Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Leading From the Front

The office is in chaos today so I haven’t much time to write. This is supposed to be my lunch break but I’m balancing my laptop on my knees while eating some exotic wrapped snack from Starbucks. Who could have known that blogging could be so expensive?

We’re in a panic because My Boss, idiot that he is, forgot to mention that he’d agreed to produce an advertising campaign for one of our key customers. It was just a few preliminary ideas that we were meant to have come up with before he travels to Leeds this afternoon for a meeting with the company’s top staff.

Not that we’d done any of the work. At ten o’clock this morning, My Boss finally deciphered the note he’d written himself weeks ago and then came rushing out of his office to inform us that we had two hours to do the work that normally takes two weeks. He helped facilitate this miracle by screaming as all the creative types, demanding that they ‘be more creative’. There’s nothing so certain to make creative types uncreative than being shouted at. Roger, one of the copywriters who wears floral shirts to the office and likes Europop, ran from the room in tears when My Boss questioned his use of a question mark. A question mark? In the world of advertising, where the trend is to write everything in lowercase letters, question marks are as unwelcome as flatulent wrestler at a festival of sumo.

Forgive me. I’m writing this quickly and my similes aren’t helped by my nerves and the coffee.

This afternoon, I’m hoping for a quieter time. My Boss will be in Leeds and the rest of us will try to talk Roger out of the gents where he’s been locked all morning. It not as easy as it sounds. Once he turns on his iPod and starts listening to his collection of Erasure EPs, there’s no getting through to him.

Monday, 12 May 2008

You Can't Spell 'Idiot' Without a 'T'

The peril of having a job but no career is that you become the natural prey for that breed of small businessman who devours human souls as though they’re so many smoked trout canapes at a golf club luncheon.

It’s why I don’t mind being accused of a crime so long as it’s the crime of lèse majesté. Not all small businessmen are incapable of scratching their arses while whistling a tune but it’s been proven that many of them are closer to single cell organisms than they are to anything with an opposable thumb. There will come a time when they’re overthrown and I hope to be leading the charge armed with a staple gun. I say let the revolution start here with a few facts about our enemy.

I realised that my Boss was an idiot at a early stage of my professional career. One day in October last year, I arrived at the ‘business headquarters’ of The Company in the heart of Manchester. From the way My Boss had described his business over the phone, I had expected to find an entire suite of air conditioned offices in a Richard Rogers designed tower block. Instead, I found three cramped rooms in a building of several hundred serviced offices. The place had the aroma of lemon grass and the appeal of a Vietnamese paddy field filled with long forgotten American landmines.

My Boss greeted me in the lobby. His hands were large and dry and he proceeded to compliment me on my timekeeping as he loosened ligaments in my shoulder. I think he just wanted to see how much physical trauma he could cause with a handshake.
‘We’re very relaxed around here,’ he said as he began to explain my duties to me.
‘You are free to work any eight hours you wish between eight thirty in the morning and five thirty in the afternoon.’

‘And I can take lunch at any time?’ I asked, still believing that this man in Pringle and tweed was really quite friendly.

His teeth broke through his smile. A fist couldn’t have done a better job of disillusioning me as to its real meaning. ‘Take all the time you want,’ he answered. ‘After all, lunch is your own time. I don’t pay you to eat. Just give me my eight hours...’

‘...between eight thirty and five thirty?’


Blood welled up from the incision I’d made in my own cheek. I could see that there was no room for negotiations. When he handed me a contract, I signed on the dotted line. The ink seemed to run blue from a vein.

It was then a matter of meeting the rest of what My Boss called his ‘happy band in Lincoln green’.

The fact that it is a truism doesn’t make it any less startling to discover that good people always work for bad bosses. Without a doubt, my colleagues are some of the finest people put on God’s earth to shuffle papers and take abuse. Our office has a staff of seven in addition to myself and My Boss. The only two I met on the first day were Jason and Sally. The rest of the staff were away meeting clients, which happens with a surprising frequency whenever My Boss declares that he’ll be in the office all week.

