Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Greatest Printing Story Ever Told. A Tale Of Perfection.

50. Just Say No: Write about the power you felt when you told someone no.

Celebrate!  Call the Jubilee year!  Forgive all debts and free all slaves!  This is my fiftieth writing post in fifty days.  At the beginning of the year I did not know whether I would reach this point.  Looking back I'm pleased with some of the writing I've posted.  I'm pleased too with a few things I haven't posted and with the way that words have been flowing sometimes.  I know I have a lot to learn, that there are plenty of aspects of writing about which I am totally clueless.  But I am pleased and can smile at my own words.  I have also been surprised by it all.  Surprised by the stories especially, but surprised too that I've attempted poems.

Above all I've been enjoying the process.  It's been a joy process.  And that, in the end, is the most important thing of all.

So let us celebrate gladly.  And let us humbly pray for each of the next three-hundred and fifteen days on which I plan to write again.  Hundreds more prompts to either use or ignore.  On some days, ignorance is bliss!

This story was basically free written.  I warn you now: It's 2900 words long.  I also warn you:  I did not know the ending of the story until I wrote the final sentences.  I was surprised to learn what happened.  Did not expect that!

Two happy print workers.  Image taken from here.

I worked my ass off to satisfy him.  Put in overtime nearly every day.  Took every training course going in order to become an expert.  Nearly broke my back.  At least it felt that way.  By the end of it I could do the job faster than anyone else, neater than anyone else, and with more of a smile than anyone else.  I was the life and soul of the factory as well as being employee of the month six times during that last year of hell.

It might seem like menial work to you but to me it was satisfyingly important.  Without me and my colleagues there wouldn't have been any product at all.  The whole company would have headed right up shit creek.  Blindfold.  In a leaky boat.  We're the ones who got that product out there, an important cog in a machine that would have been better oiled if only the boss had the foresight to add any oil at all.  He was a bit useless but I knew he wouldn't be there forever.  I admit it.  I do.  I didn't just do all that training for the love of my role on the factory floor.  I was looking for promotion.  Give him enough help, I thought, and maybe he'll choose me to replace him.  I hoped he would.

So I put my learning to good use.  Kept sending him memos.  Kept telling him what I thought should have been obvious.  If you tweak it here, add in this efficiency there, you'll get five, ten percent more productivity.  Sometimes he listened.  But I never got the credit even when I copied the entire factory into a couple of memos.  On purpose though of course I said it was an accident.  It didn't work.  Instead he publicly humiliated me by replying to everyone that I was an idiot with stupid ideas.  And he didn't make the changes even though half the factory could see that they would have saved the company thousands over the course of a year.  Not only that, the bastard demoted me.  I had stood on the second rung of the ladder.  Now I was at the bottom and it was only through the influence of a supervisor that I was reinstated to my previous post a couple of months later.

I loved my job.  It gave me a sense of peace to see it well done.  It was varied too.  It wasn't just one job, it was many.  Sometimes I'd be sticking address labels onto envelopes for a whole day and every time I placed one of those stickers I'd feel an electric tingle because I'd placed it exactly in the middle and perfectly straight.  I couldn't understand some of the other workers around me.  Especially the temps.  They were just shoddy.  Their labels could be centimetres off centre and at an angle that made me nervous.  To think, sometimes they would stick on an address more than five degrees from straight.  Why didn't they care?  I don't know.  How anyone wouldn't be ashamed of such messiness is beyond me.  Maybe they didn't get a thrill from a well placed label.  Maybe they just hadn't given it a try.  They were slow too.  At least compared to me.  And that's a very strange thing.  I took pride in being both neater and quicker.

After sticking in such a glorious manner I would fill the envelopes with whatever had been printed and needed sending.  Seal the envelope.  Straight.  That should be easy enough shouldn't it?  To seal an envelope in a perfectly straight way every single time.  It should.  Yet my colleagues were still able to bungle the process.  No wonder they smiled less than I did.  No wonder they moaned about how boring the job was.  If they took pride in doing it right they could have experienced regular bursts of those pleasant tingles.  Stupid people.

Other days I would have other tasks to complete.  Collating leaflets and papers.  I liked that one.  It wasn't my favourite though.  That honour is split in my mind between two specific tasks.  The first of these involved combining several sections of a catalogue, stapling them together, and then packing them correctly.  Ten catalogues in a bundle.  Then another bundle placed in the opposite direction.  That was an amazing week.  I spent nearly all of it using the stapling machine because I was the most efficient at it.  I was glad to do so.  My colleagues' task was to combine the sections and then pass them to me already sorted into tens.  My colleagues were bloody useless!  It's fortunate I was stapling and packing.  Alone.  Otherwise the whole job would have been wrong and perhaps the company would have gone bankrupt.

