Who’s the laziest of them all? Ask my old line manager

What is the point of LinkedIn, the business-related social networking site? I don't know, though I once signed up for the sheer giddy hell of it. But then I get a message, through Linked­In, from Jai.

Now, this is actually rather good. Not many people know, and I usually release the information very much on a need-to-know basis (that is to say, virtually never), that I once had a job, Jesus, about 20 years ago, with British Telecom. At the time, immediately after I started, this was a source of some shame. I'd had a row with my previous boss, a man barely older than myself who, through an amazing coincidence, had become the managing director of the publisher's where I worked, the amazing coincidence being that he was also the chairman's son.

I can't remember what the row was about; we had so many. I had little time for him then and cannot even summon much satisfaction now in recalling that he died, some years later, jogging to the gym. Some cheap ironies come at a surprisingly high price. When he found out where I was going, he made the following joke, twice every day: that he was looking forward to calling me and asking me to fix his phone. Over a period of a month's working-out of notice, this joke lost a little of its sparkle.

That's entertainment

And indeed I did feel rather lowly, for the first couple of weeks in my new job, whatever it was, though my salary had almost doubled. (Nothing to get excited about: I was on bugger-all beforehand.) I didn't exactly cry myself to sleep, but I wasn't far off doing so. And then, gradually, as I found my way around the place and realised that I didn't have to do anything much, I found, a couple of floors above me, a group of people doing more or less the same thing as I did, meaning their job descriptions weren't too different from mine, though there were titles floating around such as "team leader" whose precise meaning I never fathomed. They also did the same thing as I did from day to day - as little as humanly possible consistent with still keeping a job.

However, my job involving little more than recycling the scripts recited to bored or suspicious office managers, wheedling them to have a look at BT's incredible new range of fax machines. All I had to do was tinker at the edges and, occasionally, after a four-pint lunch at the Orange, a nearby pub that brewed its own beer, including a delicious porter, scrawl "The Future Starts Here" as a suitable slogan for an upcoming exhibition of fax machines, and be hailed as a genius.

But the other people - for obvious reasons "co-workers" seems hardly appropriate - were a delight, a source of never-failing entertainment. The staff in the IT department were as funny as the guys in the Graham Linehan comedy The IT Crowd, but without being observably geeky (they knew their stuff, and kept it to themselves). There was Gideon, whose fantasy involving a front-loading Hercules transport carrier, the girls' school next door and a captain's hat makes me smile to this day; Baz, who'd played for Wreckless Eric and Youssou N'Dour and could do the Guardian cryptic crossword before everyone else could do the quick one; and many more.

But Jai was legendary, because he was the only man I knew who was even lazier than I was. How he managed to be quite so inert was a mystery, considering that he did have some kind of post involving the supervision of others. Or something. Whatever responsibilities he was evading, I realised when we chatted that I was in the presence of a master.

Art of idling

I dream sometimes that I am still at BT, pacing the corridors with a piece of paper, pretending to be busy, knowing that somewhere there is a line manager waiting to ask me why I have not done a stroke for 20 years. And I wake up, think of Jai, and feel better.

We meet up in the Orange, now porterless and prettified, but, barring the catastrophe that has happened to Jai's pate, and the whitening
of my hair, everyone looks pretty much as they did 20 years ago. In fact, Baz, who prefers not to be called Baz any more, but tough, looks even younger than all of us, and he's 58.

It is a joyous evening. There is a distinctive pleasantness to the reunion of people who have not seen each other for decades but who never had a bad word for each other, and were united in the adversity of working for a corporation like BT.

“I always thought you were the laziest person I ever worked with," says Baz to Dan. Dan blushes and smiles at the compliment. "I thought you were," he replies, and Baz, too, smiles. Jai, the master, keeps his peace.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 31 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Young, angry...and right?