On my 21st Birthday after many months of completing applications and medicals I joined the RAF. After 3 weeks I’d left. I had been mistaken in my judgement of what the experience would entail. When the first week had past and the Harley Davidson and leather jacket hadn’t materialised and the only thing I had to show for the whole debacle was a shaven head, I had made my mind up that I wanted to go.
Of course, this left me back in Manchester, with a crew cut and no job. After a week of feeling sorry for myself I lumbered into the local recruitment branch and after conducting a test of my technology skills I was immediately sent for an interview at a new contact centre for IT training that was to open in Stockport. I attended, was successful and told to turn up Monday for induction. Little did I know that the job I was about to undertake would be the equivalent of living my life in a sitcom for the next three years.
I started with Mark and a woman called Julie. We were collected from reception and immediately taken on the office tour by the receptionist, Leslie. We all squeezed into the lift to start the tour on the 9th Floor. Julie was a thick set lady to be polite. If I was being rude I would describe her as a giant walking amoeba. Leslie herself had a cell block H look going on with short spiky hair and a rather offensive stubble. She was attempting to describe one of the team leaders. “You’ll be working for Helen, team leader on Pathway. She’s a bit of a big lady.” There was a pregnant pause for what felt like a good ten seconds before Leslie looked Julie up and down then directly in the eye, a woman she met less than 10 minutes ago. “Yes, big woman, bit like you.” Myself and Mark looked at each other containing our grin before looking away to avoid the impending giggles. This was a microcosm of the things to come.
After settling in for a week, Mark and I had become good friends and were getting to grips with the systems and processes. However, there was one thing bugging us. One of the four team leaders was a girl called Lisa. Bright red hair, white fluffy face plastered with make up. She had the appearance of a puffer fish made up like Ronald McDonald. Ironically, her body looked like someone had force fed a donkey with Happy meals, dressed it in clothes from New Look and taught it to walk upright. Of course, I’m not nasty to everyone who I find repulsive or I wouldn’t find enough time in the day but she was intent on being a complete bitch with both of us. Drunk on power from her first job as a supervisor, she was constantly picking us up on little things. This made her public enemy number one and the constant butt of all our private jokes.
We eventually decided on her nickname to be Fred Elliot, due to the water balloon of a double chin that resided on her fat fucking face. We let someone else in on the joke one lunchtime. Big mistake. Half an hour later myself and Mark were sat one desk apart when a giant voice boomed out to us.
“What’s this nickname then?” I turned round to be confronted a small crowd. At the front stood the behemoth herself, hands on hips, face like she’s just took a swig of vinegar. It became evident that she knew we had a nickname for her, but didn’t know what it was. I paused for a second then did what any real man in those circumstances would have done.
“Mark said it”
“No I dint”
We both sat red faced as the crowd dispersed and she backed down. In hindsight I probably should have turned round and told her straight faced “We said you look like Fred Elliot from Coronation Street, the fat butcher with a head like a bollock” but you can’t have regrets. We won in the end.
Rob, or ‘Bert’ as he become affectionately known, was the office clown. He had the appearance of an adult baby and the bowels of Beelzebub himself. One day he had imparted one of these clouds of awfulness. As I came back from the toilets I walked through the aroma and was mistaken as to its source. I should have known by the fact people were marching out like a fire had started. “Mmmmm, who’s had a sausage barm?” I asked. At that point a chinese guy, Wanny, could bare the smell no longer and grabbed a bottle of fake Calvin Klein aftershave and began covering the surrounding area like he was using a pepper spray. Just at the point when the chaos was dying down, we heard a low wheezing noise, like a dog slowly chewing a squeaky toy. We realised at this point that Fred Elliot was lying face up within one of the cubicles having a rather severe Asthma attack. Because of this incident she had to have three weeks off and went back on strong steroids. Bert’s arse -1 Asthmatic Fat Girl – 0.
As the team developed the back desks of the office became a real barometer to how your day would pan out. Get one of them, and no one could look over your shoulder. It’d be Tetris and pornography all day. Fail, and you would actually have to take calls. Myself and Mark nearly came to blows one Friday when I’d been sitting at the back left station all week and he sneaked in and pinched it. We had to be separated. Genuinely facing off against each other because of the prospect that we’d actually have to earn our money that day.
As the months went by we had managed to assemble a rag tag bunch of misfits within the office to form a fairly close knit group. Most lunch times we would pile round to a house or a car park and smoke skunk. I don’t think any of us really realised then but looking back now they were really happy times. However, this plain sailing was about to hit some bad weather provided by the biggest scandal during my time there, the persecution of the Pathway nine.
At that time, the internet was a new shiny invention. No one knew how traceable it was. Every page you visited, every email you sent was watched by another pair of eyes. We had sleepwalked into a pornography trap, or a “flap” if you like. A dirty, seedy semen web of pornography browsing that none of us knew the repercussions that were to come.
