Reader Graeme writes by email:
I recently moved into a new office. It is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of having an office all to myself – thanks to Covid. The space was previously occupied by a revolving door of procurement and administrative staff. Many of their personal effects remain. The hard hat of a man fired three years ago still hangs on the wall. As I was staring off into space this morning at my desk I noted a faint message on the poorly maintained whiteboard. It read: “Bang Head Here.”
“Bang Head Here” is a classic of “defeated office worker” humour, isn’t it? It tells the story of executive know-nothings being impossible to satisfy and ever-expandable, constantly changing project briefs. Fuck it!
The specifics of the white board message aside, I love this sort of thing. “Left-behinds,” I call them, and there’s a sort of forlorn magic to them. I ache slightly when I see things like the sacked man’s hard hat: it’s a minor version of the eerie feeling one gets when looking at pictures of abandoned places. I can only imagine the magic of such items has intensified during the pandemic for people like Graeme who are currently working in deserted offices.
In every office I ever worked in, I became slightly preoccupied with staring at the tiny pieces of Christmas tinsel (or just blu-tack or push pins) in some corners of the ceiling. My name for this sub-genre of left-behind is “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” The story they tell is of the decorations being put up as a time-wasting exercise while the end-of-term spirit prevails and then being torn down quickly and unceremoniously upon the staff’s return to work.
Graeme’s message reminds me that white boards are actually a very good place to find left-behinds: the impressions of meetings of yesteryear. Meeting room white boards, in my experience, aren’t used very often so when the someone in a technical team draws a diagram of how a website or an arrangement of computer servers will work in theory, it’ll be there for us non-techies to wonder about for months while we try to survive our weekly team meetings or annual appraisals.
There were also the bits and pieces I wrote about in The Good Life for Wage Slaves (in a slice of memoir called “put the office in the bin” about a wonderful throwing-out session when we were forced to downsize our department). We found the left-behinds of a long-ago-retired colleague in the bottom drawer of a file cabinet. It was quite the archaeological adventure and it brought to mind the image of her fleeing on her last day. “Leave them, just go, go, go!” Here’s where to buy the book if the story appeals to you.