I’ve recently moved into a new office. It’s the kind of office where you need a swipe card to get around. There are doors that you swipe open; doors that you can’t open till you press a button; and doors that you can’t use at certain times of day. It’s Fort Knox, with a fairly generous car park and a mid-morning sandwich trolley.
Before I moved here, I had to wait for someone in the main reception. I remember seeing lots of sexagenarians passing through for appointments at the medical scan facility next door, which can be accessed via our building. Many of them ended up walking through the wrong door, only to find themselves locked in, while the receptionist mouthed through the window where the door-release button was located. (Imagine a Saga Holidays coach making an unscheduled toilet stop at CTU during an adrenaline-fuelled episode of 24.)
The office itself is populated by business-types in suits. Aside from knowing very little about what the people around me actually do, I also know only a few people’s names. This has led me to identify my colleagues solely by their actions and habits (in my head, rather than rudely to their face).
For a start, there’s the humourless man who sits to my left one day a week. I’ve forgotten his name since we first shook hands several weeks ago, so I know him only as ‘Mr Critical Stop’. I’ve made him sound like a character from a Microsoft advertising campaign (if they ever decide to publicise a new operating system with a cringeworthy ‘Reservoir Dogs’ parody), but it’s actually a reference to his habit of spending the first hour of his day repeatedly triggering the critical stop alert on his computer. Seeing as he’s either unwilling or unable to mute his computer, I dream of having the technical nous to reprogram his default alert sounds with a soundtrack of sex noises.
Then there’s a man (who I’ve yet to visually identify) whose throat-clearing technique is so ridiculous, I wouldn’t be surprised if I peered over the partition to find him hawking up a six-foot Mezcal worm into his mug of Kenco. Contributing to this festival of acutely irritating noise is the colleague who’s recently discovered the jog-wheel on his mouse, which sounds like a bony animal carcass being dragged through a series of giant wooden cogs.
The man who sits to my right seems like a perfectly nice man. But he has a tendency to sigh and groan periodically throughout the day, as if he’s being fellated under the desk by an over-enthusiastic, slobbering Bulldog. And lastly, the man who sits a couple of desks away appears to be so dull and anonymous, I dare say his appearance at the breakfast table startles even his own wife in the morning (and she probably still doesn’t know his name).
Some of my colleagues also talk ridiculously loudly while on the phone, which can grate a little. If NASA told a local village idiot that he could communicate with the International Space Station by shouting into his shoe, that’s sort of the level we’re talking about. The volume of their telephone voices definitely needs to come down a few notches from eleven (there you go, my first ever Spinal Tap reference).
Offices are fertile grounds for amplifying annoying habits. It doesn’t matter how open-plan and spacious they are.
There’s also a communal kitchen in my new office, which has a unit on the wall containing permanently heated water for hot drinks. I don’t use it myself. I like to boil fresh water in a kettle the old fashioned way. This seems to be something of a controversial move, given the number of people who’ve pointed out my surprising use of the kettle, while directing me to the wonders of the water heater. I’m beginning to think that it contains some kind of mysterious elixir, like they’ve boiled the pool water from ‘Cocoon’ and made it available on tap.
If I told my colleagues that the heated water from their wall-mounted contraption contained depleted uranium, and that after a heavy night consuming vodka, Listerine and a cheese toasty, Keith Chegwin chundered in there in 1991 (where his stomach contents still float around, like marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre), they’d probably still use it. My decision not to use it clearly marks me as an outsider.
I’ve worked in big offices before, but they’ve usually been production offices in TV companies. By and large, those places are pretty chilled and usually littered with ‘amusing’ props from previous shoots. (Think of a world where every day is dress-down Friday, and where you might trip over a giant papier mâché cock on your way back from the kitchen, and where people probably sit at their desks on space hoppers – because they can.)
With that in mind, consider this: on my first day here, I was told that there might be a health and safety issue with two chairs that were positioned back to back in the office. It was explained to me, quite seriously, that in the worst nightmare scenario the users of the chairs could push them back at the same time, leading to a spectacular low-speed impact. And, no, I’m not joking.
I think that says everything. This place is going to take some getting used to.