Why do we go to work? “What sort of damn-fool question is that?” you ask. To earn money, of course. For what other possible reason would anyone stand behind a counter all day in the hope that someone might be deluded enough to buy a remaindered copy of Wayne Rooney’s autobiography or a pair of Taiwan trainers?
Well, according to a new survey by City and Guilds, that’s just not the case, my friends. The pollsters reckon that most of us go to work because it’s such fun, the people we work with are our best mates, the boss is a really good egg and getting paid is just the icing on the cake, if you’ll pardon the culinary mixed metaphors.
All I can say is that this is all news to me. To give you an idea of what goes on in our shop, my assistant Norman Tippexed his name from the card I gave him last Christmas, signed it “Your Obedient Servant” and sent it back without a stamp.
And not a week goes by when he doesn’t ask for a pay-rise even though he had a substantial increase in 1996 and I gave him five per cent off a cricket bat for his nephew.
So precisely who did the pollsters talk to? Are big businesses, unlike us little chaps, just one big happy family? If my recent experience is any guide, they’re not.
It all started when I got myself a proper job. Actually it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds – an acquaintance who’s in sports equipment wholesaling offered a week’s stint in his office putting together a promotional brochure and the chance to burn someone else’s electricity and use a grown-up coffee machine seemed too good to miss.
Leaving Norman in charge of the shop with instructions not to buy any fire-damaged stock from men in white vans or give credit to anyone with facial piercings, I set off for the office with high hopes.
In fact it was a disaster from start to finish, and my advice to anyone contemplating looking for happiness and contentment in a big office is to tie themselves to the nearest drainpipe until the feeling goes off.
Not having worked in a proper office since the distant carbon-paper days of 1972, I reckoned I might find a few changes. But nothing could have prepared me for the reality. The promotions manager looked about 14 on a good day, and was wearing an Armani suit and a T-shirt with the message “Sod That For A Game Of Soldiers”.
Glancing at my Fair Isle jumper, he said:“You shouldn’t have dressed up. We like to keep things casual here.”
No one in the building was over 16 and the place trembled with house music. Languid girls whose denim jeans had apparently been attacked by a death-watch beetle, looked at me as though I was someone’s dad who had been told to wait in the car.
No one went out to the pub at lunchtime like they did in my day. Now, it seemed, you either sent out for a sushi or looked for something edible in the office kitchen filled with fruit juice, soya yoghurt and organic chocolate.
On the second day I sneaked out and had a pork pie in the park and rang Norman who was thrilled to report that he had just sold a football to a nun. When I got back I was told that my absence had been reported. “You’ve got to be one of the team,” said the promotions manager.“You’ve obviously worked on your own too long.”
In fact, I’d never felt so solitary as in an office packed with 35 people. Attempted badinage with the tealady got me a warning for sexual harassment and a cup of tea that tasted like hot petrol.
I’d forgotten how little work was done in proper offices. One afternoon everything stopped for a talk by a consultant in green socks on “the tall poppy syndrome” - sadly nothing to do with gardening, but the latest management gobbledygook for being jealous of other people’s success.
Only on the last day did anyone feel it necessary to talk to me about work - a girl looking like a cross-eyed Reese Witherspoon said that what I had done was fine, but perhaps I should go easy on the semi-colons.
By now I couldn’t wait to get back to the shop, help Norman with the Mirror junior crossword and heat a lunchtime pie in the microwave on top of the filing cabinet. Happy days.
“You probably saw in the paper how friendly offices like ours are,“the promotions manager said as I left. “Perhaps we can fit you in here again some time.”
The answer to that, I told him as I handed over my invoice, could be found on the front of his T-shirt.