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Alan Allen

by PaulaBlake 

Posted: 17 January 2005
Word Count: 1088
Summary: A brief description of a character I used to work with, I'm sure we all know someone similar!

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Alan Allen

The name alone is enough to pique anyone’s curiosity. I remember when I started there, he didn’t speak to me for at least six weeks. I thought he had taken a dislike to me, but if that was true, then it was safe to say he didn’t like anybody. From the outset I could see he was a loner, nothing unusual in that, but coupled with his particularly strange behavioural traits he truly was a thing to behold.
You could be forgiven for thinking he was at least 10 years older than his 36 years, his fine features hidden under a blanket of beard, shaggy barnet which was cut once a year by his mother at Christmas (using a pudding basin as a template) colourless skin silhouetting the matted web of his facial hair and his long skinny body hunched secretively over his work. A large pile of used biro’s littered his desk, not able to bring himself to throw any away, in case he might need them again sometime, along with pages of notes written on scraps of paper about every case he has ever worked on …just in case.

He was very ‘safe’ with his money. The same cup stood on his desk, never washed and coated with a brown film of stale tea, the tea bags were used over and over again, there was usually a banana left soaking in a brew. He bought economy bread and once he had his boiler fixed at home, the plumber offered to do it cheap for him at a knock down price, Alan was torn between morality and being his thrifty self! He would come into work to wash using the bar of soap in the men’s room, and then wash his socks and whatever underwear he was wearing. The underwear went straight back on, but the socks decorated the radiators in the office.

He wore what looked like someone else’s hand-me-downs’, the same threadbare shirt (always with the sleeves folded up) and grey trousers were worn daily, not just a variation on these, but these exact same items every day. We used to joke about the prospective state of his underpants. The trousers were at least 3 inches from the top of his shoes and were tied around the waist with a piece of string sparing the rest of us seeing the actual state of his undergarments. The grey shirt (I think it was grey although the colour was so faded it could originally have been any colour) was so worn it was transparent on the elbows and fraying at the cuffs. According to the girls he had worn these for at least four years solidly secret Santa bought him a t-shirt one year, and it has never been seen since.

Alan skulked into the office around 11am every day, then disappeared at 11.15am and gone for up to two hours at a time. There was never any danger of him skiving off; he never took a lunch break and used to work until 7.30pm when security literally had to throw him out kicking and screaming. Then he walked the 6 miles home, as he did every morning.
Along narrow country roads.
In all kinds of weather
With no coat
Holes in his shoes,
And bags of rotting fruit.

One time he was bothered by some guys driving along side him as he walked, picking on the way he dressed, although he ignored them and carried on walking they got hold of his coat and some how got it caught in the door, he was dragged for a hundred yards and ended up in hospital for a week. He never wore a coat after that preferring to freeze to the point his fingers were red and swollen with chilblains, and his toes were frostbitten. We tried to get him help but you can’t force someone to get help, and he wasn’t willing to help himself.

Part of the time he was away from his desk he was shopping for that fruit, but not the kind of stuff we would buy, the kind of thing that the supermarket’s are about to throw away as they are ‘on the turn’. He bought all the bruised apples and mushy bananas he could carry, normally at a cut down price but sometimes for free when the shop owners mistook him for a homeless person on the scrounge, if I didn’t know he worked in the Government offices I would have thought the same. He did look shifty, he would slip into his own bubble then something would snap him back into the real world and he would find himself stopped, staring at nothing in particular in the middle of a crowded shopping centre just scaring people.

Other times he was away from his desk he was in the men’s. We know this because other men we worked with used to tell us their ‘Alan tales’ he’d sit in a cubicle, silently for 40 minutes at a time. This wasn’t a bowel problem; he told us regularly he had to think’. A few times he would have a tantrum saying“ damn and blast”, slammed a few things around on his desk and took flight out into the stairwell where he would sit on a step and work. He said it wasn’t our fault but he couldn’t concentrate working around us all. There were 4 of us. Alan was extremely well spoken and intelligent, but seemed to have trouble grasping the reality of everyday life.

