I’ve been doing a bit of temping lately which means a lot of work in offices. I’ve come to notice something about the soundtrack in these places. While they all vary depending upon the number of telephones and computers and proximity of the office to the public, there is one aspect of the office soundtrack which is surely present in all offices across the globe.
I refer of course to rumbling tummies. Every office I’ve ever worked in would have a consistent soundtrack of gastrological gurgling.
Presumably this is because “office people” have to commute a long way for the privilage of working in these soulless little rooms and seldom have time for something as decadent as breakfast. Important people are always in a hurry: important people don’t eat breakfast. Worse still, the most ‘important’ of them will forsake their lunch breaks as well.
One can’t help but think of the rumbling of so many tummies as a symbol: something of an acoustic representation of a hunger like no other. Biologically they lack food but the rumbling tummy also represents a longing for other nutrients: freedom, human interaction, colour. In famine-ravaged countries there is no food but in the office there is no anything. It’s just a room full of staplers and inboxes and hungry people pretending to be busy.
Homo-Officious does eat occasionally of course (the corporation is a slow killer – we’re engaged in a tedious Day of the Triffids-style apocalypse in which humanity must slowly starve with no sudden asteroid or superflu to put us out of our misery). Every office has food in it, usually positioned in a specially designated ‘grub corner’ and stored in plastic Tupperware boxes that the workers have brought in from home to help salve their colleagues’ misery. The food is usually cake or sweets: comfort food. The way these ‘happy tubs’ are positioned in one corner of the office remind me of the way food is placed inside the cage of a hamster or gerbil: a corner for eating; a corner for shitting and a corner to slowly die in.
I visited an office today situated away from the city centre in a strange nowhere place called ‘central key’ where everything seems to revolve around a company called M Computing in a sinister fashion akin to how everything revolves around a cannibalistic butcher in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen. (Their slogan is “making new opportunities” despite the fact that their HQ is in an actual wasteland). It was just an office block in the middle of an urban desert. The view from the east windows: a motorway. The view from the west windows: (appropriately) the ruins of an old bakery.
There was no where to eat! The nearest café must have been about a mile’s walk. The company seemed to have tried to counter this by providing a ‘canteen’ in which no food is actually prepared on the premises but rather shrinkwrapped sandwiches are delivered from somewhere else and all of the coffee is of the instant just-add-water variety. How space age! Actually, ‘how concentration camp’ might be a better expression. Arbeit macht frei: work brings freedom apparently so explain how I drink good coffee and eat good food only when I’m unemployed.
Tubs of cake indeed. And instant coffee. I can’t imagine that the “dystopian” vision of a workforce hooked up to a system of intravenous drips would be any worse. At least in such a workforce people wouldn’t have rumbling tummies.