Where new writing finds its voice
The Pen Pusher

The Receptionist

Felicity Cloake

The Disgruntled Ruminations of an Office Worker meant for Better Things

As if going into work on a Monday morning wasn’t hard enough, once I’ve noted the gloomy fact that the building hasn’t burned down over the weekend and then faced the deadeyed smokers who lurk outside it, there’s the receptionist to deal with.

I have issues with receptionists. Not this one in particular, although her party trick of peeling off her nail extensions whilst talking to me is beginning to grate, but with the species in general. Surely the reception ought to be manned by a cuddly elderly sort in a big nubbly cardigan who would ease you into the day with a comfortingly fat smile and a nice cup of tea. But oh no, cardies with cats on and tissues spilling from the sleeves aren’t part of the company image. Instead I get to be ‘greeted’ by a perfectly groomed, and perfectly bored, 17-year old Heat addict who is much, much cooler than I ever even dared to hope I’d be in my most extravagant teenage fantasies (including the one where Damon gave me his mega-lush wooden necklace).

It’s not that I hate her. It’s just that, as ought to be abundantly clear to both of us, we have nothing in common. In the real world, there’s no way the two of us would ever be friends. In fact, if she got onto my night bus with a raucous crowd of her mates, I’d probably move me and my paperback downstairs with haughty haste, and she wouldn’t even notice. That fact squarely faced, surely a polite ‘Morning!’ ought to suffice, and be enough to keep old magazines and those special pens that are only supposed to be for the art department flowing my way. Maybe it would even stop her sending me those hilarious ‘one for The Girls!!!’ forwards.

And yet I can’t help worrying that if I don’t stop and chat every morning, I’ll look snobbish. The best-case scenario is that she’s on the phone. But transferring a call never takes long enough for me to grab the departmental post and race upstairs with enough unseemly speed. So then I feel obliged to ask about her weekend, and say farcical things like, ‘wow, that hard house night sounds AMAZING’, as I shift awkwardly from foot to foot.

No one else seems to have these weird hang ups. In fact, everyone else is falling over themselves to win one of her rare, pouting smiles. With the seldom verified assumption that she has a GCSE in Leisure, a blue-collar boyfriend and a father who calls her ‘Princess’, she represents the carefree, charmingly unambitious lifestyle so many of us aspire to on a Monday morning, if only we could give up our little trips to Borough Market and our eastern European city breaks.

The worst offenders are very definitely even less hip than me. For some reason, middle-aged men think hanging with the receptionist makes them cool. Like an ill-advised leather jacket, chatting about Big Brother and their lost weekends, circa 1983, by the UPS machine seems to have become an emblem of paunchy rebellion. They spout about working to live, not living to work whilst rolling cigarettes on the counter and cheekily hinting they might like something stronger. Surely that has to be worse than my chat…?