Incomincia l’ottava, nella quale, sotto il reggimento di Lauretta, si ragiona di quelle beffe che tutto il giorno o donna a uomo o uomo a donna o l’uno uomo all’altro si fanno.
It’s human nature to be looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses but… believe me, those were better days. Granted, the pay was pitiful and the hours horrid but the job was something I believed in, the team great and the leadership inspired.
Mind you, the office was perhaps the saddest I’ve had the misfortune to work in. Stained, dusty carpets; Formica desk, dark blues and browns, old pictures on the walls. It was the only place I’d ever been where a tea lady would come round with a trolley, ringing a cowbell as she did, and people would rise up from their old chairs and queue to buy their prawn cocktail and tuna sandwiches. Every day they’d get up, hand a fiver and eat at their desks, eyes transfixed on the sports website, reviews of kayaks, the Daily Mail. A guy whose screen was on my line of sight drank builders’ tea and read car tests on HonestJohn.co.uk, every single lunch, without fail.
Yet our corner was radically different. Same furniture but different atmosphere. It wasn’t the saddest and beigest school library: it boomed with laughter, vivacious conversation and the occasional swearing. The difference, needless to say, was due to the people. The team was small, less than a dozen with senior managers sitting amongst us. Communication was great and never dull; and, yes, there were the pranks.
One rule we enforced with Taliban zeal was the one of locking your laptop when you weren’t at your desk. Not so much because we cared about cyber security; rather, we enjoyed the punishment that came with it way too much. You left your laptop unlocked and unattended? Then you must suffer.
No one was exempt. I left my computer open to answer a call and, as I returned, I found I’d just sent an email asking the entire team (including those overseas) what kind of ice cream they wanted for tomorrow. Our director was dragged into a meeting to appease an extremely angry client: that didn’t stop him from confessing to the team that he was going to donate 30% of his wage and bonus to me. But the most memorable happened to a guy called Ian.
Ian was a character in a team of characters. A senior VP based in America, a tall blond man with a wild beard. He was close to retirement and one never to miss a chance to speak his mind openly. I admired him for that: the more senior his interlocutor, and the stupider the question, the higher the concentration of expletives per sentence. He originally was from Scotland, moved to the US as soon as he could and would only come over in the event of big meetings or similarly big fuck-ups. The fact that he’d been in London for two weeks underlined the dimensions of the problem.
Mal was Ian’s peer, running the shop this side of the pond. If Ian was a blonde Donald Sutherland Mal was more Del Boy Trotter after thirty years of 2-packs-a-day. A great team leader, a genius in a crisis but, above and beyond, the master of ceremonies in our pranks department. Which leads me to the fateful day.
Ian’s on the phone. He’s been on the phone for hours, muffling the swearing because on the other side of the line it’s the Homeland security and those guys don’t do humour and would definitely not appreciate being called a cocksplat. Eventually the calls end, Ian jumps up and announces “If anyone asks, I’ve gone to visit those backstabbing bastards over in Quality” and storms off. Without pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL on his laptop.
“Eyes on the door matey” Mal whispers to me as, swift like a cat on nicotine, slides at Ian’s desk.
“Ian’s really pissed” Michelle, our collective voice of reason, intervened. “Can’t you let this one slide?”
“Ah fuck it” replied Mal. “He knows the rules and besides he’s always pissed”. Furious typing ensued.
Ian returned to his desk soon afterwards, suspecting nothing. Back he went to the Lenovo, still in a foul mood. Then something weird happened. In one and twos, people started wandering in our corner, looking for Ian. After a brief moment of hesitation, they’d march over to his desk, dish out a hand, shake his, introduce themselves, say welcome him and then walk off. One remarked that, yes, he did look a bit like Richard Branson, only with a full beard instead of a Van Dyke.
This carried on for a few hours, Ian growing increasingly pissed and Mal turning the colour of Chianti. We cowered in our cubicles, hoping not to be there when, eventually, the volcano exploded. Eventually, after having saluted a posse of six apprentices who’d come upstairs from their workshop specifically for that purpose, Ian stood up and asked, with a tone loud enough to be heard by dogs all the way to Liverpool:
“Ok, who of you miserable fuckers has excogitated what is going on and how in God’s name do I stop it before I murder someone?”
Amidst fits of laughter Mal, who in the meantime turned aubergine purple, suggested Ian checked his sent emails folder. There was the following:
To: All London staff
My name is Ian XYZ. I’m normally based in New York but I’ll be here in London for the next few weeks. As I don’t know many of you please come see me for a chat; I normally sit in the East quadrant, desk 26, and people say I look a bit like Richard Branson.
See you soon,