London tales 4: The Cable-Managed Move

A stranger came to the great city and found work within a grand old government office, with dome 'lanterns' at each corner, a great marble staircase at the entrance. A room was found for him, with a somewhat odd assortment of office furniture dating from a variety of periods. Little thought had been given in the past to the layout of the office, and so the stranger found himself working in one small section of it near the door. After working there for some time a computer engineer came in and installed a grand new machine on one of the tables. "This will be for the use of the whole Branch" he said, and left.

The stranger thought about this for some time, and decided that, although the room was certainly large enough to accommodate two people handsomely, the present layout of the room would make that impossible. He approached others more senior than himself and raised his concerns. "Well, draw up a plan and we'll see what can be done." they said. So the stranger measured the room and each item in it and drew up a plan that would move an 'L'- shaped desk to a corner by the window, which would immediately open up the whole room, allowing one person to work comfortably at each end. He sent the plan on its administrative journey. Two weeks went by, then a person arrived at his office and said "about this plan of yours. It will cost a lot of money." "Why?" asked the stranger. "Because your computer is plugged in, so it will have to be a 'Cable-Managed~ move." Then the stranger said "but the power cables are merely covered are they not?" "Yes. Exactly." said the other, as though that explained everything. "But surely" said the stranger, "if you can lend me a screw-driver I can remove the four screws and the move will be very cheap - I can slide the furniture myself if necessary."

At this the other person paled visibly "Oh no you couldn't do that!" he cried and departed very quickly assuring the stranger that the work would be carried out very soon. At bureaucratic light-speed the stranger was telephoned a week later, with a suggested Date for The Move. This time the wait was only a fortnight, and the removalists would be in position at the start of business - clearly great commotion had been set in train that someone might wish to change an office layout that had clearly been used as found by at least three predecessors. Worse, that if the Move was not done soon the office occupant might take matters into His Own Hands.

On the appointed day at 11.00 am a trolley appeared outside the office door. At 11.25am a tool box with electrical tools arrived with three electricians- It seemed that they could not start until the removalists arrived, so they went away. At 11.53 two removalists arrived and asked if they could leave their trolley outside the stanger's door. He gave his assent, the trolley having already been there for nearly an hour- The stranger pointed out what needed to be done and they looked at the black rubber strips screwed to the floor- "Oh- It's a cable managed move. Need an electrician for that. They been booked?" The stranger gestured toward the electrician's tool box, and suggested that some smaller items might be positioned while they wait. "No. Have to get the electricians in first." The stranger suggested they waited in more comfort in an outer office along the corridor. At 12.25pm the electricians returned. The stranger pointed out the outer office, but after looking there, they shrugged and went to lunch.

At l.OOpm the removalists arrived back saying that rather than waste time, they went to do a smaller job on the other side of the building. When told that the electricians had been back but were now at lunch, the removalists grunted and said "wont see them this side of three O' clock - hope they'll be sober." And with that they too, set off for lunch. At 1.38 the electricians returned, sober and professional but complaining about how removalists just sit around all day between lunch and tea-breaks. At that they set off to wait in the outer office where a minor task awaited them. At 2.15 the removalists returned and the stranger led them to the outer office where, he was relieved to see, the three electricians and a clerk were waiting.

The stranger, with three electricians, a clerk and two removalists, along with two other clerks and a senior analyst who had come to enjoy the spectacle, made an extraordinary procession down the corridor, commenting, on entering the office, that it seemed a bit crowded with the way the furniture was laid out. Coolly and with studied, expert movements the chief electrician went to inspect the work. "He uttered an oath and made a comment about Phillip's head." At this a junior electrician and one of the clerks were dispatched in search of a van parked one floor down and two blocks away.

What followed was an extraordinary study in identity building through gestures, restricted lexical codes, proxemics (who got to sit on which desk) a contest between whether removalists or electricians could tell the most outrageous sexist and racist jokes which seemed to refer mainly to the gender or species of each other's parents and precisely which biologically difficult practices were involved. It was all about Face.

At 2.45 the junior electrician (with accompanying clerk) returned bearing what was noted loudly to be the wrong sized phillips head screwdriver, before the senior electrician instructed the middle electrician how to remove three rubber cable covers. The senior electrician then stepped in to unplug the machine, while being given encouragement from the other two electricians, the two removalists, and the three clerks (the senior analyst having departed shaking his head).

At around 3.10 the two removalists, with encouragement from the three electricians and, by now two clerks, along with several assorted others who gathered at the door to watch, moved the furniture deftly into position, the largest piece being moved as a combined cooperative effort which included the stranger, two of the electricians and one of the clerks. At around 3.35 the senior electrician plugged in the computer and telephone. At around 3-45 the junior electrician, armed with electric drill, prepared the floor to receive the rubber cable-covers.

By 4.05 the covers were in position, and negotiations began between the electricians and the removalist over whether they could use the removalist's trolley, hitherto unused, to transport the electrician's tools to their van. At about 4.25, after packing away their tools, the three electricians and two removalists were escorted from the building by the remaining clerk. The stranger stayed behind to test the computer and telephone.

In the process, a table and desk had exchanged positions and a small bookshelf had been moved. The theatre was thoroughly absorbing- Two separate groups of contractors had defined boundaries between them while maintaining a boundary between them and the bureaucracy that had hired them. A further boundary was maintained between the bureaucracy and the contractors, and within the hierarchy of the bureaucracy while all worked to achieve a common goal. Hivemind.

Later that day, the stranger went to the park to feed ducks. Between and among the four species and two generations of ducks the same drama was played out.

Jerry Everard ©1995

© Jerry Everard

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