I saved the day again.  What I learned that week was that my colleagues couldn't count up to ten.  They had one task.  Just one.  To count all the way from one to ten.  Who were these people who couldn't even do that?  Idiots!  The bundles they passed me sometimes had eight or nine catalogues.  Sometimes eleven or twelve.  Just think of how awful it would have been if I hadn't recounted absolutely everything.  The boss would have been the laughing stock of the entire printing industry.  They would have probably cut his master printer's tie off at the annual dinner and dance and forced him to bathe in ink as a punishment.  Was he grateful to me?  No he wasn't.  The swine.

My other absolute favourite job I ever did was a folding job.  A machine had gone wrong elsewhere in the factory - easily avoidable if only the boss had listened to one of the public memos because I could see the disaster was coming and that the creasing machine would break.  So there we were with one-hundred thousand pieces of card that were meant to have machine made creases in.  Pieces of card with no creases.  So I and my shoddy, messy, quite frankly useless and should be sacked colleagues had to add all the creases into these bits of card.  Manually.  That was bliss for me I can tell you.  It took us nearly a month to finish the job.  A month of beautiful creases, perfect lines, wondrous love.  They all hated it of course, moaned about it and did a generally rubbish job.  I wish I could have got them to change.  Wish I could have convinced them that being even a single millimetre out was far too much.  Wish I could have taught them all how the job should be done.  Instead, all I could do was work, work, work on my own piles of card.  I gave everything to that job and when it was over I grieved.

There had to come a breaking point.  Not even I could keep up my pace of work forever with no reward.  Three years in and I was still folding, counting, sticking and I hadn't even been allowed to progress to the role of luggage label print coordinator.  A job with responsibility.  A job where I would have kept meticulous records and in which I am certain I would have improved efficiency by a total of seventy-six percent just by rearranging the order in which the different parts of the job were completed.  Even the stupidest of dolts should have been able to see it.  Three years of doing everything.  I could have run the whole company with my eyes closed.  I could have made us world leaders in printing, expanded the base of operations into the largest premises in the city and possibly even be given the contracts to print everything for Apple.  Waitrose too, and there were a few publishing houses I thought I'd be able to win over.  Start small and then buy out the Oxford University Press within three years.  It was doable.  I kept showing my boss how and he kept asking me to do the lowest of low jobs.  I enjoyed them of course but that wasn't the point.  I wanted more.  That's not a lot to ask for.  Not if you consider how brilliant I was.

During the course of the next two years I became increasingly dissatisfied.  More sticking.  Then a foreign evangelist decided he should send one of his stupid religious magazines to every single house in Britain.  Somehow or other my boss won the contract.  I think it was because my boss used to read those stupid religious magazines.  He had holy handkerchiefs on display in his office and on some days he replaced the music playing in the factory with rubbish songs in which they sang about how miserable life on earth was and to keep your chin up because heaven might be nice.  I don't think those days increased productivity.  My colleagues would grumble and agree with the first half of the sentiments of the song.  Yes, they would say, life is miserable isn't it?  All this folding and collating?  It's bloody miserable.  Enough about them.  The job is what's important.  Our team, with lots of temps drafted in all of whom were rubbish, had to stick an address label on each of thirty million envelopes, fill the envelopes, seal them and pile them neatly on pallets.

Even I have limits.  Thirty million.  And I broke.  I am not ashamed to admit it.  I broke.  We had pretty much finished the job and I'd made sure that each pallet was perfectly packed.  As neat as anything.  I'd had to make changes of course because nobody else could count to ten, let alone pack something neatly and with no sticking out edges.  Twenty-five thousand envelopes to each pallet.  One-hundred and twenty pallets.  And we were working on pallet one-hundred and seventeen.

Then the order came from the boss.  I'd already queried it when we were still working on the second pallet.  I had.  I'd done it and if he had listened then he would have saved his company.  I'd asked him a very simple question about the envelopes.  Any fool would have thought of it.   I said this:  "Shouldn't the envelopes each have a postage label as well as an address label?"  I'd received a reply too.  "Dear worker."  He didn't even call me by my name.  "You are only a level two packer.  Don't be so arrogant as to have any more ideas above your station.  Don't think you have the right to tell me what I should be doing.  Do it again and I'll have no choice but to end your contract with my illustrious"  Illustrious!  I ask you!  "company.  This is your first and final written warning."  I could have screamed.  I wanted to go right up to his office there and then and scream at him and try to knock some sense into his skull.  Physically if necessary.  I knew he was wrong.

