The Sexiness Of Woodwork
Mr Low was seared
by ambition: never to be promoted, not to earn too much money and to love as
many women as possible. By the age of forty-three and a quarter he had succeeded
brilliantly. He still occupied the lowly clerk's job with QED Ltd. which he had
begun at the age of sixteen, he earned barely enough to keep a fire lit in
winter and he had loved the same woman for twenty-four and two-thirds years.
But into even the
happiest and most fortunate of lives pain can make its uninvited entrance.
For no reason
whatsoever, save the speed and efficiency of his work, qualities which even a
machine may manifest, he was threatened with advancement.
"But I don't want
to be a supervisor!" he protested, laughing.
"Of course you
do!" retorted Mr Manmanagement displaying that stunning insight into the human
soul which had secured him his elevated position. "In any case, the company
needs you as a supervisor, whether you want it or not."
Mr Low was
flattened. He did everything he could. He arrived late, took days off when a
cold virus came within a mile of him, fell asleep at his desk, but the decision
was taken. It had been entered on computer, recorded at Head Office. He received
his official letter of notification. His salary was increased by a thousand per
"But I don't need
another thousand a year!" he said to his acquaintances.
"Of course you
do," they replied. "Everybody does."
irrevocable. It was dreadful. Mr Low had taken a step up in the world from which
he had striven all his life to keep a safe distance.
"Don't take it too
much to heart," commiserated his wife as they ate together. "It happens to all
kinds of people. You read it in the papers everyday. Especially when there's an
upturn in the economy."
"Let's pray for
recession," he replied bitterly.
"Perhaps it won't
be too bad," she consoled. "And we can always give the money to charity."
"It's not the
money that worries me," he said shaking his head, "it's the meetings!"
Mr Low filled his
glass with the sparkling white wine they drank from time to time. She smiled at
"Keep a low
profile," she advised. "Cheers."
"The only way I
could have kept a lower profile would have been to go underground."
literally, but as soon as the words were out the other meaning struck him.
"We have our own,
private counter-culture, don't we dear?"
She smiled again.
will, be the death of me!" And he quaffed the wine in one gulp.
development meetings, consolidation meetings, financial meetings, personnel
meetings, monthly review meetings, weekly updating meetings, first week of the
month meetings, last week of the month meetings, rainy day meetings, fine
weather meetings, upstairs meetings, downstairs meetings, last room on the left
meetings, emergency meetings, non-emergency meetings, absolutely no urgency at
all meetings, senior management meetings, middle management meetings, senior to
middle management meetings, middle to senior management meetings, junior
management meetings, soon to be junior management meetings, never to be
management at all meetings, executive meetings, non-executive meetings, collar
and tie meetings, high-heel meetings, dress-any-way you-like meetings, tea-break
meetings, lunch-time meetings, five o'clock meetings, Saturday morning meetings,
Christmas Day meetings, any-day-we-like meetings, long meetings, short meetings,
eternal meetings, read-any-good-books-lately meetings, where-you-going-for-your
holidays meetings, oh-this-bloody-back-of-mine meetings, nonsmoking meetings,
smoking meetings, sorry-I've-left-a-pan-on meetings, big-nosed meetings, smelly
meetings, perfumed meetings, does-life-have-meaning meetings and Mr Low was
expected to attend them all.
He sat quietly
through them, went back to his supervisory functions, which he hated, drew his
salary at the end of the month and was delighted when it was five-thirty on a
Friday and he could get the bus into town, stop for a pint in his favourite pub,
read the paper and be home for seven thirty. But the weekend, which beckoned to
him so enticingly, was always too brief to contain the pleasure he felt in being
free of the burden of work. He longed for retirement, but then he realised that
he was wishing himself old and the familiar bitterness rose in his chest and
made him laugh out loud.
At the end of a
particularly long meeting during which Mr Low had dreamed away the decades
thinking of his lathe and the rosewood dining table he was in the middle of
completing, Mr Manmanagement turned to him and asked:
"What do you
Mr Low smiled.
A ripple of
suppressed laughter ran round the room.
"But what do you
think? You must have an opinion. Do you think it's a good plan."
"I think it's
crap," he said quietly.
He was known for
his philosophical turn of phrase.
The plan was as
follows: in order to ensure that QED employees were "the right kind of people"
and to be certain that outside work they did not engage in activities which
might detract from their "necessary efficiency" or "bring the company into
disrepute" there was to be established a Sociological Department to be
subdivided into three sections: the Regularity Of Habits Inspectorate, the
Maintenance Of Standards Inspectorate and the Household Cleanliness
Inspectorate, Two inspectors from each section would visit the home of every
employee once a month in order to conduct, by scientifically designed
questionnaire, a thorough study of the family's habits. Those found to be out of
line with company policy would be instantly disciplined.
"But it's company
policy!" declared Mr Manmanagement, his eyes widening.
"Balls to the
company," said Mr Low,
He had made an
intensive study of Leibniz.
"You mean you
won't co-operate! If you won't co-operate have to report you to Head Office!"
A warm feeling
arose in Mr Low's abdomen at the thought of demotion.
"Ah," he said.
The next morning
he found himself in Mr Manmagement's office sitting in a low chair which allowed
his boss to look down on him as he spoke. And he spoke for an hour and three
quarters. He spoke with emphasis. He spoke with passion. He spoke frankly. He
spoke from the heart. He spoke from the head. There are those who would have
said that he spoke from a lower portion of his anatomy. He spoke of the company,
of diligence, of responsibility, of competitors, of difficult times, of the need
for sacrifice, for everyone to pull together, of responsibility, of hierarchy,
of obedience, of profit and loss and of the infinitesimally small distance
between the two, of systems, of organisation, of Management, of the need to
lead, of the few and of the many, of those who must make decisions and those who
must implement them, of work, and more work, and even more work, of work
weighing down upon him like a boulder, of the company, ever the company, the
needs of the company, the life of the company, the spirit of the company, the
soul of the company, of his superiors in the company and how he was only doing
what he had to do and didn't like it any more than anyone else, of his humanity,
of his life, of all that was dearest to him, of his hopes, his fears, his Joys,
his despairs, of the seriousness of failing to comply with the company's needs,
of the possibility of demotion.
"Yes!" said Mr
narrowed his eyes, turned his head slightly to one side, fixed Mr Low
"You don't get out
of it that easily," he said. The company needs you. It's my responsibility to
change your attitude."
“To what?" asked
Mr Low was sent on
flip-chart after another, in discussion group upon discussion group he pined
away a dull week dreaming of his wife, his children and his workshop. Oh, to be
sanding the rosewood table!
thing about being a manager," the course-leader told them, "is to have the right
attitude to life. A manager never misses an opportunity. A manager commands
manager knows exactly how much he earns. A manager is never satisfied. A manager
has no need of the past. A manager looks to the future.”
When Mr Low was
asked what the most important things in life were for him he replied:
worthwhile things in life are love, friendship and woodwork. The rest is dross."
Tribunal awarded him eight thousand pounds for constructive unfair dismissal. He
bought a bigger second-hand lathe and finished the rosewood table.
"Why don't you
sell it?" his daughter asked him.
"Because I love
it," he replied.
"Why don't you
make a living from woodwork?" his son asked.
“Because I love
it," he replied.
"More wine, dear?"
said his wife, who understood.
He found a job as
a clerk with the local council, earning even less than with QED.
"Just one thing,"
he had said at the interview, "Is there any chance of promotion?"
replied the personnel manager.