Work had been going fine this week. Until something came along that totally threw me. I was lost for words.
Those who know me (although I’m sure this comes across in these articles nonetheless) will vouch for the fact that I very rarely find nothing to say in a certain scenario. My usual style is to stamp my opinion on a subject with the sort of volume, vigour and pig-headed intolerance usually reserved for extremist Muslim clerics. Whatever the situation or subject, I’ll have a crack at it. Usually with a glaring paucity of knowledge and a total disregard for other people’s facts. This is why I write.
This situation had me stumped though. Instead of striding confidently onto the scene like a boxer approaching the ring, I shied away, terrified and confused. What the fuck am I supposed to say? My mind is all over the place, desperately scanning around for a solution to this conundrum. What did I do last time? Was there a last time? Jesus Christ, I haven’t a clue. There must have been…
But there’s no escape. I stood there and smiled uneasily as this hellish nadir unfolded in front of my eyes. I stood there and smiled stupidly, because it was all I could do… Someone had brought their new baby into work.
My situation is certainly not one that is unique to me, and yet it is one that remains so divisive. Some people positively excel in these scenarios. Without trying to sound like some sort of chauvinist, girls (on the whole) know what to do. I’m not belittling you ladies, in fact quite the opposite. So you can put your bra and lighter down for a second, Germaine.
All the girls at work flocked, cooing around this wrinkly little thing, while the men (not least those who had already suffered at the hands of their own offspring) ran a mile. I tried to feign enthusiasm as this broody procession neared my desk. The trouble is, my forced smile makes me look like a paedophile, which wasn’t exactly the image I was seeking to convey. Especially around someone’s child. Gary Glitter may have had the audacity to join Twitter last week, but I’m yet to be convinced that it’s a strong look.
As this conundrum sailed closer to me, I racked my brains to think of something to say.
“Oh woooooow! Hi”
… was the best I could manage. With all the sincerity of a school bully apologising to his victim at the behest of his mother.
This was shit. I was painfully aware of the fact. People all around me, who had obviously been revising their generic baby questions for weeks beforehand, looked at me with a mixture of pity and hatred. It was as if I’d just bowled into a Bar Mitzvah and asked where the sausage rolls were.
Desperate to make amends, I sat there going red while one of the other enthusiasts said:
“He’s got an awful lot of hair, he must take after his father.”
To a murmur of polite laughter. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. That baby does have a lot of hair. How did I miss that? I don’t particularly care who his father is, he might be Duncan Goodhew, he might be Cousin It from the Addams Family, I couldn’t give a duck’s dick. It doesn’t matter. That was a great comment.
Realising that this subtle blend of nauseating sycophancy and observational comedy might be the path to redemption, I piped up again.
“So, he’s… Erm… How… Erm… Where is the… I mean… Erm… How old is she?”
Generously skirting round the fact that I have now admitted that I have no idea what sex this thing is, this might be even worse than my first statement. I know roughly when his mother went away for maternity leave, any more detail is fairly academic. The mother generously replied before returning to a much more intuitive question about sleep patterns or something and continuing on her rounds.
I’d practically broken out in a sweat by now. The four rounds of interviews I had for this job were a walk in the park compared to this. Thank Christ my interview panel didn’t consist of three men and a baby, regardless of how much respect I have for Tom Selleck.
My inability to deal with children extends further than just babies though. Indeed, I don’t think anyone has had as much trouble with minors as me since Margaret Thatcher. But normally you can escape them, the work environment is where you’re screwed.
‘Bring your kids to work day’ is my idea of hell. It’s a nightmare. Additionally, it always lies on a day when any respectable young professional will be nursing the sort of hangover normally handed out to the likes of Richard Burton.
One such occasion occurred at my last place of employment. It was Christmas Eve and I was trying to look at my screen with one eye open, while keeping myself balanced by imbibing coffee with the same vigour that my stomach was using to force my breakfast back up. The Managing Director of my floor came over with his latest creation (the age and gender escape me), clutching a tin of Quality Street.
“Would you like to offer Harry a sweet?” he said.
The ankle-biter displayed equal measures of naivety, bravery and cruelty in taking his father up on this offer, and what followed was the most precarious 30 seconds of my professional career.
So there you have it… Parents, please don’t bring your kids to my place of work. The only person talking gibberish, threatening to vomit and shitting themselves will be me. And no-one wants to see that.
by Harry Harland