A Day in the Life of a Temp

Woman Reading

Edith Piaf is wailing in my ear. It must be time to get up.
After silencing the the sound of heartbreak and absinthe, I turn on Radio 3 to accompany my morning ritual. Toilet, teeth, face, breakfast. So goes my routine for the past few weeks, arising every morning filled with vain hope that today will be the day that I get a call from the agency. Every day left disappointed and ever poorer. However, unbeknownst to me at this point, today is the day. Also unbeknownst to dramatised me, is that I am about to experience multiple days in one, because it’s more interesting that way, and I have artistic license so I’m going to use it.

Languidly I say good morning to the dog, seeing as it is just the two of us today. Heady plans of putting on washing and taking him for a walk fill my mind as I potter about, enjoying a cup of tea. Feeling confident that I won’t be working today, I settle down with my book.

Bach is suddenly, rudely interrupted by a phone-call. “Blocked” is ringing me. Eagerly yet apprehensively, I answer. It’s the agency, and the other Amy who I’ve been corresponding with for weeks sounds as if Christmas has come early. “You have work!” she cries.
Hurrah! I am not a lost cause! They need me to be on the other side of London in an hour. “Dress corporate, they’re accountants,” she advises before wishing me luck and hanging up.

An intoxicating mix of relief, panic and excitement with a dash of fear fill my mind as I stand in my room overwhelmed by questions: WHAT IS CORPORATE? AM I CORPORATE? CAN I WEAR MY PINK CARDIGAN? Quickly, I decide that yes, Amy, you can be corporate, just think of the Apprentice! It’s easy! Hang on, no, scrap that, they wear awful clothes. Brain, shut up, pick some clothes and get moving.

Clothes, hair, make-up, bag and shoes are decided and I can’t help but feel impressed with myself. Now for the dog. Quickly he is fed, let out into the garden and some dry mango is grabbed for lunch.

Successfully on the tube, looking presentable and hopefully on time. I scan my fellow passengers, asking myself ARE THEY CORPORATE? Of course not, it’s 9:30, there are only tourists and smasual lazy hipsters who work in marketing on the tube at this time.

I arrive at the office with crazy hair and crazed eyes, hoping that this is the right place, hoping that they will be nice to me. But I am also feeling smug, as I have done that thing where you wear comfy shoes on the tube but then change into un-comfy shoes for work. I also feel a hint of self-loathing for doing that, as it feels a bit too corporate. Maybe things are already getting out of hand.

After the briefest training I have ever received by a woman named after a flower, I am sat at the desk with the sole task of answering the phone and directing visitors to the correct meeting room. I am alone save for the Polish cook, who spends all day preparing sandwiches for said visitors, reeking of resentment.

Times passes slowly. All remains quiet. I struggle with the fact that they have thrust upon me the responsibility of a whole floor. I get over it.

As if the world knew that it was almost oppressively quiet, a minor member of the royal family arrives for a meeting. I am a little perturbed, but our encounter is brief, and soon, monotony resumes.

The phone has barely rung. Visitors are so far undemanding. Until now. Until the arrival of a small yet very loud American woman, who has come in, sighing and tutting. It turns out she has spent absolutely AGES trying to find this damn place, as her assistant didn’t tell her the exact name of the building (despite the fact the company’s logo is boldly emblazoned across the whole front). She demands a glass of water. “There is tea, coffee and water in the meeting rooms, or would you prefer something straightaway?” I ask. “I just need something wet NOW” she practically yells. I oblige.

Loud American woman is leaving. She seems as satisfied as one can be after seeing an accountant, and generally being a demanding person. “GOOD BYE” she declares, getting into the lift.

As I sit clattering away, looking busy, I hear a muffled thumping. I check the windows of the meeting rooms quickly; no evident signs of a trapped or angry person. I continue with my very important business, and hear it again. I decide that it must be coming from outside, so ignore it.

“HELLO? HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME? HELP!” It suddenly dawns on me that the thumping has been coming from the lift. I walk over with a hint of urgency, but I do not rush, for I must admit I have little care for rude and/or stupid people. I open the door to find her standing there, arms in the air and a look of utter disdain on her face. “The lift won’t work! It won’t go down!” For security, most floors need a code in order to stop at them, apart from my floor and the ground floor. It arises that she has been jabbing buttons that need codes. “You need to press ‘0’ for the ground floor to leave” I patiently explain. I go back to my desk and look up to see her standing in the lift, looking generally unhappy. As the doors close, she yells “WE DON’T HAVE FLOOR ZERO IN AMERICA.”

I go for lunch, seeking out food in Starbucks, for I have only brought said dry mango with me in my haste to leave. As I enter, I am swallowed by a crowd of black, grey and navy suits, only, I am taller than all of them. “Work experience,” I grumble.

Having taken lunch, I am sat back at the desk with nothing to do but wait for the phone to ring or for people to arrive. It is especially dull after the morning’s excitement. I decide to work my way through Victoria Coren’s Observer column archive.

The lift in front of me opens and out steps a very well-known comedian, who I’m not sure I can name here. “Hello ma’am, I’m here for a meeting,” he drawls. After my initial surprise, I pull myself together, and remain totally cool whilst serving him. “Why thank you ma’am, much obliged!” he responds, before taking a seat. I scream inwardly.

Due to a misunderstanding, miscommunication and an absolute lapse in common sense on my part, I make a mistake. My boss is frustrated and let’s me know just how frustrated she is, loudly. As she reaches her crescendo, aforementioned comedian comes round the corner to wait for his lift down. Feeling a little humiliated, I hope that she is drawing to an end. Unfortunately she is not; she decides to phone a colleague to tell them, at quite the same decibel, just what I had done, only now using ‘she.’ Now feeling positively mortified, I shrink in my seat and realise that our guest is still waiting for his lift, trying to ignore this unfortunate situation. I smile weakly at him, and offer a nod. I receive a comforting smile and a reciprocal nod, that I interpret as “Solidarity, ma’am.” At long last, his lift arrives and the tirade draws to an immediate halt so that my boss can ride the lift with him.

As I sit, recovering from the shock and surrealness of what has just happened, I have to attend to a most rude and unpleasant rich man, who will not listen to me. He is awkward, but it turns out that I am right in the end, thus leaving me smug but bruised.

I am slightly cheered and left a little lost for words by a woman who emerges from the lift, yelling loudly into her phone.
“John, darling, I simply CANNOT transfer the £800k until you email me. I simply can’t.” I try not to stare in utter disbelief.

Finally. Freedom. Until tomorrow.

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