Jason is the smartest guy in the nine of us. He’s the person that everybody turns to when they need help with technology. He’s a rabid supporter of Manchester City, which I made sure to hold against him at every opportunity. Jason suffers more than most because it’s his job to keep the computers, printers, and internet functioning. This regularly brings him into direct conflict with My Boss who, being a comprehensive idiot when it comes to IT, insists that technology can solve every problem.

Sally works at My Boss’s PA. Broken by years of service, she has the kind of demeanour that belongs in a Bible account of some meek soul about to inherit real estate. Beneath her quiet, unprepossessing way, she has a caustic sense of humour. Unknown to My Boss, the problems he has with his rental cars has much to do with Sally. If he demands performance saloons, she ensures he’s driving something economical and French. He wants a room with a king sized bed and he’ll be lucky to get something fit for a midget.

It was Sally who told me the story of one of My Boss’s finest moments. It was during a push he recently initiated to increase efficiency in the workplace. My Boss was discovered one morning prising the keys from Sally’s keyboard.

‘Good morning my dear,’ he said as he used his letter opener to whisk off a few more vowels. ‘No doubt you’re wondering what I’m doing.’

Sally said that she was a little bit confused and asked him why he was pulling all the keys from her keyboard and piling them on her desk.

‘I observed you yesterday,’ he replied, ‘and I realised how much quicker it would be if you had all the important keys under your right hand. I’ve swapped the “E” key for the “P”. You hardly ever need “P” and I’m moving the “A” and “S” over too... I can’t make up my mind about the “R”. How often would you say you use it?’

Sally had mentioned something about how useful it would be to have all the letters of ‘arse’ under one hand. Then Jason appeared and it was left to him to explain to My Boss that the plastic key covers have no bearing on the electronics of the keyboard and that an ‘E’ in the place of a ‘P’ would still produce a ‘P’ on the screen. My Boss gave his usual response and blamed everybody in the room for inhibiting progress.

‘Cretinous baboons!’ he cried before running off for lunch and a quick nineteen holes.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

My Boss is an Idiot

My Boss is an idiot. I want you to know that before this blog comes alive with my explaining how he’s an idiot and why this affects me so much. I don’t know why I’ve decided to write a blog except that other people do it and they seem pretty successful. I just hope that by writing a record of my experiences with the man, I can find the therapy I can’t otherwise afford on the minimum wage. And, of course, if there's anybody out there who reads this and finds it in any way illuminating, I’ll live happy in the knowledge that something positive has come from a life that has gone so very wrong since that fateful day at the job agency nearly six months ago.

Let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Thomas Lawrence, though my surname is certainly false. T.E. Lawrence is a hero of mine and I think there’s a welcome irony about naming myself after a man of heroism. I’m also a fan of D.H. Lawrence who spent his life in search of spiritual and physical freedom. Two men frame what I’d like to be. I, on the other hand, work 9 to 5 in Manchester, cowering in the shadow of the CityBank building. Not that the blame for my predicament has anything to do with the great city of Manchester. Every morning I arrive at Piccadilly Station at seven thirty and I’m struck by the scale of the place as though it’s my very first time there. It’s not just the buildings that excite me, but the rush of noise and opportunity. I catch a tram into the centre of the city and spend my day surrounded by the finest culture to be found outside London: old and new architecture, theatres, cinemas (both mainstream and independent), and more art galleries than a thinking man could ever dream of visiting. From where I sit in the office, it takes me two minutes to walk to a painting by Gainsborough or Constable.

Not that I get any time to do that. I’m usually stuck inside with My Boss. And, as I think I’ve mentioned, he’s an idiot.

