Saturday, June 14, 2008

June Z Chorley

Facebook tells me that a friend of mine has become friends with a woman whose name I recognise from long-ago information management conferences. This was one terrifying woman, she was like a whiskery tarantula in bad knitwear. I seem to remember the friend in question leaping behind a pillar mid-conversation in order to avoid her, in much the same way I once saw my uncle J, who was drinking outside a pub, hide behind a bush when he saw his mother coming down the street in her most lurid woolly-hat-and-lipstick combo. It is a salutary reminder that "friend" is not the right word for what FB does to people.

I drift into long-ago information management conference reverie... days of interviewing Ukranians with my brick-size tape recorder, nights of insane 'on the company' binge drinking after compulsory networking receptions. It feels like another life, though I still count a pleasing number of its members as my (real) friends.

And then I do one of those involuntary, embarrassing, gurgling laughs that make my colleagues look at me askance, as I am not talking to anyone or even reading anything, just sitting there, staring into space. I have remembered June Z Chorley (not quite her real name).

June Z Chorley was an American librarian who used to write a column for one of our esteemed publications. From America. For reasons that are lost in the mists of time, P, who was in charge of all things editorial, felt that she might be a good person to edit said publication for a few months over the summer. She thought this was a fine idea, and she came over from America to live among us.

It was immediately apparent that our assumptions about her, based largely on her byline photo, had been ridiculously naive. She was not at all glossy. She was at least ten years older than said photo suggested. She also wore more Birkenstocks, and was a fair bit more lopsided and bonkers and a lot more ornery.

Most of the time, it was just me and C in the office with her. She made strange grunty noises that were a little offputting, and when she rang people up she would get our company name wrong. I sat with my back to C, but I could sense his fingers tense over his keyboard every time it happened. We would both silently shake with laughter, and then we'd carry on with what we were doing.

This was a pretty low-tech office (we once had to burn joss sticks for several days to mask the smell of decomposing rodent) so it was fingerless gloves in winter and baking hot in the summer. The great perk of the place was the swimming pool in the garden. It was unheated and therefore absolutely freezing, except for a magical 3-4 weeks in the dog days of summer, where jumping into it at lunchtime was the only thing that kept me sane.

I think it was an afternoon following such a lunchtime. I was subbing away at my desk, and C was subbing away at his, when one of us (I forget which now, but probably me, as she was in my eyeline) noticed that there hadn't been any grunty noises for a while and looked over.

June Z Chorley was still in her chair, but face down on the desk.

I emailed C: "I think she might have just died".
He replied: "Shit. I think you're right. What do we do?"
Me: "Find someone to check for vital signs."

Without saying a word we got up, and left the room via the less-used exit into the photocopier area, where we started laughing and could not stop. I can still remember my face aching, and the hopeless effort to hold it together while asking J the receptionist to go and see if she was still alive.

She was grinning too when she came back out of the room, having woken June up from her deeper than usual nap. A few seconds later the woman herself emerged, and C and I busied ourselves checking pigeon holes for any faxes that might have arrived for us recently (we had email, but almost nobody else did) and trying not to look at each other.

June Z Chorley was not, to be honest, much fun to work with. But the moral of the story is, the worst colleagues make the best stories once enough time has passed. As with so many things, it pays to take the long view.




Blogger Charlie said...

Oh mercy. Joan Z Chorley.

You know, it's probably worth stressing that I bet Joella and C must have known JZC was just asleep and that if a co-worker ever died in their presence that I bet they would not giggle in the copier room while someone else prodded the cadaver. They are better than that. Ever so slightly.

12:18 am  
Blogger Ben said...

I got the feeling this sentiment might have been true at the start of June Z's reign of terror, but maybe less so by the end.

But what do I know. I was across the corridor with the world's unscariest skinhead raver at the time.

8:59 am  
Blogger Charlie said...

Yeah, um, *June*. That's what I meant.

12:14 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

It's a good job you're not a spook, Charlie, is all I can say. They'd have your cover blown in no time.

Ah, Dave the Rave. (I think we can safely call him that.) Furry and orange and raving raving raving.

12:23 pm  

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