Category Archives: Office Life

Watering Can

A number of articles have been published in recent months about a perceived major drawback to our mass move to working from home. Most have been written by property management experts, gazing in horror at billions of square metres of empty glass-walled cages, occupied now only by the ghost of air-conditioned drudgery. But some too come from HR and management gurus, the kind of people who said we couldn’t be trusted to work from home because we’d spend all day watching YouTube videos and shopping online.

The articles claim that creativity is being stifled because we no longer have ‘serendipitous corridor chats’, ‘water cooler moments’ and what LinkedIn intriguingly refer to as “random interactions – you know, the kind that happen spontaneously in the bathroom or coffee break area”.

I have no idea what goes on in LinkedIn’s bathrooms. What goes on in ours is embarrassed silence while we, to borrow the Victorians’ phrase, ‘make our toilet’, followed by the random interaction of circling each another like sumo wrestlers because the wash-basins and hand-dryers are too close together.

And I’m not sure what a serendipitous corridor chat is, unless it involves spotting a fiver on the floor. Such chats normally revolve around sport or TV, and I can confidently assert that the question “have you been watching The Crown?” has not once, ever, prompted the reply “yes, and gosh, that’s just given me a great idea for a better spreadsheet.”

Which leaves us with water cooler moments.

Once upon a time offices had water fountains, and water fountain moments involved the whole room falling silent as a potential victim timidly advanced toward the machine, like a supplicant toward a vengeful goddess. On a good day he would receive merely a short spurt of water between the eyes, but if the goddess was angry she would trickle water onto the front of his flies.

The whole office would snicker. This was called Team Bonding.

In time, though, the fountain gave way to the water cooler, an adapted wheelie-bin with an inverted barrel of water inside. Water coolers are found dotted around open-plan offices, for the benefit of staff too lazy to walk to the kitchen (worse than that, my company actually has one in the kitchen, presumably for people undaunted by the extra walk but unlearnèd in the art of turning on a tap). A ‘water cooler moment’ will occur only should you decide not to wait until the cooler is free, which would seem the sensible thing to do, but to approach it while someone else is using it.

The typical water cooler user ignores the tower of tiny plastic cups rammed into one another at the side, despite the fun – serendipity, even – of seeing how many come off when you tug at the bottom one. Instead he has his own large bottle, usually with the name of his gym on it. The advantage of the bottle is that it cuts down on trips – these are busy people, remember, too busy to walk to the kitchen – but the disadvantage is that it is too large to fit into the little grotto that houses the on/off tab and the drip-tray.

So he will lean forward, bum towards you, while some of the water dribbles into his bottle and most onto the floor. It as a process as efficient as trying to fill a petrol tank from twenty feet with a garden hose. Eventually he will give up, not because of you but because his back is starting to hurt. He will stop with his bottle about a quarter full – the volume, interestingly, of one of the plastic cups. He will then turn and acknowledge your presence for the first time with the phrase “any plans for the weekend?”

It might be Wednesday morning. It might even be Monday afternoon. It makes no difference, because he doesn’t actually want to know. You will reply “not much”, he’ll say “same here” and he will walk off. He will make no attempt to mop up the puddle on the floor.

The only creativity this may spark in you is in coming up with inventive ways in which you could make his death look like an accident.

But according to the articles we are doomed to stagnation without these incidents. There will never be flying cars. There will never be robot butlers. Siri will never understand an Irish accent.

To which I can only reply that Edison did not have a water cooler.

Party Piece

Office party, pa-ruh-pa-pum-pum,
The first two hours you all stand there looking glum
The conversation is a big tedium
Until you start to feel the coke and the rum
Go to your tum
Making you numb
You’ve lost all dignity and all decorum
Trouble will come.

Two hours later, pa-ruh-pa-pum-pum
You’re lacking all of your equilibrium
Your head is spinning like a dwarf being swung
You tell the HR Head that she’s your best chum
Really best chum
Bestesht besht chum
Then, you slip and fall straight onto your bum
Really dumb.

Sunday morning, pa-ruh-pa-pum-pum
Inside your head an elf is banging a drum
There’s waves of nausea coming ad nauseam
You fearfully look at social medium –
You swear that next year you’ll drink a minimum –
This is hokum.


Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Hast Thou Been

I’ve not written anything for over two years now.

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and apparently it flies when you aren’t.

Through 2013 and 2014 my posts were getting less and less frequent, but I was still trying. Then 2015 came along. My role at work changed, mostly because had I asked for it to. They asked me would I be interested in working for our UK Finance Department, and I said yes. This meant that my boss was now in Edinburgh, and I had to travel regularly to visit both her and our office in Lichfield.

