Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Fast Food #2: the Four Minute Meal.

I used to have competitions with friends and family to get a meal on the table the fastest. There had to be cooking involved. Two minute noodles and similar did not qualify.

For one of these cooking races I served up pasta carbonara in just under four minutes.

Here's how I broke the Four Minute Meal.

Fill the kettle and put it on. Elapsed time, ten seconds.

While the kettle came to the boil - one and a half minutes - I took two rashers of bacon, two eggs, a pack of parmesan and some parsley from the fridge and a pack of gnocchi, a bottle of olive oil and a garlic clove from the cupboard. Elapsed time, forty-five seconds.

I opened the gnocchi. Elapsed time, forty-nine seconds.

I sliced the bacon into small pieces and threw them into a pan with a splash of olive oil, and lit the stove. One minute twenty.

I chopped the parsley. One minute thirty. The light in the kettle went off and the button clicked up. I poured the boiling water into another pot on the stove over a high heat and tipped gnocchi into the pot - carefully. If you burn yourself you're disqualified.

I grabbed a plate and some cutlery out of the cupboard and set them on the table. One minute forty-five.

The bacon was done by the time the gnocchi floated to the top of the water. Two minutes thirty.

I drained the gnocchi and tossed it into the bacon pan and stirred it around. Two minutes fifty. I cracked the eggs in and stirred around again, adding the parmesan. Three minutes twenty.

Gnocchi carbonara into the bowl, parsley on top, more parmesan. Three minutes forty-five. World record.


Fast food #1: world's quickest soup.

Tortellini in brodo.

Heat 1.5 litres of stock, or use your favourite canned, bottled or packaged stock. Chicken, beef, vegetable; doesn't really matter. It's just flavour. And salt.

To the stock, add half a kilogram of ricotta tortellini, a cupful of finely shredded silverbeet, a cup of peas and a tablespoon of pesto (blitz basil, walnuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil or use a jar from the supermarket).

Ready when tortellini and peas are done. Serve with more pesto, a shower of parmesan cheese, and some sliced hardcrust bread.


Pasta with leek, capsicum, avocado and toasted pine nuts.

That headline alone has enough appetite appeal to get you salivating. The dish itself is even better.

Chop a leek lengthwise twice, and then slice the lengths to get quartered rings.

Chop a red capsicum into small squares and add the leek and capsicum to a pan with a scored clove of garlic, a dash of white wine, a little olive oil, and lots of pepper. Simmer fifteen minutes. Check fluid level and adjust with more wine.

Meanwhile, cook pasta shells.

When the leek and capsicum are cooked and the wine has almost evaporated, add a sliced avocado, a dessertspoon of home made pesto and half a cup of cream, and simmer until cream reduces.

Drain the pasta shells. This is difficult and annoying. The shells hold the water. Persist. You do not want watered-down pasta sauce.

Spoon creamy vegetables sauce over pasta, add shaved parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. Glass of shiraz.


Mr Richards has an idea.

Mr Richards just suddenly appeared one day, looking pale. He greeted the receptionist, and walked towards his office.

He wasn't wearing his regular suit. He was wearing a pale blue polo with a turned-up collar over beige chinos and the kind of boat shoes that don't go on boats. He looked like he was on his way to lunch in Brighton. Perhaps he was. He was carrying a takeaway coffee.

But it wasn't coffee.

'This stuff actually tastes quite good,' he said, when I had followed him into his office and he had put it down on his desk. 'In a herby, grassy kind of way, and after you haven't had coffee for a week or two,' he added. 'You forget what coffee was like.'

'Who are you trying to fool?' I asked him. 'Me? Or yourself? These things go in trends. People used to drink a thing called Caro. It was made of mud or something. Before that was chicory. Now everyone is drinking chai, which is essentially liquid curry with tea in it. It will pass. It tastes like shit.'

'Thanks for the encouragement,' he said, bitingly sarcastic, 'I can see it's going to be an uphill battle getting you to do what I'm about to ask you.'

'Which is what?' I asked.

