Tuesday 21 July 2009

Goodbye Weird John

We have one fewer people in the office, and there weren't many to start with. Nothing to do with the economy - we've had a lodger, for nigh on a dozen years and he is now departed.

John was a strange man who I met when I first set up in business. My first client had spare space...the top floor of a building in very fashionable Clerkenwell, and they let me occupy it. 2000sq' for one person. I bet even Alan Sugar would be jealous. It was beautiful, with a glass roof opening to a terrace, and wood beams all over the place. A little grubby perhaps, but you couldn't ask for better. And it was free, and that's important when you're just starting out. It also had a rather fantastic plant that had been allowed to grow and grow; it was a bit of an Audrey II and was draped fairly elegantly all around the rafters. I tried to remember to water it once a week.

I arrived in September.

Three months later John arrived. He sat at the other end of the room, was pleasant enough, not particularly chatty, but it was definitely good to have another person to keep me company.

I came in one day and John had decided to cut back Audrey II. To its roots. Evidently it was untidy. It had taken the owners some 25 years to grow. I hid under my desk when they found out.

John had the same thing for lunch everyday. A pot of cottage cheese, bag of crisps and an apple. Everyday the same thing. Day in day out.

We had a coffee shop opposite, and would take it in turns to buy the coffee. Mostly John would take his back for being too cold/too hot/too milky/not milky enough/too foamy/why's there no foam? and so on. In two years, I doubt the shop managed to make a single penny out of selling us three coffees each a day.

In the morning we would meet for coffee at Pret a Manger and put the world to rights. Not bad considering he bought the Daily Mail everyday, and I'm a confirmed Guardian reader.

John had been married for some twenty odd years. And in his household he was master of the universe. His wife would ring at least half a dozen times a day for guidance and help. If one of his daughters had done something wrong, he would tell her off from the office...or she would have to wait 'til he got home. If anything went wrong, he would sort it out from the office or would go home to resolve it. In twelve years my favourite was "I'm going home because Jane's washing machine has broken".

His youngest daughter was born when we was in his mid-fifties. "If you don't use it, you lose it." He quoted me...and not just about the reason for having more children late in life. He will never willingly retire.

He has a dog. An alsation. Which had a kennel outside and slept there spring, summer, autumn and winter. It was never allowed to cross the threshold.

When I (now we) moved to a new office John came with us. It was the first time I noticed that his desk was always immaculately tidy. Nothing on top that needn't be. Everything in perfect order. Everything placed to within a millimtre of where it should be. You could eat your baby's lunch off it. Even when he was busy, not a thing out of place.

John built his own house. Or rather he project managed the building of his house. The battles with builders, plumbers. electricians and decorators were legendary. He bought 20,000 second hand tlles for the roof and scrubbed everyone clean. The roofer said he'd never seen tiles as clean. Sadly, when the house was complete, there were a succession of leaks as the plumber hadn't been supervised quite enough. A bit like the chickens in Sainsbury's that have been reared under the safe watch of the RSPCA...for some of the time.

And then we moved again (seven years later) and John came with us. And then we moved again to where we are now. And John came with us. His desk remained tidy throughout.

John always arrived early at the office. By 7. To do that he rose at 4 and caught a train an hour later from mid-Kent. I don't know what he did when he got to the office, but I do know he had his music on loudly. Gilrs Aloud, Ah Ha, and the like. When we arrived he turned it off. So we put the radio on. He didn't like it - "the sound quality is awful" he said. When we got a new computer with a hi-fi sound system, "It's the music, it's awful, it's not good music." We kept the radio on.

At our new office, the top step of the stairs was slightly smaller (about half an inch in width) than the rest. For six months John tripped over this whenever he came up the stairs. He couldn't cope with variation.

He didn't make tea once in seven years at our old office, but in our new office we would share the tea making. But we had to ask John to stop. Whenever he squeezed the tea bags, he bent the spoon. "But they're not as good as the ones we have at home."

When we were broken into, I gave him the money for a new computer in advance of the insurance paying out. I gave him the money on the day of our Christmas lunch; Not a word of thanks. I had to wait a couple of months for the money. It was unusual of him to come along - he always said he would, but then would find a last minute excuse not to. In twelve years, I think he came along twice. They were quite calm, relaxed and pleasant affairs. This was the nicest place.

In our office bathroom, the light was always left on inspite of a sign saying "Save the world. Switch off a light". And there were skid marks in the loo. Evidently there was no one here to run around and clear up after him. In the bathroom, the flusher was broken several times. Too much force used to push down on the mechanism.

And one day, I arrived to find the door handle for our hardwood security door in the middle of the floor. He had forgotten to unlock the double lock and used so much force on the door he broke the handle. I was not best pleased. And that provoked him into saying he was moving out inspite of my protestations to the contrary. I suggested he thought about it over the Christmas break and let me know in the new year. He never spoke to me again, but returned everyday until he left last week. Still owing me three months rent.

And this is how he returned the office keys. Yes that's gaffer tape.

Goodbye Weird John. Don't come back.


  1. What can one say ?

    I do wonder what he called you though ...

  2. There's a novel in there somewhere, y'know. Who's writing it?

  3. Ah, but won't it make office life a little less interesting without those daily conversations about Jane's washing machine?

  4. I wodner how long it took him to think up gaffer taping the keys as the perfect final gesture? That probably kept him entertained for weeks!

  5. I have lurked on your blog without commenting for several weeks, but this entry has flushed me out because I love it. Beautifully written and a lovely portrait. It sounds like you never quite worked out whether you liked him or not.

  6. Be careful, he may ask for the gaffer tape back. He sounds the type.

  7. Yes, Nota Bene. I've not been diligent enough to read all your posts but this one is tip top. I agree with The Dotterel.

    This really reminds me of Herman Melville's short story "Bartleby"


    Super stuff,NB.

    P.S. or N.B.: The RNLI have asked me to ask all the people who so kindly donated...do you still wish to go ahead with your donation? (This is because I can't do the run, sadly, after all.)

  8. Great post; proper writing on a blog which makes a change from many.
    There's a bloke in our office who has never spoken to me in fifteen years(not just me, almost everyone) The other week I asked him a direct question about some technical issue and he just smiled looking straight at me with sad eyes - eventually somebody else answered for him. He's won again I thought.

  9. What a control freak. His poor wife probably lived in terror and didn't dare not to ring him up half a dozen times a day for assistance (did he have one of those buy-one, get-one-free Thai brides perchance?)

    And evidently no one else could tell him what to do either, no matter how diplomatically.

    One can only feel sorry for him and all the good stuff he's missing out on in life through such a pig-headed inflexible attitude.

    Sorry to hear about the 3 months rent though - sounds like tightness was another fault he had in spades. And that really does stink as a fault. Moodiness, tightness and inconsiderateness - I would happily shoot all denizens possesssing this trio of flaws & consider I was doing us both a favour!

  10. AG...I'm lost for words...and names
    Tim - you're right...and you're a published author!
    NVG - sometimes less interesting is good
    Mud - it was a very neat piece of taping
    Mr London St - thank you...and you're spot on too
    Madame - I feel I should return it
    Hadriana - thank you...you're busy I know, so thanks for taking the time.
    Bittersweet - yes, there's weird and there's weird
    Mark - 15 years!!? No I'd have slaughtered him
    Laura...I shall send you the gun, please make the world a better place! I will come to your defence if any one asks :-)


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