Among The Obscure


In private sector management, the way to deal with a useless workforce is by force of personality or, if you don’t have a personality, force. Not so in it’s simpleton cousin, the public sector, where staff, such as the ones I was managing in my previous job up the council, are unsackable. Upon reflection this is harsh, because uselessness only accounted for three, or one and a half metric tonnes, of them. The others were perfectly amenable and made my job just about doable, to the extent that, had it been the footie, I would’ve scraped out a narrow 4:3 victory after extra time. Had it been a figurative riot in a cake shop or some kind of buffet clearing contest I would’ve been severely trampled, obviously, but fortunately that was not the case. I left the position as the actual, bona fide, victim of gender discrimination, the details of which I am obviously not at liberty to discuss. Anyway. The matter is closed and everyone has moved on, even those whose only way of sustaining motion would be to be strapped to a barge and floated downstream along a major waterway.

My previous manager, who is clinically insane, was in no small part responsible for my current post. Yes, he insists that he was the drummer in the Boo Radleys and yes he claims to regularly run to and from appointments at County Hall from home – a round trip of almost forty miles – but he must capable of string-pulling at some level or other, because he sorted this out quite nicely. There was a curiously hysterical quality to his untruths which I enjoyed. For example, during our final meeting when I mentioned my cycling exploits, he claimed to have a bike so rare as to be uninsurable, having previously belonged to a member of the Basque team in the 2016 Tour de France. I said he could simulate insurance by giving me a tenner a week which I might or might not give back if anything happened to it, but this was a non-starter, because the real reason it is uninsurable is because it doesn’t exist. When I mentioned my Open Unive


rsity course, he claimed to be studying, at five grand a day, a Crisis Management qualification that, when successfully completed, would empower him to evacuate a country. The phrase ‘evacuate a country’ sent me into lolz because it is just so ridiculous, and when he handed me the contract for my current post, I was barely able to focus on it through the tears of mirth. Even the Human Resources lady who was also present covered her face with a folder, although I could see her shoulders going and hear the muffled shrieks. It was quite a moment.

The thing is, though, nonsensical untruths, lol-worthy as they are, ultimately end up rather sad. I mean, everyone fibs, because everyone understands, at least subconsciously, the advantages of being tactically more interesting on an essentially harmless, short term basis. However, my now ex-manager’s fantastic (in the literal sense of only existing in fantasies) untruths must be driven by something greater. I assume it is autism of some kind, or a version of Tourette’s whereby, instead of wandering round Tesco telling people to fuck themselves, you’re claiming to be road manager for the Bootleg Beatles or a senior consultant on the Thames flood barrier. Now I come to think of it, that would make his behaviour compulsive and therefore essentially involuntary, rather than fantastic, because a fantasy needs to be constructed whereas a compulsion happens of its own accord. Be that as it may, it is sobering to reflect upon him going home every evening and thinking ‘What the fuck did I say that for?’. ‘All the lonely people – where do they all come from?’ pondered Paul McCartney via Eleanor Rigby in 1966. If this evidence is anything to go by, they come from Winterton on Sea, and spend a lot of money on running shoes.


So here I am, passing the winter months in an obscure department in an obscure district council until the coming of warmer weather means that operations at Runton can begin again in earnest. Most of my work consists of recording obscure details about the effects of spring tides on the mussel beds at Wells on obscure spreadsheets that no one will ever look at. I also take the post to the post room at quarter past three, and drop off and subsequently pick up the departmental laundry when it is returned from the cleaners. I fold things, put things in envelopes, attach things to emails and discuss the weather, the footie, and amusing stuff toddlers do with the other obscures – there are six of us in total. Most afternoon we have enormous bags of cakes, which is difficult for those of us who like to avoid carbs. It’s even more difficult when those of us who like to avoid carbs are having a binge day, because then we have to buy two enormous bags of cakes – one to share with the team, and one to scoff alone on the far side of the car park. I am kept abreast of Eastenders and Love Island, and in return discuss bits of my studies. Maybe it’s fear of obscurity that drives my ex manager to talk nonsense, although it strikes me that striving to avoid obscurity is a foolish pursuit, especially as oscurity it is, in many ways, comforting, or at least welcoming. For all this upswing in events, however, reminders of my previous job persist: last week I received in the internal post the keys to the Ford Focus that comes with it, despite the fact that left the job five months ago and don’t drive anyway. It is still in the car park, and I use it to put my bike in when it’s raining. Idiots.


Main: rams or sheep or something in a field.

Top inset: my son at his nan’s with a litter bin on his head.

Middle inset: coffee made for me at work by an environmental health officer. The residue at the top reminded me of a series of sleighs being pulled by reindeer, although this was around Christmastime.

Lower inset: my dog guarding the stairs in our house when renovations were going on.

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