Monday, 30 May 2011

Dispatches from my old life

For the last two weeks I've been working in Covent Garden, in the same building where I spent six years as a full-time employee. I don't come back that often these days, so on my way to the toilets or the kitchen I peer into the windows of the other offices, looking for anyone I used to know, my pallid face at the glass like a ghost.

Those toilets, I can report, are every bit as revolting as they ever were, with a luxurious carpet of ragged paper towels and toilet paper spread across the cubicle floor by approximately 11.30 in the morning, and mysterious sodden deposits of tissue blocking the basin plug holes. Women's magazine employees, it turns out, are far less fastidious about their toilets than they are about their wardrobes. I take a special interest in the toilets of this building as I spent a lot of time barricading myself in there towards the end of my permanent employment, attempting to fend off extreme anxiety-related nausea.

Some notes from my weeks back in Covent Garden:

a) As a freelance employee, I pass many hours sitting at other people's desks while they are on holiday. Alternative, they may recently have vacated their workstation for good, having moved on to a new job, perhaps with a bigger desk and a proper footrest. You can tell a lot about a person
from their desk. When it comes to eating lunch, you can ascertain whether they prefer a sandwich to a couscous salad by the nature of the crumbs trapped in their keyboard. You may be able to glean something of their personal life by the subject matter of their computer's desktop wallpaper. Popular subjects include:

1) Looming face of toddler filling the entire frame with 'adorable' drooling grin.
2) Pet cat.
3) Manchester United posing with trophy.
4) Liverpool posing with trophy.
5) Sunset holiday photo they are particularly proud of (location: usually Thailand), and are considering sending in for publication in a broadsheet newspaper (NB, my mum ACTUALLY HAD ONE OF THESE PUBLISHED in yesterday's Sunday Times, only it's not a sunset or Thailand).

1) to 3) I find offputting. 4) and 5) I can deal with.

I actually know the person whose desk I was sitting at for the last week, so no guesswork was required. She is a sweetheart. Even if I didn't have this prior information, I would still feel a fond affinity with her on account of the way she has worn away the S on her keyboard - which I assume is due to a neurotic and over-cautious tendency to press the apple key + 'S' every few minutes and save her work from the obliterative caprices of computer malfunction.

b) There are two zebra crossings just outside this building, which I have to cross on my way to and from the train station, and to and from somewhere nice to buy my lunch. That's four crossings a day. Over the years, I must have crossed those zebra crossings thousands of times, as well as many others across the length and breadth of England and Scotland (I've never been to Ireland or Wales). But during these two weeks, with their flurry of crossings-and-crossings-back, I've found myself suddenly stricken with doubt about my thank-you-to-stopping-motorists-wave.

Are you a thank-you-waver, zebra crossing-wise?

I like to think I present a veneer of good manners to the world, even if the tutting, scowling cracks beneath are plainly visible to the world. My intentions are towards a course of good manners and consideration. I say thank you to the bus driver as I tap my Oyster card. I'm nice to waitresses. And I give a little wave to motorists who slow down as I hover by a crossing. But this fresh waving anxiety is twofold. Firstly, I have found myself questioning the style of my wave. I imagine this is a long dark night of the soul familiar to Kate Middleton. I seem to favour a 'How!'-style raise of the palm – brisk, businesslike, direct. But now it's starting to feel soulless. I'm considering introducing a jauntier, from-the-wrist action – or even a subtle Mexican wave of the digits. Secondly, and more existentially, I'm starting to wonder if a wave is necessary at all. Is it slightly over-egging things? Now, as I conscientiously salute each motorist, I think I see, in the dead eyes that meet mine, some expression of 'Don't flatter yourself. I'm only stopping because it's the law.' Should I scale down the wave to a nonchalant head-nod or lift of the chin? I don't really do nonchalant though. I mostly do flapping.

c) If you want to get cash out at a lunchtime – or directly after work – in Covent Garden, you have no option but to queue. It's incredibly selfish that everyone else is attempting to withdraw funds in order to eat, shop or enjoy the company of their friends at the same time as you, but that's human nature. I try to fight against this every day, which is why I
say thank you to the bus driver as I tap my Oyster card and am nice to waitresses. Queuing is just part of us. And, for me, it's a time to reflect on the unanswered questions in my life, or else ponder the style choices of the persons queuing in front of me. I'm always in search of regular features to introduce on this blog – perhaps misguidedly I see them as an easy-and-quick way to up my feeble post rate. So *jaded drum roll* I present to you the first ever Cashpoint Couture. Or perhaps Cashpoint-Queue Cool. I don't know. I didn't really think it through that well. Anyway, here's the first entry:

I'm calling this first entry 'Home-knit or hipster?' Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course, but I hope you see the sociological difference in the generalised stereotyping of these two catergories. To illustrate: many years ago, I went to my company's in-house magazine awards, where one category was jointly won by the employees of Your Horse and The Face. Both teams were rocking tweedily geekish ensembles – one team voguishly, the other
innately – to the extent where it was difficult to tell which was which.

In other alliterative, potential-new-regular-post news, I'm also thinking of introducing 'Bus Bling' - a salute to the jewellery of my fellow bus passengers. Here, on the 185 from East Dulwich Station, I saw these rocks.

Hmm. Contender for most waffly post ever, I would say.


jaljen said...

Both Bus Bling and Cashpoint Couture are inspired.

I favour a wiggly-finger wave accompanied by a manic grin featuring full teeth. It's possible people think I'm mad....

trashsparkle said...

I've found myself doing the zebra-crossing thing too. A sort of nod and a glimmer of a smile, knowing that this is taking valuable milli-seconds which the driver would probably prefer me to spend on just getting across the damn road.

Cashpoint Couture and Bus Bling both have glittering futures ahead of them....

Alison Cross said...

I do a microwave - a smile and a teeny tiny wave at the driver. I always thank bus drivers. I also buy my postman some chocolates at Christmas - and my son's lollypop lady.

All these little things are what make us civilised :-)

Lovvvvving that cashpoint fashion. I had no IDEA you were standing behind me in that queue. (onleh jokin!!)

Ali x

Persephone said...

While you're deciding how to wave, I think you should know, should you ever decide to visit Canada, never (please! polite wave) ever use the expression "Red Indian". Good heavens, I thought that went out with "Negro". (In case you were wondering, it's "First Nation" here, and "American Indian" in the States.)

Miss Jones said...

Apologies for my ignorance, Persephone. I will edit. Hope that hasn't upset anyone. Was probably channelling some children's library book from the 70s. x

InvisibleWoman said...

I generally have to contort my face from the snarling scowl greeting the backs of the cars that didn't stop to a sickly 'thank you' grin and nod to the poor sop who did. On the other hand, If I was driving and some-one waved at me as they crossed, I'd be in a blind panic wondering who that was as I have the worlds worst memory for faces.