A transcript from several years ago, when I was working at a medium-sized media company in Aldershot. It’s a rare piece of factual writing where I attempted simply to capture what had just happened, and the words that were said.
18:52 Thursday, 23 August 2007
Train from Aldershot to Waterloo, at Woking
A real conversation, recalled as accurately as possible, that illustrates the best parts of my days working in the creative studio of a media company.
I became aware of a conversation between Chris and Vikki intensifying. I looked at Chris, the noisier of the two at the time, to attempt to understand their issue.
“Well why is he writing to me?” Asked Chris, “ I don’t fucking know him, do I?”
“Are you going to write back to him?” Asked Vikki.
“What the fuck am I supposed to say, ‘yes’?”
“Yeh. Well, I dunno. Do you know why he might be writing to you?”
“Who is he?”
“Someone from Education, downstairs, according to his email address, right?”
“Well, I don’t know who the fuck he is! Why would someone from Ed be writing to me?”
“I dunno! Have you been talking to them recently?”
“Are you gonna reply?”
“What the fuck do I write??
Their voices were leaping in pitch with every comment, and gradually increasing in volume. I spoke up, to Chris, “What’s happened?”
“Get this, right, some cunt called –” he read the email header aloud, “Andrew Philips, from Ed, just sent me an email. I don’t know who the fuck he is. Why would some cunt from Ed be writing to me?”
“I just stared, frowning slightly. Vikki continued in the same tone as before. “What are you going to say?”
“Err, ‘yes’? ‘No’! I don’t fucking know!”
“Wait”, I had to ask: “What does it say?”
“The email, what does it say?” Chris turned again to his monitor and read slowly, “ ‘Are… you… in… today?’ I mean, what the fuck is that all about?”
I only frowned a little more. Vikki persisted on Chris, “Well?”
“I dunno, how about ‘who the fuck are you?’”
“Why not just say yes?” Vikki replied.
“I don’t–” Chris threw his palms to his scalp. “Oh, why dos this have to happen? This fucking– why don’t I just– oh, I don’t know!”
Vikki turned to me, her face crowded in confusion, a smile smothered in its midst. I was imagining the ultimate conclusion of Chris’s predicament, whereby some guy called Andrew Philips, downstairs, in Ed, looks up to see Chris stride in and plant his fist in the poor guy’s sinus cavity. I started to laugh at this vision: the innocent man shocked beyond the capacity for judgement, glaring up at his enraged attacker, too confused even to be scared of further assault.
Natasha walked past the door. Chris yelled after her, sounding like he had found the answer. “Tash! She’ll know. Tash! Hey!”
“What’s going on?” Tash asked.
“Tash, who the fuck is–“ he checked the monitor of his Mac again, “Andrew Philips?”
“He’s in Ed, isn’t he?”
“I know that! But which one? Who is he?” He was growing increasingly manic.
“Erm, dunno. Is he the knew guy?”
Chris lit up at this new insight. “Which new guy?”
“The one who started a few weeks ago, working with Mark I think”.
Vikki seemed to recognise Mark’s name. Chris didn’t. He raised his eyebrows to plead for more information.
“You know, kinda geeky, quiet guy”. She looked to me for recognition but I was smiling like an enraptured idiot.
“What the fuck does he want from me?”
“Dunno,” Tash replied, “Why?”
Vikki answered. “He emailed Chris, and Chris doesn’t know him”.
“SO?” Screamed Chris, “Who the fuck is this guy?”
“I dunno. What does it say?”
Chris spun in his chair again and read the email out loud, slowly. “Andrew Philips. ‘Are… you… in… today?’” He spun back, shoulders bunched and palms raised to the heavens, his eyebrows were raised in a way that suggested Tash would yet reveal the solution to the quandary.
“So?” Asked Tash, to no one in particular.
“Chris doesn’t know how to reply,” said Vikki.
“Err, ‘yes’?” Said Tash. Chris clapped his hands to his scalp again. Tash turned to me again, for help. Vikki glared at me. I kept smiling. I turned to Chris. Tash threw in a lifeline: “Maybe he meant to send it to Chris Jones. He’s the M.D. of Ed”.