I had 30 flights during that year. Very glamorous, very exciting, very look-at-me-I’m-a-proper-high-powered-business-executive-at-last.

Or not.

Each of these involving getting up at 3.20 a.m. to catch the 4 o’clock Aircoach, to get me to Dublin airport in time for a 6.30 flight on a tiny propeller-powered plane to Edinburgh or Birmingham. Each two-to-three day trip involved me eating dinner in Burger King in Edinburgh or McDonalds in Lichfield every evening, because I’m not the kind of person who sits alone in a restaurant. I am, however, the kind of person who sits alone in a bar, so that’s what I would do, buying a different newspaper each evening and marvelling at the blatant bias, in both directions, of the UK press.

It might all have been great if I’d owned the business, or if I’d been in sales and felt that I was achieving something, or if I really wanted to be a proper-high-powered-business-executive, but I was just an office worker with a really long commute. Add to that the fact that there were problems adapting the way I’d been doing things in our Irish office to the way they were being done in the UK, and I quickly realised that I’d made a mistake.

Well, I would have quickly realised if I’d any sense, but this is Tinman talking, so I just thought things were a bit challenging.

Then, on January 18th, 2016, I had to fly to Edinburgh, where our auditors were waiting to begin our annual audit. At 3.20 a.m. I sat up in bed, then lay back down again. I didn’t go to work for another eight weeks.

The office were great. I met with the CFO and the HR manager while I was off and we agreed that I would come back three-days-a-week, and that I would do only the payroll, the only part of my job that I believed to be really important.

So that’s what I’ve been at for the past year. I’m happier at work (I was astonished at the number of people who commented on how rested I looked, and how much colour I had in my face, when I came back, so I must have looked really shite during those last few months) and I’m slowly getting used to having four days a week off. (During my first month back I felt guilty at how little time I was spending at work, and kept thinking “how are they letting me away with this?” and then the first payday came along and  I thought “oh, that’s how, they’re paying me sod-all”).

I’ve spent the extra time off going to the gym, and reading an awful lot, concentrating on books that I’ve always wanted to read but never got round to (I got 130 pages into Ulysses, which is 80 pages more than my previous record) and every now and again I’ve sat in front of my laptop, determined to write something, and have spent two hours instead reading stuff about the Kardashians.

But slowly I’ve got back in to it, half-writing stories, or writing half-stories, never finishing anything in a way that I’m happy with, but getting the urge back.

So I’m giving it another go, not trying for every day, but just trying to get back to doing the thing that I love doing best.






Moving Fast

A few weeks ago I wrote a rather moany piece about how unhappy I’ve become with my career, and how I’ve realised that I’ve always hated it. I said that I was in talks with my manager and my department head about finding something else to do in the company, something, anything, that has nothing to do with the production of accounts.

My manager, and dear friend, told me last week that they were taking this very seriously, and that they would take action as soon as possible, and this Tuesday we held a preliminary meeting about the kind of things that I might like to do.

Early days, one might think, and perhaps they are just playing along until the extreme pressure that I’m under at the moment eases and I settle back down, unfulfilled but wearily accepting of my lot.

Or not. On Thursday I got positive proof that they are as determined as I am to find a solution.

My current job is being advertised on our website.

Step By Step

English: Logo

Today marks the start of something called the Global Corporate Challenge. According to their website, companies all over the world will be taking part, and the idea is to help the world become fitter by encouraging all of us (yes, us, of course our company are doing it) to walk at least ten thousand steps a day for the next sixteen weeks..

Each of us has given a small counter called a Pulse which we are to carry at all times. They call it an “accelerometer” because it measures not just steps, but all of your movement, converting it into the equivalent of steps. The website says that every form of exercise counts, including swimming, although the next paragraph of their instructions says that the Pulse is not waterproof and should not be worn while swimming.

Those of you who have just wondered about one particular form of exercise should remember that in order to have somewhere to carry your Pulse you will have to do it with your socks on.

I opted to join because ten thousand steps sounds like an awful lot, and I hoped that it would encourage me to get fit enough to some day manage it. We’ve had our Pulses since Friday, just to try them out and get used to them. On Sunday I did 2,900 steps, but that was because Sunday was an unexpectedly glorious day, and I spent most of it asleep in the garden. On every other day I’ve done between eleven and thirteen thousand.

