I’m writing this sitting alone on the eighth floor of the Can of Ham. You may have guessed, even if you don’t keep up with the vernacular names of the latest office towers to sprout in the City of London, that yes, it’s a building – so-called for its planar ovoid shape, redolent for British people of a tin of Prince’s Cured Ham.
The offices are new and the whole space is immaculate. I am sitting at a bare table in the middle, facing the window. On both sides and behind me are banks of desks fastened with computer terminals, their screens black. The overall feel is ‘business-class austerity’. Everything is straight lines and right angles, and the palette runs from charcoal to pastel grey. The air conditioning emits a hush of white noise, keeping the temperature lightly chilled and at odds with the early summer, early evening heat that has turned the sky a rich blue. The office seems hermetically sealed off from outside, as if two unrelated worlds have been brought into contact by reinforced plate glass, like in an aquarium. On my side, all is calm. But this is not the reflective calm of a monastery; it is the dead calm of a morgue. Apart from a few trays of leafy plants that I just had to check weren’t plastic, I am the only macroscopic organism here. The offices are so spotlessly, antiseptically clean, I wonder if there are even any microbes around. It’s six o’clock on a Friday and everyone else has left. For the next few hours (for me) or the next twenty minutes (for you) it’s just the two of us.
I don’t know who you are. Me, I’m a higher-education and science journalist. When I joined the company I work for, it was one of the few remaining independent specialist news publishers in the UK. Our offices used to be in a spacious but crumbling former Victorian workhouse where every six months there was a leak, or a power-cut, or a lump of fallen plaster appeared on someone’s desk in the morning, and repairs were necessary. Then we were bought out by the higher-education arm of a big IT firm, but rather than joining them in their headquarters, we stayed put. Then came the pandemic and another buy-out, and we were folded into a bigger and swankier tech firm that acquired these big, swanky offices in the Can of Ham.