He paused. 'I've turned vegetarian,' he said, as if announcing his aunt was a terrorist.

I gulped. There goes another one, I thought. But I didn't say that.

'Nothing wrong with that,' I said. 'Nothing at all. History is full of vegetarian MDs.'

'And dead ones who didn't change their ways.'

That floored me.

'OK,' I said. 'Point taken.'

'I want to get a vegetable account,' he said. 'And you're going to help me.'

I just stared at him.


I went back to my office and started jotting down some ideas.

Cabbage. Just Eat It.

It was a bit of a joke. Hijacking all the old lines for a new purpose.

The Cauliflower Generation.

Are they copyright?

Spinach. Engineered like no other vegetable.

No-one would even recognise them any more, surely.

Radishes are forever.

That was good. The diamond people would have no reason to bring action. It would hardly infringe on their market.

Carrots. The other root vegetable.

We could do a joint advertising campaign with the meat and livestock authority.

Have you been parsnipped lately?

Hang on a minute. There's actually something in this, using send-ups of old ad lines to promote generic vegetables.

Get me the Vegetable Marketing Board on the line.


Heart attack spurs publishing deal.

So there was no MD for a few weeks.

The doctor had explained to me when I had visited Mr Richards in the hospital. It wasn't so much the running out of the building that had done the damage, but the shock of the situation. Sprinting won't kill you, but losing $20 million will, I guessed he was driving at. Actually it was $40 million.

I hoped Richards would be fine, and that his heart attack wouldn't spark a mid-life crisis.

I'd seen it before. The CEO of another agency I had worked for years ago ran his business, worked twelve hours a day, had long lunches and stressful deadlines, ate the wrong food too often, smoked, worked weekends .... all the elements of a fabulous, long, happy life.

Then he had a heart scare and went and spoiled it all. He stopped working, converted to some religion not based in the same hemisphere, and joined a 'men's group'. Then he wrote one of those self-awareness books that you see on the front counters of chain bookstores, as impulse gift buys. He called it Relax and filled it with eighty pages of meaningless quotes - Your inner calmness appeals to the goddess of your nature, Your peace quotient resides in the matrix of the soul, The duck's landing is nature's kiss, True fulfillment is anger's nemesis - that kind of thing; interspersed with pictures of lily pads, people doing yoga on mountains, smooth rocks piled up in cairns, a woman playing a flute to a sunset, and sleeping cats.

He told me later he got the lot - quotes and stock photos - from the internet.

It sold ten million copies.



Sometimes even I am stuck for an idea.

Like what kind of flowers to buy a fifty-something managing director lying in the cardiac department of a major hospital. Sweet William? Too fussy and tiny. Lilies? They're for funerals - maybe next week. Daffodils? Just wrong for a ruptured aortic aneurism victim. Flowers are just so tricky - no wonder they are left up to the girls.

However, as a man of action, I soon decided on an answer: none.


He was just waking when I walked into the ward about 11 a.m. A nurse was tip-toeing out. There was a simple table in the room with a bunch of tulips on it. They looked like they had just been delivered.

I sat down quietly on a chair. He looked at me.

'How are you?' I asked.

'Hey!' he said in a feeble attempt to be pally. He tried to sit up.

'Just relax,' I said. 'We're not in a bar or the boardroom now, we're in a hospital. You really shouldn't talk. I'm just here to see you. You had a slight turn ... nothing a triple bypass won't fix!'

He made a noise approximating a laugh at my weak joke, then his eyes wandered over to the tulips on the table. He obviously hadn't noticed them earlier. He drew the wrong conclusion.

'Thank you for the flowers,' he said, his eyes looking back at me. 'Tulips ... they're beautiful.' His eyes were tired, but their deep blueness betrayed an inner strength. I knew he would be OK. So I played along with him. His gaze had returned to the far wall.

'That's OK!' I said. I reached over unobtrusively, and deftly removed the little gift tag that was attached to the vase. 'I knew you would like them!'

He was asleep again.

I looked at the gift tag. It read: Get well soon. R. J. Morris. Agricultural Bearings.



