When I grow up I want to be a publisher receptionist.
As she lent over my desk, the new graduate from the latest graduate recruitment drive banged down a heavy wad of paper-clipped documents.
"I need these bound by tomorrow morning at the latest... Actually...make that the end of today."
She smiled sweetly at me, as if to thank me, before swivelling on her heels and singing over her shoulder:
"You're a star."
Yes, and you're a condescending cow.
I scooped the documents into my arms, thoroughly annoyed. The telephone rang - which stopped me from announcing all my academic achievements to her alongside a host of obscenities.
Yes, I'll just put you through.
The receiver clicked loudly as I placed it down. It was only mid-morning and already I had been barked at to make coffee for twelve (er - milk, two sugars - actually can I have tea?), whilst transferring calls from half of Ghana to the right recipient, then attempting to fix the new coffee machine balancing precariously on a chair, because someone had pulled out the milk frother.
When I was six, I wanted to be a vet. When I was ten I wanted to be an actress. By the time I left university I had absolutely no idea. I envied those student nurses and doctors who could guarantee a career as soon as the red ribboned scroll hit the palm of their hand. They seemed to just know what they wanted to be. I secretly wished I could be one of those people who snapped up placements in top law firms then became partners after two years because their Dad was the CEO. I didn't have any people in high places; it was looking like, if I was to get anywhere near a high-flying career, I'd have to bloody well do it myself. Marvellous.
Staring blankly at the box, I sat in a heap on the floor fiddling with the instruction manual. As usual I looked first at the unhelpful and slightly blurry pictures in numbered boxes displaying odd parts of the machine, rather than the long, wordy instructions. I twisted the page around and my eyes followed, as if looking at it upside down would make understanding how a new binding machine works a whole lot easier...
I wish there was an instruction manual (with pictures) on achieving my dream career in publishing. Mid-September I'd got a call, offering one weeks work experience in a well known publishers in North London. I felt rather lucky. Having annoyed the hell out of them through emailing, posting letters and telephoning every week, I eventually received the call:
"We don't usually do this, but my colleague said you sounded so enthusiastic... (and probably ever so slightly desperate)... we'd like to offer you work experience..."
And I'm determined to get there. But those who lack high people in high places don't just fall into the job of their dreams without hopping across a few stepping-stones of reality first. I'm on number two of my stepping-stones. Number one was getting a home in London. Number two is keeping a job, so I can keep my home.
Pushing the button violently, I heard the intermittent dit dit dit as it punched lots of little holes into the paper. It was more than satisfying. It was rather loud - disturbing much of the office who had given me such a hellish morning - and consequently a few looked around and glared at me. ha. The noise sounded much like a raging machine gun, which, I must admit, made my imagination run away with itself for a moment.
There are those people who do a job because it's what they love, and my God, how lucky they are. But most of us are doing a job to get somewhere; whether the reasoning is to get more money, to keep a home, get a promotion, pay off a debt or even feed the kids. I cannot comprehend treating people a certain way simply because of what they do for a living.
I have been:
a cocktail waitress
a PA to the MD
a bankruptcy clerk
worked in a flower shop
a sales assistant at Harrods
- and now a receptionist.
Being 'a receptionist' does not mean I am only a receptionist, but a person-working-as-a-receptionist who likes, cooking, reading a good book, debating spiritual matters over a large glass of wine with friends and crying at old films.
I held my shoulders back, took a deep breath, and whilst pretending I was a really fabulous editor at a top publishing house, I handed the beautifully bound documents back to the new graduate with pride, placing them gently on her desk.