"Give me another of those lovely half smiles"
When I arrived at Security to sign the photographer in, I was met with a small, dishevelled figure festooned with cameras and sporting a faintly ridiculous bluetooth headset in his left ear. To say that he was physically unprepossessing would be to give the impression that he cut rather more of a dash than was actually the case. His own description of himself as, "a cross between Peter Kay and Fred Dibnah" was, unfortunately, all too indicative of his general lack of self-awareness. Say what you like about Peter Kay, but he does at least have presence. And Fred Dibnah was an absolute darling.
The photographer was one of those annoying people who ask questions constantly, but who never actually wait for an answer. Mind you, this was probably just as well, because the answers my Inner Voice was composing grew increasingly offensive the longer I was in his exhausting company.
I'll attempt to provide a flavour of our "conversation". The photographer's contributions appear in green. You are safe to assume throughout that my own vocalised responses were generally limited to monosyllables. I mean, it's not as though he ever paused to draw breath long enough for me to speak an entire sentence. Thus, the responses in blue are entirely attributable to my Inner Voice. (Which is undoubtedly going to hell: my Inner Voice is not what you'd call saintly.)
Let us proceed.
"It's a long way to your desk, isn't it?"
"Yes, when I told you in the lift that it would be a long way to my desk, that was the general impression I was attempting to convey."
"Well, you've got it really lovely, haven't you? It's like a cross between a living room and a kitchen."
"Er, no, it's definitely a desk..."
"Mind you, we'll have to get rid of those bottles."
"Damn. There goes the product placement fee that Pepsi Max had promised me."
"Is there a small room we can use for the portrait shot? I'll be able to control the light better in a smaller room with plain walls. We'll need some union literature to spread around: have you got any?"
A frantic search of cupboards and pigeon holes produces one rather limp union magazine dated 2004.
"Oh, no. That's a bit old, isn't it? That won't do. Have you got anything more recent?"
"What do you mean, that won't do?? This photograph is going to be two inches tall at the most. Who is going to be able to read the date off the front cover, FFS?"
A colleague from a neighbouring team eventually produces several virgin union magazines, still protected by their plastic covers.
"Can I open these? Is it ok if I open them?"
"No, I gather C___ prefers imagining the contents over actually reading them. You'll ruin all her fun."
There follows a deeply demoralising twenty minutes of me being wrenched into uncomfortable poses in a small meeting room. The meeting room has no windows. It is hot and stuffy and I am sweating cobs within minutes. I suspect that the rivulets of sweat running down my face will fail to add that certain je ne sais quoi to the finished portraits. This session is accompanied by a running commentary.
"That's lovely. Just look up. And again. Can you move that hand slightly further forward? Oh, are you right-handed, then? Do you take painkillers all the time? Only you seemed to be walking really well to me. Give me another of those lovely half smiles. That's marvellous. I injured my leg a couple of years ago. It was awful. I had a job to go to that night, and I had to hold on to the backs of chairs. I hate pain, me."
"Of course I, on the other hand, love pain. Can't get enough of it. Oh, by the way, if you were still able to work, then you have no idea how bad it can get. None. You are really starting to annoy me now."
I am eventually released back into the open plan office. My colleagues - all but one of whom is dressed in black, white, or something which will strobe - are alternately wetting themselves laughing and hiding behind their computer monitors. It's hard to blame them: I would be doing the same if the boot were on the other foot. He wants to take pictures of me "working" at my computer. He asks me to pull up the union website.
"Is there another page where the union logo is bigger? Can I just minimise your toolbars so that more of the webpage is visible?"
"Oo, there might be. If I look for long enough, I'm sure I'll be able to find a page devoted entirely to the logo. They're bound to have provided one because that would be ever so informative. And not a waste of bandwidth at all. Touch my mouse, matey, and you are a dead man!!"
"That's lovely. You're doing great. Now, can you pretend to type?"
"No. But, given that you're now behind my monitor, I can send an email to a friend telling him how much I am hating this."
"Can you sit forward and lean on your stick with both hands? Oh, no. Can you move your hands so that we can see the stick?"
"Not and derive any support from it, no."
Once he has exhausted the possibilities of me looking diligent at my desk, he starts casting about for a victim. Sorry, for a colleague who is prepared to pretend to talk to me. And I must say at this point that greater love hath no line manager than this, that he should lay down his dignity for his member of staff, and deliberately wear a blue shirt so that he will be chosen. Much respect. The photographer insists that P___ grab a document and stand next to me discussing it in a manner which will show off the Anglican cathedral in the background rather nicely. We proceed to have the least realistic conversation ever about the contents of the document. Some of our colleagues are, by this stage, drumming their heels on the floor in uncontrollable paroxysms of mirth.
"Could you also be casually carrying a union magazine?"
"Oh, you have got to be kidding. In the first place, I don't stand up to talk to the man who sits at the desk next to mine. In the second place, I don't believe I have ever been absent-mindedly clutching a copy of the union magazine to my bosom whilst discussing the day job."
"Good, lovely. Keep smiling. There's just you and me. Just you and me. Could you stand a little bit closer to each other?"
"The only way we could physically get closer to each other would be if we were having sex."
"It would be nice if we could take some photos on the balcony. That's a balcony, isn't it?"
"No. I don't know what balconies look like where you come, but that is not a balcony. That is a rickety gantry. The only people who venture out onto it are the window cleaners. And even they don't go out there unless they're firmly attached to industrial-strength webbing with multiple carabiners."
He eventually - if reluctantly - gives up on his balcony scene idea and agrees to me escorting him off the premises. Unfortunately, on the way back to the lifts, he spots a (relatively) picturesque corner of the office with a river view and insists that I lean pensively against the window sill so that he can take even more pictures. This is even more embarrassing than what has gone before, because it's done in front of people I don't know. We don't stay very long, though, because of his crushing disappointment at the fact that the tanker which was passing when he arrived must have docked somewhere in the interim, and the river therefore has limited visual appeal. "It's a bit grey", he says. "It's the Mersey", I think. "What colour were you expecting it to be? Ultramarine?"
I herd him back towards the lifts and oversee him handing his pass back to the Security staff. I need to be sure that he can't get back in. Even the Security staff are smirking.
Just when I think it's safe to go back in the water, he decides to take some photographs outside. If he fits a longer lens to one of his multiple cameras, he reckons it'll look as though the cathedral is right behind me. Given that the cathedral is more than a mile away, this will be a pretty impressive feat. As I stand in the car park looking over my right shoulder and giving another of those lovely half smiles, dozens of staff from an entirely different floor of the building come back from their lunch break. They point and laugh. I want the ground to open up and swallow me.
Finally, he is done. He has been commissioned to produce three photographs. At a conservative estimate, he has actually taken about two hundred.
"Well, I'm going to go now. Thank you very much. You've been very co-operative. I know it's not easy being photographed."
He claps me firmly on my inflamed left shoulder in a gesture of farewell.
"Ow, my shoulder. Ow, my shoulder. Ow, my shoulder. Oh, you bastard!!"
I return, shaking with exhaustion, to my desk. I vow publicly that I will never have my photograph taken again as long as I live. After about fifteen minutes, it occurs to me that I will have to submit to being photographed when I go to Buck House. When this realisation hits me, I swear imaginatively and at great length. I don't have a mirror in front of me, but I'm prepared to bet two bottles of Pepsi Max (which I have just retrieved from their hiding place behind the hard drive) that I do not have one of those lovely half smiles on my face.