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Martin Parkinson

The tao of temping

This appeared in the Guardian, Saturday 8 December 2007 in the Work supplement.
The printed version had a jolly picture of my temping role models which the
online version lacks.

Although I spin it on my cv as "working as an administrator on a quasi self-employed basis", I'm actually very happy to admit to being a temp. I've done a lot of temping over the years and at times I've loved it. No, really. I even once danced round the photocopier as it went into its very funky collate-and-staple phase, like Viz's Ravy Davy Gravy but on nothing stronger than lapsang souchong. It was in an office off Bedford Square in London and I'm still friends with the colleague who caught me doing it.

Temps often seem the lowest form of office life. You might share this view even if you are a temp yourself - but you should take a bit more pride. In reality we are not part of the office at all; we are more like anthropologists immersed in fieldwork. From my point of view, office politics are fascinating rather than tiresome. But beware - if you are one of nature's freelancers and you accept the lowly job that you've been happily doing for 6 months and become a 'perm' there are sure to be tears before bedtime. Suddenly you feel defined by your job, you have a place in the ecosystem - and you can acquire enemies.

I recently started wondering, though, if I wasn't being a bit pretentious. The real reason I'm cool about temping? I blame Bill Oddie, Graham Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor. Seriously, my idea of the Perfect Job seems to have been formed by 70's comedy show the goodies. You hang around with your mates in a nice office, someone rings you up with a random request for help and you whizz off to save the day on your bicycle. Sounds great!

And isn't all that slapstick a perfect metaphor for what the working world is really like? Never mind "teamwork" and "communication", here's what actually happens. You run around chasing people, fall over, get up, look puzzled, then find that you are being chased. Then everything inexplicably stops dead and someone hits you over the head with a black pudding. Be honest now, am I not right?

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