So then...

About Me

Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Absent Friends

It’s the last day of 2009 and who can help looking back? It’s been a tough year and I can’t believe in a few days I’ll go back to the law firm I planned to leave a year ago. Back then, PHILIP was sacking two secretaries a month. His tempers still intimidate. We lost about two support staff a month to walk outs. Temps came, cried and left. We were always short staffed and someone was always in tears. I tried to find another job and I stopped bothering to ask people’s names.

When HOWARD’S original secretary joined us, she was different. Her sense of humour killed me. When she invited me round for tea, I accepted. She let me borrow her DVDs. I met her boyfriend. Before I knew it, I’d made a real friend. Work felt like different place, and when HOWARD got too much – she stuck up for me. The trouble was, of course, she was disgusted at the way secretaries are treated.

I tried to get her to stay calm, but within six months they’d got to her. They messed her about after she’d been ill, trying to claw back her sick pay. Things got nasty. By the time she walked out I no longer recognised her from the funny, confident girl she’d been when she started.

I should have done this sooner. I’ve sat there for eight hours a day and been too scared of not finding a secure alternative job in the recession. All those times when I wanted to yell at PHILIP to stop swearing; when I wanted to tell OLLIE to go to hell, when HOWARD was going too far - I said nothing.

My friends are long gone. Their names remain in the computer directory to remind me; colleagues who were sacked or left through stress. I’ve been left behind. So here we are. It’s almost midnight. The fireworks will go off and they’ll be singing in the streets.:-

For old lang syne, my dear,
For old lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For the sake of old lang syne

To my absent friends. My New Years Resolution is to join you.
Happy New Year. Lots of love, Eva x

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

WEEK 25 Merry Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas my boss sent to me:-

12 pro suicide e-mails
11 written warnings
10 death visualisations
9 male hookers
8 dating websites
7 make-over specials
6 cans of dog food
5 les-bi-ans
4 hangman’s nooses
3 death threats
2 body bags
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Merry Christmas everyone,

Heaps of Christmas love. See you soon,

Eva x

Friday, 18 December 2009

WEEK 24 Ignorance is Bliss

The Employment Lawyer asked for a word in private. She was cagey about what was happening. Her colleague was the one dealing with matters; she was helping out. She said I’d probably be approached by the office junior’s firm of solicitors asking for a witness statement about HOWARD’S bullying. She also said her colleague would ask me to make a witness statement supporting HOWARD. I swallowed.

Everything is horribly complicated. HOWARD’S problems at home, my problems with HOWARD, the office junior’s sacking…everything seems to be, well, in collision. It’s becoming the legal equivalent of a motorway pile up. The worst thing is that for a few days my Bullied by the Boss blog felt like an oil tanker thundering towards it all. With hindsight it’s a tad overdramatic, but that’s how it felt.

How was I supposed to provide a supportive witness statement for HOWARD when Bullied by the Boss is the mother of all witness statements against him?

I tried talking to HOWARD. “Can’t you put it down to banter?” I asked.

“Don’t you understand how this works? Take you and me, for example. Taken out of context, the man in the suit at the Tribunal won’t be happy that I encourage you to hang yourself. Context is everything!”

I’d totally put my foot in it. Annoyed at my ignorance, HOWARD sent me an e-mail showing how he could convince a Court of law, by tweaking the truth, that I’m the one bullying him. “You see,” he’d written. “Context is everything.”

He began showing off. Everything innocent thing said in front of us by colleagues was magically transformed. This person could be done for bullying…that person for sexual harassment. He could bring someone else up on intimidation. He rammed his message home. Context is everything, he repeated.

When a third e-mail arrived, showing off his legal skills, I was annoyed. HOWARD was trying to prove his innocence by showing how easy it is to prove innocent people guilty. What’s next? Sending them to prison?

I’m not a lawyer so perhaps it’s easy for me to talk. I don’t have any legal angles to take into account. I’m hoping to avoid getting drawn in any further than I am. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but the law being as it is, it moves slowly and it’s a long way down the road yet.

I’m out of the loop. The Employment Team are having regular meetings. I don’t know what’s going on. HOWARD, huffy at my naiveté, eventually calmed down.

