A year and innumerable bad decisions after graduating I found myself trudging the low grade temping circuit trying to keep enough pennies in my pocket to pay rent and bum aimlessly about with all the direction and drive of the most cosseted of graduate twerps.
I had been at Islington Parking and Finance about 2 weeks when I was joined on the phones by Dave. Dave was a large, sullen black Muslim of about 30 with sharp saturnine features and a very serious beard. He wore flowing traditional dress and had the permanent expression of a man who spent too much time chastising children. You would have described Dave as surly had you seen him in a Jacuzzi being fed pineapple chunks by 72 virgins. To see him on the phones of the councils parking department was to witness a one-man theatre of ill temper.
Dave would never say good morning and would respond under duress to the only the strictest of work related questions. Its fair to say that I didn’t warm to my new co-worker, and equally, his contempt for me hung over our desks like the smell of his roast halal chicken. Unfortunately, we were the only two designated operators, and so, sat directly opposite each other on the same desk that over time and via the process of bureaucratic erosion had become the ox-bow lake of the office units. We were stuck with each other.
Secreted in the corner of the large open plan office in our clerical sub state (which was also a fax haven! waheee), it soon became apparent that hitherto accepted office customs were no longer to be adhered to. One morning I arrived to find Dave sat at my desk, an uncharacteristic look of satisfaction at play on his usually brooding face. I asked if he’d initiated a game of musical chairs to which he responded, “I got here first.”
My initial reaction was to wonder whether the same rules applied to dinner with his wife that evening, but I decided to let this ride as I knew that with its wall facing monitor my desk was the more desirable, allowing as it did for all day internet access away from the prying eyes of jobsworths and the boss lady. Perhaps, I reflected, this was the first sign of Dave’s essential humanity. Maybe we weren't so very different after all. Yeah, that was it, the D man just wanted to catch himself some web time. The Davester was going to kick back and read the funnypapers! El Daverino needs to email his good buddies! Fine, I thought, this I can respect.
When Dave repeated the trick the next day, and the next, he confirmed what I had suspected all along: Dave was a prick. In the words of Kinky John Fowler, I was being ‘usurped in my own territory.’ It was now apparent that the Rubicon had been crossed; the laws of the jungle were now in force; mere chaos was loose upon our desk.
Over the proceeding weeks an increasingly petty war of one upmanship was fought. We refused to take each others calls, we vied over the desk; Dave began taking his lunch at strategic times, leaving me hanging for the hour it took him to eat his chicken drumsticks in the direction of mecca. My work ethic was re-evaluated in the knowledge that the less I did the the more Daves load pilled up (not that I really needed an excuse but this was the ideal incentive). When the world cup started and we were allowed to watch the odd game, I saw an opportunity to exploit the office jingoism and leave Dave on the phones simmering with silent disdain at these communal sporting reprieves. Dave eventually countered by feigning a commitment to letter appeals, meaning the phones would ring throughout the game until eyes turned to me.
Knowing that we had varying phone numbers, my trump card was to unplug my phone line sporadically throughout the day and then sit back as Daves line rang of the hook, I would then shrug and defer to sods law. Great days.
One particularly busy morning when the non-airconditioned office was dizzy with sweltering heat, I got up to plug in a fan in the last available plug. Dave took exception to this, maintaining that the wire was blocking his path from the desk. I pointed out that the desk was an island and had alternative exit points. Dave shook his head. I continued to set up the fan. Daves voice became sterner.
“its not going there.”
“Yes it is Dave, its the only available place and Its too hot.”
“I don’t care, its not going there.”
“Yes it is, there isn’t anywhere else.”
We continued in the this vein for a minute or so. Perhaps it was the heat or the inevitable climax of our mutual emnity, but neither of us was willing to concede or consider enlisting a co-worker as arbiter.
“I’m leaving it there Dave, its as simple as that.”
Then it came, the coup de grace.
“Let’s take this outside.”
Now, at this juncture a man has a number of options:
1. Laugh off the sheer absurdity of the notion, as if the very idea was utterly preposterous to a man of your breeding and education.
2. Submit to the easy will of your machismo and pride, and pick up the gauntlet with a flourish.
3. Accept, mindful that your foe could be exercising a reasoned prudence, and may well intend only to discuss the matter further in privacy.
4. Feign a sudden shiver, apologize for the inconvenience and scurry back to your seat.
“Fine,” came my reply.
As I followed Dave outside, all notion of a civilised resolution quickly evaporated as Dave headed with some purpose to the yard at the back of the building. He then turned to me and uttered the immortal words:
“Lets see what you’ve got.”
What followed was hardly a scene from Bloodsport. It was a challenge just to take the situation seriously, let alone muster the required aggression for such a pre-lunch showdown. A few tentative punches were thrown, and then a brief locking of horns before we were pulled apart by a level headed colleague on a ciggie break. At this point Dave came for some ‘afters’ and tried to remove my baby blues with his unkempt Saracen fingernails, leaving me bloody and indignant. A low blow indeed.
A fairly unedifying day, but there it is. We were both fired. A blessing in disguise as I was then free to pursue my dream career as cocktail barman at the Bugbar in Brixton.
The incident was documented for posterity in a poem by a colleague Daniel, who, although not ring side, managed to capture the ludicrousness of it all.
An ecstacy of tumbling
In the fresh air
Boys will be boys
Play. But, dont care.
One step two step
Kickly under there
Eyes are burning
Lipsil no consequence
Tap tappy tap tap
Black master grappler
White fight stick ninja
PLAY IT BY THE BOOK
Uniform Interruption !
Tears before lunchtime
Hometime come soon time
Alas, no more park style
Tears from food twotone
Missed by the massive
Adored by the ladies
Never come say never do
Living in penury
Future in the toilet.