When I started my new job I was struck by the small touches in how staff are looked after: newspapers in the coffee bar, Bandaid dispenser near the coffee machine on every floor, and thoughtful hand cream in the loos. There are even showers and hairdryers for the cyclists – Cambridge as a cycling city resembles the Tour de France rather than an Italian provincial town. Then in our large, open-plan office there’s a desk known as The Usual Place where people leave edibles for everyone to enjoy . This week we’ve had Iranian pastries, Russian and Brazilian chocolate , and more prosaically, welsh cakes from yours truly. All of these feelgood enhancers soothed me through my first few weeks, but what has especially delighted me is the Secret Scrabbler.
Near the coffee machine cubicle that we share with Research and Validation is a whiteboard on which every day nine letters appear. As you wait the 6 seconds for your coffee you can create words and list them in a friendly competition. At the end of the day the longest word and the one with biggest total are recorded as the ‘winners’. I take issue a bit with this very quantitative way of evaluating the goodness of words, but it seems to be the way Scrabble is played these days. I am trying to persuade my colleagues that we should have a third category for unusual or quirky words; some of my favourites recently have been ‘gawp’ ‘fondler’ and ‘glisten’.
What I loved about this ritual is how the letters magically appeared. I knew there must be a person who discreetly took the trouble to renew the board every day ,and stereotypically imagined a lady with a bun looking after our lexical health. Then I found out it was my buddy Lynn with modern swingy hair. Yesterday she let me do the letters which was quietly thrilling.