David Brent

"I will not have HER tunnel bandied around this office....willy-nilly."

The late Christopher Hitches once wrote:

“I boldly assert, in fact I think I know, that a lot of friendships and connections absolutely depend on a sort of shared language, or slang. Not necessarily designed to exclude others, these can establish a certain comity and, even after long absence, re-establish it in a second.”

I say this because I have certain friends with whom, thanks to The Office, I now converse almost exclusively in the lexicon of Brentian badinage.

A typical conversation would proceed thus:

Me: Sammy, you old slag.
He: what are YOU doing here?…and not in a racist way!
Me: Women. Are. Dirty.
He: Nicknames are bad….names, yeah?
Me: I think there’s been a rape up there!
He: I’d do….most nationalities.
Me: Shouldn’t have to….shouldn’t have to.
Me: Come to me. And I’ll help us clean OUR floor TOGETHER….not literally.
He: …and that’s crufts…..

If you can discern any fathomable meaning in the above, humanity’s evolution would probably benefit from your chemical castration. However, to us, this goulache of gibberish speaks a lifetime of shared and treasured memory. Evenings, measureless to man, sat on smelly, crumb-strewn sofas gazing adoringly at each others gurning faces and bouncing primitive noises off the peeling wallpaper.

It was a cold, crisp day in the winter of 2004 when I realised that The Office had burrowed itself, tick-like, into my subconscious. As ever with such epiphanies, it came at a most inconvenient time.

I was a 20 year old stripling interning at an international law firm in the City.

You can picture the scene, I’m sure: shiny offices, frosted glass, plummy  partners, frosted receptionists, shiny partners, plummy offices, monogrammed secretaries, hot coffee being forcibly piped into every orifice etc. I was among a coterie of polished prep-school piss-ants oozing paxman-pilfered platitudes from every oily pore.

I was doing quite well until lunch time.  Having neatly sidestepped the temptation to dribble gravy down my starched shirt front or (crucially) anyone else’s, and forborne from launching gobbets of half-masticated beef bourginon into anyone’s eye while talking, I had negotiated my way onto the dessert which was on this occasion, a ballast of impenetrable density wrapped in all the earthly trappings of chocolate cake. I thought I was more or less in the clear.

I was mistaken.

From the corner of my eye, I espied that a paunchy, puce-cheeked senior partner was wading through his abundant flesh in my direction.

“What do you think of the cake?” he belched once he had brought himself to a wheezing, steam-hissing halt.

At this point all reason took flight; decorum, etiquette and circumstantial awareness turned their cowardly tails and fled, leaving me to fend for myself. What the fuck do people say in such situations? I trawled the quote bank of my errant mind for an apposite rejoinder but all I could think of was The Office, series 2, episode 5.

“I prefer a flan”, I said. I know. Inexplicable.

The blistering silence which followed would have made the Brent himself wince. Eyebrows twitched. Throats cleared. Jowls trembled disapprovingly. Only one luckless fool in the corner let loose an ill-advised giggle.  I could have kissed the poor bastard for that since I suspect he knew in that split second of indiscretion (just as I did as soon as the word “flan” had alighted my lips) that he had nailed his colours to the mast of a rapidly sinking ship.

I’ll draw the curtain of charity over the remainder of this scene but suffice it to say I was not invited for interview. Philistines.


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