Thursday 8 November 2012

work, work....

I guess I’ve probably worked here for a hundred years now, give or take. Wow. When I say it out loud like that, it sounds like kind of a lot, huh? Time flies. I didn’t always work here, of course, although I have always worked. There can’t be many people who work for fun, but honestly, what choice do you have? Granted, I don’t spend much cash on food or booze or anything like that, but unless you want to live in a hole in the ground – and I really don’t – then you need money to set yourself up. No money, no house. No clothes. No shampoo…. And since the merciful arrival of consumer electronics… no iPod, iPad, Bluray player or high definition plasma television either.

Things used to be simpler, of course. First there was always agricultural work, then there were the factories. It’s easy to drift through life unnoticed and to pick up that sort of work. Anyone could do it. Back in the day, nobody was that interested in your social security number or whether or not you wanted to opt into the company pension. You just turned up, you put in a shift, and you went home with your pay packet, cash in hand. Mind you, in the days before widely available domestic broadband and streaming movies, I’m not entirely sure what I spent it on.

This company started around 1850. Initially as a single shop, but ultimately becoming the multinational megacorp that we know and love today and that seems to hold a place in the nation’s heart. I joined around 1909, just when they were starting to manufacture their own produce. In the beginning, it was just another factory to me, but here I am a century later and I’m still putting my nose to the grind. You might think that I’m institutionalised, and perhaps I am, but I’ve done lots of different jobs here, each one like an entirely new career: there were those early years in the factory; then I moved into a more clerical role; then the machine room and then, eventually, I ended up where I am today. IT.

To be honest, in the early days it was the darkened rooms that really appealed to me. It’s not that I can’t go out into the daylight exactly, it’s just that I prefer not to. You know that feeling you get when you’re vaguely hung-over and you’d much rather be in bed? Yeah. Well, I think it’s probably a bit like that. Agricultural labour out in the fields was a bit of a struggle, and it was definitely something of a relief to come inside with the arrival of industrialisation. Sure, the air was filthy and conditions were appalling, but it’s not like I really had to worry about my health. When you’re already dead, these things aren’t really that much of a concern. When I first moved into the computer department, it was the windowless machine rooms that really appealed to me. The problem is that I’ve never really been all that technical and I tried hard to avoid human contact. IT suited me, at least in the early days. I tried to keep my head down, but at some point in the last thirty years, I was spotted by some bright spark and moved out into a more customer-facing role.

The main problem with this is that I don’t really like people. Well, that’s not strictly true, I do like some people very much, but I do generally find the effort of striking up a rapport with my colleagues to be rather stressful. There’s the added problem too that there are always some people who just plain don’t like me. It seems to be an instinctive thing, and I’m sure if you asked them, they couldn’t explain what it was, but some people simply recoil from me. They have good reason, of course. Truth be told, it’s taken me an awful lot of practice and discipline to restrain my own desire to rip these people limb from limb and to drink their blood. That’s what I do; it’s in my nature. I pride myself on my ability to blend in, but the beast is always lurking just beneath the surface and some people just seem to be able to sense that. That’s what I like to think anyway. In my darker moments, I’m occasionally honest enough with myself to wonder if perhaps it’s because I am an awkward fucker and that they dislike me for that, not because they sense I’m a killer. Maybe. Maybe not.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering about how someone can have a career over a century long within the same company without people asking questions. Well, for starters, I’d hesitate to call it a career, but I can see what you’re getting at. Actually, it’s a whole lot easier than you might think. In the early days, record-keeping was never really up to all that much, but even after the creation of National Insurance numbers and the like, if there’s one thing you can always rely upon, it’s the basic incompetence of the human resources department. I once saw my personnel file: it was a glorious mix of partial paperwork that didn’t really make any sense and certainly didn’t indicate that I might be an un-dead mass-murderer who should technically have retired some sixty years ago. You might think that the arrival of computerised records would have helped, but the simple fact is that the HR and payroll systems were implemented so incompetently that they have almost no real idea how much holiday anyone has taken, nevermind the fact that they might be due their 100 year long-service award. What would you get for that, I wonder? I got a carriage clock after my first twenty years, but they seem to have done away with that sort of thing now and tend to give me high street vouchers instead.

Over the last ten years of course, like any other person working in IT, I have been outsourced and insourced so many times that I think I’ve lost count. Every time I technically change company – all without actually moving desk – I acquire a new staff number, a new pension and, as far as my new company is concerned, my career starts all over again. My service is usually deemed continuous for pension purposes, of course… but everyone knows that this is lip service and that on my retirement – whenever that might be – I’ll be lucky to be able to afford a train ride to a retirement home on the coast. Besides, sooner or later, my original company changes management and realises what a terrible mistake they’ve made and bring us all back again. New staff number, a new pension and another new personnel file. I’m a familiar face, of course, but I doubt there’s anyone who would possibly be able to tell how long I’ve really been here.

It never fails to amaze me that companies like this make any money at all. None of us is as dumb as all of us, eh?

There’s another thing about working for a company as old and established as this one: everyone seems to have been around forever. I’m often in meetings where the newest recruit has been working with us for fifteen years. They say that there’s no longer any such thing as a job for life, but there are still people here who seem to have been around for thirty, forty or even fifty years. I’m fairly sure that there are also a significant number of people around who have been around for even longer. Oh sure, they try to keep their heads down, but I swear to God there are people here who were around when I started. Lots of people. Hmmm. Now that I think about it, there might be a really simple reason why no one asks too many questions about how long I’ve been around.

I am not alone.

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