The civil service! Career of choice for dopes and under-achievers, and at the age of twenty, I was both. Ideal that I should end up in a smart little side office on the tenth floor of a Ministry of Agriculture building in Reading. With town centre office space at a premium, and the Common Agricultural Policy running out of control, they had to jam us in any which way to get all the work done. They managed to get eight of us in an office the size of a broom cupboard, and more fool the Ministry for making sure that at least four of us were straight out of college, gaseous as festering skunks. They should have known.
Out of the glare of our evil leader (who once tore a strip off me for reading a newspaper during my lunch break whilst still *gasp* sitting at my desk), our work-rate slumped from "very little" to "bugger all". Even on the day Ian Paisley paid a visit to shout at Miss Scary Boss, we were leaning out of the window trying to loogie on his bodyguards in the car park ten floors below.
Bored stupid by the lack of stimulation, and the bookie's phone number getting blocked by the switchboard, we had to make our own entertainment. We raided the stock cupboard - no mean feat, as it meant distracting the evil-faced old harridan who stood guard over it, make a copy of the key from blu-tack and some bent-up staples and break in, disguised as French farmers, after hours. We marvelled at our spoils. There was going to be hell.
We created dozens of elaborate elastic-powered missiles containing tightly rolled paper, drawing pins and paper clips. They grew weaponry, which, when fired from launchers cobbled together out of rulers, bulldog clips and triple-strength elastic bands, could easily break a) the sound barrier and b) any human skin it came into contact with. 007's Q-branch would have had orgasms.
We soon dreaded coming to work, and the pair of old biddies forced to share the office with the juvenile delinquents improvised defences out of filing cabinets and steel plates stolen from a nearby building site. My precious Joy Division poster ("Joy Davison? Who's she?" asked the philistine Geoff, who regularly went to Shakin Stevens concerts) was virtually shredded by the barrage.
Soon, our desks were fortresses with huge piles of files for protection (not to mention giving passing managers the illusion that actual work may have actually been taking place), with cunningly designed slits to fire our weapons onto the unsuspecting enemy. It was siege warfare, 1980s style, with a regular fax to the Ministry containing gross beef tonnage and battle injuries.
It would only be a matter of time...
Three shots caused our downfall. Call them lucky. Call them irresponsible. We called them downright funny, and we laughed all the way to the personnel office.
Shot 1: "You want dried leaves, in boiled water, with refined sap and liquid squirted from a cow?" I asked.
"Wha'?" replied Geoff.
"Tea, ya nimnod."
Your hero primes his weapon, loads his best missile - an arrangement with protrouding drawing pins called "Al's Skull Modifier", carefully aims and lets rip with the shot to end them all. And what a shot. It hit the spoon in Geoff's freshly made mug of Earl Grey, causing the contents to spill over Geoff, our so-called supervisor Mark (who was, as I fired, carefully lining up a shot at Andy's exposed arse as he fished something out of a filing cabinet), and a pile of files marked "In Confidence."
Shot 2: Laughing fit to burst, I stood up from behind my fortress so as to taunt Geoff further. Twack! Geoff's number one weapon "The Thug" caught me square in the bollocks. Enraged, we slugged it out on the carpet between the desks, teapots flying.
Shot 3: In stormed our department head, determined to put an end to this childish behaviour. Twock! Mark's "Disaster Area". Right in the flange. Doom.
She'd seen enough, and as soon as her eyes stopped watering, we were marched over the road to be dressed down by some senior personnel manager like a bunch of naughty schoolboys. Luck shined on us though. Dirty, rotten stinking luck. They wouldn't sack us, as low quality administrative staff was hard enough to come by as it was. We were split up, myself to the hell of accounts, Geoff got a cushy number editing the staff magazine while Mark got Export Document Registry, the civil service equivalent of Siberia, ruled with a rod of iron by a former school mistress who insisted on absolute silence and her permission for toilet breaks.
My first action in accounts was to get a pineapple, stick a stupid face on it and fire elastic band powered weapons at him until he turned to mush. The fruit wars had begun.
Note for people who don't get the title: The Old Grey Whistle Test was a late-night music programme on BBC Television, showcasing the best of new and established music acts. The pun, alas, is my own evil-doing.
The first rule of diet club. You do not eat all the pies. The second rule of diet club. You DO NOT eat all the pies.
