Just when you've acclimatised yourself to one workplace enemy, just when you've George Orwelled yourself into appreciating the finer side of the current witless goon without a volume control; because nature abhors a vacuum, she delivers another just to keep you on your toes. Whether it's some freshly imported complete wanker, or perhaps one newly formed from the being of a person with whom you previously had no problem - just like those Highlanders, there must always be one. My utter knobend of the time had punched me in the face in response to the admittedly unjustified torrent of scorn and sarcasm I'd been sending his way without realising he'd noticed, and the punching had caused me to re-evalute my position, and ultimately to accept that he was just some bloke with as much right to exist as anyone, wasn't particularly deserving of my sarcasm, and most of it had been down to my being an irritable, intolerant sort of person.
Once this had been settled, Graham and I got on just fine; so along came Ted.
He was in his fifties but looked older, skin turned to leather by too many fags smoked in pubs with yellowing walls. His face was wrinkled with laughter lines from the telling of his own jokes, and he wore the black greasy hair of a teddy boy somehow surviving into the twenty-first century like those dinosaurs in Conan Doyle's Lost World. He was from north Kent somewhere, some concrete hellhole of which the main exports were lung cancer and racism and with the accent to match, carking away like some Cockney seagull, charmless catchphrase after charmless catchphrase.
Most civilised people when entering the workplace will usually take a few months getting to know everyone and to assess the lay of the land so as to avoid ruffling feathers or making enemies. Ted on the other hand made the entrance of an inconvenienced spiv consigned to prison - big, brassy, and at a volume sufficient to scare the shit out of even the most hardened top dog. 'I'm gunna have My Way played at my funeral,' he told me without a trace of shame and despite that I hadn't asked, or even been engaged in conversation with him; but at least he hadn't tried to sell me a pair of tights or illicit tins of condensed milk.
His wife or his brother or some relative worked in a bakery, and so Ted struck a deal whereby the person would stop off at our sorting office every morning around half past six with a tray of free cakes. No-one knew how it worked, but we all presumed it to be still edible produce which would have been otherwise thrown away.
'Cakes up!' Ted bellowed like an angrier Norman Wisdom, every morning at the same time, establishing the sort of routine you would expect of someone who had been in the job fifty years; and this seemed to be the source of his neurosis. He resented being a new boy in his fifties. He seemed to regard himself as a bit of a character and was keen that the rest of us should see him the same way; but the only ones who bought it were the new recruits, kids who had been in the job ten weeks with whom he was happy to share his great wealth of experience. Stick with me, the King of Cakes seemed to be saying, I'll show you the ropes, my little son.
We would watch and snort with laughter and say to each other I bin doing this job free mumfs nah, man and boy.
We'd also run to grab a cake, but I still wasn't going to go out of my way to be his pal. I wasn't to be bought. If he wanted to give away free cakes that was up to him. For all any of us knew, he was probably paying for them as part of a desperate bid to appear magnanimous, and so to earn the kind of status he might have gained simply by being less of an arsehole.
Try as he might, Ted somehow just wasn't quite able to acquire the following he desired; because even working in a profession employing some of the coarsest, most disagreeable, foul-mouthed fuckers I've ever known, no-one could quite bring themselves to tell him to piss off. He was trouble, a nightmare even, although not in the Dickensian music hall sense to which he clearly aspired. No-one wanted the bother. They ignored him or just wouldn't respond, or would grunt something which sounded like conversation and walk away; but being his own biggest fan, Ted never noticed. He was enjoying himself too much.
I want some nookie tonight, he bellowed tunelessly to Jamesy P's dancehall smash of 2005 whenever it came on the radio, then changing the words to I want some pussy tonight, because he was a bit of a lad. Eyes rolled, shut the fuck up was muttered under breath and heads were shaken, but there was always some idiot who would laugh, and so he continued. Emboldened, he'd put on a show for the whole office, bellowed from his sorting frame, the sort of material Chubby Brown would have deemed crude and witless.
Pus-say pus-say pus-say...
The beginning of the end came when Karen noticed a terrible smell in the region of the packet sorting frames. 'What is that?' she asked, scandalised.
It must be your cunt, love. You must of forgot to wash it this mumf. It was something like that, an overbearing joke which wasn't particularly funny pushed several miles too far, and for the first time he realised it. He seemed to see himself as we saw him, and being Ted, his response was simply to go harder and louder.
'Here you go, Lol,' he barked, referring to me by a nickname I've always disliked - and two bundles of machine-sorted mail landed on my bay, knocking over my plastic cup of machine dispensed coffee to soak the mail I was already sorting.
'For fuck's sake,' I exclaimed. 'Stupid wanker!'
The machine-sorted mail came into the office just before six. Usually someone tossed it into the primary sorting frame, and we'd pick it up from there and bring it around to our own individual bays. Because Ted was everybody's mate, an old hand, and one of the boys, he'd empty the bundles of machine sorted mail into a trolley and push it around the office, delivering to each bay in person. It didn't actually help anyone, but I guess he felt it gave him leverage.
'Fuck you, you ungrateful cunt!'
I stood back, indicating my bay, now with letters swimming in coffee. 'What the hell is wrong with you?'
The rest of the morning I could hear him banging on about people wiv no fackin' gratitude and who don't appreciate nuffink.
Even Simon rolled his eyes and muttered stupid bleeder. Simon was Ted's brother-in-law, and we'd all been told he was Ted's best mate. Ted had pulled strings to get him the job. Ted had done fackin' everyfing for that geezer, but he don't appreciate nuffink.
Simon just laughed when we told him what we'd heard, but it wasn't a happy laugh. Simon was a ratty-looking skinhead with bad teeth, usually in tracky bottoms and a Burberry baseball cap. He had the look of a man who might have borrowed the occasional car stereo or two in his time, but was a nice guy once you got talking to him; and he was funny, and not at all stupid. The last quality was obvious from the fact that he didn't much like Ted either.
The other member of Ted's family which we all came to recognise was his wife. She dropped in from time to time, and was often to be found outside the sorting office, sitting in the loading bay with the vans usually smoking a fag.
'Your name's Lawrence, ain't it,' she said to me one morning - not a question but a statement. 'I've heard all about you.'
She was onto me. She knew my game was the implication. I had been the subject of discussion.
'That's me,' I said, walking right past.
Months later he was gone, sick leave extending past the customary period of full pay - a year, then another half, then two years of back trouble.
Medical science was baffled, just couldn't account for it.
Nobody was too upset.