Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Des, Burt and me.

The registration of a birth is an old-fashioned process. An appointment is required and a lengthy series of questions are posed by a person who takes the role of registrar very seriously. A sign on the wall warns that the giving of any false information in the circumstances is PERJURY. I was quite reassured by this formality and looked forward to getting a piece of parchment confirming Aurora’s place in the world.

I was a few minutes early for the appointment and the reception office had not actually opened for business. I could see figures moving around behind the frosted window. Women were wishing each other 'good morning' and already discussing what they had brought in for lunch. I could hear a fridge door being opened and closed as the exciting lunch items were stowed away for the morning.

The office opened at 9.30am. I took a seat and waited for the wall clock to tick loudly around to opening time. When it did, I excitedly got up. I was to meet the registrar and our daughter was about to become a citizen of the borough. I approached the counter as a middle-aged woman slid back the window. The hatch looked like one of those serving windows from the 1970’s and the woman who revealed herself had heyday makeup that complemented the look. Sky-blue eyeshadow beamed out from behind large bi-focals. She adjusted her glasses slightly and focussed on me.

‘I have an appointment with the registrar.’ I was formal, but enthusiastic.

I expected her response to be something like: ‘What’s the name please?’, or ‘Oh, yes, please take a seat sir’. When her glasses were at the right angle to survey me through her bi-focals, she said:

‘Is it to register a death?’

I was disappointed by this.

‘No,’ I said weakly, ‘a birth’.

‘Oh’ she said barely containing her surprise. She turned to her colleague and raised her eyebrows before turning an insincere smile on me.

‘You’d better take a seat then.‘

She slid the window back into place and I watched her retreat to her desk through the frosted pane.

The waiting room was empty save for me, but I still waited a full 20 minutes. I presumed that the registrar was refilling her fountain pens, or just making me wait to emphasise her importance and the gravity of the registration process. While I waited I felt increasingly insecure as an older father - I obviously looked more like a morose widower than a new dad. This gloom wasn’t lifted by the conversation I could overhear from behind the frosted glass.

‘Des O’Connor - well into his seventies. He’ll probably be dead by the time that kid goes to big school.'

There was a long pause here - during which a ringing phone was steadfastly ignored.

‘Aye. Burt Bacharach, he’s another one. I saw him in the paper. He’s ancient – he’ll be lucky if he sees that kid get to nursery'.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sing the team tune

The team assembled on the sofas today. It was the last time we would do this with our ‘manager’ – as she finishes work with us at the end of the week.

I sat beside our new girl: Anna. She seemed a little nervous – so I smiled reassuringly at her. She scared me a little last week when she used the plural 'knifes', but I know how intimidating it can be in a new office with an established team.

We took turns to share with the team our planned movements and meetings for the week. There was a lot of enthusiasm on the other sofa – as our ‘manager’ was buoyed by the prospect of having a whole new team of people to tell about the exciting things she had in her diary. Original Susan, for her part, was buoyed by the prospect of a quieter office - with even later starts and even earlier finishes.

I related my plans for the week in my usual monotone and all eyes then turned on Anna. The ‘manager’ looked at Anna in the hope that she would revive the mood. Anna overcompensated.

‘My boyfriend works for an American company you know and they begin the week with a ‘team song’. It’s really brilliant and gets them all in a smashing mood for the week.’

There was a heavy pause and I expected our ‘manager’ to dismiss this nonsense and emphasise to Anna that this was a serious meeting and that the team protocol demanded the bald recitation of the facts of meetings and plans for the week.

I was disappointed by the team leader’s disconcertingly shrill reaction.

‘That sounds brilliant! What is it?’

It transpired that Anna’s boyfriend and the rest of his team were forced to begin the week with a kind of corporate humiliation that I did not think existed beyond the Arts Council’s annual get-together and that their teambuilding anthem was ‘Zip-a-dee-do-dah’.

Our team meeting then became a discussion of which songs would befit our ethos and send us out to deliver culture to the masses with a spring in our steps. I resolutely stopped listening and focussed instead on the throbbing pain of my big toe. The sensation was caused by my resurgent fungal nail infection and was a welcome distraction.

There was some noise coming at me from the opposite sofa and I realised that the ‘manager’ was trying to engage me in the debate.

‘Come on! Join in. A team song! Any suggestions?’

I took a sip of coffee and solemnly closed my diary.

‘How about ‘Every Day is Like Sunday’.'