Sex and the Stationery Cupboard

Journalist Richard Glover wrote a wonderful column about shocking the younger generations with his tales of office stationery. When he first joined the workforce, everyone had to convince the stationery gate-keeper that their pen (allotment, one) was indeed empty of ink before being issued with a replacement. “Don’t be ridiculous!” said bright young things to Glover, disbelieving his account of cruelty in yesteryear’s office.

On his radio show, Glover repeated the anecdote, only to have listeners begin ringing in with their own tales, of taking a pencil to the stationery monitor, only to have the one inch of pencil put into a sharpening device and handed back. Another listener recalled a metal sleeve that could be attached to the stub to extract a few more weeks out of a pencil and yet another recalled staples being given out one row at a time. Carbon paper had to be proven to be completely exhausted. Of course, a millennial today would ask; ‘what is carbon paper?

How many of us marvel at the freedom and ‘absolute bloody luxury’ of the unlocked, help yourself stationery cupboard? My first experience of office life involved filling out requisitions to the stationery department. There was a small team of people who sat in a far-away office behind a roller door and they sent back our orders wrapped up like a ‘start of the school year’ parcel. This was also the era of the Telex, the last days of switchboards with plugs, post deliveries to your desk from a trolley and the tea lady. The tea lady stood guard over the biscuits and allowed us one each. As they weren’t chocolate coated, I decided to let her live.


Photocopiers routinely needed toner and it was a brave person who handled this fine, black powder without a thought for their dry cleaning bill. It was also a brave man who leaned anywhere near a shredder wearing a tie. I hardly see a tie these days, but when I started work, I recall a young man being sent home to put on a tie, because he had turned up without one.

Work has changed and a lot of things have changed for the better. And then again, I think we lost a few things along the way. It may be the halo effect, but I think we had more fun. Of course, most of our humour was highly inappropriate, often alcohol fueled and offensive. Photocopiers did not do well after the Christmas party. Friday afternoons were sometimes written off after a long lunch. 

We also expected to be corrected because we knew we had a lot to learn. I was talking to a senior partner in a law firm recently who said that graduate lawyers in his firm now took umbrage at having their grammar corrected.  And it’s a short hop, skip and jump to start hearing the cries, ‘you’re belittling me, you’re bullying me‘ from a generation who have been given classes in resilience, but clearly know very little about it. 

Most of the things that had me in tears of laughter, would upset the easily outraged today. Somehow we survived the jokes. We learned to give it back. We endured the torture of rationed stationery and biscuits. We didn’t mind being told to dress appropriately.

Sincere apologies if you made it this far just to read about sex in the stationery cupboard.  Of course, if any older readers actually attempted sex in an office stationery cupboard, then I applaud your bravery. I would have been far too worried about the risks associated with paper cuts, scissors, staple guns and loose drawing pins. I had fun, but I wasn’t completely barmy.

8 thoughts on “Sex and the Stationery Cupboard”

  1. I remember (20 years ago) feeling privileged to know the secret hiding place of the key to the stationery cupboard. Today our ‘stationary cupboard’ is a set of open shelves stocked via a self-serve online order to Officeworks – and the area contains as much beer as it does stationary. That makes me think, some of us must be having more fun today!?

  2. Memories keep us alive, and in this case, laughing. A principal of a school I worked at long ago, was a clever man, except for his love of sniffing the Gestetner machine. His nose was a swollen red, blue knob, we thought from sherry, or port, but who knows? His wife ran Business Studies, or something, and if one should leave a pen, or ruler lying about, she pounced. They all went into a shoebox in her cupboard and were given out at the Christmas party, to “start us off for next year”. Weird! Your piece has swirled me back to the late seventies, a little country town, and kids who loved to sniff the fresh, purple Gestetner hand-outs.

  3. Being in the public service had its rewards, against the private sector. We had an open door to stationery so no issues about running out of lead or ink. We had a tea lady, loved that time of day. Don’t remember having biccies though.
    My thoughts about the fine black powder are this – highly carcinogenic and I wonder how many people succumbed to the big “C” from handling it or even inhaling the particles. Today the toner is sealed thank god but still handle it carefully gloved in latex and disposed of correctly.
    Sex in the stationery cupboard, never but a saucy thought.
    Great read Cheryl

  4. The carbon black in toner is”possibly carcinogenic. ” They produce carbon monoxide and ozone. They get very hot. Sound about as dangerous as checking your rear tyres in a beach car park and using the exhaust as a didgeridoo. Still that’s a bit more fun though.

  5. Oh gosh. I remember that era well Cheryl. Not to mention the satay lamb roast that was served in the boardroom for executive meetings: I still have the recipe to this day. I remember that distant stationery headquarters, run with efficiency and a brutal parsimony: we knew who really ran the organisation.

    And the “tea lady” wielded as much power. Carbon paper and tipex are firmly etched on the brain, as are the WANG computer and Displaywriter.

    Memories indeed.

  6. When I worked in County Hall you could get just about anything from GLC Supplies. I was in charge of ordering stationery for our four bus depots. I had an indent book and a cupboard with key, but most important, I had a *cost code*.

    When I was new I put in my first order, which included 20 bottles of Tippex (remember that?). Imagine my dismay and shock when the delivery arrived and I discovered that Tippex came in little trays of 20 bottles. That was the order unit and I was slavishly supplied with *20 trays*, no questions asked!

    What to do? I kept my mouth shut, filled up the bottom shelf of the cupboard with it and doled out Tippex freely to anyone who asked for it for the next three years!

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