The only time I’ve ever cried at work was when I worked at Random House Publishing and the printer kept breaking down. Five of our computers were linked to it, and every day without fail, it would refuse to print, then vomit up sixteen versions of a manuscript you had tried to print last Tuesday. It became a little anecdote, with the sharp bits filed off. “Oh the irony – a publishing house where the printer didn’t work!” Ha Ha. Except when it was actually happening you wanted to firebomb the fucking useless piece of shit printer. And that time where I wandered up to the seventh floor, the Grown-Up floor (I worked in children’s publishing) where the walls were lined with portraits of literary giants like A.S Byatt and Ian McEwan, the air redolent with cigar smoke and intellectual endeavour, and piles of books softly nestled in every corner. There, standing over the photocopier, his face bemused and bathed in green light was the journalist John Pilger. Quite reasonably he couldn’t understand why after pressing the right buttons, nothing related to what he actually wanted printing, was spewing out of the machine. A man can take on global corruption but it’s software that drives you mad in the end.
One day, after a particularly bad incident with the photocopier (deadline + stuck copier – anyone coming to help + me thumping the machine = me running to the toilet and crying) I swore I would never allow software to make me cry again.
All last week was half term and I found myself taking on more students at the Open University due to tutor illness. This I didn’t mind at all, but in order to mark things I had to download three separate bits of software, save them in the right place, then . . sorry fell asleep there, I’m boring myself. Yes dull and dreadful but it HAD to be done or I couldn’t mark them in the right format. The Husband found me, pale and wild haired at 12.30pm trying to get to grips with it. He kindly told me to go to bed and deal with it in the morning. I was choked with failure and rage and misery at my endless downloading and clicking only resulting in Error Message: 244 What? What? Or Cannot Compute. Or Your Computer Has Performed an Illegal Action. “FUCK OFF FUCK OFF FUCK OFF!” I shouted helpfully. And yet my spitting stream of profanity had no effect. For a second I thought of those black and white films where somebody is talking on the telephone and gets cut off. And they immediately start pressing uselessly on the disconnect button while saying: “Hello? Hello?” in a posh voice.
And yet when I did manage to download it properly, I felt an absurd sense of achievement. “You’re too hard on yourself” said Husband kindly. No it’s not that. You can’t be emotional when you’re doing IT. But it always makes me cry – nothing makes me feel more useless.
It didn’t help that Husband and I had a row on the day I was dragging myself into town to carry out a face to face Tutorial. I had Given Out My Home Number, so if there was a problem my students could contact me. Bad Idea apparently. What if one of my students got all stalkerish? “It hasn’t happened in thirty years” I said. Am I wrong? Is he paranoid? I think if someone wants to find you they will. And I can totally understand not handing out your personal details if you don’t want an abusive ex to contact you, but I thought he was overreacting. However, I responded in a very mature manner. I stormed out the door, slammed it shut very hard and then slammed the gate shut too. Bad week really. Software and rows. And rain. And it’s nearly Christmas.