Photocopiers are the most melodramatic of modern office equipment; permanently collapsed in a corner, coughing and spluttering, its innards clutching onto a piece of chewed up paper like a delicately scrunched lace handkerchief.
I know this because I am very good at fixing them. My calm methodical approach to gently easing the jams from the over excited drum and, with gentle authority, turning the puzzled machine on and off again has, over the years, earned me the name the photocopier whisperer.
I don’t judge it; I understand that with a creative genius like that, neuroticism, hypochondria, even downright diva behaviour is inevitable. The photocopier was once the star, you see, who dropped into office life in the sixties, like a displaced piece of futuristic debris fallen from the future and changed everything. With one downward release of pressure on a button, a flash of light and muffled thud, oceans of typing pools with tight sweatered secretaries in old fashioned glasses disappeared in puff of cigarette smoke.
Even in your own life time, remember how excited we used to be about the photocopier? The thrill of learning to copy double sided, the shiver of printing a booklet for the first time, the giddy rush of discovering the stapler worked? The heady smell of fresh ink in the primary school secretary’s office as, the clock ticking closer to home time, you proudly collected hot water bottle warm lice letters and rushed to proudly hand them over to your panicking teacher.
Now, the photocopier, large, squat and taken for granted malingers in the office corner, like a bitter first wife replaced in our affections by the new printer with its slim line scanner. We don’t even get drunk and sit on it at Christmas anymore. What else can it do but cough, whine and complain about paper jams? Yes, it has adapted, we can send scans to them now, most print in colour, some are even connected to the internet but we both know the excitement is over. Compared with the sophisticated swishes and zooms of computer graphics, its simple promise to enlarge or contract by a certain percent embarrasses us both; its futile attempt to morph into its own replacement unravelling into an undignified and desperate gesture, sullying all the old good memories.
Every year the paper files get smaller, the letters fewer and the guilty recycling bin more prominent, like a sickly bastard child reluctantly included in the family photo. The promises of paperless office, the emails bitchily suggesting it doesn’t need to be printed, each a slow drawing down of blinds. We’ve moved on. It’s seen off the fax machine, but this feels different. That’s why I’m patient with it, turn it off when it’s too warm and try not to slam the doors to roughly when, it blinks desperately about another phantom unknown blockage in drawer two that I know isn’t there. It wants to know that I’m still there, that I still care and that I’ll be there when it gets switched on again. And like Atticus Finch. I always will be.