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Srbija 2020

Beyond Anthrax

I have opted for a change of scenery for today’s blog. Rather than the usual, I am including details of a particularly funny and horrifying incident that so nearly befell whilst working in London a few years back.  

Beyond Anthrax: 

I had been working for a government department on and off for about a year and half whilst at university. Ever since I acquired my clearance they had been quite a good employer to me. Despite the pay not being great they were about the only temporary employers who were able to find me roles, although not necessarily ‘fulfilling’ ones, with only a weeks notice. Usually I tried not to stay too long in one place as it generally turned into a bit of a head-fuck, and the speed with which you can find an alternative section to accept you within the Ministry helps to encourage a nomadic lifestyle. 

I therefore arrived at my new temporary job within the ministry with no great expectations about what the role would entail, what the people would be like or how long I was going to stay there. My first day however was going to be something of a corker, in that kind of sick, I’m alright Jack, kind of way. I arrived at my new home, in the personnel department, to face the usual meet and greet kind of bullshit that I had become hardened to by this point. It was a relatively small office and I was introduced to the five people who were in the office and given a desk. 

Now as a temp you always find yourself in strange situation when you arrive. You’ve come there to do work, and they obviously desperately need you to fill someone’s role, or else they wouldn’t have asked for you, and yet when you get there, there is never any work for you to actually do. It was whenever I found myself in these situations that I asked myself what the hell the person whose place I was filling actually did? If I wasn’t doing any work and there wasn’t any evident pressing need for me to do so, why was I there? I came to realise that they couldn’t allow a job position to go vacant because if they did get rid of one role then difficult questions might start getting asked about what all the rest of the staff did in that department. By bringing in temps to take on what should have been non-existent roles they were able to allay investigation into the necessity of the position and by extension that of the whole department. I was therefore an indispensable cog in the wheel of government inefficiency and self-protection, or recruitment and retention as they so charitably put it. And as the latest trained chimp-cog to join the office, what better thing could the office get me to do to justify the continuing existence of the post that I now filled, than opening exactly what I had been brought in to defend, the post.  

My first day at this new department happened to coincide with cases of anthrax being sent to various government departments and individuals by international terrorists. The ministry, a target for such attacks, had therefore advised its personnel of the potential dangers of receiving anthrax powder by post and provided all offices dealing with outside mail with rubber gloves and breathing masks. How the arrival of such terrorist parcels would facilitate the toppling of the British government, I wasn’t too sure, but should any unexpected vacancies have come up following an attack there might well have been grounds to fear the internal collapse of the ministry; any external investigation of ministry duties most likely resulting in a devastating domino effect upon the continuing retention of its numerous employees. Not regarding the threat to myself or the ministry as significant I wasn’t untowardly bothered about taking precautions, but an old lady in my office advised me that I shouldn’t feel strange wearing rubber gloves if I felt anxious. I didn’t bother taking her up on this suggestion and thought I wouldn’t try on a pair unless she specifically asked to see my best 4am Slammin Vinyl moves. So rather than putting on any of the safety equipment that had been suggested or recommended, I pressed ahead boldly with the opening of the post. 

A large pile of mixed envelopes sat before me and I soldiered through them, oblivious to the threat to my person. However as luck would have it (for me anyhow) a certain parcel that had been placed on the internal mail trolley eluded me. It had been delivered just after the mail that I had opened, and had arrived alone and marked only as to our personnel office. The parcel, a small jiffy bag, the type that carry discs, was brought into the office by the postie, but was intercepted en-route by a girl in my office. She opened it as per usual and dug her hand into the package expecting to produce a disc. 

Now, what happened next I was only able to hear second hand, not actually being there to witness the horrifying event, but I was to get all the gory details from the other members of staff in the office who knew what had actually transpired. The girl from my office had dipped her hand into the bag, and sunk her hand into, brace yourself, a fistful of faecal matter. According to my sources the poor girl spent the next hour washing the shit from her fingers and from under her nails. And if that weren’t bad enough she then was taken to hospital to have injections in case of possible infection. 

The first I heard about the incident was when my new boss asked for everyone’s attention. ‘Now I don’t know if you all know but Jodie has had to go home. Earlier on today when she was opening the post’At this point I’m thinking hang on a minute I opened the post, although perhaps it was just my temp pride speaking,‘Someone had sent poo to the office in a jiffy bag and she put her hand in it’He explained she’d gotten a handful, and after a thorough washing and a hospital visit was expected to have the rest of the week off. 