When it comes to this sort of complication at work - ignorance is bliss.

See you soon,

Eva x

Monday, 14 December 2009

WEEK 23 The Truth and Nothing But...

Now and again you have a day in which everything changes. It starts out normal and then gets more and more – well, surreal isn’t a strong enough word. I’d booked the morning off. With the fuss HOWARD kicked up before I left you would have thought it was a sabbatical. Last week, when I had handed in my holiday form, HOWARD handed in a request that the Sunshine Variety Club replace me with a different “spastic” for him to teach basic typing, preferably one who takes fewer half day holidays.

I knew something was up. I asked HOWARD if I’d missed anything and he said no. He was cryptic though and the PM seemed to know what he was on about. Then HOWARD sent me an e-mail which said to double delete what he sends me. Another e-mail arrived with a single attachment. Opening it, I thought for one horrifying, jaw dropping moment that he’d found notes I’d made for my blog. Then I understood in a similarly horrifying, jaw dropping moment that I was reading something legal – and written by somebody else.

It was an extract of a witness statement, written by our former office junior, proposing to take legal action against the firm for unfair dismissal due to her medical condition. She cites HOWARD’S bullying as a big part of this.

The office junior was sacked months ago due to ill health. I won’t say what it was – she was sensitive about it. She missed a lot of work. The witness statement was specific. Amongst other things it accuses HOWARD of insulting her disorder, looks, weight, figure, her background and the amount of money she earned.

HOWARD forwarded me the lengthy rebuttal letter he’d sent to our Employment Lawyer. He swears he never said a word of it. He maintains she’s after money and maliciously using the insults she’s overheard him saying to me in order to extort it. I don’t know about the other stuff, but she’s certainly telling the truth about HOWARD. I overheard most of it. She’d been the next ‘loser’ in line after me.

Still, he’s adamant she’s personalised his jokes about me to strengthen her case against the firm.

“Why don’t you join her?” He said angrily. “Then you can all bloody well sue me in a class action.”

I wouldn’t waste my time. HOWARD has given me numerous examples of how he can twist things and justify anything. It’s what he does for a living, it’s what they all do, these solicitors. Its one big game and they love it. Taking HOWARD to a Tribunal is like volunteering your team to play football at the opposing side’s home ground knowing you’re a couple of men down.

Now, my job, that’s different. I’m paid to type things accurately – so that’s what I do. Even when the truth is stranger than fiction – it’s still the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

See you soon,

Eva x

Saturday, 12 December 2009

WEEK 22 Christmas Party

The sweepstake for the drunken Christmas party snog was tipped for me and HOWARD. I was told it’s our fizzing chemistry. Never mind that the heat generated between us is dislike on his side and humiliation on mine. And if that wasn’t enough, let’s not forget he’s married. This week, I’ve been questioned five times about my feelings for HOWARD. I just laughed.

If they were looking for signs of romance when the meal began, they were disappointed. He couldn’t even look at me.

“Yuk,” he said. “Cover yourself up, people are about to eat!” HOWARD picked up my shrug and threw it over my head.

“What are you doing for Christmas, anyway? Waking up alone Christmas morning and wishing yourself a Merry Christmas? Will you think about families opening presents together? If you get lonely you could phone the Samaritans. I say that because I’m joining them for the holidays. When you phone up, undecided about suicide, I can encourage you to get on with it.”

I drained my glass, filled it up again and raised it to HOWARD.

“Merry Christmas!”

HOWARD, busy texting his wife during the meal, completely missed a colleague’s request to pull a cracker. When they turned the lights down for the disco, HOWARD angled his phone in my direction to hide the screen. It was hard to avoid glimpsing what he’d written. Why was he being unpleasant about his colleagues? I watched our innocent workmates dancing and joking as disco lights waltzed around them. I couldn’t work out whether he genuinely hated them or was just trying to let his wife know he wasn’t having fun while she was stuck at home.

One of the PI solicitors rolled up, the worse for wear. He fell against the back of my chair.

“Hope HOWARD remembered your Christmas kiss?” he shouted.

“Yuk! I’m not kissing that,” HOWARD replied.

“HOWARD, mate, you should have been a stand-up comedian!”

