Bedtime Stories : Business as Usual – Part One

Posted on August 9, 2010

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“Ian, close the door, would you?”

Ray had decided no-one else was going to turn up. He swung his legs onto the oval table as Ian reached back to push the meeting room door shut. The other attendees were all sat in chairs, but Ray considered that his senior position in the company behooved him to perch in a vaguely yogic cross-legged position at the head of the table. It was part of his quirky managerial style, and it meant that everyone had to physically look up to him.

“Right,” said Ray, shuffling the wrong pieces of paper that he had hurriedly grabbed on his way into the meeting, “who’s doing the minutes?”

“It’s Martin’s turn” smirked Jem, safe in the knowledge that she had done the last lot, and clutching the printouts that offered proof of this fact.

“Snitch,” said Jeremy, under the faux-disguise of a cough.

Martin sighed and accepted the pad Ray had just slid over to him. He noted down the date.

“Present…” he said as he looked around the table, announcing the names as he wrote them.

“Martin Priest” he said, getting himself out of the way first.

“Ray Piscombe.”

With this one he followed the grand tradition of always pronouncing Ray’s name as ‘rapist scum’. Ray knew nothing of this tradition, and had always assumed the snorts and exhalations that followed the announcement of his name simply reflected the fact that it was obvious he would be present. His attendance had always been exemplary.

“Jeremy Starwars.”

This name was no joke. Jeremy was of Polish extraction, and as was often the case with more difficult pronunciations, his parents had adopted a westernised version of their family name when they came to settle in the UK in 1975. People rarely called Jeremy Starwars by his first name.

“Jemima Parrot.”

Jem stuck her tongue out at Martin. He was fully aware that she didn’t like the unabridged version of her name.

“Will Simons.”

Will was quiet and considered by the rest of the group to be at the very least borderline autistic. This wasn’t in fact the case. He was, however, an undiagnosed sociopath who happened to devote his cold analytical nature to software. He was probably not dangerous.

“And who is this?” Martin asked of Ray, motioning with his biro to the metallic stranger sat in the corner, away from the table.

“That’s Manny,” explained Ray, “he’s just going to be sitting in and seeing how we do things around here. Don’t mind him.”

“Manny.”

Martin added him to the list and took one further theatrical look around the room.

“I assume Keith is absent?”

“Keith has been sent upstairs” said Ray solemnly.

There was a moment of silence as the attendees took this in. Ray broke this with a brief whistled rendition of a descending bomb.

“OK,” he continued, “what’s new from last week? I appear to have brought the wrong minutes with me.”

Jem reluctantly slid her printouts across to Ray. He mouthed a “ta” and filled for a moment with an oddly random tune composed of “do do doos” as he scanned the first page.

“OK, Birmingham. You all know by now that we lost Birmingham this week. So we don’t need to talk about points one to three anymore.”

Ray looked up from the sheets spread out in front of his crossed legs.

“Don’t think this means you can sit around twiddling your thumbs. If anything, this means we need to work harder. The people upstairs are watching, remember that.”

As Martin wrote down this warning, Jem and Jeremy stole quick glances at Manny, sat silently in the corner, the sunlight glinting off his face.

Ray continued to scan the minutes of the last meeting.

“The dripping ceiling… The ceiling has been looked at, and the MD has come to the conclusion that the leaks are within tolerance.”

“So she’s not going to do anything,” said Ian, flabbergasted, “I wouldn’t mind if it was just water.”

“That guy who came on Tuesday said it would take months for it to burn through to the next storey, so it’s just not high priority” explained Ray.

“False economy, as always” tutted Ian.

‘said Ian coquettishly’ wrote Martin. The one fun thing about doing the minutes was the embellishment. Martin would always attempt to portray every exchange between Ian and Ray as flirtation. Starwars would do the same. Little things helped people get through the day at the office, and more so since the people upstairs had taken over.

“What about the blinds?” asked Jem, in the monotone reserved for questions people already know the answer to.

“When you’re blind” Ray responded, as he always did. The old blinds had been taken down long enough ago that no-one could remember what colour they had been, but the long-promised new ones had never materialised. Everyone had to simply rotate their desks throughout the day to shield themselves from the glare.

“It’s like being in the presence of Wilde” mused Jem.

“He doesn’t look anything like Kim Wilde” Martin responded, pulling his best quizzical face.

“You tit” smiled Jem, rolling her eyes.

“…tit. Good one” said Martin, continuing to minute everything. A sub-table kick was foiled by the central leg support and Ray decided to reestablish some order.

“Alright, let’s move on, gentlemen. And lady. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to join Keith upstairs any time soon. Does anyone have anything work-related to add to what was discussed last week?”

Everyone fell silent and tried to look like they were thinking. Here the minute-taker had an advantage, as they had a pad to stare at during such moments.

“OK, anything since the last meeting that anyone wants to raise? Have any of you come up with anything new and exciting?”

These silent intervals were excruciating. Of course, there were always new ideas and problems during the week, but they were either talked about immediately or only relevant to the person they occurred to, so nothing interesting was ever raised during a weekly meeting.