We heard a rumour go round and everyone emptied their emails and browsing history but it was too late. They had us. We were summoned to the board room whilst the one eyed Managing Director informed us of our suspension. We were handed an A4 envelope each then escorted off the premises. Panic ensued. We immediately all piled round to one of the lads houses as he was at home on holiday. Seven of the nine of us sat on Gavin’s double bed smoking resin discussed what the outcome would be. In times like this you see how people react in a crisis. Some were calm and resigned, some collapsed. I like to think I was somewhere in the middle. Inside I was stressing but I maintained the rule I’d followed throughout my life, no grassing.
The days of the disciplinary hearings arrived and we were ushered in one after the other like lambs to the slaughter. Seven of us got final written warning, two went down. The deciding factor being whether you’d sent the emails as well as received them. The enduring memory of the whole episode will be when they pushed the evidence file across to me in the meeting and asked if I recognised some of the images. The top picture was a vagina dressed as “the predator” from the Arnold Swarzenegger movie, complete with dripping spunk as saliva. It was the one and only picture I looked at before answering, “yes”.
Another memory I often recall comes from when I’d moved out of the call centre into the IT department. Let me tell you now, anyone who worked in IT in the early millennia and tells you they worked hard are talking shit. Maybe now, as the industry is becoming more understood so these departments get scrutinised more thoroughly then I can believe it, but back then we did absolutely and completely fuck all, all day, every day, every month. People knew fuck all about what you did so we milked it for all it was worth. It was like IT was the new rock and roll and we were the Who. My time there was and still is without a doubt the best job I’ve ever had.
One dreary October afternoon, one guy, who I will refer to as the Mantis due to the severity of the act that took place, was bragging about his air rifle. Myself and James coerced him to bring it in from the car. On this particular day the boss was off so he unsheathed it (his rifle) in the bosses office on the 9th floor. We started pelting him with questions. How far can it fire? Would it kill someone? Eventually this led to us pressuring him into firing a shot out of the window. What I witnessed was one of the dodgiest things I’ve ever seen, and I grew up in Wythenshawe. Without even a breath, he drew the loaded rifle up and aimed at the bus stop outside the office block. Not an empty bus stop, oh no. At least 8 or 9 people were mulling about it. Pop, reload, pop.
The atmosphere of the room changed immediately as all three of us instantly realised what had just occurred was severely on top. We scattered back to our desks and sat in silence as the Mantis dismantled the rifle like a trained assassin and scampered to the car with his “snooker cue” to get the evidence off site.
Pranks were often the order of the day, either within the group or to outsiders. On one occasion James and I were off for some breakfast. There were some decorators around site who seemed a little hostile towards us. So, in their absence as we entered the lift I changed the “Caution Decorators” sign to “Caution BO” due to the pungent scent they were leaving about. We discussed it over breakfast then at next break James decided he wanted to write something as well. He changed their new sign to “Caution, nobhead decorators”. Just as the doors of the lift were closing, a workmans boot planted in the gap. “Nobhead decoraters yeah?”. A bald headed workman type began berating James and myself. Despite being caught with the pen in his hand, James to his credit completely denied any wrongdoing. He’s got some front I’ll give him that. They complained to our Managing director so we ended up bribing the security guard to bin the tapes. Close call.
If we could do it in work, believe me, in the IT department we did it. Sleeping on the job, tunes blaring out of each persons desk all day every day, reading other employees emails for recreation, lots of weed smoking, some cocaine, even some fingering, though gladly not with each other. The hi-jinx knew no bounds. It was an amazing time and felt like it was never going to end.
Alas, it did. When you have a company with so many people doing so little, eventually it will implode. And it did so with a fizzle rather than a pop. After 2 or 3 weeks of rumours of it’s demise people began stealing. I think it was partially because they knew they weren’t going to get paid in full and partly because they were thieving fucking cunts. Either way, in the last months it would be commonplace to see people walking down stairwells with base units or monitors under their arm. By the end it was a free for all as the rats deserted the sinking ship. I remember walking downstairs once seeing one of these animals coming out of the first floor toilets with two base units under their arms. I shook my head disapprovingly until I realised it was my reflection in the glass.
I watched Steve Jobs speech recently from Stanford and he mentions about joining up the dots in life and how it’s impossible to join the dots looking forward, but when you look back everything makes sense. That’s how I feel about this job and the impact it had on my life. James, Bert and I formed a house night where we DJ’d together in Manchester for over 5 years. Without going clubbing with these lads I would never have met my partner who I now have a child with. I lived with Simon in Edgeley for three years and in many ways he profoundly changed my approach to life. I’m still close friends with Neil, who on every occasion I see him never fails to make me laugh. And Mark, with whom I walked into that office for the first time together 12 years ago, now runs a successful magazine alongside Neil. And finally Lisa, the team leader with the sagging third breast on her face, who made me finally realise in my early twenties that there is a level I wouldn’t go below for a fuck.
Nowadays the dots join.