This month marks a special birthday for me as I hit the half century in years, or as I like to call it 20 plus 30 years. Twenty years of growing up followed by thirty years in charge of the stationery cupboard at the various companies I have worked at, ensuring the smooth operation of business. In charge of the engine room.
You would not believe the changes I have seen over those years. I remember the arguments I used to have with Mary-Jane, the CEO’s secretary in my first job. Honestly, it felt like every week she was asking me to order in more Tipp-Ex typewriter correction sheets, which are basically little sheets of paper that you put over the mistake you have made when typing and then retype the letter and it puts a white mark over it so that you can go back and type over it again.
Yes, it really is as slow and painful as it sounds. If you were smart you could get a lot of corrections out of one sheet as long as you used the space carefully, a bit like cutting out shapes in your pastry, don’t leave gaps between cuts, it’s just wasted pastry! Mary-Jane didn’t like me pointing that out. “Well maybe you should look to get a job that you are good at then” I bit back. The next day it was me who was looking for a new job.
It didn’t take long, there are always companies looking for a stationery expert, someone who knows their full strip stapler from a half strip, an HB from a 2B pencil or a paper on board D-Ring lever arch file from a polypropylene 2-ring. Managing the stationery cupboard is more than just a job it is a passion that you are either born with or you are not. It is a serious business, but contrary to popular belief it does not make me boring. OK with age I have got a little more grumpy and intolerant, but that is not to say I have not had my days as the office joker.
In fact, my favourite story involves Tipp-Ex again, this is when we have moved on from the old typewriter version and it was in fact quite dangerous. The organic solvent trichloroethane was originally used as a thinner in the bottle which is readily absorbed by the lungs via inhalation. It passes readily through the blood–brain barrier and may be lethal following acute exposure. Trichloroethane is also an ozone depleter…sorry, I’m getting distracted telling you things that everyone already knows. As you know, this all changed at the end of the 1990’s when it was replaced by aliphatic hydrocarbons.
Anyway, you know the other thing about liquid Tipp-Ex? It looks like bird poop.
Well, we used to have a really horrible Salesman at one company, Sid was his name, a real bully and a bit of a shirker. Sid the Shirker I used to call him. Every 30 minutes he would be outside the office, on the front lawn, underneath the oak tree puffing on a cigarette (a disgusting habit, I did take a puff once at a party when I was just 18, I was nearly sick and had to get my Mum to come and pick me up). One day when Sid had been particularly rude to me (some people ARE interested in the difference between self-seal and peel & seal envelopes) I decided to get my revenge.
When he came back from one of his cigarettes breaks I dropped a bit of Tipp-ex on the back of his jacket. All afternoon people were laughing behind his back thinking a bird had pooped on him. Everyone thought I was the office joker, I had never been so popular. I carried on the prank for several weeks, picking on different smokers…until one day I picked on the bosses daughter, and I lost my job.
As I reach the big fifty I have less desire to be sociable or be Mr. Popular. Just the other day at lunch one of the new secretaries tried to make conversation, I’m sure she was only trying to be nice as she asked me what I like to do – “Eat my lunch in peace” was my rather curt reply.