Even when HOWARD and I were the only ones at the table, he still couldn’t look at me. Between texts, he was scathing about the revellers and about Christmas in general. I snuck out to the ladies, but afterwards checked out my coat and went home. I felt guilty leaving HOWARD without saying goodbye. As I hurried out into the freezing street I looked up at the revellers on the first floor. HOWARD sat alone at the table. I reminded myself how selfish his negative attention is. It’s nothing more than misery loves company.

When I got in I kicked off my heels, switched on my sparkly Christmas lights, put on my NOW Christmas CD and sank onto the sofa. If it comes down to a choice between being moulded into HOWARD’S protégé or being a disloyal blog-happy secretary - at least this way, I still get to celebrate Christmas.

See you soon,

Eva x

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

WEEK 21 On the Shelf

On Monday I figured it was time for Christmas decorations. Having happily thrown tinsel around my desk, I asked HOWARD what he thought. He hadn’t noticed. I asked him if he wanted me to decorate his area. “You don’t have time”, he said, pointing at his dictating shelf. It had been pretty empty the night before, but now it groaned under the weight of the files to be typed on.

“When did you do all this?” I asked.

“How the fuck am I supposed to remember?” HOWARD said. “I dictated it last Christmas; back in the days when it was hard to get hold of a WEii.”

Later, when HOWARD helped me carry some of the files to my desk, OLLIE, our criminal solicitor, told him how lucky he was to have a good secretary.

“The joys of a plain secretary.” HOWARD told him. “She’s unlikely to find another man or have kids. Nothing to rush home to.”

“Hey” I said.

“Entirely agree, mate.” OLLIE replied. “In a toss-up between ugly and pretty, I’d take ugly. ‘Specially no kids...if they’ve hit 30 and they haven’t had kids they overcompensate in work. Life’s left ‘em on the shelf. They’ve got to work. Otherwise, what’s the point of them being alive?”

“You can’t say things like that,” I said.

“Don’t take it personally,” HOWARD laughed. “Anyway, I’m not surprised you’re on your own, Eva. It’s written all over you that you haven’t had many serious relationships.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I was married.”

“What I mean is - it couldn’t be more obvious that you haven’t had many boyfriends.”

HOWARD repeated it until I believed him. I took him seriously, worrying it meant I’d been on the shelf for too long. I know he thinks I’m too independent. Was it obvious to everyone, and if so, how? And could I do something to change, or at least mask it?

Couples were everywhere as I walked home. Everyone I passed seemed to be linking arms with either Mr or Mrs Right and it wasn’t just the cold forcing them to snuggle closer as they walked. Christmas cheer was everywhere. Was I subconsciously giving out all the wrong signals? What if it was my own fault and I didn’t even know I was doing it?

Yesterday, having driven myself insane, I was determined to get HOWARD to tell me where I was going wrong. I sent him an e-mail asking him to explain.

He replied:-

“You obviously cling. So I imagine that if you have a boyfriend you stay with them unless they leave you!”

I realised how gullible I’d been.

I might be stuck on the shelf at the moment but, unlike HOWARD, at least I’m not blind to the people I look down on.

See you soon,

Eva

Friday, 4 December 2009

WEEK 20 Blind Alley

Whenever HOWARD thinks he’s in trouble he plays the ILEX card. He encourages me to become a legal executive. It would mean four years of exams, a personal cost of around £4,000 - £5,000 and a lifetime sentence as a legal exec, probably working for HOWARD. He raised it after learning PHILIP had overheard his last public announcement:-

“Eva doesn’t mind what I say. She doesn’t know any better. Look at her! She’s been treated like shit by every man she’s ever known. Her father, her husband...”

Someone nudged him to warn PHILIP was listening.

That afternoon something frightening happened. I couldn’t read the letter I was typing. I struggled to focus on the words. It was like my brain had disconnected with my eyes and then – WHAM – these crazy zig-zags swam across my right eye.

I couldn’t see HOWARD when he came over to give me work. I felt weird. I told him I had to pop outside for air. I didn’t tell him I suspected I was going outside to die of a brain tumour.

“Wait a minute,” HOWARD said. Perhaps he could see the seriousness of the situation – offer a final word of kindness.