I don't know what time I woke up.

When I did, I waited for about half an hour before opening my eyes, and then promptly shut them again because I was falling through space at hundreds of miles an hour and the ceiling was turning around at the same time. Seeing that could make you fall out of bed.

Six hundred elephants seemed to be stampeding through my head. Even one elephant would have hurt, but exaggerating seemed to help the pain.

I lay there and eventually slid uncomfortably into a half-slumber. I was crawling through the Gobi desert searching for water. But I couldn't get anywhere at all because the scorpions were spinning webs around me and tying me to the sand. I know scorpions don't weave webs but these ones did.

Then I woke up again and tried to remember where the kitchen was so I could drink water. I found the kitchen. I found the tap. I found a glass.

I couldn't eat yet. The last of the stampeding elephants was standing still in my head. I hoped he would follow the others, but he didn't. Obstinate bastard of an elephant. He just stood there, stamping his foot every now and then.

I tried to remember what day it was, but couldn't. Then I had a brainwave. It must have slipped past the elephant. I went outside and picked up the morning newspaper and looked at the dateline. It was Saturday.

Just a normal Saturday morning, really. I forget what else happened except that the CFO called me late in the afternoon to tell me Mr Richards, our dearly beloved managing director, was lying in a bed in the cardiac intensive care unit of a major hospital.


Next morning, my head felt clearer. I walked to church and sat ten pews from the front. The guitarist-slinging choristers finished a jarring five-verse song about praising and worshipping, and then the priest entered, strode to the altar, and started the Mass.

The guitar players interrupted throughout with their unmusical versions of the responses, prefacing each with that horrible 1-2 introduction. Twang-twang. The place seemed to be stuck in a 1960s peace-train time warp. Imagine discarding Palestrina, Victoria and William Byrd for tone-deaf singers playing untuned guitars. We got to the gospel. It was the one about the Pharisees, who were sanctimonious, self-righteous hypocrites who needed the hoi polloi around to make themselves look good.

Then the priest climbed the pulpit, red-faced, to deliver the sermon. He looked like a mountaineer going up Everest. He raised his hands in the air and told us the love of money was the root of all evil. Didn't I know it. I had $20 million hanging in the balance that morning. Or was it forty? I still couldn't remember. Way up there in the pulpit the priest droned on about people having too much money and too many things, flapping his arms to emphasise every second syllable, a towering inferno of jaw-jutting sanctimony.

Then he finished by demanding we all contribute more to the parish coffers, turned and half-fell out of the pulpit.

Something didn't jell, but I couldn't work out what it was. I was worried about Mr Richards, who was not allowed any visitors until tomorrow.


Editor? Editor?

We interrupt this multi-episode story to bring you possibly the worst (or best, as you like) howler seen in the Melbourne press for some time.

Under the heading 'Running legend Bannister dies at 88' this morning's Herald Sun notes that after Bannister broke the four minute mile in May 1954,
The athletic record stood for just 46 days, before Australian John Landy - who later became Premier of Victoria ...
We'll stop it right there. Shame on you, Herald Sun.

Friday night.

It was a mystery.

He hadn't returned.

Did he find the courier, retrieve the letter, and decide to celebrate? Entirely plausible, given some of the benders he'd been on over the years. $20 million almost lost, $40 million gained.

But it occurred to me the reverse might produce the same result. $40 million lost. A return to the office would be out of the question. I decided to play a waiting game. It had occurred to me, also, that I had been the only person who had known of the chase. No-one else had seen him run out of the building. Or had seen the incoming letter, for that matter.

Friday night drinks was the usual bacchanalian mess. I have to admit that things were fractious. Usually, creatives and account executives stuff themselves with assorted chips, crackers, warm dip, sandwiches, Danish pastries and anything left over from the boardroom lunch, some sweaty cheese platter or other.

But on this particular Friday night there was no food anyway, thanks to the tea lady being away. Seriously, I thought to myself, the agency falls apart when June's away. She might be gruff and drink the MD's whisky and crash her trolley into meetings, but she certainly gets things done.

