Thursday, August 05, 2004

Blogging for books

Through an early morning blog ramble (earlyish, anyway), I came across this clever idea:

Blogging for books

It's an invitation to write a blog entry about the worst experience you've ever had working for someone else; when finished, one posts the url as a comment to thezeroboss. I've been self-employed for about eleven years now and the time has flown by, so thinking back to the Big Bad Days of Employment induces more than a little shudder. It's just a question of which really was the worst...

OK...this one...

I once worked for three years for a magazine company in central London. My first day in the office should have been a sign of things to come. This was August 1990, humidity was high and the thermometer beside my desk registered 94. Charles Dickens would have adored this company, with its heaps of paper, reusable jiffy bags, battered and filthy 'battleship grey' paint on the walls and a carpet made in the Jurassic age (I don't think the "cleaner" did more than empty the bins). The computer screens were green on black, and they blinked. This was an "open plan office" - neither very open, nor remotely planned - and about ten people were squeezed into an editorial department that must have measured about 25 foot by 15. The phones went all the time and as I was a) the youngest, b) the junior staff member ("assistant editor"), c) the girl, I mostly had to answer them even when I was trying to write my articles.

In such conditions, perhaps it's not surprising if people were sometimes astoundingly rude to each other. Little patches of friendliness occurred - now and then someone would bring croissants from the Italian deli over the road, or offer one another press tickets for something nice. I owe one colleague my only experience to date of the complete Ring Cycle at Covent Garden. Once, however, I dared to suggest that just as there was a rota for 'doing the post' in the evenings, there should also be one for sorting out the morning's delivery (as you'll have gathered, secretaries there were not). One response to this was so nasty that I am not going to attempt to repeat it. As the junior, you can't venture answering back to tell someone he has no business talking to anybody like that.

Then I met a man. A composer, or would-be composer. He sent me a poem on Valentine's Day - an original one, too, and it was beautiful. I was living with someone else, but Mr Composer wouldn't take no for an answer. He used to phone me at work, since he couldn't phone me at home, and although I'd try vainly to get rid of his calls, it didn't go down too well with my cheek-by-jowl superiors, who could never let me do anything, however trivial, without making snide comments. I couldn't nip into the loo to do my mascara, at 6pm before going out for the evening, without Boss being sarcastic about it - listen, mate, you'd have loved it if I'd done it at my desk.

I decided to divest myself of Mr Composer once and for all. I spent a whole lunch break in the phone box opposite the building chucking him, as I didn't want to do it from the office...but he rang me back mid-afternoon. In the office. And he threatened to kill himself. I didn't know whether this was genuine; but if you tell someone to f off and then he jumps under a train, you have to live with that forever. So I didn't; I tried to talk him out of it. Boss, who was living through a protracted midlife crisis, blew his top and the next day effectively told me to get the hell out of the company because I hadn't been listening to him. He wasn't remotely concerned whether a dead composer might have resulted from my listening to him. Nor was he remotely concerned about union procedures for getting rid of troublesome staff. My sister told me I should sue the company for constructive dismissal - looking back, I'd have had a case to do so - but I was so glad to get the hell out of there that that was its own reward.

I've been freelance ever since, and happy as the day is long. After a number of years I took my nice sane violinist husband in to that company to meet the gang. He took one look at the state of the place and wanted to call in the Health and Safety Executive.

Postlude: I went out with Composer for about a year; but then my mother died and two months later he left me for one of his students. I should have listened to Boss in the first place.