Once it became common knowledge what had occurred the office was alive with discussions about what had happened. They pondered whether it had been sent that morning and concluded that, it being a Monday, it was unlikely to have been kept in mail storage over the weekend due to possible ‘leakage’.‘No, no. I reckon that it must have been sent this morning’.The surreal conversation in my new office continued as they briefly discussed the logistics of how it had been done, both in terms of production and delivery. It was helpfully confirmed as ‘human’ by one of the women in the office, and a discussion ensued relating to who would have sent it, and was concluded by mutual office acceptance that almost everyone had reason to hold a grudge against personnel. 

The next week the police came to interview the victim, Jodie, and as luck and tact would have it, in front of everyone in the office. Very professional I thought. Perhaps they were trying to flush the snake out of the grass? And although I had nothing to do with it and had just arrived, I felt strangely guilty. You know what they say about guilt by association. Anyway they asked her if she knew anyone who might hold a grudge against her, but she was unable to come up with a firm answer. 

Now with only a casual knowledge of police work, provided me by NYPD Blue and The Bill, I’m perhaps not in a capacity to comment on these matters. But had this been a murder they would have sent officers from the murder squad, so in a case of posted faeces what squad exactly do they turn to? Well these guys were obviously pros because, as they were to reveal to the stunned but expectant office, they had ‘Inspected the faecal matter’ and ‘yes it was human’Good to see that all that tax payers money on police training hasn’t gone to waste (human). 

Jodie then proceeded to ask what action they had, and were intending to take, were there any finger prints, and had they any leads. To her great annoyance there was, according to the officers, nothing to be done. To her credit she proceeded to give them a right going over for not being able to do anything, but all they could firmly establish was that it was sent that morning by someone within the ministry. Perhaps anthrax wasn’t the worst thing we had to worry about receiving through the post after all.From then onwards the old lady in my office would always give the post that arrived a good shake and a sniff (I was as cautious) before opening them explaining‘Just checking there’s no shit in them’, although not in front of Jodie. I also rethought using gloves and a mask to open the mail, but even then my pride wouldn’t allow me dress up like a member of Altern-8. I preferred the tried and tested scratch and sniff. 

My first day in my new department was to provide me with a funny, if rather disgusting, anecdote to tell friends and family and I left work that evening with an indelable grin, thanking God it hadn’t been me, and bearing in mind my boss’s final thought. After the incident he had re-assured me with the comment that,‘This kind of thing doesn’t normally happen in this office.’ I hoped for their sake that it didn’t or else I would be considering that transfer rather more quickly than I had anticipated. 


Anybody else had any similar experiences/work related near-disasters? I still today count my lucky stars.


that was a great story! hehe :D

Funny story...

...but poor girl. :(


It just cracks me up every time I think of the boss delicately, sympathetically explaining that Jodie had to go home because "someone sent poo to the office in a jiffy bag and she put her hand in it".

But I suppose that has something to do with the British obsession with toilet humour.

What a classic! For a moment

What a classic! For a moment I thought I was reading a script of an episode of Ricky Gervais' 'The Office'.

It also took me back to the years I spent temping around various London offices a while ago - and what fun that was. I have never met so many witty people - and as a foreigner it was an utter joy for me to go into work every morning and continue to be amazed by the sense of humor most of these people seemed to have and hoping it would brush off on me a bit, somehow. You Poms make it look so easy :)

Keep 'em coming, Mr Comrie!

the office

;) Yes, can you imagine, David Brent is saying>

‘Now I don’t know if you all know but Dawn has had to go home.

I wonder how Gareth would react:)

Nick, I'm in London 'till the end of May.
I'll check your rollerblade thing.

If you come, send me an sms.
Maybe we can get into some fight together;)

Not in London 'til summer

Hey Buda! Great to hear from you. Get my email from the administrators if you want it. As regards the blog, yes it was pretty Office-esque when I think about it.
Definately check out the roller-blading but get there early to enjoy the space. Speak soon dude, and if I remember rightly I wasn't much use as regards fighting so try and avoid them until I'm around. Although avoiding a fracas in London with your reputation might be a problem :)