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Journal of Distraction - by Michael Kelly

Week 1 - Tuesday

Finding plausible ways to kill off my colleagues has made today fly by. It has given me a new interest in life, and even the dullest workmate becomes fascinating when considering ways to arrange little accidents for them or trying to think of ruses to inveigle them into the dark end of the basement with me. Disposal of the bodies would be the main problem, but not, I am confident, an insurmountable one. I suppose if I did succeed in killing them all head office would simply send replacements, but in that case I would then be the longest-serving member of staff and would have dibs on the working staple-gun and the best swivel-chair.

'Cherchez le motive, mon cher Hastings. What can have driven someone to systematically butcher the entire staff of this building? A man may kill for many things - money, passion, safety, revenge...'

Me, spinning round: 'Wheeeeeee!'

'...or a desirable swivelchair.'

I shouldn't go on with this though. Knowing my luck someone will fall down the basement steps and break their skull and someone will find this and arrest me.

Besides I really do like working there. Well, not like, but as jobs go it's bearable. Most of the staff are women and the boss is a woman and there is no macho nonsense. And half of them are fit and the rest are nice and motherly and sometimes bring me tea and cakes and stuff. And quite a few are fit and motherly so I can daydream about going back to their place for sex and tea and cakes and stuff. I suppose it's unlikely to happen. But I might have to pretend it does to impress you.

The best thing is the workplace itself though. It's a big old building, rambling and decrepit and largely untouched by the dead hand of modernity, and I have most of it to myself. Most of the staff are in one big room on the ground floor, and there are a few other offices and interview rooms for clients and conference rooms scattered around the second, and the third and fourth floors are pretty much mine. There are all kinds of nooks and crannies and dusty unused store-rooms and little winding corridors leading God knows where - it's the next best thing to having a castle full of secret passages.

The last time I was there I accomplished the mammoth filing reorganisation I was hired to do in the first two weeks - startling the boss and particularly surprising myself by my capacity for hard manual labour, although it was probably just due to being overcaffeinated from the unusually early rising - and then spent the next three largely skulking off and exploring. I found a balcony on the third floor where I could sneak a fag and look at the cherry blossoms in the park and watch the people strolling by, and a big abandoned office in the fourth where I once spent an hour throwing furniture at the wall in my rage at the indignity of being a filing clerk. And an echoey store-room it was ace to sing in, and a happy little room where I would go to write or perfect my aim flicking elastic bands at the lightbulb. Or I'd make up client files for fictional characters like Raskolnikov and Ignatius J. Reilly - a letter from Raskolnikov asking for more time to pay, I remember, pleading poverty but saying he expected to receive some money from an old woman soon, and pompously abusive letters from Reilly excoriating the members of staff I didn't like. Oh and I did a particularly elaborate one for an F. Kafka, full of forms referring him from one department to another in an endless circle and his plaintive letters for help. Amused me at the time. I must see if they're all still in the system and have attracted any new paperwork. If as threatened it finally all gets transcribed onto computer they will assume a ghostly life of their own here.

Anyway I would definitely work more often if all workplaces were as archaic as this. One of the staff has a working coal fireplace in their office, although I've never seen it lit.

Oh, oh, check this. This is from a book called 'My Turn To Make The Tea' by Monica Dickens, an amiable account of life at a small provincial newspaper in the 50s or earlier:

'Someone had drunk my tea, and the office cat had got my biscuits on the floor... worried a lot about whether the milk would go sour if we lit a fire, and whether we could get any more coal...

'[The Editor's sanctum] was a little odd-shaped room stuck in a top corner of the ramshackle old Post building. There was only just room in it for a claw-foot coat-stand with one foot missing, a kitchen chair for visitors, the editor's swivel chair that swivelled on a slant, and his scarred old roll-top desk... The electric light, with a shade like a dirty white china plate, hung in the wrong place and was hoisted to shine over the desk by a piece of string tied round the curtain rail.

'...Since the paper started in 1890, nothing had ever been moved or thrown away. The shelves and cupboards had long ago reached saturation point... Our reporters' room was half silted up with rolls of old galley proofs which had been collecting dust there since the Relief of Mafeking. No-one had yet discovered that I was systematically using them to light the fire...'

Ohhh, I would kill to work in an office like that. Doesn't Dawlish in the early Len Deighton books have a coal fire too? I can't find it right now. Here's a bit from Billion Dollar Brain though:

'The Charlotte Street building was an ancient creaking slum. The wallpaper had great boils full of loose plaster and there were small metal patches in the floor where the boards were too rotten to repair. On the first-floor landing was a painted sign that said 'Acme Films. Cutting Rooms'.... The next landing was painted with fresh green paint... Behind me I heard Alice puffing up the stairs with a catering-size tin of Nescafe. Someone in the dispatch department put a brass-band record on the gramophone...'

Yes, yes, yes! Sheer pornography. I've got to do a literary anthology, the Big Erotic Book Of Knackered Old Offices. Down with cubicles and well-lit open-plan abominations...

Back in the fifties my Dad worked in a building that had brass speaking tubes in it and those pneumatic message tubes where you put a metal cylinder containing papers or something in it and it gets whooshed to the other end of the building and pops out on someone's desk. (Like on Brazil). I am stricken with envy. To hell with e-mail. You would pay for the joy of working in a building where you got to use pneumatic-shooting-cylinder message tubes.

Anyway, not much to tell about today. Walked the aisles and filed the files. (This is how we talk after-hours in filing clerks' bars, where all the drinks are arranged in alphabetical order, and at the top of a step-ladder - the first time you get a paper cut on each of your fingers, you're in the inner circle and have to drink all the vowel drinks to celebrate - and all the chairs are those little wheeled stools you step on to reach the higher shelves - and we list our favourite birds and arrange them according to height - and when you vomit you call out Dewey.)

That's it, really, and more of the same tomorrow. Oh, I almost forgot though - Margaret from the second floor invited me back to her place for sex and tea and cakes and stuff. We had sex on the table while she made the cakes and rolled in the flour and stuff, and then we baked the cakes and got into bed and I ate the cakes off her nude body. And then she made me a cup of tea and licked the spoon really erotically after stirring, and then I drank a cup of tea while having more sex. That was ace. But this is a pretty average day for me, you know.

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