Some years ago, when I was still working in dull offices doing dull jobs in order to make a living, as we all must do, I was located in an old grey building which was being replaced with a brand new building right next to it. I watched the new building being constructed from the window of my old office. The old building was shabby grey inside and out, a labyrinth of small airless offices and dimly lit desks randomly scattered wherever they could be fitted in. Every square inch of it was grey. Even the loos. We were being told that the new building would be state of the art, light, airy and inspiring.
As the new building approached completion, some of us were granted the privilege of a conducted tour through it by the new building manager who was very excited by his shiny new toy. I say shiny because there was a lot of glass on the outside. So in we went. Through the huge automatic grey-tinted glass doors into the grand grey foyer. The building manager spread his arms wide and said lovingly, “Please note the wonderful Mountain Shimmer floor tiles and the imitation Smoky Italian marble columns which so beautifully complement the Morning Mist walls.” I looked at the floor, the columns and the walls and said, “They’re grey.” He ignored me.
We stepped into the lift and he continued with, “The carpet in the lifts was specially designed for us. It’s called Ocean Dawn.” I said, “It’s grey.”
We arrived on the first floor and passed through the stainless steel grey doors of the lift into a grey corridor. The building manager continued to wax lyrical. “You will see the carpet here, and on every floor, is a softer shade than in the lift and was also designed especially for us. It is called Ocean Spray.” I said, “It’s grey.” He glanced at me briefly, then ushered us into the open workspace area.
Down the centre of the very long building ran a line of managers’ offices with glass walls that looked out into the huge open area of cubicles. Hundreds of cubicles with waist high dividing walls. Light did, indeed, flood the area from the windows which made up the outside of the building. Windows that could not be opened and with narrow grey slat blinds sealed between the two panes of glass which could not be adjusted.
The building manager embraced the cubicles with a joyful sweep of his hands and said, “This beautiful state of the art design uses a palette of soft silver and shimmering cloud colours to enhance the mood of the employees and create an ambience of harmony and calm.” I said, “It’s grey.”
His eyes met mine and I felt his annoyance. Which just made me want to see more of it. His annoyance, that is. I said, “Won’t it be noisy, with nothing but these low walls between everyone?”
“Not at all,” he replied curtly. “Studies have shown …”
Studies, schmudies. I started walking toward the end of the building. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“I want to do a little study of my own.”
I walked to the far end of the floor, turned and said in a very low voice, “Can you hear me?”
Everyone in the group replied, “Yes, we can hear you.”
I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Can you hear me?” They all nodded and grinned. They got it. I walked back to the group. The building manager was looking at me with disgust. “This building has been ergonomically designed to …”
I finished the sentence for him. “… to be grey, depressing and noisy. Just like the old building.” Everyone in the group nodded and chuckled. I continued, “If I wear grey to work, how will anyone find me? I’ll just blend into the decor.”
The building manager looked disgusted, turned and walked away. We all found our own way back through the grey cubicles to the grey corridor, into the grey lift down to the grey foyer and out through the shiny grey glass doors to our shabby old grey building.
I worked in that shiny new building for seven years before I could afford to leave and write full time. It was unrelentingly grey, shatteringly noisy, the natural light was glaring in the morning and barely there in the afternoon despite the harsh overhead lights, and the only way you knew which floor you were getting onto when you exited the lift was because someone had the good grace to put big numbers on the wall opposite the lift doors. Otherwise hundreds of us would have been wandering around like lost sheep looking for our almost identical cubicles where we sat in front of our grey computers, hunched over our grey keyboards, getting through our mind numbing grey workdays with headaches, eye strain, RSI and antidepressants.
And that is why I don’t wear grey!
(Originally Published 30 September 2011)