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Monday, 21 June 2010

Metal Guru

Bloody hell, I'm in for it. I knew it was foolhardy of me to disclose in an earlier missive that I was a retired civil servant.

The sight of Melanie Phillips chasing me with a cleaving axe, followed by millions of Daily Mail readers wanting to get their hands on me and my gold plated pension fills me with horror. It's not what they'd do to me, you understand, it's the ghoulish spectacle of them all.

I own up - it is my pension (gold plated, encrusted with diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones from the mystical East) that is burning a hole in the country's back pocket.

What a fool I was to own up to having spent a trouble free career  in the service of Her Majesty's Government. Yes it was me who, for all those years, drunk tea, bent paper clips and photocopied my  naked backside. In the early days however that last piece of office best practice was pretty hairy - the photocopier consisting of smelly and slightly acidic fixing fluid.

Oh the tales I could tell of raucous office "Away Days"; learning about the latest management skills and techniques; devising torturous form filling procedures that we could inflict on the general public or trying to find out the rationale behind yet another performance and pay review scheme.

Looking back on a long and successful career (I didn't spill my boss's tea or inadvertantly do something right at the first time of asking), I realise now that my time could have been better spent doing something productive. Possibly a bank manager, insurance salesman, oil driller or even a genetic scientist. As my dear mother used to say, constantly, I was good for nothing: which is why the Civil Service was the ideal choice.

I didn't only work in Central Government. Oh no! For a few years I was employed by a local authority - trying to be a social worker. It was only after succeeding in being very unsuccessful in that area that I succeeded in joining the Civil Service. I successfully joined the local authority after a hugely unsuccessful time as a copywriter in a small advertising agency off Fleet Street.

Ah those joyous far off days! Hot metal, perspiring foreheads and bottles of light ale to keep you going - and that was just the secretary - it was a very small agency.

The call would ring out from the account manager's office, he having returned from a long client lunch. "Did I tell you we have a presentation to a prospective client this afternoon?" To be greeted by "No you f'***** you didn't!" With pad in hand and pencil at the ready, I and the art director and someone who could draw would huddle in a corner of the office creatively creating ad compaigns to sell to an expectant public..... photographic equipment. "Can't we use the one we couldn't use last week?", How about ripping off the Volkswagen ad?" Such were the creative beads of sweat that poured from our arm pits.

I remember one campaign we did. It was for Leica cameras. Actually it wasn't for the manufacturers - just the importer - but a quality product none the less. Our media buyer had secured, I think, a six page pull out in "The Observer", the ad was to be all black and white - contrasting with the majority of colour ads usually carried in Sunday supps.

"Leitz, Camera, Action". At the time I didn't think much of it as a headline; now I surprised it didn't win one of "Campaign"'s annual awards. It goes without saying that I didn't dream it up. No, my job was to write reams and reams of boring body copy and unusually I was extremely successful. It was extremely boring.

My entry in local government employment was precipitated by a Coke throwing incident. During a spate of office badinage  the art director sprayed me with fixing liquid. I suppose he thought "I'll fix him", which in a sense he did because I retaliated by downloading the contents of a Coke can onto him. My P45 followed me quickly out of the door.

I met the guy about 6 years later in a pub in Hackney. We'd just moved there and I remember when I saw him thinking, "Well you can't have done that well, living here." Yeah, I know.

I mentioned above that I could have done something worthwhile - like an insurance salesman. In fact I did work, for a time, at the  Eagle Star Insurance Co Ltd,  in a gorgeous Georgian town house next to the Ritz Hotel. For some unfathomable reason the company's Personnel Division thought I'd be useful in their actuarial department. For some equally unfathomable reason I thought that meant being a seriously important person having read how important (and well paid) were actuaries.

Instead I was part of a "policy surrender valuation" team. Our job to work out how little we had to pay people who for one reason or another surrendered their endowment insurance policies. It was soul destroying work. The office was overseen by a proper actuary. I say "overseen", he just sat in the same room as us: suitably segregated and did "important" work, occasionally being troubled by one of the supervisors to rule on a particularly difficult case.

Most of the day was taken up applying tables, sticking in the numbers and doing the calculations. We didn't have electronic calculators - these were mechanical monsters: a cross between a typewriter and printing press.This was hard labour calculation.

You didn't in a girly way key in a few figures and press the equals sign. No, you  entered the figure using the keyboard, turned the handle and up came the number on a mechanical cash till like display. If you wanted to add another number  you again keyed in the number and turned the handle in the same direction; to subtract you turned it in the opposite direction. You did this all day. The supervisor would check your work and the actuary would sign off the letters which accompanied the surrender value offer.

The intention was for me to pursue a correspondence course preparing me for the Institute of Actuaries exams. I managed one exercise only, gave up and decided that my creative spirit was being crushed so took a job as a messenger and film packer for Unilever's educational department, before getting an interview and job as a copy writer. 

From this brief, and honest, tale of my non public sector employ it is clear that I was ideally suited for a "Men from the Ministry" career. Incompetence and sheer lack of application marked me out as one of those bowler hatted parasites the Mail properly identify as dragging down this great nation of ours.

Come tomorrow, I confidently predict that George Osborne will from the Government Front Benches stand up and name me as the main cause of the £trillion pension "black hole".

All I can say is "I'm sorry". At the time it didn't seem like I was draining the life blood of the nation: just doing a dishonest day work. Honest gov'.

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