fell silent. Everyone knew what it meant. Burt had never so much as tipped his hat to me before, and now I was summoned to his office.
It was over.
I sat, opposite Burt, as he told me that he was saddened to lose me, (not saddened enough to keep me, though) and went through the papers to dismiss me. I had one weeks notice, that they wanted me to work. And then I was free.
Then Burt decided that he was delivering bad news and should lighten the moment, I suppose. He told me a story that has stuck with me my whole life. A story I remember from over twenty years ago.
He related to the fact that I rode a kick start motorcycle. He used to have one. He told me of a time he stalled his bike at a set of traffic signals, and in kick starting it in a hurry, the kick bar slipped up his trousers and he fell over.
I think he was trying to be funny.
Never before, nor since, have I wanted to kill a man telling a joke so much. Someone who in an attempt to console a young man receiving news that he had never heard before, decided to relay a story of how he fell from a stationary bike.
I have never forgotten Burt's face as he joked about that. While sitting in his office. With his well paid job. In his leather chair.
And in my mind, a swirl of questions about my future.
I have killed Burt a thousand times over...
... on paper, of course.