take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A journey 

The precocious boy is talking loudly (and precociously) to his father (?) in the seat behind me. I manage to zone most of it out and concentrate on my book, but am distracted when I hear him suggesting to his father that they "do some French". This should be interesting. Having two seats to myself, I shuffle forwards so that my ear is conveniently located between the two seats, maximising my eavesdropping opportunity.

Most of the French exercises they do are correct to my trained ear (bar a few dodgy pronunciations), but I notice the father fluffing the position of the negative when constructing a sentence with a reflexive verb in the perfect tense.

Later, as we approach Clapham Junction, I move towards the front of the train. Time is tight - there is a slim hope that I will make my connection at King's Cross, but only if I minimise the amount of platform I have to walk along once I get to Waterloo.

I choose my exit point, and am joined in the "vestibule" by a woman. She presses the "open" button on the toilet beside us, and the door glides across to reveal a man having a wee. We both avert our eyes and stifle a snigger. The man, now re-buttoned, emerges and checks the door. Somewhat bewildered, he directs his explanation to us: "It just came open...". My conspirator and I shrug innocently, and he makes his exit.

I smile. "He must have forgotten to press the "Lock" button," I suggest, to salve her conscience. We share our opinions of new-fangled toilet door devices, agreeing that a mechanical lock is infinitely preferable to the possibility of a door sliding open whilst one is "otherwise engaged".

I ask her if she knows what's happening with the tube at Waterloo. I had a feeling there was some restriction about which exits were usable, but couldn't remember the details. She looks at me blankly. "I haven't been up here for years, I've no idea!". I ask her which way she's going. "St Pancras. I'm visiting my grandmother in Bedfordshire. I've no idea how to get there, though..." Since I'm going to King's Cross and know exactly which way to go, I tell her to follow me.

I guide her down the escalators through the throng of the Friday evening rush hour (she stands on the left - I hastily usher her over to the right) . "Head for the Bakerloo line - it's an easy change at Oxford Circus...". Old habits die hard.

We make our way onto the platform, and I stomp purposefully to the opposite end, away from the entrance, where there are fewer people. Old habits die hard.

The Bakerloo line is fairly empty, but we're in for a treat on the Victoria line at Oxford Circus. I've barely time to go all nostalgic at the destination of our train ("Walthamstow, my Walthamstow!") before we are crammed together into an altogether less airy vestibule than that offered by South West Trains. I have just enough space to peer down at my watch, concerned.

"Do you think you'll make the train?" she asks, knowing how little time I have. "Nah..." She, on the other hand, will arrive with time to spare.

As we leave the tube and head for the mainline, it's 17:43. My train leaves King's Cross at 17:45. Once we've negotiated the barriers and gone our separate ways, I emerge onto the concourse, looking hopefully at the departure board. First train on the board: 17:50 to Peterborough.

My train has departed... but, as I discover when checking my phone and finding several missed calls from when I was deep underground, the friend I'm meeting there has not. We get some supplies from M&S Simply Food and pile onto the 18:15 instead. Our weekend has begun.

The same. Only different. 



Apparently, I now have curly hair. Who knew?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I stuck a note on the printer.

I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t one of those passive-aggressive notes "politely" informing the reader to cease and desist from whatever potential minor contravention was envisaged.

It was a helpful note.

I sit opposite the printer. I see the comings and goings of the users of the printer. I hear the bleeps and see the lights of the printer when the printer is unhappy. I see the frustrated user grappling with the drawers of the printer, tutting with exasperation when their document fails to emerge from the jaws of the printer.

Having worked as a secretary on several occasions in my murky past, I have built up a good rapport with printers. I know how to touch them, how to coax them, how to load them up and press their buttons. Where others slam the doors and jab angrily at the control panel, I calmly remove the paper jams, replace the cartridges and summon the friendly whirr of a happy printer with my gentle machinations.

So, sitting as I do opposite the printer, I often step in to help when I hear the bleeps that signal frayed tempers and concertina’d documents. Even though I rarely print anything out - existing in a largely paperless world, apart from my manuscript book where I scribble my ideas in pencil. This generally involve words with arrows pointing at other words, weird doodles and half-arsed to-do lists (the other day, I wrote "Need to " but then obviously became distracted and never found out what I "needed to" do...).

I would notice the hard-copy fanatics replenishing the paper. This would involve marching off to the opposite end of the office, bringing back one lonely packet of paper, putting half the packet in the printer, and leaving the remainder on top of the cupboard opposite the printer. The cupboard which overlooks my desk. A few hours later, this scene would repeat itself, just with a different user (whoever happened to approach the printer at its moment of need).

Knowing of the director’s penchant for a tidy office (woe betide anyone who leaves a coat on the back of a chair, let alone a half empty packet of paper on a cupboard), I took it upon myself to implement a system. Being a system implementer by trade, I felt qualified to do so. I went to the other end of the office, and picked up several packets of paper – as many as I could carry without contravening Health and Safety regulations. I piled these packets of paper quite neatly, in the (mostly empty) cupboard opposite the printer.

And then I stuck a note on the printer. Large, Arial font, nice and clear, neatly stuck on with backward-looped sellotape.

There should be paper in the cupboard behind you.
If not, you’ll have to take a walk...

Helpful, informative – and a little bit cheeky. Appropriate, I thought, for an IT department.

For several days, I was able to witness the beautiful efficacy of my system. The user would approach the printer, realise it had run out of paper and then turn toward me in a neat pirouette, open the cupboard and find a ready supply of paper. The supply of paper in the cupboard was maintained. My note was working.

Then one day, inexplicably, the note was gone. My colleagues and I speculated at some length on its disappearance, wondering whether a bin audit might reveal the culprit. But then Christmas came, and all was forgotten.

I noted, with some satisfaction, that the memory of my note lived on, as I witnessed further printer users turning instinctively to the cupboard for the paper supply. Evidently, others’ memories were not so efficient, as the departmental email today confirmed:
Please note that paper is kept in the cupboard opposite the printers. Please do not leave half-empty packets of paper on the cupboard tops.
There would have been no need for the email if they'd just kept my note...