So when that order came it was inevitable.  I remember the exact wording.  "When you have finished sticking address labels to envelopes I need you to start sticking postage labels on each of them.  This must be completed by the end of the week otherwise we will lose our contract and there will be consequences for each of you and possibly for the future of the company.  For the rest of the week I need each of you to work eighteen hour shifts in order to get as much done as you can.  As a reward, there will be a slice of chocolate cake provide for each of you every day next week and I will personally see to it that you each receive a signed copy of the evangelist's new book which will, I am sure, bless the soul of each one of you.  Thank you for your attention in this matter."

Enough was enough.  Why hadn't he listened?  I burst.  I stomped upstairs very loudly and walked into his office.  He was on the phone trying to apologise that there might be a delay.  He looked worried.  I got more and more angry as he talked and when he put the phone down I told him everything I thought of him, told him he shouldn't have been such a turd to me when I'd told him about the problem ages ago and had given him dozens and dozens of good ideas before and told him we would have easily finished the job if he had listened to me and how now we wouldn't finish it even if we all worked twenty-eight hours a day instead of eighteen and how I thought he was a rubbish boss and how I would be much better suited for his role.  I didn't shut up there of course.  I told him a lot more.  Reminded him of how he had demoted me for saying things that would have been good for his company.  Told him how much of my life I'd given to him, how much pride I'd taken in every job no matter how menial or repetitive.

And then I told him this:  "I will not undertake your massive shifts while you sit up here drinking coffee.  I'm not going to do it, not going to solve your problems for you.  I packed those pallets perfectly and worked more than anyone else.  I'm not doing it all again.  Find someone else to do it.  Promote me to a job where my intellect and training can be put to use.  At least let me use a bloody guillotine for one!  I don't want to see those bloody Christian junk mailings again.  Nobody wants to see them."

It felt wonderful.  Honestly, I had never felt more free as I did in those moments of shouting my head off at the boss.  The excitement of it all beat any electric tingles from sticking on labels.  This was living.  This was my future.  This was salvation to everything I was, a new beginning.  This would lead to a decent wage and a managerial post.  I just knew it.

My boss fired me on the spot and gave me five minutes to collect my bag and coat and leave the factory.  Said he would call the police if I didn't go.

I left.  I believed he would see his error and call me back.  I don't know why I believed that.  In retrospect I can see my belief was as crazy as some of the things the evangelist claimed to believe.  I'd been right, those moments were a new beginning.  It just wasn't as part of a printing company.

As for the company, it went belly up by the end of the year.  My boss failed to complete the contract for the evangelist.  The labels were crooked and a colleague I bumped into told me that nobody had been able to pack a pallet as neatly as I could.  Everything ran very late.  Just as I had predicted.  The evangelist wasn't forgiving.  My ex-boss stormed out of their meeting shouting that it didn't say that it didn't really matter if everyone got their crummy magazines a few weeks late.  The evangelist proved that he and Jesus didn't see eye to eye on things at all.  Because he sued the company for breach of contract.   He won the case, even preached against the dishonesty of the printing firm he'd hired.  But he used the magazines that we had packed and labelled anyway, getting another firm to finish the job for free in return for him promoting them across the globe.

The company was ruined.

And as a result of the posting of thirty-million evangelistic magazines this happened:

Fifty thousand copies were used to line cat litter trays.
The KLF reformed, gathered together eighty-nine thousand copies and burned them while dressed as lambs and carrying nine foot crucifixes.
Christians up and down the country rejoiced to receive such a righteous and holy piece of mail, briefly browse it, saw they had heard it all before, and chucked it away.
The total weight of paper recycled during a month increased.
People of other faiths complained to the government about some of the articles in the magazine.
The atheists of the internet laughed at everything they read and two memes went viral.
Friends of The Earth pointed out the cost to the environment of so much junk mail and began a campaign against all junk mail, with moderate success in the hearts and minds of the people but no success at all in reducing the amount of rubbish posted through letterboxes.

The evangelist was pleased.  He had done his duty and spread the good news.
Some people read the magazine and were impressed.
Some people thought about it.
Some considered doing something about it all and making changes in their lives.

A year later it was known that at least three people had been solidly converted through the work of the evangelist.  He featured the three on his television show, syndicated globally.  He was heard to say that if just one person had been saved it would have been worth it.

After another year two of the three had left the church.  One had become a well known speaker, touring the country visiting humanist and atheist groups.  He appeared on the BBC a few times.

The third person?  Well that was me.  Saved by grace and the weight of thirty-million labels.

I work for the evangelist now.  I'm head of the printing company God told him to establish on earth.  It was for printing that Christ set me free.

[2924 words]

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