There was no denying it, Penny was a big woman, and a career sitting in a civil service office wasn't exactly helping her lose the pounds, particularly as our office was directly over a Tesco supermarket and the lure of the the daily cream cake run. To be honest, it was doing none of us much good, and the girl with the sandwich trolley was often lucky to escape with her life.
So, it was hardly surprising that Penny should come in one morning with the news that her doctor had ordered her to lose weight. About three stone. And rather than having a spare limb lopped off, she was going to do it the hard way - by not eating and taking exercise. Being civil servants with nothing to do except count the cars in the Tesco car park and work out the day's most popular colour, we jumped on this chance to do something - anything - like tramps at an all-you-can-eat dustbin.
We all set ourselves target weights, drew up a hugely complicated graph, and set out the rules of Diet Club in the best Civil-Servantese. I had a stone to lose, Mark two, and Jeff, the skinny streak of piss, actually had to put on weight. Andy, because of his dicky heart was excused, and was put in charge of liberating different coloured pens from the heavily guarded stock cupboard to make the graph more interesting. Andy was a militant vegan, recently made reduntant from a health food shop. When he told the Job Centre this fact, they immediately found him employment at an abattoir, cutting up freshly slaughtered cows. The civil service was his second choice.
Monday was weigh-in day. You had to go down to Boots the Chemist, put your twenty pence in the electronic scales, and by the miracles of the microchip age, you were to bring the read-out back to Andy for verification and proper recording on the graph, which was prominently displayed on the wall, just under my Joy Division poster.
Jeff: "Who's this Joy Davison bird, then?"
In effect there was only one rule to Diet Club: don't cheat. Monday mornings were spent swearing off the cake and squeezing the biggest log possible out on the toilet before lunch. You'd wear your lightest clothes, even on the coldest, wettest of winter days, and we would all sit there, starving, waiting for lunch time and the dash down to Boots for the computer slip of doom. All except Jeff, who would stuff his face stupid in front of us, and Andy stunk the place out which his herbal tea.
The desperation on a Monday was palpable. Penny steadily lost wieght, while Mark's steadily headed up the graph and mine see-sawed up and down like a see-sawy up and down thing. The forfeits were enough to encourage steady weight loss - essentially being everybody's tea-making and paper-filing bitch for the whole week, physically restrained from spending money on the sandwich trolley.
Reports soon reached us that Mark was offering money to colleagues to act as ringers at his weigh-in, and come back with a slip showing a stunnig weight loss. This, naturally, could not be tolerated, resulting in the severe punishment of hiding his cigarettes and getting the switchboard to bar phone access to his mate's betting shop. Mark was a desperate man, and desperation makes us take desperate measures.
It was three o'clock on Monday afternoon. We had all reported back from our lunch-time weigh-ins with a series of respectable results. Penny was particularly pleased as the weight was simply melting off her, straight onto poor old Mark. Just a shame he seemed to have left the office at one and rather neglected to return. Had he done a runner?
Security, ten floors below us, rang our extension. Could somebody come down and vouch for a staff member who has mislaid his pass? Of course we could. I went. Anything to get out of real life actual work. And God, was it worth it.
There in the reception area was the security guard, a burly police officer and Mark, wearing nothing but his crusty y-fronts and a blanket.
"Yeah, he works here," I said trying not to laugh, "but usually he's got clothes on."
Poor, poor Mark. He'd got to Boots the Chemist, and desperation took hold of him. Spurred on by that TV advert of that fella taking his clothes off in the launderette, he put his money into the weighing machine, stripped down to his pants, and as the world stared, he jumped onto the scales for his best weigh-in for weeks. When he stepped down from the scales to get dressed, he found that some joker had done a runner with all his clothes. It was only a matter of time before there was this blue flashing light and an invitation to spend the afternoon in a bang-you-in-the-ass police cell, which he politely refused.
Another blatant repost, for those lovely people at Fark.com
Dave was a jockey. He came down from Liverpool with a talent for stealing the hubcaps off horses and got a job at one of the famous stables in Lambourne in the Berkshire Downs. However, it soon became apparent that this Stable Lad had one handicap - in the world of horse racing, small is beautiful, and this jockey wouldn’t stop growing. And that is how Dave left the world of gee-gees behind him and ended up bored out of his skull in the same office as me at the Ministry of Agriculture.