The fractious atmosphere was exacerbated by the lack of food. The gathering seemed collectively determined to extinguish the week's tensions. It was about seven o'clock. Drinks had been called at 4.30 p.m; yes, a little earlier than usual, but who cared? It might be the last drinks we would have before the agency imploded.

The CFO, Stuart Mountebank, had been convivial earlier, but by now he was very convivial. He was talking to the drinks tray. At least, he was looking at it and talking at the same time.

'$20 million,' Mr Mountebank slurred at a half-empty bottle of South Island sauvignon blanc.

The bottle didn't reply, so Mountebank went on.

'Few jobs out the door,' he added, swinging an arm around wildly. He meant the entire assembled company could be out of work within a week. Someone took it the wrong way.

'CFO's job to look after the money. Or the MD,' the someone slurred. 'Not ours.'

A pause.

'By the way ... Where's the MD?'

There was a lot of slurring going on.

'Probably didn't sling enough under the table,' someone else said, a bit too loud. Everyone knows there is no way to stop unofficial rewards for signing contracts. It used to be called corruption, now it's stakeholder engagement.

It was open rebellion.

The CFO reached for the sauvignon blanc across someone's arm and fell over.

Then the fighting started. I hate fighting, but it happens.

Oh shut vthe fuck up diskheafd,

DISCCJHHEAB? you are nbot fucjkiojng write



SuCkerpUnch sock!!!!

The suitcoat fell to the ground. There was blood.

$20 Mliommonwn VDPOOOAHRTFRTR1 account
Youb are totslly not woerrth $20 millionn id tyopu relatriovbes were nor even colonoal convicts convicted in Lonedon in n1841 of stealing yoyr mopthersw loaf of breaed. So fuxck youl,..

So sfgxcuk you too ficuk wioth wfuiuc kwity.

FUck yuo jkjah!

It got a bit personal. I just sat there. It was Friday NIGHT after all. Got all weekend to recover. With more drinks. Hoepuflly it wlil clera soem sroe heds.



I strode in about nine-thirty and glared at the neophytes who had arrived early to park their wannabe-cars next to the MD's Lamborghini. He won't have it for long the way things are going.

I went past the open-plan offices and into the kitchen. I made a coffee and steered it down the corridor, yawning.

The MD saw me from his office and beckoned, with a worried look on his face.

'What's the matter?' I asked casually. I sat on his brown leather sofa.

'I have decided to take your advice. We have resigned the $20 million Agricultural Bearings account.' He paused, then said, 'You were right. Mr Austin treated us poorly.’

He held up a small flat package.

'This is our letter of resignation – along the lines you advised, leaving in most of your, er, colourful language. It formally advises Agricultural Bearings that we will no longer handle their business – under any circumstances. I'm just waiting for the courier to pick it up and deliver it express.'

He looked quite pale, but I was quietly impressed at his determination to do the right thing. And to leave my strong language mostly untouched. At the same time, an incongruous thought came to me that Richards was more of a Bentley man. I wondered why he drove a Lamborghini.

'Good' I said. 'So what's the problem? You look like you've swallowed a horse.'

'There's no problem,' he continued, 'it's just difficult writing a letter telling $20 million to go away.'

'Go easy on yourself,' I said. 'It sounds like it had already gone, and you are just saying goodbye. So go and get another $20 million account. That's your job. You're the MD.'

I can be quite harsh sometimes.

'They are not that easy to come by,' he said.

Just then, a courier got out of the lift and came to pick up the express mail. Richards handed him the dismissal letter, and the courier placed some other articles on his desk. Then he went back into the lift and was gone.

One of the other articles bore the logo of the company we had just sacked.

'I had better open that,' I said, and for some reason I felt that tingle up my spine yet again.

'No, leave it to me,' Richards said.

He did. He inserted his letter opener into the envelope and sliced open the top.

He took out a single sheet. He read it.

His face froze.

He refolded the letter.

He looked at me, but not for very long.

He gave a sound that was kind of a soft sigh mixed with a half-suppressed shriek of panic.

