Saturday, 11 May 2019

Bona Vacantia

"There are three old ladies on a park bench" Mendel started. I continued typing for a moment, then whirled around my wheelie chair to face him. "The first one says 'It's windy!'. The second one says 'It's not Wednesday, it's Thursday!'. The third one says 'I'm thirsty too, let's have a nice cup of tea!'".

My colleague roared theatrically with laughter. "That's very clever Mendel" beamed Laura, placing two Kit-Kats on my desk. "His talent's wasted here Dan isn't it?" she asked me. "Definitely" I replied and thanked her for the chocolate.

"Do you think I'm wasted here too?" she teased. "Laura you would be wasted everywhere" I replied. "Aww" she cooed and then went back to work.

It had been a year since I'd started temping in the grey government outpost. The building itself was situated at an undisclosed address in Croydon, due to the sensitive nature of the work. The irony was that Croydon, despite its numerous rail connections and shopping centres, was so scummy, that you'd have to be more or less destitute to end up there voluntarily. Yet among the scores of members of the public with whom we spoke between the hours of ten and four, destitution was not uncommon.

The journey was a pleasure. Being one of the few people weird enough to commute from zone two outwards, I was frequently the only passenger in a row of seats and sometimes in an entire section. I tried eating a takeaway on the train once but a passenger happened to pass through at the time and began talking to me about the smell of my food.

Bona Vacantia was a Latin legal term that meant ownerless goods. This was the place where, if a business bit the dust or a person popped their clogs, any valuable properties or unclaimed dosh could be promptly appropriated by the Crown. For, you know, safe-keeping.

It was the kind of of work in which a person could quickly build up unique expertise, since among the UK's six million hard-working and some not so hard-working business owners, virtually nobody had the slightest clue what would happen if the Registrar ever saw fit to strike Dave's Autos Limited or Sharon's Sheffield Salon off the register of companies.

Which was fine so long as Sharon and Dave were filing all their returns on time and never kept personal funds in their business account. And less fine when their health failed or their accountant failed or the post man failed and Companies House couldn't get through to them. Until eventually the owners realised their bank accounts had been frozen. And called the bank. Who told them to call Companies House. Who told them to call me.

I didn't mind the conversations. Years working on companies that had gone bust meant that I knew how to give people difficult messages. In fact, I almost liked it. Most of the time, they were grateful for the guidance and I occasionally found myself staying on the line when someone really needed a human being to listen to them. It wasn't glamorous work but I could do it comfortably, with minimal overtime. I wore a shirt and trousers each day even though I didn't have to. That way if I ever got another job that required it, the change wouldn't bug me.

Then there were my colleagues, Laura, Mendel and Gemma. They were so friendly and supportive. We didn't talk much as my role didn't require it. But every time I got a chance to catch-up with one of them, it was like a refreshing dose of humanity. It made the whole of my work life feel much more enriched. And made me feel less like ownerless goods myself.

2 comments

Running on empty said...

Glad you’re working. Cath

godzilla said...

This is nice.