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First thing on Monday morning I bump into Pam from HR. I haven't spoken to her since she foisted a millionaire's moronic off-spring on us as part of a 'community outreach' program. We gave the brat a fast internet connection and fifteen gallons of cola for a week. He was happy and the company scored the contract with his dad. Now we're faced with having an on-site customer with us while HR tries to sort out a spat between Stormin Norman and his boss, Beatrix.
Pam looks worried. 'Joe, a word to the wise,' she whispers. 'About Norman…'
'What about him?' I ask suspiciously.
I look unimpressed. Is there anybody who works for this company that isn't strange?
'In what way?' I ask.
'You know why he's joining you?'
'He opened his mouth before checking who was behind him?'
'Yes,' she admits doubtfully. 'He told the rest of the office that Beatrix was a blonde air-head who should stick to wearing short skirts and high-heels.'
Yep. I get it now. When Pam said 'strange' she meant 'deeply demented.'
'Beatrix is sixty-five years old,' I say, trying not to picture her in mini-skirt and heels.
Pam nods. 'To be honest I think he's got real problems relating to women.'
'Sounds like his problem's more to do with relating to reality…'
'Take my advice,' Pam whispers, 'sort out a meeting with him this morning. Set out the parameters so you all know what he's there for.'
'It's already organised,' I tell her. 'There's no way I was going to let my team loose on him without…I mean, there's no way I was going to…Oh, you know what I mean.'
'And do a web search on him first…'
The Boss isn't happy. He can't see why I've insisted that we have this meeting with Norman before work starts. The way I see it is that he realises that Boggis is a liability and the less contact he has with him the better.
'He's late,' the Boss mutters impatiently.
We're sitting in a room by the front desk at the entrance to our building. It's a nice room, all frosted glass so that we can see who's coming and going and they can't see us. It's nice and cosy.
'There he is,' I say, pointing towards the car park.
The Boss looks up at the figure winding his way through the parked cars. He's mid-fifties, with a few stray strands of hair carefully combed over a bright pink bald-patch. His suit is a perfect fit, only for someone two sizes smaller than Norman. His face is flushed bright red and he looks slightly in pain.
'Are you sure that's him?' the Boss asks.
Suddenly Norman stops, drops his brief-case and rushes over to the plant display to one side of the building. He's only a few metres from us inside the office. He unzips his trousers and then lets loose. The look of relief on his face is palpable. Boy, did he need a leak.
'He's pissing in our plants…' the Boss whispers, appalled.
'Yep, that's Norman,' I say, grinning. I'm beginning to like him already.
We watch as Norman zips himself up, looks round for something to wipe his hands on and then remembers he's not in a toilet. He carries on shaking his hands dry as he walks into reception and gets pointed our way.
A second later he's with us. He strides in with a smile, reaches across the table and shakes hands with the Boss. When he reaches for me I'm busy making notes. The Boss looks like he's just stepped in something nasty. I notice that as he sits down he's wiping his hand on the side of the chair.
'Norman, I'm Joe Bloggs, you'll be working with me and my team,' I begin. 'We thought we'd just spend thirty minutes talking over what we're going to get out of this exercise.'
'Splendid!' Norman enthuses.
'Yes,' the Boss picks up. 'We wanted to be clear about what your job is going to be and how that fits in with the development process.'
The Boss looks disconcerted.
'Let's begin with what your expectations are,' I suggest.
Norman nods sagely. 'Mainly I thought you'd show me what you've done. Then I'll explain why it's no good. Then you'll go away and re-jig things for me. Then I'll realise that what you had the first time wasn't so bad and we'll go back to that. Then we might have a bite to eat and a beer.'
I like this man.
The Boss looks ill. 'Actually, we were being serious,' he says.
'So was I,' Norman tells him, then lets our a huge belly laugh that ends with a fart that threatens to collapse the chair he's sitting on.
The Boss isn't laughing. 'Actually, Mr Boggis, it's as well for you to remember why you're here…'
'Because that old bag Beatrix has got no sense of humour,' Norman responds instantly.
'No,' the Boss tells him testily. 'You are here to provide user input to the development process. You are here to represent the general population who use our software. Your own likes, dislikes and opinions have no place in this process.'
'Splendid!' Norman announces.
I decide to go with gut instinct. Despite what Pam said about Norman's problems with women I decide he'll work with Alison first. She's young, attractive and also has problems relating with women. I guess they'll get on like a house on fire.
I sit at my desk and keep watch while they set to work. At first it's very strained. I can barely hear them mutter to each other. Lots of mutual suspicion on either side. While they get on with it I take the opportunity to do the web search that Pam suggested.
It takes less than a minute to find the 'Norman's Toe Nail Clippings' site. The colours are hideous. Pinks, fluorescent yellows, neon blues. The man has no colour sense whatever. It looks like he's also used every font ever designed. No design sense either. But it's the content that stands out. Page after page of pictures of his toe nail clippings. And there are little notes attached to the pictures. 'Little toe quite sore after cutting. Clippers in need of sharpening. Note that the big toe nail clipping resembles the profile of George W. Bush.'
When I look up I see Norman giggling and Alison smiling. She never smiles. Not at blokes anyway. She hates men almost as much as she loves women.
Later that morning I wander by Alison's desk. They've been working on her document management query application. The screen that started out as slate grey is now shocking pink and the labels are a fluorescent yellow. The font has switched to something that's barely readable. I get a headache just looking at it.
'Normy,' Alison is saying, 'you're so naughty!'
Normy giggles. 'Go on,' he suggests, 'make the text even smaller…Is that the smallest it can go?'
'Er…' I interrupt nervously
'Isn't this great?' Normy suggests.
I shield my eyes to stop the creeping headache. 'Isn't it a bit…'
Alison smirks. 'Yes,' she agrees. 'It's hideous. It's a special screen that Normy's requested.'
I'm confused. 'A special screen?'
'Oh yes,' Norman explains. 'We wouldn't want anything this offensive for the normal users. No, as part of my input I've put in a request for enhanced functionality. I believe we agreed that this was OK.'
'And Ali's done a great job on it,' he adds proudly.
'What's it for?' I ask.
'It's a query screen for any user with a login ID of Beatrix,' Normy explains. Then he and Ali start giggling again.