published in Some Think Blue magazine may 2010.
He shuffles behind me, hands clasped behind his back, cold blue eyes looking fixedly at the floor. Is this symptomatic of an anxious first day or something more sinister? Put your hands where I can see them, I want to tell him, before my under-stimulated mind fantasizes they are brandishing something, discreetly wielding the blunt object of my demise.
Would I be clubbed to death by a Sellotape dispenser or could he evoke the ultimate admin urban legend; bleeding me dry with a series of well-placed paper cuts? I find myself hoping that he is gifted with such precision, then at least he’d be more adept at stuffing envelopes than the last worker. That darling back-to-work teenage mum whose 16-sided “letter sculpture” would have been appropriate if addressed to Nicolas Serota or Charles Saatchi. Sadly its superior geometry was lost on Dr Hussain, GP.
Examining the new employee I wonder if ours would be yet another working relationship of teacher and pupil. I recall a previous receptionist who illustrated she’d grasped the concept of flow charts with the following:
It posed more questions than it answered: does David have a bad case of acne or a rare skin condition? Is green love more desirable than blue love? Just who was Mr Jeff and what did he do to make God spurn his affections? It did however, clear up one of life’s greater mysteries, proving definitively the existence of God.
I pass the temp a set of IT forms and wonder if he’ll have a penchant for downloading porn and taking naps under the manager’s desk like last month’s guy? Or would he fail to make it through a single working day? Will he surpass the current record holder who, after just 4 hours in post, reported he was “just going to the ladies” never to be heard of again? Why is it that NHS admin temp roles always attract flora and fauna from the bizarrest of Galapagos’ gene pools? In the private sector you’d never be expected to provide the support & skill-set development to allow someone to find a cab number on Google. Perhaps I’m being unfair, and maybe the NHS’s inclusive employment policy is a positive thing. Just because people strike us as odd, have eccentric habits or lack social skills doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a bad worker but our prejudices and lack of patience prevent us from appreciating less obvious qualities.
One of our most diligent ex-temps was the pristinely presented June. She came complete with her own sanitary kit, which she used to glean the polish off every surface she touched. One day she approached my colleague with a concerned expression and asked tentatively “what’s the likelihood of catching AIDS if you work in an HIV support clinic? Only there’s this reception vacancy…” He gave her a brief chat about birds, bees and STDs, and seemingly satisfied, she left the post soon after. God only knows if she’s sat this minute, front of house, dutifully cleaning retrovirals off door handles until one day she sprays just a little too much disinfectant on a light switch. But at least she got the job done.
I glance at my new colleague and am greeted with a clumsy grin. It would seem that the NHS is a haven for discombobulated folk who would be otherwise unemployed. It may not create the most efficient service, but shouldn’t people be given the chance to work? Yes, but not if his presence is just going to double my workload. Inspecting his ruffled hair, dishevelled shirt, and not dissimilar resemblance to Fred West, there is only one thing I know for sure about our time together: this tour of the building is not going to include the basement.
populus valetudo muneris terrenus opus at rest in his natural habitat