It was Donald Herrington OBE - my predecessor at Collins, Collins, Collins, Collins, Collins Albertson & Collins – who, upon his retirement, bequeathed to me his slender copy of the McPherson file.
I remember his words as I took receipt of the curious gift:
“Carry this around the office with you at all times. If anyone ever invites you to attend a strategy meeting, or asks you to assist them in something that clearly lies beyond the terms of your job description, tell them that you are up to your eyes in the McPherson account. They will leave you alone and you can get on with your actual work.”
“What's in it?” I enquired, doing my best to sound grateful, while I stared disconsolately at the flimsy brown cardboard folder in my hands.
“It's mostly foil wrappers from Tunnock's teacakes that I carefully removed and then flattened. I like the pattern. It's what I imagine the Japanese flag would look like if it had been designed in Glasgow.”
I later came to realise that Donald have granted me a rare and precious object – one that would drive sane and rational men to commit all manner of vile atrocities in their bid to wrest it from my grasp and make it their own.
My copy of the McPherson file was one of only seven still in existence. The original had been lost in 270AD, during the Aurelian sacking of the Library at Alexandria. The reproductions that had come after were imperfect facsimiles and shared only tenuous links to the source material, but were still highly-prized.
A week after the McPherson file was gifted to me I deployed it in an unsuccessful bid to deflect attentions of Guy Colin, Head of the Marketing Team. At the time I was unaware that managerial staff above a certain level were trained to resist the persuasive powers of the file with their own scripted responses. These were practised in weekly, early-morning team-building sessions until they became second nature.
“Talk to the hand that gives a fuck!” was the curt response, that cut my excuse dead before the words could exit my mouth.
He thrust his right palm towards me like a traffic policeman laying down the law to an advancing column of cars.
(This incident occurred during the mid-1990s, when people were happy to delegate the resolution of interpersonal conflicts to their hands. Frequently a stand-off would ensue with two opposing palms, separated by a distance of no more than a few feet, mutely facing each other. In such cases the argument was usually won by the person who could bear to keep their arm in that raised, straightened position the longest, although there was also an equally strong case for there being no winners in this particular situation).
“Just to clarify, my left hand is one that gives a fuck,” said Guy. “It wants to sensually massage your genitals. My right hand wants to tear off your fucking penis before you bring children into the world.”
I watched in horror as Guy Colin's prurient left hand began a steady advance towards my groin.
Behind him one of the automatons from human resources issued a prolonged cough that sounded like a dog attempting to bark the words “sexual harassment suit.”
Guy whirled around to face the source of the interruption.
“It's at the dry cleaners!” he snapped.
I took advantage of the distraction to dart away. In my haste I abandoned the McPherson file on a nearby desk. I returned ten minutes later to retrieve it, but it was gone.
I have heard rumours that Graham has it now.
The rows of cubicles on the floor of the building where I worked had all been given street names. My cubicle was situated on Merryfield Avenue. I was told by my line manager, during my induction, that this was an up-and-coming quarter of the office with “a funky bohemian vibe.”
“I want you to think of this as your home address,” were her parting words to me.
My neighbour, Andrew, had been given a potted psychotropic cactus by his son as a Fathers' Day present. One afternoon, while using the inch-long spines as toothpicks, we slipped into an hallucinogenic trance. Together we shifted from the earthly plane and entered a parallel dimension where we communed with Bamvarada - a floating, blue turtle with the face of the Buddha, who delivered silver-tongued sermons on efficiency in the modern workplace. Andrew, David from IT, and myself spent an average of three hours a day in the company of the spirit guide, absorbing his teachings. During this time our productivity increased by 15% and then plateaued, only decreasing to its former level after the cactus toppled from Andrew's desk and was crushed under the wheels of the mail trolley.
It was during one of the Q&A sessions that typically absorbed the last quarter of an hour of Bamvarada's seminars that I asked him:
“Are you in the cactus, or are you of the cactus?”
“I am the cactus.”
“Bollocks!” said Andrew, his exclamation of incredulity, muffled by a mouthful of white bread and cheddar cheese. He rapidly swallowed the partly-chewed bite of his sandwich.
“I'm sorry but that is just total bollocks. If a cactus and a turtle were the same thing then they wouldn't have such divergent physical traits and there wouldn't be individual words to describe them. You show me one thesaurus where 'Turtle' and 'Cactus' are synonyms for each other.”
“Maybe you see the cactus and the turtle as separate entities because you have not yet been awakened to the true nature of things,” replied Bamvarada serenely, if somewhat smugly.
“All this and more will become clear to you upon the commencement of the new financial year, my child.”
The following day, during our lunch break, the three of us drove to a local garden centre that also sold exotic pets. Andrew approached the help desk and asked to directed to the part of the store where turtles could be purchased.
The assistant smiled knowingly and then sent us to the house plant department.
On the otherwise silent drive back to the office, David gave voice to what we were all thinking:
“Do you ever get the impression that Bamvarada might be fucking with us?”