Letters from Scotland: Adventures at Steel Hill and Salamander Bank Part I

by Roxane Hudon


[All names of people and places have been changed not to protect anybody, but because I signed some kind of agreement and since I never read anything I sign (for more on this, ask about the Twilight Twitter debacle of 2011), I rather not be sued by a big corporation although, that would also make for a good Ballz piece and also, Fuck The Man and all that stuff.  Don’t worry for my well being, I have since quit this job.]

 When I arrived in Glasgow at the end of March with the goal of living here, I didn’t sense the immediate “WHEEEEE” feeling I was expecting to feel from finally leaving Montreal and the total rut I had found myself rotting in. It was more of a “ah shit, what the fuck am I doing, I’m going to run out of money any minute now and die here, so let’s drink all the alcohol, let’s literally drink all the pints and see what happens” kind of feeling, which eventually became a “WHEEEE” feeling at a certain point of the night, but it took a lot of energy, money and beating up of my own body to get there.And so, when a short, job agency Englishman, sporting hair product and a shiny suit, called me a week into being here to ask if I could start work immediately, I agreed, thinking that if I was going to drink myself to death here, I needed funds to do so. And so, friends, here is a lil, a “wee”, if you will, description of my time at the worst job in the world.

 Let’s call this place Steel Hill and, with a little imagination, you can find the real name of the company. I’ve never worked in an office, except for here and there at the Mirror, where I mostly read Twitter and entertained/ annoyed the fuck out of the other editors with my good humour and joie-de-vivre (ahem). So, some things that I will characterize as Totally Miserable may seem natural to you suit-wearing, Post-It types.

 Basically, Steel Hill is some kind of storage company that big corporations pay to archive their files. “We” did storage for a bank, let’s call this bank the Salamander Bank, but, since we’re not actually bank employees, our “office” was in the basement of this giant building. We were hidden away like lepers, tucked away from the sun and all that is happy and hopeful in the world. To get into the building, one had to have a pass that you flashed to the little old men standing there all day, making sure that you weren’t one of those sad grey-faced motherfuckers who go hang out in really depressing office buildings for fun…you know the kind. It’s, like, get a hobby, guys, some people are trying TO WORK here.

 On my first day, I met the boss, let’s just call him Denis, who briefly shook my hand, barely looked into my eyes, vaguely pointed at where the toilets were, lead me to a desk, pointed at one of the unhappy looking employees and informed me that she would train me. He then scurried off, ran away and didn’t talk to me again, except for here and there, when he would refer to me as Rebecca, offer me a donut on Donut Dress Down Fridays and ask me how this other Canadian former employee was doing, obviously assuming we were best friends.

 There’s nothing more promising than a new job where all the other employees look at you like you’re the plague, you’re a cancer that just walked in. “You fuckin’ train her, aye?” “Ayeeeeeee, I’ll fuckin’ train her, waaaaaaaa,” she said, looking at me with giant eyes from behind tiny glasses resting on her giant head, slugging her way from her desk to mine as if it was the most painful thing in the world. She threw down a “batch” on my desk. Let me pleasantly explain to you what a “batch” is. Basically, it’s just a bunch of original credit card documents “batched” together with a rubber band. From this moment on, I became a “batcher” and my job was to write down the case IDs for each original document, unstaple the pages and count all the pages included in one “batch” of credit card documents. She looked at me as if I would probably never figure this out. “You have to meet targets, but don’t worry, all new people are slow, you’ll never meet the targets,” she chuckled, slugging her way back to her desk as if she had really nailed me as a weak “batcher” and that automatically made me an idiot.

 She returned to her seat across from me and resumed her conversation about which hair colour best suited Rihanna with the other woman sitting next to me, stopping at one point to inform me that I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything at my desk, that I wasn’t allowed to listen to my iPod, that I wasn’t allowed to use my phone, that my phone must be off at all times and that if I ever showed up to work in a good mood, someone somewhere in this office would definitely tell me to fuck off and gloomily stare at me until I also proclaimed that I hated life and couldn’t wait to go home to eat a steak in front of the television. I also wasn’t allowed to use a computer; the “scanners” and the “indexers” were (more on the hierarchy of Steel Hill later), but “batchers” were simply required to write down numbers, unstaple and count pages. That means that Denis looked at me, sized me up and thought: “this girl cannot figure out a scanner or a computer, she is definitely a “batcher”-type.”

 I looked down at the pages in front of me, looked at the walls closing in on us, walls that were painted a swamp-like greyish green, decorated with dark paintings depicting vague, greyish, swamp-like settings. “Why did you come here? This is the worst country in the world,” asked the small pregnant one. Maybe this was the reason, maybe I was meant to be a “batcher,” maybe I came here to hit rock bottom, to count down the hours in a day, to count down the days in a week until I died here, with staples stuck in my foot, leaving trails of blood everywhere until I eventually bled out. “I don’t know, but I think Rihanna looks good no matter what she does.” And then someone handed me a staple remover and played Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” for the first of the thirty times it would play that same day.


To be continued with Part II on a more upbeat tone and my eventual escape from Steel Hill. Stay tuned.

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