Now that I’ve discovered that I do ten thousand steps in a normal day anyway I’ve kind of lost interest, with fifteen weeks and six days to go.

The other benefit is supposedly to the company, as it will encourage camaraderie (Spellcheck just drew a squiggly red line under that word so I looked at what I’d typed. It was the word “comaderaderie”. Well, I’m sure it encourages that too). A questionnaire that each of us filled out when we first logged on asked how we feel we get on with our workmates, and you can see it coming from a mile (about three thousand steps) off that in sixteen weeks time they will ask how we feel about them now, believing that we will all admit that this has brought us closer together. It’s the bipedal equivalent of falling backwards and having a workmate catch you.

Anyway, by the time I got to work on this first morning I’d already done three thousand three hundred steps. Indeed I’d done 681 before I’d even left the house, which is what happens when you run downstairs, put the kettle on, run back up to bring your clothes into the bathroom, go back down to make your tea, go up and have your shower, eat your breakfast while walking up and down the kitchen (this is not for the challenge, I always do it) then run back up to clean your teeth, before racing around gathering lunchbox, bag, wallet, etc and heading out of the door. If Henry Ford’s time and motion people saw me they’d have a fit.

Add another 1400 steps for the walk to the bus, 1000 more for the walk at the other end to the office, and you’ll find that the steps do not add up to 3,300. This is because you’re not counting the 200 steps I did on the bus. Now, my bus is not a Flintstonemobile, we do not drive it with our legs out of the bottom. No, the two hundred steps are a testament to the state of Dublin’s roads and to the state of the suspension of Dublin’s buses.

I think the poor Pulse thought that I was white-water rafting.

Longer Days

The rain has just stopped, having fallen heavily all night. The sun is out, rising over the sea, a ball of almost-white yellow which may later turn to a more sun-like colour, yellow-orange and wearing a smiley face. A rayway of white light gleams across the snot-grey sea (really good description of its colour right now, I‘m surprised no-one ever thought of using it before), growing wider as it nears the shore.

As the song says, it’s looking like a beautiful day.

The only problem is that I know all of this because it is 6 am and I am sitting on the very first train into Dublin. I am on this train because I’ve been awake since 3.45, wondering how I’m going to do all the work that I have to do by next Friday, and so at 4.45 I got up and decided to get in early to at least make a start on it.

During January, February and March, as those of you around then will know, I worked the equivalent of 18 days in overtime in order, on top of my normal work, to help a firm of external consultants produce a report on our company which could later be used to attract Potential Investors. I would produce information, then reproduce it slightly differently, then produce different information altogether because it would turn out that they had actually not asked for the information that they needed. I answered questions, often several times, because, in my opinion, they never really knew what they were doing.

They finished their report, I announced that I was so fed up that I intended to leave the company, a lot of meetings were held and it was agreed that we would take on an extra staff member, that I would work normal hours and that I would leave every evening at 4.30. And this has worked well, I am happier at work, and I get home in time to see the Tinkids, or at least to hear them shout “hi” from behind the closed doors of their bedrooms.

Next week, as again you will all be tired of me banging on about, is the busiest week of our month, as GoldenEyes and I have five days to produce a 56-page report for Management. Since we got our new colleague this has become quite easy, and we have been able to manage it without working any overtime (we really are shit-hot). This month it is particularly important, as we have indeed found Potential Investors, and they are keen to see how we are getting on.

And the incompetent fuckers that produced the report last March are back.

The reason that they were taken on was so that Potential Investors would be directed to then rather than us, read their report, be stunned by its comprehensive and incisive analysis, and hurl money at us in bucket-loads, begging to be allowed to have just one-quarter of one millionth of one dectile (a word I learnt during the course of this week, people in business really do talk the greatest load of shit) of our glorious organisation.

The Potential Investors did indeed read the report, had one or two questions about it and, because the consultants don’t have a clue about what the report actually means, they have come running back to me. I’ve to answer more of their questions, once I figure out what it is that they need, and yet again, for the coming week be up with the lark (this morning I was up in time to cook its breakfast for it) and will be home with the, er, whatever that metaphor should end with.

On the bright side it’s a terrific test of the mindfulness course that I’ve just finished, a chance to see if I can remain calm, focused and free of stress while all of this goes on.

On the other side, I may just end up on the rooftop of the consultants’ building with a sniper rifle.

I Can See For Miles

I mentioned recently that I have acquired two pairs of glasses, one for short-range vision, one for seeing things farther away. It’s kind of an Amish version of bi-focals.

