One of the many variants of rhyming slang to describe the urban enigma that is Milton Keynes. I tried – and failed – to find a simile for “desperate wasteland” but that should in no way detract from the sentiment. There are so many problems with MK – its’ unending housing sprawl, its’ frankly bonkers road grid system and the little discussed strange outpost of the firm. The latter was clearly the template for BBC2’s “The Office” both in terms of layout and the underlying current of insanity.
But before more of that, first you cannot experience the dubious delights of the town without being flabbergasted by a road system which painfully replicates everything that is wrong with the standard US city grid without capturing any of the benefits. The US system embraces a navigational approach based on triangulation of cross streets – you know 5th street is going to be south of 6th street and that main street is the geographical centre. This makes finding you way around at least a little intuitive.
MK dispenses with this proven system, instead keeping up Roman facsimiles such as Watling Street criss crossed with really useful mnemonics including “V7 twinned with Arse, Alberta and sponsored by Admiral Insurance“. It’s the kind of place that only accountants with slide rules or obsessive internet nutters understand. And I’m pretty damn sure that the SatNav companies had something to do with the construction. Unless you have an annoying digitised voice demanding that you take the next left over two curbs and a supermarket roof, you’re destined to starve in the maze of suburbs.
The town is no better – it calls itself the call “centre capital of the UK”. This is a boast that is only just beaten to the title of “most embarrassing town slogan” by Grimsby and its timeless “Cod Basket of the East”. It is essentially miles and miles of intersecting concrete and branding desperately in search of an identity. So it’s great we have an office there.
My journey to the office floundered at the first hurdle when the SatNav directed me through a complex of lovely, traditional villages that appear to have been demolished to make room for a bypass. If it was meant to be bypassing the villages that it has concreted over, it seemed to have missed a salient point but nevertheless, I was cheerfully informed that my car was now a boat and we were surfing an unnamed river at about fifty miles an hour. I’ll not be telling Honda that the next time I make a warranty claim.
Having finally stumbled on the correct road – sorry boulevard – through a simple approach of inspired guesswork and swearing, I’m not sure I should have bothered. This is the only UK office without any fee paying practitioners and it shows. It’s an oasis of apathy with whispering replacing conversation and any outward expressions of joy seriously frowned upon.
It’s hard to create any sort of social interaction in these conditions – that is until you venture to the toilet. These are the world’s smallest toilets and feel free to sue if you want, honestly any smaller and you’d need to hack a leg off to gain entry. Socially nervous office staff have to relieve themselves into a bucket located under their desk. The rest of us squeeze in and are thrust into the personal space of complete strangers.
Honestly, once you’re a handspan away from the next mans willy, he has no secrets from you. I ended up pissing in the sink just for a bit of privacy.
The office is adepressingly rabbit hutch with the firms’ preferred layout mirroring the geometrically mean streets outside. I ran away and found a coffee bar in twenty feet of green grass and this was a very hard place to leave. When I finally escaped through a navigational approach modeled on the German blitzkrieg, my joy was tempered by the terrible truth that I would have to go back next week.
I’m praying for some late winter snow 🙂