“Take these letters with you. There’s only a few. You can put them in envelopes out there.”

Sobbing with self pity and panic I left the office and stumbled down the side of our building. Mercifully, the alley was free from smokers. This is how it ends, I thought - me at the end of an alley - found dead on a pile of discarded cigarette butts and clutching a pile of HOWARD’S stupid letters. I cried for a few minutes. Then the jagged lines eased a little. Maybe it wasn’t a brain tumour. Socked by a thunderous headache, I realised it must be a migrane. I’d never had one before. When I got back to my desk, shaky and exhausted but thankful to be alive, I squinted in pain at HOWARD’S latest e-mail.

“You should give serious thought to the ILEX.”

I’ve never wanted to do one, not once. I can’t watch the Shawshank Redemption without fantasising about walking out of here carrying a pair of HOWARD’S shoes. Plus, I already know what I want. I want to be a writer one day. It may never happen, but it absolutely won’t happen if I give up on my little dream. When I confessed the ILEX wasn’t for me HOWARD wasn’t happy.

“Any excuse for being too scared to try. Face facts, Eva - your brain is fucking lazy. ” he said.

It’s not that my brain is lazy. On the contrary, my brain appears to be going into meltdown with stress related migraines, which makes the whole ILEX thing a no-brainer. My head’s not in this job any more than my heart is.

Just like the migraine, I suspect the ILEX leads straight up a blind alley.

See you soon,
Eva x

Monday, 30 November 2009

WEEK 19 The Row

Today, not for the first time, HOWARD’S marital problems went public. Row days invariably go the same way. Most of his time is spent in the car park on his mobile phone. What was different about this day was that we expected him to come in when it started raining again. He stayed out, pacing and gesturing. We watched from the window.

“Can you believe he’s still out there?”

When he came in, his shirt was transparent and stuck to him like cling film. He shivered. Even I felt sorry for him. I made him coffee. “Are you alright?” I asked. Miserable, he wiped the rain off his face.

“Fuck off…No…Hold it…Wait a minute. I need you to find the files I’ve marked on this list. They’ll be in storage.”

I wiped his wet fingerprints from the list. His phone rang again and he jogged back out into the car park.

I went to find the files. My heart sank. The storage room was stuffed with old archive boxes thrown into precarious towers. Still, it was a break from typing and I started my task in peace, with only the gentle drumming of rain on the roof filing the silence.

An hour later I took a break, sneezing from the dust. The girls were discussing how HOWARD’S wife bullied him and whether it was worse for a man to be bullied by a woman than vice versa. I didn’t think so. They concluded it is. It’s all tied up with his masculinity. They asked me what she’s like. I don’t know. He rarely mentions her, other than to say she tortures him - and when he blames his ‘personal issues’ for the way he talks to me. He never brings her to social events.

In the afternoon, HOWARD seemed happier. He made everyone laugh visualising turning up at my funeral, shaking hands with my dad, opening the coffin lid and stoving my dead head in with a brick. Even I laughed, in spite of myself.

When I returned to the storage room, HOWARD came in. I’ll help, he said, I need those files as soon as possible. He began asking personal questions, such as what my mum and dad were like and whether I wanted a family.

“I just don’t see you like that, Eva.”

I asked him what he meant. He put down the box he was holding. He frowned.

“How can I put it? You’re like a rat – I mean I could kill you as easily as I could a rat. The same way the Germans pumped Zyklon B into the shower rooms. I don’t say its right, but it could happen. That’s how I see you…me and you. There’s no wrong or right to it. It’s situational - human nature.” He stared. “I’m not saying it to insult you - I’m trying to be sincere. Do you understand?”

Yes, I understood. He scared the hell out of me. I understood.

“This is taking forever. I’ll let you get on,” he said. And he left the room.

What the hell? How could I tell my colleagues so they would understand? How could I explain the difference between him pretending to stove my head in with a brick and what he’d said? There was a huge difference.

A line from a play I'd studied in school jumped into my head. Must be 20 years ago I first read 'Comedians' by Trevor Griffiths, but what HOWARD said brought it back. “And I discovered...there were no jokes left. Every joke was a little pellet, a... final solution.”