He stopped ironing his clothes when he found he was returning home every day to check that he hadn’t left it on, even if he hadn’t used it. He didn’t use a fridge, just kept everything in the bathroom and didn’t have a bed sleeping on cushions form his sofa and towels as bedding. He told us that he worked out how much it cost in electricity to boil the kettle, so he stopped and threw it away.

He went through fads of what he was willing to eat. He went through a phase of eating garlic sandwiches; just garlic every day, lunch and dinner. One of his colleagues actually took to wearing an air freshener around her neck. Then it was sunflower seeds, another time it was bananas he barely ate a thing, but when we had an office buffet, I swear I have never seen anyone eat so much! But then, it was free.

Then one day he just didn’t come in to work.

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Comments by other Members

Beadle at 14:53 on 17 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Paula

I found this quite emotionally painful to read at times, especially towards the end when Alan's problems became more apparent and weren't just funny quirks.

I thought you told the story with great humility and objectivity, so I felt you weren't sneering or encouraging the reader to snigger. It wasn’t manipulative either and I liked the clear-eyed way in which you told the story.

There were a couple of things in terms of punctuation of grammar that I thought could have helped the flow, but that’s minor stuff.

And you’re right, we probably all know somebody like Alan Allen – makes me feel sad just thinking about it.


Sue H at 20:02 on 17 January 2005  Report this post
This is really good Paula. You've written about him with sensitivity so that we care about him yet you've set it out as a totally straight account of what you saw. Poor guy. I wonder what happened to him. Did you ever find out?


PaulaBlake at 10:17 on 18 January 2005  Report this post

Thanks for the comments, and i did change the end, (everything else is accurate) as I know he is still there! He is obviously mentally ill and i think the organisation it was are too afraid to say/do anything! but i didnt judge him as it was obvious he is ill rather than just eccentric!

I plan to use him in my book as a character, i think he would fit in well with the storyline.

Thanks again!

Hamburger Yogi & PBW at 08:15 on 20 January 2005  Report this post
I have not read anything previous of yours so this is ad lib, 'on spec', or whatever.

A pleasant voice, informative and without 'cracks'. The description of your character works perfectly. I liked the chat Alan generates and the realistic use of the kettle incident and the fruit bag.

Hamburger Yogi

account closed at 22:20 on 22 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Paula,
Have finally worked out how to track down everyone's work -- clearly, computer literacy is not my forte!
I enjoyed this piece and I felt I wanted to know more, which is exactly the right feeling you want to create in a reader. It was beautifully observed.
I wonder how you might flesh this character out into a story. What is the work that he is doing, for example? What might it be like to imagine his inner life? Could you try to rewrite this from Alan's point of view?
I was very attracted by the idea of obsessiveness. I wonder how you might work that up into a story someohow.
But, bravo! Very well done.

Bav Dav at 13:30 on 24 January 2005  Report this post
I think this works really well as a description. I'd like to see it expanded, I also would like to see it from Alan's POV.

Good stuff.


PaulaBlake at 13:34 on 24 January 2005  Report this post
hmm, good idea about seeing it form Alans POV i think i will give it a go.


Xena at 21:39 on 09 April 2005  Report this post
This piece is so amazingly free of clichés that I frankly wanted to pinch myself – am I dreaming?.. I’m sure, you will make something very worthy of it. I just thought it would be so much better if your Allen was an eccentric rather than a madman. It will make it easier for the reader to relate to this character. If you, nevertheless, decide to make him a deeply disturbed individual, I would still do it under the banner ‘It can happen to anybody’.

PaulaBlake at 17:31 on 15 April 2005  Report this post

can you explain your 'free of cliche' comment i'm not sure i follow. He isnt a madman, he sufferes from aspergers symdrome, a form of autism, and OCD combined.

Xena at 00:13 on 16 April 2005  Report this post
Sorry, Paula. I didn’t mean to be obscure.

What I meant was that I’m getting tired of the stories about girls meeting boys and them having good time altogether thereafter. Your story was refreshing, your character was somewhat unusual as a hero and at the same time he didn’t look alien – he was very human in all his extremities.


Walkinmycat at 10:02 on 09 November 2005  Report this post
It's strange how just giving the facts can be so moving. The story seemed to tell itself. Thank you.

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