It was a morning just like any other. Breakfast wine and double Bran Flakes had been consumed, red lipstick slicked where red lipstick slicks and shoes of towering elegance donned. I made my way to the station as I always do, at a calm and leisurely gusset-flashing sprint and boarded the train with the use of a fully charged cattle prod. As I drop-kicked a toddler out the closing door and settled back into my rightfully won seat, I had no idea what horrors lay ahead.
I should have turned back the second I got the first warning text, but I was careless then and didn’t heed the words that flashed up on my smart phone screen. The second text was my final chance to turn back but I wore the brazen bravado of one who has never seen true carnage or the fall of a civilisation and so I bore onward and reached my destination, my place of work. Foolish girl. What awaited me there will haunt my every waking minute for the rest of my days.
I went to swipe my security fob to unlock the door but a hastily scrawled sign ominously informed me “door unlocked come in”. The lobby beyond was dark, so dark and eerily quiet as I entered. Why, why didn’t I heed those text messages and turn back?! Too late now, I pushed through a second unresisting door and surveyed the shadowy gloom of the office before me. There it was, just as the text messages had foretold. A total power cut.
It started out innocently enough, we were civilised office workers with families and social graces, but things escalated soon enough. You can’t fully understand unless you were there but my god, the horror, the sheer horror. 100 people holed up in a few rooms with no running water, no flushing toilets and no electricity for basic essentials such as internet and email. How we thought we could survive, I’ll never know. At first people were cracking jokes and using the unexpected down time to make idle chit chat, but soon the realisation dawned. No water and no electricity equals no coffee. Have you ever seen 100 people deprived of caffeine? It rapidly turned uglier than an ageing actress denied air brushing.
The fridge was the first thing to go. A few of the quicker ones ran ahead to try to be first to lay their hands on caffeinated canned goods but they were too late. There was already a gang of 20 or so frantic men and women who had realised the food would only keep for so long without power. It was a frenzy of Muller Light yogurts being guzzled in panic and half empty cartons of New Covent Garden soup being fought over by grown men in pin stripes. Someone ripped the fridge door off and used it as a barrier but they were soon tied up with a redundant phone charger cable and left as carrion, as the rest of the massing crowd scrabbled on the floor for scattered Babybel cheeses. The vending machines suffered a similar fate.
As the war over the fridge and the snack machines raged on, tribes started to form. The Marketing team stripped naked and daubed their bodies with savage Tippex markings and Accounts built a crude fort from ring binders and staplers. The IT geeks could only be heard whimpering gently as they rocked back and forth in various darkened corners, occasionally muttering something about “back-ups” and “warm servers”. Territories were drawn in blood, commodities fought over and the only currency of worth was caffeine. I’m not ashamed to say I bought my safety that day. I hid under my desk and paid for protection with my last 5 cans of warm Diet Coke.
I think we might just have been able to hang on to some last scrap of our humanity if it hadn’t been for the toilets, those damn dirty toilets. If you managed to get hold of food or drink from somewhere, biology would soon drive you to the loo but wait, there were no lights in there and the severance of water meant each cistern held just enough water for one single, precious flush. With no lights, you couldn’t see which toilet had already been used, or violated more to the point. Those brave, desperate or foolish enough took their chances and it wasn’t pretty; the air was thick with quandary and questionable aim, as those with weak bladders and hungover bowels were left to grope in the dark, uncertain of ever returning to their loved ones again.
An engineer had been called for but it was almost certainly too late. Deprived of internet gossip websites, the receptionist had taken to marauding the east wing of the office, brutally attacking people at will and collecting the scalps of those she vanquished, proudly wearing them on a belt made from the intestines of the last person to ask her when we might expect the power back on. The accountants had abandoned their ring binder fort and taken to digging a well on the second floor, using the severed leg of an IT geek and a hole punch, the remaining IT geeks having given up gibbering in their respective shadowy corners, owing to the pinstriped mobs preferring them to the perils of the pitch black toilet cubicles.
A kangaroo court was formed by a rebel faction of the management squad, who took it upon themselves to condemn any who refused to join them, with grisly punishments carried out over the burning remains of the snack machine. This had gone way beyond Lord of The Flies, this had skipped straight past the conch shell and right on to the Piggy hog-roast.
I hid, by god I hid. I cowered under my desk, fearing for my life as the last of the warm cans of Diet Coke had long since been quaffed and the security it bought turned to hostility. My safety was put even more at risk as a fellow sub-desk dweller asked if I had phone battery left to make a call. Damn, I’d been seen tweeting. My protestations of 2% battery drew only more attention from other iPhone addicts who crept threateningly nearer with murderous intent in their eyes. I clutched a sharpened biro firmly in my trembling hands – I wasn’t supposed to go like this, I had aspirations of choking to death on luxury. Using my last 57% battery, I told people on Twitter to call mother and tell her I love her, to call Angelina Jolie to set up a relief fund and for pity’s sake, no-one call sodding Bono, and then braced myself for my untimely limb-from-limb doom.
And with that, *ping*, the lights burst into life, fresh cool air rushed through the air conditioning vents and water flooded back into cisterns. The office, once a dark wasteland of warring tribes and staple gun fights was now a cyber-connected place of business with a fully functioning kettle, bathed in glorious halogen once more. People stopped dead in their tracks, looking dumbfounded at their bloodied hands and Tippexed chests, ripped back to the reality of their station in life, suddenly aware of the shameful descent into chaos that they had been party to.
The office junior was coaxed down from the photocopier, HR were eventually persuaded to put their clothes back on and the vending machine fires were extinguished as a victorious engineer strode heroically off into the vast wilderness of London’s streets, and all who survived dared not speak a word of what had just passed that fateful Monday before 11:30am.
Of course, if you ask my colleagues what happened, they will tell you that the down time was put to efficient use, that desks were tidied and filing done, while coffee and loo breaks were taken at neighbouring cafés, but look deep into their eyes and you will see the night terrors and scarred memories left by the morning they faced The Office Armageddon.