In the 1978 seminal trilogy of five (sic) books known as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the fictional planet of Golgarfrincham seniors considered a third of the population to be useless. So, they pretended that the planet was going to be destroyed and therefore everyone must board one of 3 gigantic spaceships to a safer planet.
The third considered to be useless were put on the first spaceship and jettisoned into space while the other two thirds remained behind to lead happier lives. Who were those useless third? Well, they consisted of people who held worthless jobs. Before I tell you what jobs these were, please bear in mind that I do not necessarily agree with the list. In any case, I held one of these jobs for a good part of my career.
Okay, disclaimer out of the way, the jobs considered to be worthless by the grandees of Golgarfrincham were: Hairdressers, Insurance Salesmen, Security Guards, Personnel (H.R) Officers, Management Consultants, and Telephone Sanitisers.
For those of you under the age of 30, in the Seventies and Eighties, a telephone sanitiser would come to your office once a month to clean the telephone on your desk within an inch of it’s life by using special detergents and polishing creams so your phone would be clean and sterilised, until you or someone else picked it up with a contaminated hand and breathed all over the mouthpiece. Working in total silence, the cleaner looked like a self-important paramedic with a crisp uniform, disposable gloves and a little bag full of cleaning agents. Fascinatingly, she/he had a polished metal weight, which was used to keep the phone on the hook while the handset was being cleaned. This piece of equipment fitted perfectly over the hook and I often wondered where you would get one of these gizmos; I wanted one!
Disappointingly, I was never a telephone sanitiser but I have worked for many years as a management consultant and the Hitchhiker’s reference to my profession was repeatedly used to tease me by an eccentric client who either had a bad memory or could not get enough of making me squirm every time he told the story in my presence.
Since then, I began to note useless jobs as I came across them. I have no idea whether or not the total sum of all useless jobs makes up a third of all professions but whatever the ratio is, it must be quite significant.
I exclude from my list the millions of make believe jobs in 3rd World countries aimed at getting people to work for paltry wages to give them a sense of purpose; I actually respect that. I also exclude many other jobs that had become redundant due to technology or our changing way of life such as coopers, fletchers, higglers and tinkers. The jobs I refer to are in the modern, highly automated, expensive environment of the developed world. Here are some examples:
- Cabin attendants of some airlines who self-consciously demonstrate safety measures when most airlines now use pre-recorded short films. Some airlines use two languages and the poor devils have to go through the agonising process twice, leaving me wondering if I ought to watch both performances out of sympathy.
- The traffic warden outside of my daughter’s junior school who only turned up in the mornings and afternoon to prevent busy and flustered parents form parking outside the school forcing them to park a block or two away and walking their children all the way to the school, thus creating traffic jams in the process. He then disappeared from the area, leaving anyone to park a space shuttle outside the school at all other times of the day.
- The expensive management consultant who in 1997 was proposed by his reputable consultancy company as a specialist in setting up “Millennium Bug” projects but when he reported for duty the following Monday, he turned out to be just an average project manager rather than someone who was over 1,000 years old with experience from the previous millennium.
- The full time employees outside the UK Passport Office in London who tell you where to stand in the queue to wait to be served. There is only one main entrance to the building and the only person who is likely to wonder where to queue up is the very first to turn up because thereafter, the first person will tell the next to stand behind them and before you know it, there is an orderly queue. I wouldn’t mind but staff in that office recently went on strike because they were under staffed!
- All television meteorologists who groom themselves like they are movie stars and utilise high quality animated display aids to tell us whether it is going to rain, snow, be sunny, etc. What is wrong with the old fashioned screen with weather details for the following day? Why the high production value nonsense? I actually take in more weather information from the radio than TV because I am not distracted by all the entertainment stuff wrapped around the weather forecast.
- 75% of security staff at all airports; there are so many of them! On each line there will be one to give you a tray and tell you to put in it what is already displayed on many display boards, one to push the tray along the conveyor belt, two to watch the X-Ray screen, two or three to frisk you should you set the alarm off, two or three to ask you to open your bag because of suspicious items detected by the machine in your hand luggage, and at least two more people to stack up empty trays ready for further use.
- Waiters in certain restaurants whose only job is to replenish your glass of water every time you take a single sip. Usually this is a ruse employed by restaurants to encourage you to drink more wine and hopefully order another bottle, but water?
My favourite useless job has to be the man who worked in York City, England going up and down the line of would be customers waiting to be seated in a popular “tea rooms” in the city centre by addressing each cluster of people together, guessing how many they were, and confirming the wait wouldn’t be long by chanting: table for 3? Won’t be long now; table for 4? Won’t be long now; table for…. On and on he went. In my fantasy world of Hitchhiker’s Guide, I would put him in charge of entertaining the others as they board the spaceship heading for oblivion.