The Horses were never far from his mind. On a typical day, you’d find him at his desk, hiding behind a huge pile of files, on the phone to his bookies, a copy of the Sporting Life sitting in his lap.
In a fit of anti-gambling fervour, we eventually confronted him over his habit.
“Dave,” we said, “You’re wasting your money on the nags, you’ll end up in mounds of debt.”
“Oh yeah?” he said.
So we kept a tab on his gambling habits. He ended the month seven hundred quid up, and handed in his notice.
“It’s no good lads, this isn’t the life for me. I’m off to see the world.”
He worked off his notice period, his feet getting itchier by the day, racking up even bigger wins on the horses, while selling of his huge record collection to pay for his world tour. Mostly to me.
And so, come his final day, he sprung a surprise on the rest of the office. He’d put three hundred quid behind the bar at the Hexagon, and anyone who would like to come and help him drink it would be more than welcome. It was a no-brainer. Spend a Friday afternoon writing letters to Irish beef farmers in a dull concrete office block, or get stupidly drunk in the cultural hub of Reading? Mine’s a large one. A very large one.
The Hexagon is actually a theatre. A horrible concrete theatre of absolutely no character whatsoever, whose annual highlight is Keith Chegwin doing the panto every Christmas. It does, however, have one redeeming feature. It was the bar closest to our office. And as news of Dave’s generosity got round, the place was heaving with civil servants happily knocking back the free booze.
The place was heaving, and pretty soon it was nigh on impossible to move. A trip to the bar could take up to twenty minutes, so we ordered three rounds at a time. With the amount of alcohol being consumed, it was inevitable that sooner or later somebody was going to need to go to the can.
And that’s where the trouble started. The toilets were a good thirty yards away across a bar full of tightly packed and gently swaying civil servants. Dave, who’d been drinking since the place opened, was in no fit state to make the trip.
“Ladsh!” he slurred, “I needs a pish!”
Fair play to him, he made a brave attempt to force his way through the crowds, but the sheer numbers, the constant interruptions from his new drinking buddies attempting to wish him well and shake his hand and his total inability to put one leg in front of the other soon saw him back at our table. A desperate man, he looked around for an alternative.
There was a pot plant. It was a big tub on the floor with a small tree, which may or may not have been plastic.
Dave looked at the plant. We looked at Dave. Dave staggered to his feet, his intention clear.
“Dave mate,” said our boss Chris in his scariest voice possible, “I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”
Unfortunately, Chris’s warning had absolutely no authority whatsoever. How could you take the bass player from a Blues Brothers tribute band called Bluez Cruize seriously? This is a man who could recite the words to “Shake Your Tailfeather” in his sleep, and was therefore put in charge of regulating beef and pork cold stores by the UK government.
Out came Dave’s old man, and with a palpable sigh of relief he watered the plastic pot plant. He was lucky - such was the crush that the management didn’t see what had happened. He slumped back in his chair to see our shocked faces.
“Where’s me drink?”
The bar management had certainly missed Dave’s golden shower, but other boozers had not. Faced with the same impossible task of reaching the Gents, they too followed their leader’s example, headed for our corner and happily wazzed away. After the fifth or sixth punter, a river of piss was now gently flowing across the floor to our feet in a miniature tribute to Wembley Stadium.
Then Dave dropped a bombshell. Literally.
“I need a shit.”
We were mortified.
“No. Dave. Don’t.” “Put your cork in.” “Wait until we get back to work.” “Don’t even think about it.” “I can’t look.”
Emboldened by his great liberating wazz and the example of his followers, Drunk Dave dropped his trousers - and those of a delicate disposition had better skip the next line or two - and laid a hefty log and the plant pot. He was just wiping up on one of the plastic leaves, when he was grabbed from behind by two bouncers, and trousers still round his ankles, carried through a mysteriously parting crowd to the door.
What was previously a packed, noisy bar was deathly silent. People were already making for the exit. The manager was in apoplexy.
“That’s it! All you Ministry people - you’re all barred!”
Being just about his only lunchtime customers, we remained barred for a whole week.
Dave, as good as his word, went off on his world tour, getting as far as a potted yucca plant in an Australian bar before the money ran out. Within three months he was back at his desk, hidden behind a pile of files on the phone to his bookie. Broke, I sold him his records back.
He is still barred from the Hexagon.
His poo, however, forged a successful career on stage and screen under the name Michael Barrymore.