Anyway, things have gone fairly well up to now. I can read comfortably with the short-range pair, and, should I feel the sudden urge to do so, I could probably thread a needle, count the spots on the back of a ladybird, or, if not actually being able to count the angels dancing on the head of a pin, at least be able to see that they are there.

With the other pair I can see the surface of Saturn.

The two pairs came in identical cases, so I’m sure I don’t have to paint pictures of what happened this morning (you’ve seen my attempts at pictures, just imagine them with the wrong glasses).

I got onto the bus, fired up my netbook and started to type. What appeared on the screen appeared to be gibberish, which was probably actually the case, but blurred gibberish. On the other hand I could see traffic lights two miles away turning red, cyclists with no Hi-viz jackets were hi viz to me, and I could tell, not only how many passengers were at the next stop, but whether they were carrying the correct change or not, all of which would all have been more useful if I’d actually been driving the bus.

It’s a long and slow day when you struggle to read a computer screen, can’t tell 8s from 6s and generally manage to achieve nothing.

Though on the bright side, at least you can see the boss when he’s coming to see just how much nothing you are achieving.

Time Management

Those of you who come here regularly know what the first week of each month is like for me. GoldenEyes and I have four days to produce a report that should take about six, we work a lot of overtime and when I get home the last thing I want to see is a computer (well, actually, the last thing I want to see is a four-headed alien with a ray-gun and a sudden urge for love, but you know what I mean).

Therefore there is not a whole lot of blogging.

There has been a change at work, however, caused by our last quarterly staff survey. Because I had worked the equivalent of 18 days overtime over three months on a disastrously planned project done to an impossible deadline I put in the survey, for the first time ever, that I was not happy working in the company, and that I intend to leave within the next twelve months.

The survey, of course, is confidential, so we have had meetings to see what can be done to make me less unhappy.

(I feel that I should admit that there is an option to put your name to the survey if you wish, and I always take this option, so this is not as conspiracytheory as it sounds).

Our company has a new post of Engagement Manager, whose job it is to find and implement changes which will make people happier working there. She is a lovely, sweet, dedicated person, and as soon as she saw my survey she arranged to meet me. GoldenEyes and I have now been given a set of instructions.

Firstly, we are to take a full hour for lunch. Now, I reckon that King Arthur, feasting on suckling pig, wild boar and dragon’s sweetbreads could not have managed to make lunch last an hour, but I am doing my best, eating for the first ten minutes and staring out of the window for the other fifty.

This is because the second instruction, to spend at least fifteen minutes of that hour outdoors, has been put on hold until the north-easterly breeze presently visiting from well, the north-east (home to polar bears, penguins and Nanook of the North) has given way to something a bit less bracing.

Finally, I’m not allowed to work overtime anymore. I have to leave the office each day at four-thirty, and if this means that the four-day deadline becomes six, well, tough.

This is the first month of it. I’ve left work each day as instructed, feeling slight truantish, and have been home before six.

Therefore there is not a whole lot of blogging.

Where before I had too little time, now I have too much. I can read, sitting in the window in daylight. For the first time in months I can watch the Six O’clock News (apparently there’s some problem with the world’s economy, I just thought I’d let you all know). I can say hi to the Tinkids, and be told that their day was “fine”.

That’s why I wrote nothing yesterday. I kept thinking “I’ve loads of time, I’ll write something in a minute”, right up until it was time for bed.

It’s going to take a while to get used to all this extra free time, even though it’s only a few hours a day.

I’ve no idea how I’ll cope if I ever get to retire.

Stellar By Starlight

The clock going forward last weekend means that I am again getting up for work in the dark.

This reminds me of the times during the last couple of months when the project that I was working on seemed never-ending, and to try and ever-end it I was going into work at seven.

There is no bus that would get me in that early so I would have to leave my house at 5.30 for the longer walk to the station to catch the six o’clock train. This sounds like torture but in fact there were times when it was a lovely walk, with stars and the moon still in the sky.

There was nobody else around, a human silence in which to appreciate birdsong.

The walk would take me around the side of Greystones Golf Course and the beauty and variety of the sounds coming from the trees there can be breathtaking.

I don’t know much about ornithology so I can’t tell which birds I was listening to. I presume one of them was the lark, since otherwise the phrase “up with the lark” is meaningless.

As for the rest of the dawn chorus, they could be anything. Sparrows. Puffins. Tits.

At times the project caused exhaustion, stress, disillusionment and depression. But the morning walk used to help me deal with all of this.

The world around you, if you open your senses and take it all in, is a constant source of wonder.