Tues, Jun 1
Amanda has instituted an Editor of the Month scheme in a bid to increase efficiency and improve productivity. Actually the scheme includes ass eds to make up the numbers because there are only 5 editors or senior editors, including Vanessa, who's on holiday.
Everyone has been given a set of targets, whether it's number of words to compile or number of pages to proofread. The task of running the scheme and collecting the figures from everyone at the end of the month will rotate among all the editors and ass eds on a monthly basis but this month it will fall to Belinda. She's not a happy bunny. A prize of £100 of gift vouchers from a store of the winner's choice will be awarded to the editor or ass ed who comes top each month, with a consolation prize of £50 for the runner-up and £25 for the third.
It's the only thing people are talking about.
'It's an outrage,' Jerome said. 'Doesn't she understand we're not robots? You can't take business practices from industry and expect them to work in the rarefied atmosphere of a publishing house. Lexicography's an art!'
'How can we guarantee we'll meet our targets,' Aysha said, 'when we're dealing with freelancers who suddenly decide to go on holiday for a few weeks without telling you? It's not fair! It's mad!'
Personally, I couldn't give a damn about winning the competition but I certainly don't want to come last. I'll have to make absolutely sure I meet my targets this month.
I'm hoping my chosen philosophy for June may give me an edge in the competition. Duffers defines Machiavellism as 'a set of political principles proposed by Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) in The Prince and other writings, according to which rulers can best advance the interests of their states and themselves through the often amoral and opportunistic manipulation of others.'
I'm looking forward to learning how to manipulate others, it sounds like it could be a very useful skill. At least I won't have to subscribe to another set of crackpot spiritual beliefs: the entry directly below Machiavellism is Manichaeism, which seems to have been a religion related to Gnosticism. Thank you, Niccolo, for saving me from that.
Weds, Jun 2
Bought a copy of The Prince at lunchtime and nearly finished it already. It's a very short book. I didn't read it from cover to cover, just sort of dipped in here and there but I quickly got the gist. I was particularly taken with the title of Ch X1X, 'One should avoid being despised or hated,' which sounds like very good advice, if a little obvious. I took a sheet of paper and made a list of bullet-point paraphrases:
· good results can come from evil actions
· be publicly above reproach while privately acting amorally to achieve your ends
· overcome obstacles through force or cunning
· better to be feared than loved
· men are always treacherous unless forced to be honest
· if you have to be cruel, do it quickly and get it over with so everyone can move on
· always take sides in a fight, never be neutral, because neither victor nor vanquished will thank you for not going to their aid
· kill those who have the means or motive to harm you
To be honest, it doesn't sound like much of a philosophy, more like a justification for behaving like a complete bastard. But hey, let's not pre-judge things, let's suck it and see. Maybe skip the killing though.
Thurs, Jun 3
With Vanessa away on holiday, the office seems like a desert. Every time I pass her cubicle and see all the photos and newspaper clippings and little Post-It notes to herself plastered across the walls, it feels like walking past the house of a dead person. I keep imagining Van and Dom in the Seychelles together – what they might be doing, how often they're having sex, that sort of thing -- but it's too painful, I have to force myself to stop.
Been thinking about my own holiday plans. Told Amanda I'd like to take 2 of my 3 weeks' annual leave at the start of next month. Not sure what I'll do yet. I'm thinking of leaving it to the philosophy to decide, to go wherever next month's philosophy takes me. For example, in Jan, Feb and April this year I'd have gone to Greece (Atomists, hedonists, Plato). In March I'd have gone to Rome (Stoic) and in April to the Middle East (Gnostic). This month would have taken me to Italy again. The good thing is that all these places are warm and sunny. I'm just hoping there aren't any philosophies that originated in Siberia.
Fri, Jun 4
Spent half the afternoon trying to teach one of the ass eds, a girl called Dannii with 2 i's, how to use the British National Corpus, to which all the editors have access. She's Amanda's niece and I think Amanda's grooming her for an editorial role when one becomes available. But the girl's a complete space cadet! She hasn't got a clue. I was showing her how you can call up the collocations of a particular word – the other words that typically occur in the immediate environment of that word – when she stifled a yawn and looked at her fingernails and said, 'So what exactly is a corpus then?'
I'm reminded of one of my favourite quotations from The Prince:
There are three types of intellect: one that works things out for itself, a second that appreciates what others work out, and a third that cannot work anything out either on its own or through the example of others. The first is the best, the second is good, and the third is completely useless.
Sat, Jun 5
Party at Ian and Lee's place. Drunken conversation with Lee in which I tried to explain Machiavelli's political principles to him. Turned out he thought I was talking about the Italian PM, Berlusconi. Probably not a lot of difference, if truth be told.
'Machiavelli?' Ian said, coming in on the end of the conversation. 'Doesn't he play for Chelsea?'
Mon, Jun 7
Big argument at work today between Jerome and Belinda, which I got caught in the middle of.
It all started this morning. The three of us were having coffee together and Jerome said something about offering to look through some files for Belinda, who's spending so much time running the Editor of the Month scheme that she's barely got any time left for her own editorial work.
Then, late this afternoon, it all kicked off. I heard raised voices coming from Jerome's cubicle and went to see what all the fuss was about.
'You said you'd do it today, Jerome,' Belinda was saying. 'That is what you said.'