He shoved the letter into my hand and ran for the elevator, which was not on our floor. He ran past the elevator to the stairs. The door to the stairs slammed with that odd banging echo they all have.

I walked to the window and gazed down to the street. I waited.

He emerged a minute later, which was probably a record for running six flights downstairs.

He ran towards the courier parking bay. Have you ever seen a fat fifty-something man, who never usually gets beyond a slow stroll, sprinting up the street, suit coat flapping, tie flying like a kite? He looked quite comical.

I went back to the desk, unfolded the letter and read it.
Dear Blake Browning Burns

An internal audit has revealed that our marketing director, Mr Austin - the man with whom you deal - has acted fraudulently and has stolen from the company. He has been sacked forthwith. I will now take over his duties and you will now deal with me personally from today.

Needless to say, the 'pitch' Mr Austin fabricated to cover his crimes is off the agenda. Furthermore, a new project he was meant to have initiated but didn't, will now roll out, effectively doubling your billings to approximately $40 million in the next financial year.

Please accept the apologies of Agricultural Bearings.

I look forward to getting together early in the week to discuss these matters.

Kind regards

Mr R. J. Morris
Chief Executive Officer
Agricultural Bearings Pty Ltd
I put the letter back down on the desk, handling it as if it were the Shroud of Turin.

I hoped the MD had caught the courier.



I hadn't slept very well, so I thought breakfast in town on the way to the office might be nice.

It was one of those cafes that start with 'B'. Why do they all start with 'B'? What's wrong with the other 25 letters of the alphabet? Becco. Babka. Bruno's. Benito's. BluFish. Baa. Bello's. Baloo. They could call it Garbage Truck or Strong Smell of Liniment for all I cared. As long as the coffee was good the name didn't matter.

The coffee was good. So were the scrambled eggs and bacon with hash browns, fried tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms on toasted sourdough. Should get me through to an early lunch, say around 12.30-ish.

I browsed through the complimentary morning papers over the second coffee and then, after paying the bill, I winked at the waitress on the way out. Can you still call them waitresses, or are you up against some workplace discrimination law or other, and get hauled before a Human Rights Commission, of which we seem to have about seventeen? Hang on, the wink is a criminal act now as well. I felt a hashtag digging into my back as I left.

In the office the first person I ran into was the suit who had called me at the seventh hole yesterday.

'Got some bad news,' he said.

A faint tingle started crawling up my spine. I ignored it and replied, pointedly, 'I'm recovering, thank you, but how are you?'

'Oh. Yes. Are you feeling better?' he stammered. 'And good morning.'

'Quite better thank you,' I answered. 'Bed rest works a treat for over-worked, stressed-out people like me. What's your bad news?'

'That client review I mentioned yesterday.' He paused.

'Go on.'

'Mr Austin, the marketing director, has informed us that to hold the account we have to re-pitch against five other agencies.'

A long silence. I felt that tingle again, but decided to take the crash-through approach.

'Re-pitch? Tell them to get stuffed. Here: take this down.'

We were in my office now. I dictated while he recorded on his device.
"Mr R. Austin
Marketing Director
Agricultural Bearings Pty Ltd

Dear Mr Austin

In asking us to re-pitch you have completely forgotten that our brilliant campaign not only saved your marketing director role's arse last year, but also added big numbers onto your company's bottom line."
I do like a pun here and there, but that one would go straight over his head. Never mind. I continued:
"You now tell us you are 'reviewing' the account. Well, here's our review: Our work was great. It sold millions of dollars worth of agricultural bearings. Furthermore, you are an A-grade arsehole. So take your account and shove it.

Kind regards, Blake Browning Burns."
'Did you get all that?'

The suit didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Finally he decided I was joking and managed a nervous laugh.

I glared. 'I'm serious.'

He didn't say anything, he just kind of squeaked.


Wednesday night.

Or it might have been Thursday morning. I didn't know the time. It could have been three in the morning.

I woke with a start.

I don't usually wake in the middle of the night. Why should I? What have I got to be worried about?

