Dear Rubber Duck
You’re far too close to the edge of that ledge. I’m not good with heights and it’s making me queasy. Move in a bit. And while you’re at it, wipe that silly expression off your face.
Well, Mr Duck, I have just been reading a tale. No, a tale. Apparently in the world of computer programming there is some legendary man who keeps a rubber duck on his desk. Whenever he has a programming problem he explains it very carefully to the duck, and in doing so often finds that he has known the solution to the problem all along.
This is not an entirely foreign concept to me, Mr Duck, since many years ago I Was That Duck. I worked in an office at a nuclear power station looking out over the English Channel, which is irrelevant, really, but how many other people can say “looking out over the English Channel”? It wasn’t easy to concentrate on working with that view as a distraction. Some days – stormy days – the sky would be a livid, pink-and-silver-streaked swirling mass. End of the World Days, I used to call them. Sometimes I’d be forced to watch a seagull – one of your cousins, dear Duckie – slowly dying in the cooling water intake. Swirling, circling, unable to get itself out.
It was a brutal place: brutalist in design and brutal to any wildlife that happened to get tangled up with it. It was rumoured the Men smuggled home the giant fish that caught on the band-screens every night. When they turned out their bedside lamps, did they and their fish-gobbling wives emit a purple glow, I wonder?
Anyway, I worked in an office called General Services – a kind of dogsbody office – which included the Cashier; a strapping great thing, with a deep voice and attitude; ex-police. She didn’t like me and I didn’t like her but of necessity we pretended to get along, and I did have one useful feature. In her eyes, at any rate, I was mathematically challenged. I was careful to conceal any slight ability to add or subtract, move decimal points around or estimate percentages so as not to fall into the category of ‘competition’. She was not nice to competition. Harmless, I survived.
When she was in the process of “cashing up” – no computers in those days – the books would occasionally fail to balance, reconcile or whatever other tedious word she called it. She would then call me over to stand by her desk or – worse – stand breathing heavily far too close behind my left shoulder, and explain the entire calculation to me. I would make a genuine attempt to follow what she was saying, and ask a stupid question or two. At the end of my enforced lesson in book-keeping she had almost always discovered the error. Only of course she never referred to it as an error. It was a species of not-error. Often it was something called a self-cancelling not-error, meaning that a discrepancy in one column had been, by some weird synchronicity thing, exactly compensated for by a discrepancy in another column enabling it to escape detection by all but a Rubber Duck. And I was that Duck.
So, Rubber Duckie, my problem – unsolved for years and now in urgent need of solving – is this. How do I make enough extra money per month to keep my head – and the little furry heads of my thirteen moggies – a centimetre or two above the surface of the duck-pond, when I am and always have been chronically unsuited to Work As We Know It?
I have been trying to force myself to want to be a Night-Waking Care Worker, a Cleaner or an Evening Shift Laundry Operative, really I have. I have even applied for such positions. Even they don’t want me, possibly because I don’t want them and am failing to inject that note of enthusiasm into my application. I have the wrong attitude. I can write – but nobody particularly wants me to. At least nobody is going to pay me to. And anything not-writing feels like a mega-irritation, a profound waste of time.
O Duckie, must I give up my motor-car? Would that be sufficient to fill the Black Hole in my finances? Probably not. Must I go out and buy some sort of 2 x skirt-and- 3 x blouse combo and attempt to look desirable, even at my advanced age, as an office temp? Could I cope with all that silent bitchery around the photocopier, even as a largely overlooked, superannuated-temporary-additional-person? Should I, perhaps, attempt to get my typing speed back up to eighty words a minute, then try to figure out how to sign on with an internet transcription agency and type a lot of stuff I don’t really want to type for very little money? Must I, for a third time, throw myself on the mercy of that cold-calling market research place? No guarantee that they’d have me back this time. I certainly wouldn’t.
Dearest Duck, you are silent. And still with the daft expression. Well, back to the edge of the ledge with you then, and see if I care. You’re rubber, I’m sure you’ll bounce.