'I said no such thing, Belinda. I said I'd look at the files some time this week, I distinctly remember it.'
'You didn't, Jerome, you said today.'
Jerome turned to me as I entered the cubicle.
'You were there, Dave. This morning. When we were talking about me taking on some of Belinda's files. Back me up here. Did I or did I not say I'll do it some time this week. And not necessarily today, as Belinda seems to think.'
To be honest, I had no idea what Jerome had said, I'd been thinking about Vanessa at the time and how lonely the office felt without her. But I remembered Machiavelli's advice about never sitting on the fence, always taking sides in a fight. And it seemed to me that, for this month at least, I was better off siding with Belinda than with Jerome, seeing as how she was in charge of the Editor of the Month scheme.
'No, you definitely said today, Jerome,' I said. 'I distinctly remember it.'
'Thank you, Dave,' Belinda said, crossing her arms tightly across her chest in a satisfied way.
Jerome threw up his hands in the air. 'Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!'
I left them to it but when I saw Jerome on my way to the car park after work he snarled at me and pretended to spit on the ground.
Tues, Jun 8
Amanda dropped by my cubicle this afternoon to ask how Dannii was getting on with her training. I had to think quickly. If I'm honest, I thought, and tell her she's completely hopeless, it will reflect poorly on me as a teacher. In addition, Amanda may ask me to give her more training. Whereas if I lie and say she's doing really well, I'll go up in Amanda's estimation and she may even decide the training Dannii's already received is sufficient.
'She's coming along great,' I said. 'Picked it up with no trouble.'
Amanda looked surprised. 'Really?' She leaned in close to my ear. 'Entre nous, she hasn't got a lot up top.'
I assumed she was referring to Dannii's brain rather than her breasts, because in point of fact she was quite well-endowed for one so young.
'Well in that case,' Amanda went on, 'you should give her another session. Show her the phonetics database, will you?'
Weds, Jun 9
Made the mistake of asking Belinda how she was coping with the extra work entailed by the Editor of the Month scheme.
Her shoulders sagged, as if bowing under a heavy weight. 'It's ridiculous. Amanda just doesn't understand how much work's involved. Jerome was going to help me out, take over some of my editorial work. Well you were there, weren't you? But he's hopeless, he's so unreliable.'
She hesitated, then tilted her head downwards and raised her cornflower-blue eyes up to mine in a coquettish Princess Diana kind of way. 'You couldn't help me out, could you, Dave? You were so good to come to my rescue yesterday in that stupid bloody argument. Just a few hours now and then, that's all I'm asking. It'd be such a help.'
Not sure what Machiavelli would have said in reply. Fuck off, you ungrateful bitch, perhaps. But I felt I had to say yes. So now I'm going to find it even harder to meet this month's targets. Wish I'd never got involved in that bloody stupid argument in the first place.
Thurs, Jun 10
Went to Belinda's cubicle this afternoon to collect the new words files I offered to help her with. She was just coming back from lunch. I waited while she logged on to her computer, pretending not to see the password she keyed in: ADNILEB, her name spelled backwards. A dastardly Machiavellian plot has begun brewing in my head in connection with the Editor of the Month scheme, but I think it's too low even for me to consider seriously.
Fri, Jun 11
Small presentation in honour of Ralph/Wayne's departure. Someone had the bright idea of giving him Wayne Rooney's autobiography as a leaving present. His thankyou speech was delivered through gritted teeth.
Sat, Jun 12
Watched England's first World Cup match in a Riverside bar with Ian and Lee – a scrappy 1-1 draw with USA. Disappointing, but we should still make quick work of minions like Algeria and Slovenia.
Mon, Jun 14
Squash with Max. Afterwards, in the bar, he filled me in on the background to The Prince – 'it's statecraft rather than philosophy' -- always referring to the book by its Italian title, Il Principe.
'Machiavelli was from Florence, you know, which was a republic at the time and where I'm from too. When the republic was dissolved around 1512 Machiavelli was imprisoned for conspiracy and tortured. The torture consisted of hanging him from his wrists, which were tied behind his back. This forced the arms to bear the body's full weight and thus dislocated the shoulders.'
'Ouch,' I said.
Max's reference to his coming from Florence made me realize I knew almost nothing about his private life. Was he married? Did he have kids? When did he move to the UK? Did he still have family back in Italy? I put these questions to him and he answered them briefly and somewhat perfunctorily, as if they were minor matters of no great importance. I learned he has 2 grown-up kids, a boy who's a lawyer in Paris and a girl who's a teacher in Edinburgh. He's been married for nearly 30 years and his wife's name is Megan. She's Welsh and teaches sculpture at the College of Art.
I asked him what he does all day, now he's retired, and he admitted somewhat shyly that he was writing a novel.
'That's something I'd like to do one day,' I said. 'I'm keeping a diary. Maybe I could turn that into a novel.'
'It's an idea,' he said.
I inquired what his novel was about but he got very cagey and refused to say beyond describing it as 'a sort of philosophical novel,' which is no surprise, I suppose. He said he started it in April and had been working really hard on it, it was nearly half-written already. He said he aimed to finish it by the end of the year.
'Well I hope I get the chance to read it. It sounds really interesting, even if you won't tell me what it's about.'
'And I'd like you to read it, really. I'm curious to hear your opinion. But not till it's finished. I'll send you a copy as soon as I've written the last word, that's a promise.'