Suddenly, something someone had said to me yesterday on the phone came back to me, for no reason at all. I had only been half-listening to him at the time, because I only ever half-listen to suits. Usually it's only quarter-listen. Often I don't listen at all. They talk rubbish and are a blight on the industry.

For some reason three words stuck in my mind. The three words were 'review' and '$20 million'.

I didn't know why something like that would bother me at three o'clock in the morning.

Or why it should keep me awake for two hours.

Once, something like that would never have bothered me.

I must have fallen asleep around five. The warm, softly curved shape under the sheet next to me had not stirred.



Yesterday at the agency was horrible.

So this morning I called in sick.

But do you think they had the human decency to leave me alone?

The bastards called me three times. I couldn't believe it. I could have been at death's door and they would have had no consideration or sympathy whatsoever. Advertising is truly a cruel industry riddled with uncaring egotists thinking only about themselves.

The first call came on the second fairway, the second call on the fourth, and the third at the seventh hole. When the third call came, I really lost the plot. It totally destroyed my concentration. It was that idiot suit who had dragged me out of bed unnecessarily yesterday. (Of course, I should have turned the phone off, but I was waiting on a call about lunch with a friend from the office who had also called in sick that day, a coincidence that would not go wasted.)

Seeing his name on the screen, I didn't even wait for him to speak. I shouted into the phone (it was quite windy on the course), 'Listen to me, ****, you useless sack of bag-carrying shit. You are the third person to call me this morning despite knowing I have called in sick. Hang on a sec ... ’

A group of golfers behind had caught up and I waved them through.

He started gabbling something about a client (not yesterday's, another one) who had just informed the agency that they were placing their $20 million account under review, but I wasn't going to listen. I just hit the end-call button, cutting him off mid-sentence.

You have to be harsh with these people.

I holed the ball and walked on towards lunch. I was looking forward to it and, indeed, to the rest of the afternoon. And evening. I hadn’t seen her since yesterday, at her desk outside the MD's office. I wondered how he was coping without having his hand held.



The idiot suit, Phil, had arranged a client meeting for 9 a.m., when I am usually inoculating myself with coffee to steel me for another nerve-wracking day. Worse, the meeting was to be miles away in an outer suburb, so I had to be in the agency at the crack of dawn. At 8.15 a.m. we climbed into Phil's look-at-me BMW. I noticed with distaste the personalised number plates that read CL3V3R. I told him 1D10T would have been closer.

Half an hour later we were in Bayswater, a land of high-visibility vests, and HiLuxes, and tradies, and plumbing businesses and BWS outlets and run-down factories. Every city in the world has its industrial areas, and their takeaway food places all have the same names. Ed's Takeaways. Eat & Go. Or even just Hot Pies. Phil drifted the BMW to a stop on the gravelled forecourt of a warehouse which had a rubbish skip out the front. We walked in through a metal door and entered a cold room with bare white walls. A low timber reception desk bore a sign that read 'Reception Desk'. A sofa sagged next to a tall urn containing those spindly dead sticks that were popular in decor circles in 1986. The receptionist popped out from somewhere, smiled and crooked a red finger nail at a CafeBar in the corner, which was her way of offering us coffee. CafeBar? My goodness me: that is almost retro. Almost. I had some, for old time's sake.

The client MD, Mr Canino, emerged from a door next to the receptionist and beckoned to us. He was bald, in his early forties, and wore a blue suit and a check shirt and no tie, and we followed him into another room which was probably the board room. We had pleasantries all round. I dislike small talk, but we did it anyway. You have to be nice to people. Especially to Mr Canino. He's a $20 million client.

Mr Canino briefed the job via a power point presentation, reading aloud every word of every frame, as if translating it from another language for our benefit. Come to think of it, it was another language: corporate jargon. Brief complete, Mr Canino handed me a print-out of the power point presentation we had just sat through. I thanked him politely. The print-out would go straight into the bin back at the agency. If I was really brave, I'd toss it in the skip out the front on the way out.

