One of the promises I made - both to myself and to my employer who holds a sizeable pension in my name - is that I'd never write about the people I work with. I have colleagues who could fill these pages for the next few months, but alas, while they remain within the employ of this fine Corporation, their stories must remain untold. The ones who have gone on to pastures now, however, are fair game. Heh.
Good grief, where do I start? My first memory of this place was of the office lesbians playing tonsil-hockey in the reception area, while waiting, a nervous wreck, for a job interview as a computer operator. From that jaw-dropping moment (it was 1989 after all, and lesbians hadn't been invented), it was all downhill for the next fifteen years.
There was "Special Agent Dick." Many of the people who work in this remote arm of a large Broadcasting Corporation in Britain, especially in the closing days of the Cold War, were taken on for their, let me say, unique talents. Many were dissidents and refugees, others just plain weird. Special Agent Dick was one of the latter, perhaps the most paranoid man on the planet. He claimed to be the inventor of the tin foil hat, and given a saw and sharp knives would probably have attempted to demonstrate that he really did have a radio in his head controlled by Leonid Brezhnev.
I arrived at work one evening to find the place surrounded by police cars, flashing lights, cordon, the works. It turned out that Dick had been doing his laundry in the machine in the cleaners' area, gone away for a cup of tea, only to find that someone had made off with his Y-Fronts.
Spies! It had to be the KGB, onto his case at last. There was nothing for it - down to the phone box at the end of the road and 999. They declined to send MI5, so the Thames Valley's finest turned up instead. Sheepishly, Inspector Knacker inspected the evidence and announced to Special Agent Dick that Communist Spies were not to blame at all - au contraire, the Y-Fronts were still there, stuck to the drum by the fast spin.
Dick was last seen in the canteen trying to remove a piece of bread from a toaster with a knife. It was at that point he was asked to leave.
I should laugh - the day after this piece was written, a certain S Duck could be seen climbing through the self-same laundry window wearing nothing but a pair of shorts (commando style) and a Father Ted t-shirt in a desparate attempt to rescue all of his clothes that were locked inside.
Other loonies included Maria, a Slovak speaker, closely related to the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. She scared grown men, and gave kids nightmares. To say she was superstitious was an understatement - she would book every single Friday 13th off work, and any day that looked inauspicious on her horoscope. She put a curse on our department, which has still not been lifted. I knew I shouldn't have taken the piss out of her hairy armpits.
Gullible as hell, she took the change from typewriters to computers very badly, and was convinced that the rays from the screens would render us all impotent and turn us into dribbling zombies. She was part right, then. To save herself, she bought several pairs of pinhole glasses - specs with solid plastic lenses with dozens of holes in them that made you look like a fly, and allegedly shielding your eyesight from deadly gamma radiation. All well and uselesss sitting in front of your screen, but all the time, even in the canteen for lunch? Asked to leave on a generous pension...
Others were mad and useless, and were given their just desserts - promotion above and beyond their capabilities. Take a certain French linguist. For starters, her grasp of the French language was tenuous in the extreme - an interview with the French Prime Minister was translated into a baffling polemic on the subject of hamsters, while a story on the building of a replica rocket in Belgium's Tin-Tin theme park was faxed to the Ministry of Defence marked "Urgent".
It was in her capacity as a Senior Editor that Jan's lack of talent really shone through. Those present will never forget the editorial meeting where a tape recording of the Two Minute's Silence was requested. We excelled on that front - we managed to provide an entire C-90 of silence just for her. Asked to leave on a generous pension...
Even my own department was not immune from lunatics, as my recent story on The Curse of Barking Steve attests. But there were others.
Pete was a lippy Scouser taken on when we were desperate and/or temporarily insane. He liked a drink did our Pete, and would often turn up to work half pissed, before slinking off to the pub as soon as back were turned. He wasn't helped by another colleague - two-timing on his girlfriend - who would bribe us all with alcohol "liberated" from the Circle K he moonlighted at in return for alibis.
On one occasion, Pete arrived for a night shift, an hour late and with a retinue of idiots he'd met in the pub, failed to do a stroke of work for the entire shift, and was found, still drunk, asleep under a desk at nine the next morning, with several idots, caked in vomit, unconscious in the tape store. Asked to leave when he drunkenly put a stolen car into a ditch whilst desperately trying to get into work a mere five hours late. The only time I've ever seen a colleague chased from the premises. I never saw him sober.
Darren had a habit of not turning up for his shifts, mainly because his Danish girlfriend - who he worshipped - wouldn't let him leave the house. And let's face it, with a crazed naked Scandiwegian barring your way to freedom, who wouldn't?
So, it came as no surprise that Darren failed to turn up one Thursday lunchtime. Obviously banging away at his Viking sex kitten, we surmised - he may just turn up in time for tea and cakes. Fat chance. He didn't turn up the next day. Or the next. Then came a call on the Bat Phone.
"It's me, Darren," said a distant voice.
"Where the fuck are you?" asked an understandably upset supervisor.
Christiana had given him an ultimatum - go back with her to some tiny village near Copenhagen, or it's over; and she more-or-less kidnapped the poor sod. Within a week he was back and begging for his job.
Three months later, there was another phone call.
"Where the fuck are you?"
"Well, fucking stay there this time."
Marian was a cleaner. No maid she, she was known as Mad Marian, or to give her full title "Sex Mad Marian". Fifty if she was day, she dressed like a teenager let loose in Chelsea Girl for the first time, with make-up by Stevie Wonder. She frightened the hell out of the entire male staff with her rampaging sexual prowess and bandy legs.
In charge of cleaning up the Lodge, where staff could stay overnight at an impressively low rate, she had a habit of turning up to clean the rooms while guests still slept, and whipped back the covers to "inspect" the goods. It led to a prolonged and entirely embarrassing affair with one of my close colleagues that we're all too ashamed to talk about even now.
So, there we were, sitting in the bar one lunchtime, nursing a pint and trying not to think about going back to work. In tramps Marian.
"It's me birthday," she announced, "Who's going to come down to the laundry an' fuck me?"
Never has the bottom of one's glass looked so interesting. There were, I am sickened to report, takers.
Just in case anyone I work with is reading this, see if you can guess which current highly respected staff member approached me with this request:
"Ah, Scary. Tell me now, do we receive Nigerian Radio?"
"Why yes, we do," I replied, tuning the station in on one of our exceedingly impressive radios. "When do you want it for?"
"1800 hours. Yesterday."
"Ah. Take a close look here at this piece of equipment. It is a radio. The time machine is still on order."
Fifteen years in the same job. The vast majority of the people I have worked with in this time have been perfectly sane individuals who have been a pleasure to work with. It is, however, the loonies, drunks, pre-op trans-sexuals and Keepers of the Dressing-Up Box that made it interesting.