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 annum.
"But I don't need another thousand a year!" he said to his acquaintances.
"Of course you do," they replied. "Everybody does."
It was 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 him.
"Keep a low profile," she advised. "Cheers."
Their glasses clinked.
"The only way I could have kept a lower profile would have been to go underground."
He meant 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.
"Those meetings will, be the death of me!" And he quaffed the wine in one gulp.
There were 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 think?"
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."
He smiled again.
"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 Low.
"Sorry?" replied Mr Manmanagement.
Mr Manmanagement narrowed his eyes, turned his head slightly to one side, fixed Mr Low quizzically.
"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.
"Life!" exclaimed Mr Manmanagement.
Mr Low was sent on a course.
Before one 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!
The important 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 every
situation. A 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:
“The only worthwhile things in life are love, friendship and woodwork. The rest is dross."
He was sacked. ;
The Industrial 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?"
"None whatsoever," replied the personnel manager.
Mr Low smiled. ;
"Just wondered," he said.