Friday, April 02, 2004

Prisoner Meerkat reporting

If Lowry were alive today what would he paint? The smoking chimneys, aqueducts and factory gates are fading from the psyche of the working landscape in 21st century Britain. Instead we have the call centres and office complexes that spring up on the edge of the corridor towns that line the motorways that carve up the space between our cities.

I’m currently seconded to an office that sits in an imposing building in a strange quasi village. It’s a strange collection of red-brick and glass structures, set around landscaped grounds and man-made lakes.

Visitors reporting to the visitors’ reception at the gatehouse have their route explained to them by a pointer and a massive aerial photo. There’s something vaguely Dr No-ish about it. Perhaps a secret missile launch pad is located below the main duck-pond…

Nah, nothing so interesting, this is a dull place, monochrome and soulless, climate controlled with perma-locked windows. The office I work in consists of a large floor, containing swath, upon swath of open plan cubicle hell. We take on the appearance of veal calves awaiting the slaughter; precious few of us are fortunate enough to see daylight. Occasionally there is a disturbance and then we switch our impression to meerkats peering over our grey dividers.

Escaping the village in the lunchtime is not easy – there’s nowhere close enough to go to. Accordingly people tend to sit at their desks, nibbling sarnies and reading books.

Others, driven by the need to experience “real” air and light, escape outside whatever the weather. You see the lonely figures traipsing around the myriad of paths that weave their aimless and circular routes around the buildings and meres. Hunched up, with their collars turned up against the chill and the rain, their bodies lean into the wind. Perfect Lowryesque poses.

The other day a visiting colleague peered out the window from my office, down onto the weather beaten figures defying the elements and trudging around in circles; “It’s like an open prison” he commented.