If in doubt, ask for Liz
I’ve just started a new job at a university campus close to home and have returned, eight hours later, with a head that is aching from all of the smiling and nodding I’ve done today.
First days at work are all the same, aren’t they? The desk assigned as yours is the butt-ugly one that none of the existing staff will touch with a jousting stick and the computer should have arrived last week but has been swallowed up in the IT office paperwork at the West campus. Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.” It takes nearly all day to find a useable phone that’s firstly not covered in some unidentifiable sticky stuff and is also acceptable by World Health Organisation Standards. Then the final hour of the day is used to work out just what your own phone number actually is. Pens, post-it-notes and finding the kettle can wait until the second day.
As such, I was not fazed. Well, perhaps a little by the fact that I was sharing my office with the boss – a highly respected, internationally-renowned professor – and that our domain used to be the ladies’ toilets. Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.” We are right next to the male toilets and have decided that it’s worth the risk to dash in there for ‘getting things off our minds’ rather than go down two flights of stairs and around the corner on the ground floor.
The kitchen is less than a doorway in width and is about as modern as a butler’s pantry in the pre-Boer war years. It is clear that no-one voluntarily ventures into this hellish little vestibule, so I have hazarded a guess that coffee, water and lunches are hidden in offices upstairs. There is one male in our building, supposedly, but his door remained firmly closed today. He may still be cowering in there under the desk with his hands over his head for all I know. Perhaps he knows that Barb and I have taken over his only true refuge, the toilets. What if I walk in on him at the – ahem – trough? Of, course: Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.”
Induction. Ah yes, the induction checklist that requires one’s boss (or assistant, which is me, so it’ll be my job later on) to take you all over campus and tell you in great detail about the people they’re going to introduce you to. If they were actually in their office that is. Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.” We have some luck however - the security guys for the building keys, the library team and the PhD students across the hall working on studies relating to child protection who have spent most of the day talking about their dogs and laughing hysterically are all in. We also found Liz, the vice-chancellor’s PA and therefore a very powerful woman – I’ll just have to try my hardest to not call her Mrs Doubtfire. I also met Elizabeth, a fellow administrator on the next floor who has offered to buddy me through the bureaucratic maze and Libby, a new starter and bright-eyed PhD student. I’m still too afraid to ask her what PhD actually stands for.
As I was struggling to log on to the computer and on the phone to Help Desk, another cheery face popped its head through the door. Female, of course. “Hi MillyMoo, heard you were starting today. My name’s Liz. I’m on the ground floor doing my research into….” Another Liz. Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.” The phone suddenly rang, jolting me out of my seat. God, who wants me now? “It’s Liz from Switchboard. Can I just check through your details for our records?”
“Sure, as long as you tell me my phone number Liz,” I replied. Smile and nod, smile and nod; your new-but-willing attitude comes over across the phone lines you know.
My boss had already left for an afternoon appointment and then on to home. Her only instruction was to ensure that her filing cabinet was locked and the office door locked. Oh dear, it might have helped a bit if I’d been given some keys. Tentatively, I phoned the security bloke I met a few hours earlier, praying that he answered with his name so that I didn’t have to admit I forgot it after my first smile and nod. ”Hello, Security help desk, Liz here.”
Of course – this was a parallel universe in which everybody except my boss and I are called Liz – even the blokes answer their phones Liz-style! She clumped over, clad in serious security gear (how often does she get to use her truncheon at a centre of learning?) and locked up for me. “Thanks for that Liz.” Smile and nod, smile and nod. Time to go home before my cheeks split open and my head rolls off.