Thursday, October 2, 2014


Being temporarily between jobs – a condition I only enjoy for half a day or so before I start climbing walls – I began looking through an old folder of cuttings that had caught my eye and which I had used for teaching creative writing. Some of these were letters to the editor: often absurd ones – cranky, rambling, repetitive, illogical – that were useful for illustrating how not to write and made people laugh at the same time.  One, a rare example of the admirably direct, reads:

Impatiens (detail)
“If all the staff of [big company] walked out the business would collapse. If all the chiefs of [big company] walked out the business could continue to tick over quite happily. So who deserves the big pay packets?”

I can relate to this from experience, albeit in microcosm. For a couple of years (quite a while ago) I worked in a small bureau of three people. There was the director. He had a telephone on the big desk in the big office, looking out over the city and, in the distance, the harbour. The director attended meetings and he received the biggest pay packet.

I had the smaller office and a window which looked out over some buildings. I also had a telephone, filing cabinets, an electric typewriter, a fax, a calculator, a stationery cupboard. My office was somewhat crowded and I was responsible for looking after correspondence, the account books for three organisations and paying bills. I received a medium-sized pay packet.

Outside in the lobby sat our receptionist Rosie. She coped with the telephone mini-exchange and was responsible for dealing with visitors and mail – quite a lot of mail because we were headquarters for nation-wide organisations. When Rosie went out to lunch, or to collect the mail, or even to the loo, I had to deal with the phone and the visitors. In really busy times even the director had to emerge and help. Rosie was indispensable but received the smallest pay packet.

My mother came over from Oz and I took two weeks off to entertain her. Before leaving I left cheques for the wages and the urgent accounts, and cleared my desk. Even so there were several phone calls while I was away, but still in town and available. The office stumbled on without me but my desk was heaped when I returned.

Came the day when the director wished to go on holiday. He went abroad. For six months. Six months. Nothing changed, except that Rosie had to tramp around town to get other signatures on the cheques.


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