Making an exhibition of myself

How come Sly Stallone is so sexy in ‘Rocky’, but so minging in every other film? What exactly is it I don’t like about dogs (is it the shitting on the pavement, or is it the smelliness)? Does the delivery guy fancy me? These are just some of the thoughts that go through the mind of the average temp as she sits at her desk, shuffling papers to look busy, or staring at her blank VDU with an ‘engrossed and hard at work’ look on her face.

Apparently there are ‘supertemps’ with typing speeds of 300 wpm and degrees in sucking up to the boss, who get the top city jobs, which pay £25 an hour. I’m sure they’re rushed off their stilletto-ed feet, with not a minute for idle musing. But the majority of temps will find that, for at least a portion of the day, they are stuffing envelopes, filing and opening post. And for all but the most dull, this will not fully occupy their active young minds. Leaving them free to mentally construct witty multi-purpose put-downs, and answer the more pressing questions of their existence, such as does a head scarf and gold hoop earring combo make me look unacceptably ‘gypsy’?

That is what the usual receptionist/admin bod/audio typist jobs I do are like. But this week I was dumped into the black hole of temping, into a sphere of work of which I had hitherto only been dimly aware. My booker had said “Darling, can you be at Earl’s Court Exhibition Hall at 7.30 a.m.?” Heart sinking, I gutlessly trilled “Course I can, thanks sooo much! £6 an hour? That’s absolutely fantastic!” I had no real idea of what I what I was going to be doing, but my luckless brother has ‘done’ the exhibitions thing several times, and has returned with grim tales of rank uniforms, tortuous hours and stressy, chain-smoking organisers.

Anyway, I rocked up at 7.30 on Monday in the requested all-black and was swiftly handed an attractive polyester scarf to wear. I then sat in a cold office with 20 other monochrome temps for two-and-a-half hours. When I enquired why we had to be in at 7.30 if the Internet World exhibition didn’t start until 10, I received a contemptuous look from a hardened ‘expo’ and was told that it was to make sure we weren’t late. Interesting. Clearly, intelligence, punctuality and diligence were not a major expectation on the part of my employers. Four days of slacking off I could definitely handle.

But at 10 I was seated at what looked suspiciously like a 1985 Amstrad. Then they opened the doors. Within seconds, the previously tomb-quiet foyer was filled with 1000s of geeks desperate to find out about new HTMLs, 20-year-old MDs of dotcoms, and doddery old geezers who’d come to find out if they could get ‘inline’ on the ‘world wide intynet’. And they all had to register with me first.

“Hi! Do you have your registration card? Thanks so much! Bear with me, sir…(protracted period of one finger typing)…that’s great…go to the end of the next desk and pick up your badge. Enjoy the show!” As the queues got longer, and the guests became more impatient, I just became more inanely cheery, daring someone to be rude, daring them to ignore my shit-eating grin. At first, the effort of figuring out the computer kept me diverted. But as the days wore on my mind would wander as I typed in the millionth illegible surname – to scenarios in which I was being romanced simultaneously by Drs. Ross and Kovac from ER. To the puzzle of Britney’s breasts. To that row I had with my best friend when we were 14. Inevitably, I got slower and slower, pre-occupied with why my friend had never apologised for telling everyone I fancied her brother. Bitch! Eventually, a stroppy French bloke barked “Excuse me, do you think you could type any slower?”

My moment had come! Still mentally cross-examining my childhood pal, I looked up, smiled sweetly and said “I’m sure I could sir. Would you like me to try?” Sweet Victory! I was 100% SASSY!! And, best of all, my boss was nowhere in earshot! I was so impressed with my wit that I replayed the exchange in my mind several times that day, and then re-enacted it for the benefit of my dad at home. Temps have to salvage their dignity where they can, and just for a second, one punter was forced to see me as more than a rather inefficient automaton.

Unfortunately, any shreds of self-esteem I had garnered were soon ripped away again. My boss had given me a flatteringly tentlike T-shirt covered in corporate computer logos. This was bad enough. But the final humiliation came when faceless geekboy #200897 leaned over my desk, stared at my T-shirted chest for some time, and then remarked to his friend “I didn’t know Cisco Systems were sponsoring this”. My boobs – modesty aside, people don’t usually miss them – reduced to advertising space! I WAS no longer a person, but just a machine, a faceless, boobless machine!

I am not one to leave an experience without learning its lessons. This week I have learned:

1) Never take a job so hectic that daydreaming seriously impairs your performance.

2) Take a good book to any job that claims to start at 7.30 a.m.

3) Always wear tight tops.

4) Temping fills you with existential despair.

Actually I already knew about no 4. But it never hurts to remind yourself that your life’s going nowhere. It helps wile away the inert hours between lunch hour and home time.