For the sake of my job, I won’t name My Boss, although he has got a name. He has a family too, and a wife who undoubtedly loves him. There are even children who look up to him and friends with whom he plays golf on a Friday morning while the rest of us work to pay for a few rounds at the nineteenth hole. None of this explains why he’s an idiot and why he makes my life so miserable. In fact, it would be hard to make you understand the scale of his idiocy in a concise yet comprehensive way. It’s why this is a blog. It might take me weeks to fully explore this unique creature I’m calling ‘My Boss’. It will take me a while to convince you of his utter imbecility.

However, this is my first post on this blog and my first time talking to strangers on the web, so let me give you a précis of My Boss’s qualities, so you can keep an eye out for them in the coming weeks.

1. Like all true idiots, he has no idea what he’s doing. Watching a chimpanzee pick ants from a hollow log with the dampened end of twig is to see thinking of a far higher order than you will find in My Boss’s office on your average workday. He has many schemes to become the ‘biggest name in the advertising business’ but this usually involves our using technology for something that the technology was never designed to do. ‘We’ll print colour baseball hats on our printer’ he will say, ignoring the practicality of getting a hat to run through the mechanism of an old black and white laser. When you try to suggest that we might have to buy a new colour inkjet and use heat transfers, he gets angry and calls you ‘reactionary’. He accuses you of being ‘in the stone age with the rest of the monkeys’. You then spend your morning trying to feed a baseball hat into the envelope slot of a laser printer.

2. As you can see, he has a temper. It’s the sort of temper that makes you suspect that, earlier in the day, some errant rodent had decided to nest in his underpants and, having woken up hungry, has taken a large bite out of the biggest nut in the tree. Red faced, spitting disgust, hammering the desk: My Boss shouts everybody down. Then he will covertly scratch his nuts.

3. One quickly realises that ignorance and a bad temper are two of his better qualities once you understand that he’s also a racist who spends most of his day telling everybody he meets that they must be politically correct. ‘We need more blacks in our new ad campaign’ is the sort of thing you’ll hear him say. ‘There aren’t enough people of, how shall we say, “a darker hue”, preferably with some sort of disability.’ That’s another of his favourite comments. It’s all spoken without a touch of that postmodern irony that might make it excusable. A short time in the man’s company is enough to turn anybody who might have previously lobbied against political correctness into a new Polly Toynbee. My Boss is the reason why The Guardian has a growing readership.

4. It’s a shame that My Boss lacks any irony because he also thinks that he’s funny. Actually, he thinks himself the funniest guy since Bernard Manning ‘kicked the f***ing bucket’. The man can’t go a minute without cracking a terrible joke, usually at the expense of ‘ze Germans’ (he pronounces it as you can probably imagine he pronounces it). He also speaks in this strange perversion of proper English, in which odd words take on added emphasis, and everything comes with the added zing of a ‘mucho gracias’, a ‘ta-ta’ or a ‘cheerio’.

5. He is sexist in ways I think it’s not good to go into for the moment. I’ll let that come as a nice surprise for you in the coming weeks.

6. His management skills begin and end with the threat of the sack. Everything comes down to the statement: ‘I pay you to do that, so you’ll do it’. It makes it hard to be efficient when you are aware of doing a job wrong because you’ve been told to do it that way. I once spent a morning pre-gluing stamps so they would be easier to apply later in the day, knowing that, by three o’clock, the glue would have dried. I finished the day with a desk covered with enough postage to send it to Columbia by air mail.

7. His dress sense belongs in the 1970s. He dresses like Terry Scott and nobody has ever explained that golfing jumpers and tartan trousers send out the wrong messages to potential clients who want you to improve their image.

If these seven points doesn’t seem enough to convince that My Boss is an idiot, it’s only because I’m incapable of writing briefly about a man of such mountainous incompetence, anger, hatred, jokes, and clichés.

My Boss is an idiot and I have made it my task to say to the world what I can’t say to his face. Unfortunately, he also pays my wages and I so desperately need this job...