Saturday 14 March 2009

Probably the worse temp in the world

Let me take you back to a time when it was okay to wear jacquard jumpers with shoulder pads, pencil skirts made out of sweatshirt material and navy ribbed tights with flatties… yes, that’s right: January 1988.
Nine months before I was due to start at journalism college I recklessly gave up my job as a secretary at the Beeb to try my hand at temping. The masterplan was to secure a variety of exciting jobs at magazines and newspapers to get an insight into the world of print media before I started my course. I ended up at Bovis, a construction company in South Harrow.
Working for one of the directors – straight to the top, impressive huh? – I found myself in a deathly quiet, deathly boring office with glass partitions and beige carpet, reminiscent of David Brent’s but without the stapler captured in jelly.
Within the first hour I knew I’d not be counting the days, nor the hours, or the minutes until I could leave - but the actual milli-seconds. During my first lunch break, I dashed out to a phone box on the corner to call my old boss and beg for my job back.
Back at Bovis, when I had finished taking shorthand dictation, I had to ask the director (a very patient, very nice man, actually) if he’d say it all over again, only this time more slowly. My typing was good, however, as I had been taught to touch-type at the BBC and can do it with my eyes closed. And perhaps for this reason, I ended up working at Bovis for a four painfully long weeks (killing time until I could slope back to the Beeb with my tail between my legs).
Someone must have taken a shine to me. My money is on one of the bosses who crept up behind me one day as I was bashing away on my electric typewriter and massaged my neck – I don’t think sexual harrassment was so much of a buzz word in the late 80s.
In the meantime, I made coffee – in time-honoured secretarial fashion - for some Very Important visitors and was so nervous that my hand shook as I spooned coffee grains into the perculating machine, scattering grains all over the formica. I walked in to the conference room with the tray like Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques. I was advised, once the visitors had gone, that I really should have used the fine china from the special cupboard and not the plastic cups from the vending machine.
My parting shot was to take a telephone message from a client of Bovis last thing on the Friday before I scuttled off into night. The message was simply nothing more and nothing less than this: "Terence Conran is hopping mad." [This strikes a cord with me now as I work on Homes & Gardens magazine, the pages of which are dripping with Conran products. Back then, Sir Terence must have been building his empire of restaurants and shops with the assistance of Bovis Construction.]
What on earth could have befallen Sir Terence to make him so cross? A Very Important report mis-typed perhaps, leading to a vertiable catalogue of disasters? Perhaps I did have my eyes closed after all.

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