Agency Workers, Blue Arrow, Catering, Credit Crunch, Edinburgh, Employment Agency, Financial Meltdown, Human Resources, Humor, Lunatic Asylum, Management, Manager, Minimum Wage, Race, Racism, Satire, Therapy
Marcus De Lano was endlessly delighted with those lively Spanish kids whom the agency sent him every morning. Those handsome young men with their riotous lives and clown wits – those pretty, wild girls whose talk was like song, and whose cheerful, tuneless singing was like laughter – everything which these kids uttered was a surreal declaration, a splendid little feat which whipped on the circus. The Spanish kids were easygoing and good to look at, and, most importantly of all, they smoothed away problems, deftly and effortlessly, transforming every apparent disaster into something silly and inconsequential.
How unlike those moody, restless kids from the nearby estate whom the canteen had previously employed. Scurrying along like mad, blind rats on their aimless, destructive courses, creating senseless aggravation, throwing tantrums, taking weeks off sick, and often disappearing before De Lano could get round to sacking them. Although a senior manager, De Lano was a young man, and he had not enjoyed nagging these teenagers and being made to feel quite the adult.
The canteen at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital was not a capitalist enterprise – it would never be short of patients to feed – and it ground on through history like a steam train following everlasting rails. Snug in their jolly little corner of the world, the canteen staff were largely protected from the economic weather, which provides for and punishes most workers.
“I love working here,” De Lano found himself exclaiming helplessly one morning. He was breaking down boxes in the car park with the store man Kenny, the coffee was percolating indoors, and a subtle little adjustment far above, in the heavens, had left them standing suddenly overwhelmed in a beam of magical sunshine. “I love the people here.” The agency kids had clocked out and they were trooping towards the bus stop. Some of them waved. “To think that we are working with so many fantastic people, from so far away, from all around the world. It feels like the future, like change.”
Kenny smiled and nodded, a little embarrassed by his manager’s enthusiasm but understanding what he meant.
Yet things soon changed rather quickly and unexpectedly. Some of the hospital’s funding was cut and the canteen’s own budget was accordingly reduced. De Lano was instructed that a couple of noughts had to be knocked off the back of the wage budget. Permanent workers such as Kenny had their hours cut, and their shifts were given to agency staff who were significantly cheaper.
De Lano had wanted to avoid a confrontation with Kenny. For a while, he sped up a little whenever he needed to pass Kenny’s store room. Yet one day Kenny cornered De Lano in the toilets and he gave the manager a piece of his mind.
“I have worked here for eleven years!” Kenny hissed, over the gurgling of the urinal. “And now I have lost half my shifts.”
“I like you Kenny,” De Lano declared warmly, zipping up his flies. “And it is because I like you that you still have a job here. If we were being heartlessly efficient – doing what is best for us and the patients – then we would have let you go. But we owe people like you. People who have been here a long time, who are part of the family.”
But Kenny was not going to be deterred. “You have given my shifts to a clueless Spanish lassie, who cannae speak a word of English. And you’ve only given her my shifts because she earns next to nothing. It’s unfair on her and it’s unfair on me.”
De Lano found that he was troubled. He did not like the tone of Kenny’s invective. When he got back to his office, he telephoned human resources and booked an interview for Kenny.
Kenny was duly summoned to human resources the next afternoon. He waited for fifteen minutes in a corridor which smelled of cleaning fluids, listening to the distant sound of traffic passing up on the main road. There was not even a magazine to look at. Suddenly a firm voice called him into the office, which was small and nasty, and furnished only with a desk and two old chairs. It was unbearably hot in the office.
The human resources manager was a tormented-looking little man, who appeared not to have slept for days. Kenny had scarcely seated himself, when the manager shot to his feet and loomed over the desk, as fierce as a hungry lion, emptying a fathomless stare into Kenny’s eyes. Kenny flinched, but he laboured to meet the manager’s gaze.
“This organisation does not tolerate racists,” the manager boomed, his emotion filling the room like the chanting of an operatic chorus. “If you are a racist, then you can leave! Now!”
He pointed dramatically at the door. Kenny looked at the door, and he then looked unhappily back at the manager.
“Racism is unacceptable in this modern age. Racists will not be tolerated. Racism is wrong.”
It seemed as if Kenny was trying to collect his very soul in the back of his throat. Finally he managed a grunt of assent.
The manager waved dismissively at a stack of papers on his desk. “We would dismiss you. Only I’ve booked you in for some therapy. This is a chance. Your only chance. Your appointment is at three o’ clock.”
An hour later, Kenny was welcomed into the therapist’s “sanctuary,” a warm room which smelled of new soap and old flowers. Kenny sank into a large armchair and he accepted a cup of bland, yellow tea. The therapist smiled at him and uncrossed her legs.
“I think that we should begin by talking about your penis,” she suggested gently.
Kenny snorted tea out of his nose. He struggled to sit up.
The therapist smiled reassuringly.
“I have a feeling that you have a hatred of black people, foreign people, because you are afraid that your penis is very little and inadequate.”
Kenny looked at the therapist, appalled. She was young enough to be his daughter.
“Racists often associate foreigners with sexual potency, and they feel rather hopeless in comparison.”
Kenny heard himself speaking. “I’m an old man, my dear. I have not… well, I have not… you know… for years.”
The therapist clapped happily. “We’re making important progress. Because of your impotence, you are jealous of the big willies of these blacks!” Kenny watched in dismay as she began to fill in a form, writing very quickly.
Kenny returned to the canteen. He found De Lano breaking down some boxes in the car park. De Lano seemed to commiserate.
“We all have to accept change Kenny. We are living in the future, we have so many people working here from all over the world, and we enjoy an incredibly diverse, multicultural culture. You’re a good man, Kenny, part of the family, and we owe you.”