“Nope? I suppose we’ll have a quick round-table then.”

The round-tables were when everyone would await their turn whilst trying desperately to remember anything worth speaking about, that they had accomplished during the seemingly very short period between these midweek meetings. The only people who would pay the slightest attention to what was actually said were Ray and the minute-taker. Ray would forget the vast bulk of it within seconds of leaving the room, while the minute-taker would catch snatches of what was mumbled, scribbling as quickly as possible. They would then go away and type up a sort of Chinese whispers version of proceedings. The inaccuracies were irrelevant as nobody ever bothered reading this far into the minutes.

Today, however, was different. Today a third pair of ears was paying close attention. Everyone was suddenly painfully aware of the silent shiny presence of Manny in the corner of the room.

Starwars had always been of the opinion that it was better to get this bit out of the way quickly, as it meant that firstly it didn’t build up in his mind into some kind of traumatic episode while everyone else was taking their turn, and secondly that the lack of progress on his project could quickly be forgotten as others related their own woes. To this end, Starwars always sat closest to Ray. And Ray would, without fail, go the other way round the table, resulting in Starwars having to go last.

“Let’s hear from Martin first. What have you been up to?”

“I’ve been finishing the changes for Coventry. I’m assuming the fallout from Birmingham isn’t going to affect the Coventry contract?”

Martin felt a little ashamed to be using Birmingham as a diversionary tactic like this, but getting a question in quickly probably meant not having to say anything else, and as minute-taker he could make himself appear to have been very productive later, when he did the typing-up.

“You know as much as I do about Birmingham, if you’ve been watching the news. As far as I’m aware, Coventry is still go. I’ve not heard anything to the contrary, anyway.”

Martin turned his full attention to writing up this response, and Ray moved on. This was just the sort of quick exchange Jeremy Starwars had hoped for. Instead he had to sit and wait.

“Ian?”

“Drawing up the test cases, some documentation… I can’t do the layouts until the parser’s finished.”

‘said Ian, with a wink’ wrote Martin.

Starwars felt a little light-headed. His parser was no closer to completion than it had been a fortnight ago, when he had declared it to be ‘nearly ready’. Last week he had called it ‘almost there’ through a fixed smile.

“Right, well we’ll get round to Jeremy in a moment, and come back to that,” decided Ray, “Will?”

“I’ve been optimising the transaction layer. I’m sure Keith would have spotted all these bottlenecks eventually, but I’ve increased the throughput by a factor of ten. I’ve also dramatically reduced the number of round-trips to the server. I’m just waiting for Jeremy’s parser now, so I can integrate the reporting code.”

Starwars felt his brain begin to throb.

“I’m sure Jeremy will have some good news on that front in a moment” suggested Ray.

Starwars raised his head, squeezed out a weak smile, and returned to staring at the yellow knuckles of his tightly clasped hands.

“Who’s next? Ah, the lovely Jem.”

“The release candidate is looking OK, some small bugs. But we can’t test half of it without the layouts.”

Ray breathed in through clenched teeth and slid himself round on the table to face Starwars.

“So, Jeremy, speak to me.”

“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel” said Starwars falteringly.

“When? Later today? Tomorrow? These folk are waiting.”

Starwars could feel his heart pounding, and all moisture deserting his mouth.

“The day after tomorrow?” he suggested.

Ray sighed.

“What still needs to be done?”

Starwars felt his head getting hotter. It was way too late to respond with ‘working out how to do it’.

“Tidying up, some documentation.”

It wasn’t a complete lie. Those things would certainly need doing, once the actual code was written.

“Right, fair enough,” said Ray, “we’ll all meet again on Friday and you can give everyone a demonstration then.”

“Sounds good” said Starwars, to whom this sounded far from good. At least it wasn’t now, that was the main thing. By Friday he, or preferably everyone else, could easily have gone under a bus, and the dread demonstration of nothing would be cancelled.

“Good stuff, Mister Starwars,” said Ray as he eased himself back round to address the whole table, “any other business?”

Martin focused on scribbling in his pad and everyone else stared quietly into the middle distance. Ray sighed and was preparing to wrap things up when Manny addressed the room.

“We will speak now.”

Everyone turned to face their metallic invigilator. Manny reflected his surroundings so cleanly, it was difficult to see where he ended and the room began. They all looked at each other’s reflections in him.

“Firstly, we are pleased with your acceptance of the new order in this workplace. Everyone must get on with their lives. Nobody wants another Birmingham.”

All present could see the tasteless responses forming behind each other’s eyes, but there was no way the words were going to be given houseroom in the presence of Manny.

“Secondly, Keith has stopped working. We need a replacement. One of you will accompany Manny upstairs. Rapist Scum must choose.”

The moment of delight that should have accompanied the realisation that the people upstairs had accepted their pronunciation of Ray’s name as fact was sadly absent, as abject terror gripped the attendees.

“Do. Do. Do I have to chose right now?” asked Ray, climbing down from the table.

“Now. Who can you best continue without in the short term?”

Ray scrunched his eyes up and pointed, and Jem began to cry.

TO BE CONTINUED

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