‘The trays of frozen bird limbs came thick and fast and there was absolutely no respite, variety, friendliness or hope whatsoever. The bloke opposite me was a psycho. He was staring me out, this fat, bespectacled Christopher Biggins doppelgänger. There was murder and hate in his eyes and there had been no greeting.’
Factory temping is a grim business, and an environment packed with monotonous tasks of varying technical competence coupled with suspicious (and sometimes malicious) colleagues no place for the impractical and painfully shy protagonist. In this debut novella, our Temp Pest does nothing to hide his many discomforts or ineptitudes as he reels from one random job to the next (sorting mail, packing fruit, ‘driving’ forklifts) in one random location after another (Liverpool, Manchester, Wales).
And the reader reels too! Batchelor wilfully distorts the linearity of Time in his presentation, and the manner in which we shift back and forth from one factory floor to another to be confronted with new tasks to master or return to former drudgeries thought left behind, deftly conveys the protagonist’s own disorientation and need to shift and adapt to his surrounds on his blundering quest for coin.
This could be a very dreary account of dreary labour and a story best left untold! Yet Batchelor makes it a success by bringing to it the same resources he used to cope and sometimes even enjoy himself: his imagination. In Batchelor’s work place, characters become ‘characters’. Drab realities are given a liberal splash of colour by the mind’s eye; his factories are inhabited by de Burghalan, Baldwoof, the Pink and Silver Vampire, we marvel with him at contraptions like the Snutzergrinder and wish we too could be a Mayonnaise Tub Collector and Stacker. Okay, perhaps not the last one.
Mishaps (of which there are many) are recalled with a wonderful combination of honesty and humour. Puns abound but so too do a wide sweep of references ranging from Greek mythology through renaissance literature into pop culture. It’s easy to be drawn along by this endearing and thoughtful bungler, to empathise with his pain and to be uplifted by his coping strategies; his reveries, his dice rolling under the desk, a quite brilliant football game played with names on envelopes…
Yes, it’s a book about temping but more so it’s a book about the creative spirit, and about how this particular individual summons his own very particular spirit to survive (despite the best efforts of a couple of psychotic antagonists). Batchelor does of course survive to tell his retrospective tale but in the telling, his creativity does more than that, it shines.
‘42 Van Cleef - c Malkovich b Ming the Merciless – 12’.
(reviewed 5 years after purchase)