We drove back along Canterbury Road, the Eastern Freeway, and Hoddle Street to the inner suburbs. I dozed, not used to being driven. Now the factories and warehouses were giving way to endless hipster caf├ęs, where idle men wearing tight trousers and fussily trimmed beards were perched on stools reading The Age. I wondered in my half-awake state which was the real world.

In my office at 11 a.m. three sticky notes had been stuck on my computer screen. Of all the workplace behavioural offences, this is the worst. The notes went straight in the bin along with the power point brief. You'd think people would learn. I was in a binning mood. Bins are greatly under-utilised in business.

At 11.15, Mr CL3V3R came in and gave me his agency brief, based on client's brief presented at the meeting. He couldn't have written it that quickly. I challenged him.

'I wrote it last night,' he laughed. 'The client faxed me a sneak preview of the brief yesterday.'

'That means I didn't have to go to that meeting this morning,' I pointed out.

'They like to see you anyway,' he chortled. 'It's good agency-client relations to introduce the creative people.' He said 'creative' in that mock-sincere inflection you save for people with special needs.

'Screw client relations and screw you,' I told him, 'and there’s the door.' He laughed on his way out.

A little peace at last. I shut the door. Actually, I slammed it. I gave it a strategic slam. Ten minutes later I was reading a long story full of unnecessarily big words by Gideon Haigh in the sports pages of The Australian.

Then the peace was shattered. Fire drill. Some idiot wearing a red plastic fireman's hat was waving his arms like a windmill and yelling, 'All out! Practice drill! All out! Please use the stairs, the elevators are disabled!' It's always the office moron who volunteers to be firewarden. In a real fire they'd be the first to run screaming from the building. 'All out! All out!' he screeched. I stayed where I was and enjoyed the silence until they all trooped up the stairs again forty-five minutes later clutching more takeaway coffee cups.

At 12 noon the receptionist announced over the PA a special emergency lunchtime meeting called by the MD to discuss 'agency performance, revenue and profit'. I could smell another power point presentation. There had better be food. Lunch time is sacrosanct and anyone who calls a lunch meeting without feeding the attendees is a passive aggressive attention-seeker.

The belligerent MD took sixty minutes to go through twenty power point frames about EBITs (earnings before interest and tax) and the like. As if anyone understood, apart from the CFO. It's an advertising agency, not the Institute of Chartered fucking Accountants.

Thirty minutes later, a courier bashed through the door and plonked down a dozen pizza boxes from Sardinia (the pizza restaurant, not the island, although it may as well have been the latter). But he kept talking. Finally I had to get up and pointedly interrupt the MD by saying,'Oh, LOOK the pizza's arrived, let's EAT it NOW before it gets COLD!' At that, everyone just jumped up and helped themselves from the boxes. The MD kind of just stopped talking, like a toy whose battery has run down. By now the pizza was neither hot not cold, but somewhere in the middle - with the cheese half-congealed and no longer stretchy.

After the meeting I had to make an extra strong coffee to get the taste of manufactured pizza ham fat out of my mouth. My teeth felt like they were wearing footy jumpers. In the kitchen, I had one of those weird conversations with an account executive who was microwaving some packet soup. 'Why would you go to the trouble of making coffee when there are cafes downstairs?' he enquired.

'I would put the inverse argument,' I replied.

'You what?'

'Never mind.' You can't have an intelligent conversation with a suit.

The rest of the day flew until 4.30 p.m. when a suit came in and wanted to have a meeting about a rejected ad that was due to run the day after tomorrow. Why a meeting, I asked. Why not a conversation and just fix it? Because the client wanted to be involved, he said. I saw three hours pass before my eyes. The meeting dragged on forever, with conference calls, changes run in and out of studio, lasers printed out and PDFs or JPEGs or whatever the fuck they're called finally sent off to the newspaper.

I went home at 6.45 p.m..

Yesterday was not great. Today was horrible. What will tomorrow bring? I'm considering getting my pilot's licence or setting up an animal shelter in the back yard.



A satire.