“Yee-es!” Yelled Chris, overjoyed at discovering a way out. “He’s writing to Chris fucking Jones!” He swivelled round to his keyboard and went straight back to work. The two women stared at me. I stared at Chris’s back and decided to reopen negotiations.
“You still have to reply to him”.
Chris whirled back and gave everyone a look of desperation. “What? Why?”
“He still wrote to you”, I said.
“He wrote to Chris Jones, not me. I don’t have to do anything”. I felt the conversation closing without a finale, felt disappointment at that. Fortunately Vikki was too curious too.
“Why does it matter so much?” She said.
“What? Well, what kind of a question is that, ‘are you in today?’”
“It doesn’t seem like an odd question”.
Tash had walked off without anyone noticing. I was laughing silently in my corner of the room. Chris looked like a man in mortal despair. “Are you in?” He repeated. “How the fuck am I supposed to respond to that? I don’t know this guy. How would you respond?”
“Err, ‘yes’”, she responded.
“So how should I reply?”
“You’re paranoid, Chris. Stop taking drugs”.
He opened his mouth to speak, stopped, laughed, said, “fuck” and turned back to his Mac. I, too, turned back to my computer but I caught Vikki’s stare, burning at me. She went on at Chris, “I don’t know why you’re taking this so seriously”.
“Err–” Chris turned to me before she could continue, and said, “Ben. What would you do?”
“Confuse him,” I said. “Ask him if he’s in”.
“Wait”, said Chris. “I can reply from Chris Jones’s email. How do I do that? Stu. Stu knows. He’s I.T. He has the power of the, fucking, almighty. He can–“ Chris made scurrying gestures, “Get inside the system for me, make me look like Chris Jones in an email. I can say, ‘no, I’m not fucking in, fuck off! I’m dead. I’ve been sacked. You’re sacked. I’m on fucking holiday for a year, fuck off!’”
“Stu wouldn’t do that,” Said Vikki, finally turning cold, “He’d get sacked for doing that”.
“Are you sure?” Asked Chris.
Chris raised his eyes and repeated the email’s question a couple of times to himself. Vikki shook her head. If I had not known that Vikki had been in Chris’s company for enough weeks to know him well by then, I would have perceived real fear in her eyes at that point. But no, not so much fear as uncertainty, as to whether to laugh at Chris’s demeanour or recommend him to a doctor. I had known him longer and better and I clearly found comic relief in his attitude. Vikki searched me for my thoughts. “So? What is with this boy?”
“Mate, you wouldn’t think much of a question like that, ‘are you in today’, would you?”
“Neither would I. But you’re not Chris, right?”
“Neither am I. And I guarantee you, that question is going to haunt his dreams tonight”.
“Because it came from someone he doesn’t know?”
“Because somebody he doesn’t know is questioning his entire existence. It’s the last thing he needs, especially here, where there’s work to be done”.
“It’s probably not even directed at him”.
“No, but it might be, and in any case, it was sent to him, nobody else”.
“It’s just a question”.
“Maybe. Would you like it if someone challenged your sense of reality?”
“Probably not. But if somebody asked me that question”, she pointed across the room at Chris’s monitor. Chris was facing it, his finger poised to close the email forever but unable to make the killing poke, “I wouldn’t have a problem with it”.
“But you’re not Chris”.
We heard a mouse button click, then a voice, it said, “Fuck it”.
The entry ends there. Immediately below it is a quote from Colin Wilson’s book, The Outsider:
“This is the sense of unreality, that can strike out of a perfectly clear sky… …And once a man has seen it, the world can never afterwards be the same straightforward place… …the Outsider is a man who cannot live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois, accepting what he sees and touches as reality. ‘He sees too deep and too much’, and what he sees is essentially chaos… …For the Outsider, the world is not rational, not orderly. When he asserts his sense of anarchy in the face of the bourgeois’ complacent acceptance, it is not simply the need to cock a snook at respectability that provokes him; it is a distressing sense that the truth must be told at all costs, otherwise there can be no hope for an ultimate restoration of order.”
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