The first of an occasional series of web log-style diaries begins with a typically bizarre Tuesday in the life of a CAD operative in an engineering firm
The first thing you should understand about me is that I’m contract staff. This means I’m paid what’s on my meter, and this begins ticking the precise moment that I arrive and flick the kettle switch at 7.00am. There follows a hunt for my personal sterile mug while muttering profanities to nobody in particular. I’m not a morning person, but I always arrive first in my section, thereby obtaining a sense of false superiority over the rest of the shirkers. This is temporary: the status of the cad jockey is a lowly one indeed.
I am still amazed at the political incorrectness of my co-workers’ stations: most of the men have decorated them with girls dressed in dental floss. Should I retaliate and post up a photomontage of Brad Pitt in all his muscular glory? Or how about a little Damien Hurst? Black Sabbath with full body tattoos?
I take a deep breath, drink a mouthful of tea and switch on my machine. The first job is to head to the Outlook inbox in hope of some early morning laughs. Ignoring one or two work-related items, I read a joke about George Bush and, at 7.30am, halfheartedly get on with it. The others begin trolling in and I nod a curt “good morning” while plugging in headphones and turning up the volume on my FM radio. This is generally the most productive hour of the day, and as production is what is required, I cannot afford distraction. That being said, what is produced is not an awful lot.
I am in the process of drawing the umpteenth draft of a scheme that began life more than four years ago. It has since been continually rehashed until it no longer holds any meaning for the draftsperson, let alone the architect who dreamed up this undoable job. It’s a shopping centre, but what should it look like? It’s on a white screen, so I imagine it situated in the Arctic. It’s an Innuit shopping centre constructed in the form of a large number of interlinked igloos. Think what we’d save on air-conditioning.
Rule number one of the caddie: save a copy of all previous versions, as inevitably we will be asked to go with a design that was deleted. People often ask me what I do. It’s about fitting square pegs into round holes, which requires some patience. So I draw another column.
An hour into the day, and the one person who, to be fair, does understand the scheme, approaches stealthily from behind and leans lecherously across my keyboard. It’s the senior engineer. I turn away to avoid his caffeine breath as he moves in and grabs my mouse in an attempt to deliver his profound explanations.
The gist of it is that we are in abeyance until a dispute over money is resolved. Senior squabbling, tut tut. Fortunately, I recently installed Space Invaders and Super Mario on my machine. I stifle my yawns as he recounts his previous night’s escapades and wait patiently for him to go away.
My calendar shows we are being treated to a lunchtime presentation with complementary sandwiches. Not good news: my meter will stick, not tick. When will management realise that those sarnies are not very good, and never fit with my current diet. What you should do is TAKE US TO THE PUB! We might still not be all that interested, but we promise to look more so.
An hour into the day, the one person who understands the scheme approaches stealthily from behind and leans lecherously across my keyboard
I had planned to substitute my usual internet surfing for a much-needed food shop at Waitrose during my lunch break, but realise that duty must come first. Besides, they give us a certificate for sitting through their atrocious speeches.
We file into the conference room, placing bets on whose eyelids will close first once the onslaught of nonsense has begun. This room is where permanent and contract technicians unite. Rivalry between contract and permanent caddies is no secret. The permos are envious of our extortionate hourly rate and believe we lack team spirit. This is, of course, true.
They are also threatened by our efficiency and the knowledge of short cuts we have acquired while moving around, and refer to us, charmingly, as “gypsy scum”. What’s more, a contract jockey knows she can be fired at any instant, and so tends to keep her shoulder to the wheel picking up the pieces that the permos can’t do, won’t do, or are too busy surfing internet dating sites to do. This is what keeps the meter ticking.
Upon leaving the gloomy conference room, I head to the loo for 10 minutes of meditation, apply make-up and do quick pilates exercises. Breathe in, breathe out. Tuck back in at desk and file nails. Hunt for the Jamie Oliver recipe book that was posted on the www some time ago, courtesy of a rogue employee at the publishing house, to see if I can purloin a magnificent idea for kids’ tea. Still no news from the client.
The day is nearly done and I have produced nothing of importance. Yet I have spent hours copying, pasting, deleting and typing words such as “firm”, “stiffened”, “hole”, “member”, “length”, “bedded” and then there’s “vibration” and “penetration”, which, all in all, presents me with the idea that engineering could really be quite sexy. I am thinking of the men on site clad in all their personal protective equipment, standing beneath the tower crane in the soggy clay. Will they have the same briefly arousing thoughts as they regard my .dwgs and read my text?
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