I rocked into work about 9.40 a.m. just as several earlier arrivals were exiting for morning coffee at one of the dozens of cafes down the street. Years ago people made coffee from the urn in the kitchen in twenty seconds. Now they disappear for forty-five minutes and come back with six takeaway plastic-topped cardboard coffee cups set into a cardboard carrier the size of an aircraft carrier. Productivity Commission, anyone?

After chatting with that strange breed of office workers who are always in the kitchen, I finally reached my office around 10 a.m. and commenced the twenty-first century white collar drudgery of 'checking my emails'. Naturally, I deleted most including the stupid jokes and idiot cat pictures, etc, that the cretin from the studio keeps emailing to all staff. I replied to one or two of the work-related ones in as few words as possible, and without a sign-off line. Having done with the office emails, out-of-office bouncebacks and meeting requests/confirmations/cancellations/on-hold-until-further-notices, I checked out the news headlines. Peace. (My peace, that is, not the world headlines.)

The silence was broken by the sudden ringing of the office phone. Yes. The office phone. The phone still sits there, one in each office, primeval mechanical monsters like dodos in a museum. But they are not museum pieces. Every now and then they ring, a strange insistent metallic ringing sound like the siren of a hostile 1950s flying saucer with rivets. I picked it up. You don't have to do anything with old phones; you just pick them up and talk. No buttons, no swiping, no nothing. On the line was an account executive who was sitting twenty metres away in a cubicle. He was either too lazy to walk, or too afraid to present himself in my office in person. I heard a quarter of his voice in the earpiece and the other quarter as echo from down the corridor. He wanted to brief a project. I told him to come in straight after lunch, say 3 p.m. or thereabouts.

Then I did the morning's work. The first job was to write the words for the back of one of those postcards you find in hipster cafes. The card was advertising a new low rate for a bank's credit card. The front had a picture of a cracked coffee cup sitting in a pool of leaking coffee. For the back, I wrote: 'Tired of paying too much interest on your credit card? Switch today, get a lower interest rate, and you'll no longer have to watch your money leaking away. Terms and conditions apply. Fees and charges apply. See website for details. Check the PDS before deciding if this product is right for you. Rates are correct at time of printing and may change without notice.'

It took me two and a half minutes. I billed two hours. The place has to make money. I can't help it if I work fast. I should have been a racing car driver. Or a lawyer.

Just before lunch, a junior suit dropped into my office begging for advice on wording for a sentence in a 10cm x 2 column correction notice ad which he had tried to write himself. I fixed it for him, and warned him to never again try to write any copy no matter how minor. He wandered off with his revised ad, thinking he had had an audience with a genius.

Lunch was at 12.30; yes, early, but I had earned it. I went down in the lift with the usual bunch of couriers, some of them with their bikes actually in the lift, to stop them being stolen. Despite the wave of tempting curry aromas from the Indian cafes that dominated the streetscape, I picked up some sushi and a cup of miso soup from a shop the size of a shoebox in a tiny arcade off the main street.

The place was deserted when I got back. I ate at my desk reading the Drudge Report. At 1.30 p.m. the office was still empty, so I thought I'd go for a walk. It was early autumn and the city was warm. It was the season for office girls to be wearing sleeveless dresses and bare legs like Carnaby Street in the flower power era; but they also had headphones clamped to their ears, or were staring into devices like zombies. This is not what the swinging sixties in London looked like. I went into a second hand bookshop.

Half an hour later I was engrossed in a book about antique military aircraft. I got back to the office at 2.30 p.m. and starting writing an ad about an energy company's dual-fuel discount offer. It took about twelve minutes. I was completely knackered now. I should have been a train driver or a quantity surveyor or something less stressful. I started an online crossword in one of the online British newspapers, and was interrupted by the suit who had made the 3 p.m. appointment. I told him to come back in fifteen minutes. Inconsiderate prick.

He walked in again at 3.30 p.m. with a smile on his face. Why the grin, I asked. He told me he had just organised a meeting with a client, and that he had invited me along to meet Mr Canino, the client’s MD. Then he told me the meeting was 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

In Bayswater. This was payback.