Office Tales: The Colonel

When our boss smugly announced he’d just made £70,000 with one phone call, I was unimpressed. Seconds earlier, he’d told me my £8,000 salary was ‘pretty high’ for a young graduate. A few months before, I’d been lured to an interview by a second-hand verbal promise that he was looking for six trainee journalists.

In reality, he wanted one admin lackey to input data and extract invoices from a clearly-possessed printer. Desperate for work, I accepted, even saying that I was sure the financial package would be ‘just fine’. I’m sure I saw a twinkle in the eye of this perma-tanned, self-loving man of the world as he registered my laughable innocence. But while he was bright enough to see my erstwhile colleagues and me coming, he didn’t realise we might one day get our own back.

My partner in counter-insurgency was my line manager. When, I had an issue with an obnoxious client, I passed the call over to her and she would sweet-talk them better. Once this was resolved, we’d spend the afternoon calling them back and playing inappropriate music down the phone. Alternatively, we’d connect them to a Radio 1 phone line in which a pre-recorded Mr Angry bellowed abusively at the confused caller. Oh, for the salad days before 1471!

During the transport strikes in London that summer, we were expected to make our way to work, wherever we lived. The first week, I arrived at my city workplace via a sardine-packed bus and several hours footslog. Walking six miles home amused me even less as I watched my boss’ taxi slip into the twilight. From then on, I was more pragmatic. I’d rise two hours late and enjoy a relaxing al fresco breakfast before ringing the office from the nearest noisy payphone claiming to be stuck somewhere completely different while sounding mortified that I wasn’t yet manning my desk. It was a sad day when the strikes ended and Lazy Thursday became a working day once more.

One day, our deluded chief foolishly asked my manager and me to stuff thousands of envelopes for a mailshot. We did just that – stuffing armfuls into the bin while only occasionally breaking into paroxysms of work when the office martyr arrived to help. She was paid even less than us, but favoured passive moaning over active rebellion. It was a heavy but satisfying load that I delivered into the arms of the bin men that night.

Whether he ever knew he got the workers he deserved, remains a mystery. Whether he ever knew I deleted almost all his subscribers from my PC by accident is another.

Certainly, he seemed oblivious of our greatest and final triumph. With the ‘name game’ we succeeded in changing his very identity. We would subtly correct the pronunciation of those that rung him – a vowel here, a consonant there, so that after several months, his public name morphed by degrees into something entirely new. The man formerly known as Brunton became Branston and Brunswick, before maturing into the more complete identities of Kelvin Beanstalk and Conan Broomstick. Finally, this stock of mixed identities was reduced to its purest essence: The Colonel. And before The Colonel left the building, we had moved on. Our work here was done.

The Guardian 2007