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My office job hell!
The misery of my pen pushing existence at Farmiloes, 1979-81

Way back in the 70s when I was an angry wannabe punk rocker, I quickly realised that I'd be unlikely to realise my pop star ambition without some cash coming in.

Although being on the dole was trés fashionable at the time, without a rich daddy or a lucrative criminal career to finance me, I needed to get cash to survive in the big city.

So I took a job with noted bathroom wholesalers, Farmiloe & Farmiloe as a short term measure to help pay for rehearsals and weekly amphetamine treats.

After all, we'd soon be stars and I'd be out of this stuffy-hellhole in a matter of weeks. Wouldn't we?

Sadly things didn't go to plan...

Entrance, old Farmiloe building on 3436, St John Street, Smithfield, London
The portals of hell: the Farmiloe building entrance

The job was mind-numbingly dull - I had to sit in a dark, dreary office stuffed full of ancient people who'd probably been sat in the same place since the war.

Apart from the new fangled phones, nothing had changed since Victorian times.

Norman, Farmiloe and Farmiloe, 3436, St John Street, Smithfield, London
Meet Norman. Norman had worked for the same company and sat at the same desk for decades.

He was a pleasant enough chap but he came from an era were the boss was like the Supreme Ruler and all orders had to be obeyed without question. So me and Norman never quite understood each other.

I had absolutely zero interest in the job. We sold toilets. And bidets. And all sorts of dull bathroom fittings.

If customer rang with a stock order, we had to check against an enormous leather bound book and then tick off the items if the customer went ahead and ordered the goods.

The trouble was that several sales staff could end up selling the same item before it had been marked off, so cock ups and pissed off customers were commonplace.

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Although I had no intention of carving out a lifelong career selling bogs and bathrooms, my youthful enthusiasm and jolly phone manner somehow turned me into one of their best sales staff, although my 'casual' informal phone manner was clearly a cause of concern amongst the two bosses - and what an odd bunch they were.

The two Farmiloes brothers who owned the company wouldn't allow people to differentiate them by calling them by their first names (Heaven forbid!) so - get this - we were supposed to call them Mr Tim and Mr Graham! Have you ever heard of anything quite so ridiculous?!

I steadfastly refused to call them by such silly names and managed to spend my two years there (yes, two whole, tragic, wasted years) without calling them anything at all.

Naturally, the whole time I was stuck in this interminable place I was working my arse off in my band and this sometimes caused problems - especially when I'd come straight from a gig up north in the morning.

Despite my displeasingly casual manner and dress, I was tolerated until some new Office Manager turned up on the scene.

Inside the old Farmiloe building on 3436, St John Street, Smithfield, London
My heart used to sink each time I walked into this room

Jordan was his name. And he was an arsehole. He decided to take me to task for being an average three minutes late in the morning.

I explained that the train timetable meant that I either came into work a few minutes late (which I'd happily make up in my lunchtime) or I'd have to get up 30mins earlier and hang about for 25 mins in the morning. Surely he could be a bit flexible over a few minutes?

But Jordan was having none of it, lecturing me - at length - that my hours were precisely 9-5.30 and any show of flexibility or understanding towards any employees needs would lead to the instant collapse of the company. And quite possibly Western Civilisation too.

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It was during one of these fucking tedious time-keeping lectures in his office that I noticed that clock had progressed to 5.35.

Mindful of his slavish devotion to regulations, I interrupted his diatribe, pointed to the clock and promptly left. The roar that came out of his office as I left was a treat!

Office, Farmiloes, 34-36, St John Street, Smithfield, London
Farmiloes 2004: a nightmare reminder of the dull, dull brownness that was my office.

After that things got steadily more unbearable.

As I was the only member of the band with phone access, I had to use my office number as a contact in an advertisement in the Melody Maker. Sadly, the mag put in the wrong extension number which resulted in all the calls going to one of the bosses. Oops!

Another warning letter was promptly mailed to me - and here it is in all its glory!

My final warning from Farmiloes, 3436, St John Street, Smithfield, London
My final warning from Farmiloes! I'm rather proud of it too.


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Not long after, I was banned from making or receiving any personal calls at all. And then I was banned off the phones completely, and reduced to full-time pen-pushing, filling up huge stock books with dull figures.

Eventually, I decided I'd had enough of this awful job and set about getting the sack (in those days, you'd get your dole quicker if you hadn't left of your own accord).

And here's the weird thing - despite all the warnings and threats, it seemed impossible to get them to sack me. I came in later and later every day and nothing happened.

My clothing - always a source of disapproval amongst the suits - became even scruffier. And still nothing was said.

I spent ages 'checking stock in the warehouse', reading papers in the loo and indulging in several acts of petty sabotage (childish, I know. But it made me feel better!). And still nothing.

Clearly, drastic action was called for, and when I was invited out for a lunchtime birthday drink for a co-worker, I decided to really go for it.

Seven pints and three hours later, I stumbled into the office barely able to walk. I think I fell over someone's desk while attempting a drunken re-enactment from Jimmy's speech from Quadrophenia:

"BOSS: A lot of young men would give their eye teeth for a job like this.
JIMMY: Oh yeah, well find one then.
BOSS: I beg your pardon?
JIMMY: I said find one then. Cause d'you know what you can do with your job? You can take it, and your eye teeth, and your franking machine, and all that other rubbish I have to go about with, and you can shove it. RIGHT UP YOUR ARSE!!"

I was finally escorted off the premises and told never to darken their toilet-flogging portals ever again.

Things could only get better.

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