Sunday, September 28, 2014

Out of the box.

The small print in the small ad in the Manchester Evening News said nothing of the nature of the contract.

There were no prospects of advancement mentioned.

I had no choice.

I had no means.

The door of the flat had been ripped off by thieves, the possessions taken.

I was left in my doorless empty box, with a giant jigsaw puzzle.

It was all that I could do to put the pieces together on the carpet.

I have no memory of whether I finished the puzzle.

Expertise in jigsaw puzzling didn't pay well. 

I opened the door to the Victorian office block and prepared myself for interview.

There was no interview.

He cared for nothing about my story.

He led me to a melamine walled box.

Inside, there was no sign of  a person having spent any time there.

There was a grey dial phone, a scruffy copy of the yellow pages, a script in small print on one plastic covered piece of scruffy A4.

"If you sell two ads in this magazine for civil servants, in the next two days, you have a job."

"Small basic salary, the rest commission."

I looked around the confines of the box. 

There was nothing. I was nobody.

I resolved myself to make the box a job.

To my utter amazement, there were people on the other end of the phone who would buy this crap.

Cold calling, no product to see, contract sent in the post as soon as they said 'Yes' at the appropriate moment.

Objections overcome, job I had.

For the next eleven months, I dialled the dial on the grey phone one hundred times per day, to make two sales.

The boredom was such that I decided to colour the numbers black with a Bic biro to make dialling more of a challenge.

I was proud of my prowess of dialling cold, blind.

The people on the other end were targets.

They were nothing.

They were nobody.

Drone central
For the next eleven months, I was deafened by the drone of a robot.

Every twenty minutes or so, the robot would stand up with a pre-contract and head off down the corridor to notch up a new sale.

He specialised in car-dealers.

I never spoke to him.

Robots are not good company.

For the next eleven months, first thing Monday morning, I listened to the moustachioed sales manager reeling off the figures before disappearing into his office.

Each week, there were those whose heads dropped...

There were those whose heads dropped over a period of two or three weeks consecutively...

There were those who would suddenly be absent...

Box to fill
There would suddenly be a space in a box to fill.

To my utter amazement, on experiment with various 'sales pitches' to various 'client streams', I realized that what sold was not the script but the connection of excitement, the acceleration of a heart beat, the comic tone, the sudden absurd eruption in the life of another.

Back to the presence
I suppose this is what Maha was talking about as "3rd Discourse"? 

I would never have been able to call it other than:  'people buy crap'.

Numbers game.
I never regret the eleven months which hardened my resolve, to go beyond 98 'Nos' to get to the precious, unexpected 'Yes's'.

I was nobody, I was selling nothing, I could be nobody selling anything.

Keep on, keep on, never give up.

Half a life later, I am investigating those elements which connect us to the other, which enable us to journey a while with a fellow learner.

I have nothing to sell to anybody.

I am becoming aware of the prosthetic aspect of language, of digital technology.

We are as if amputated from those that we attempt to communicate with.

What does this say about our desire to connect, to search for meaning?

We appear at times paralysed to overcome the obstacle of screen, keyboard, interface, distance of time, distance of culture.

We must investigate how to overcome our disabilities, our reduced frames of reference.

My distant close friends are my fellow explorers in these new spaces of humanity.

We are connecting via emergent CLAVIER picnics, exchanges of blogging, of sounds, of images, of tweets.

We experience the awe of connecting dawn with midday, city, with countryside, office with home, idea with emotion.

We are experiencing the extraordinary joy of connection of empathy.

We are experiencing the extraordinary dissolution of self into simulataneously distant contexts.

We are reimagining our experience of place, of friendship, of co-learning.

For all the tweets, for all the apparently aimless searching, there are people out there waiting to open their arms to our dreams, to welcome us as fellow travellers.

There is trust, there is respect for our differences.

They appear able to forgive our short-comings.

They are worth all the time spent struggling to overcome the boxes which artificially separate us.

We must rewrite our relationships, our social contracts together.

We are not robots, we are sentient, caring beings.

Here's a flower to Maha and to you all.


  1. Lovely post Simon - our experience sometimes must be survived in order to make us stronger:)

  2. I can not even imagine your brain in that box.

    In college I worked on a chicken farm. Different kinds of boxes. Smellier. More maggots.

    I hope to never work in a mindless box again. My daughter has tried to do it, to stay in a cubicle, to make "a decent salary," but she always ends up in the forest instead.

    So glad you are here now.

  3. It is a very poignant description that reminded me of two things - the first was yesterday I was interviewing someone for one of my courses and she (a teacher too) asked if today we set out to create products or people... and the second was a memory triggered by that last line. I used to cling to a book that gave me comfort if I ever felt 'in that box' - The Last Flower, by James Thurber. I found it scanned online here: (it is mostly pictures with a line per page).