112. Living in the Presents Part II

112 Living in the presents Part II.

“One of your tasks,” Miss Bradbury tells me, “is to order retirement gifts. You send the retiree the catalogue three months before their L.D.S. There are different catalogues, depending on their L.O.S. They tell you what they want; you order the gift. Is that clear?”

I try to look intelligent. Twenty-one, and in my first proper graduate job, working for what had been the Civil Service, and then the Post Office, and would shortly become British Telecom. I’m an Executive Officer in a Superannuation section. Pensions, to you and me. I have, under my supervision, two Clerical Officers and a Clerical Assistant. They are all unbelievably old – at least fifty – and I am now their boss. It is important that I appear competent.

Miss Bradbury hands me a manila folder, wrapped around with genuine red-tape.  “You can start with this one.”

The desks for my team are grouped together in a large open-plan office containing the rest of the staffing section. Another little group deal with recruitment; yet another with sickness and holidays. Both of these are headed by single ladies of a certain age: they would have joined the Civil Service at a time when women had to step down from management posts upon marriage. I would come to know them as witty, warm and generous women but right then, they just look grey.

I see from the file that my retiree, a Miss Johnson, has already been sent the catalogue. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to call her and find out what she wants.

The line, when she answers, is very poor and the buzz of the open-plan office doesn’t help; but eventually I make myself understood and jot down her chosen gift. Then I leaf through the catalogue, trying to find the correct code. I leaf forwards. I leaf backwards. I try the index. Her choice eludes me.

My Clerical Assistant, Joan, has obviously spotted me looking puzzled. “Problem?” she asks, not unkindly. Perhaps I remind her of her grand-daughter.

“I can’t seem to find this gift,” I admit.

“Have you got the correct catalogue. They do vary, depending on length of service.”

“I’m pretty certain I have.”

“Well, what was it she wanted?” I double-check my notes.

“A carrycot,” I reply.

My team go silent. Wordlessly, Joan takes the catalogue from my hands, consults the index and hands it back to me at the page displaying a choice of carriage clocks.

When the tea-trolley arrives, five minutes later, it is to find the four women in the superannuation section, weeping so hysterically that they can barely order a current bun.

***
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