Tuesday 16 May 2006

Work suspended

I once knew a fellow who became much too fond of the sauce – and I’m not talking about the brown stuff that traditionally complements a British fry-up. Jeremy (not his real name) always denied that alcohol was interfering with his work, and in one sense he was right. It had completely replaced it.

A typical day for Jeremy would start with him coming round, still in his business suit, face down on his living room carpet approximately one pace from the front door. He would arrive at the office late, and spend a couple of hours brooding silently at his desk before that great and glorious moment when the pubs opened.

Approximately four hours later, he would return to his work station for a short break playing computer games – where performance, as in darts, seems to be unimpaired by massive booze consumption. If they had awarded Olympic gold medals for Tetris, the UK would have improved substantially on its tally. After that, it was off to the pub again until closing time.

Jeremy’s colleagues put up with this for an amazingly long time, mainly because he was the owner and theoretically the chief executive of their business. Despite the demotivating effects of his behaviour on the employees, the company somehow managed to stagger along quite prosperously. But eventually they decided that enough was enough. I think it might have been after Jeremy executed a spectacular quadruple somersault down the grand staircase of a hotel in Park Lane, landing in a fuddled heap at the feet of an important client. Or perhaps after another occasion when he interrupted a vital session in the pub to attend a reception, for the express purpose of telling another client that he had always thought he was a word that cannot be printed in a family newspaper.

So they persuaded Jeremy that he needed to take some time off to sort himself out, and have a long, hard think about his future. Jeremy said that he would check into The Priory, and his relieved colleagues assumed that he meant the well-known addiction clinic. Not, as it turned out, a five star hotel with its own vineyard.

This lengthy interlude nearly bankrupted three local pubs, but was considered an improvement within Jeremy’s own business. The only snag was that the junior employees were told that Jeremy was Suspended on Full Pay, and it immediately became everyone’s ambition to attain this status. Minor complaints about timekeeping or performance would be greeted with the response: ‘Can I be Suspended on Full Pay, please?’ When they were gently informed that this was not possible, they often went on to say ‘Not even if I call you something that cannot be printed in a family newspaper?’ Then they would use the word anyway.

In short, this whole Suspended on Full Pay malarkey was terribly bad for discipline. And who can guess what effect it will have on the country as a whole, now that our Deputy Prime Minister has attained this nirvana for the work-shy? Large salary, two grace and favour residences, chauffeured car, but no actual job. What could be more agreeable? In fairness, there is probably a sound health and safety case for him retaining the London flat and country house, as it substantially reduces the chance of him crossing the path of Mrs Prescott.

Eventually Jeremy pronounced himself fit to return to work, and took up exactly where he had left off. Shortly afterwards he was paid to go away for good, which with hindsight was what should have been done in the first place. There may be a lesson here for our beleaguered Prime Minister.

Which leaves us with the question of how dear old Prezza is going to fill his time, now that he has no department and his traditional sport is presumably off limits. Can I suggest that he takes a leaf out of Jeremy’s book and enjoys a refreshing drink or twelve, followed by a challenging game of Tetris?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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