In the kitchen, my hands around a mug of tea, I calmed down. I came out when the coast was clear. HOWARD was back out in the rain. The girls shook their heads in sympathy for him. Suddenly, I thought about his wife; about the fact that none of us had seen her. It dawned on me that we’d all assumed she was horrible to him. But I wondered now, watching his frustrated gestures as the clouds darkened overhead.

I hoped to God she had someone’s sympathy and support and I suddenly realised - she had mine.

Eva x

Saturday, 28 November 2009

WEEK 18 Insomnia

With HOWARD away skiing it was a bit quieter this week so I’ll give you some background. I don’t want you thinking I didn’t try, on some level, to reach HOWARD. I really did - long before I started working for him. And now I get to remember the awful day when it backfired on me.

When HOWARD started bothering me I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t understand why he singled me out. I wracked my brains until the early hours. I lost my appetite and a stone and a half. I dragged myself to work each day, exhausted. I looked terrible and still it kept me awake. I figured, back then, that there had to be an answer to it…if I could just find it.

His secretary tried to help, encouraging me to get my own back. For a few weeks we childishly stooped to his level. It made him worse. The day she failed to return from lunch I was hurt and confused; even more so when they replaced her with me, but a part of me did hope he’d calm down if I was his secretary. Next I wondered if honesty might be a better policy. I sent him regular e-mails about bullying, psychological projection and de-humanisation. He was still calling me “Ugly.” When the PM told him repeatedly to stop, worried about a Tribunal, HOWARD was confident the Tribunal would agree I am, in fact, bloody ugly.

I told him I couldn’t sleep because of the way he was. He said if I stopped playing with myself I would probably nod off quicker and for the remainder of the day played suggestively with his fingers.

Thwarted, I cut and pasted bullying information direct from websites. The Bully Online website was helpful.

One day, I sent him the following:-

"Most organisations have a serial bully. It never ceases to amaze me how one person's divisive, disordered, dysfunctional behaviour can permeate the entire organisation like a cancer."

HOWARD responded, “My little brother DIED OF CANCER - THANKS.”
You’re lying, I wrote back.

HOWARD replied, “Six days before his 7th birthday!” I realised it was true. It was bloody awful. I hadn’t meant anything by it. I mean, I hadn’t known. I didn’t know much about HOWARD back then. I thought he’d fire me.

I looked around for him. HOWARD was at the copier. “HOWARD,” I said. “I’m so sorry…I really am.”

“Oh, give over,” he said. “It was bloody years ago.” He licked his fingers suggestively and looked satisfied. I wanted to crawl under the nearest rock.

Later, HOWARD sent me a more detailed e-mail explaining his brother’s short illness. He was apologetic. It really had been a long time ago. He had only been, as he admitted in an e-mail, trying to maliciously make me feel bad.

It worked. I didn’t sleep. I spent the night kicking myself for allowing him to make me feel so guilty, but as the sun rose, I realised I didn’t want to behave like HOWARD. I was better than that. I didn’t want to cause the same offence that HOWARD did.

I have enough trouble sleeping without my conscience keeping me awake.

See you soon. I hope you sleep well.

Eva x

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

WEEK 17 Cludo

I was expecting a quiet week this week, HOWARD being on a skiing holiday. He got away just in time to miss the e-mail. For the next two months requests for secretarial leave are denied. The Practice Manager said they had to do it - too many fee earners were away and they need us here.

Later, her suspicions aroused, the PM began looking into the fee earner’s holiday claims. She started with OLLIE, our criminal solicitor, and was horrified to discover he’s never filled out a holiday form and already used double his holiday entitlement in a mere six months. How very MP’s expenses fiasco of him.

When OLLIE said he forgot to tell her he’s off to New York in a few days, she insisted he fill out a form. The PM showed me what he’d written on it. He demanded to know why he has the same holiday allowance as a typist - we owe our jobs to him and we aren’t grateful enough as it is. It ended with, “I will not be treated the same as a bloody typist!” Well, that told us.

Except it wasn’t enough for OLLIE. When passing a fellow solicitor he yelled, “And you can piss off too.” He hates her because she’s Indian. OLLIE rolled his eyes at me. He thinks I’m a comrade. We often work late and because I’m quiet he thinks he’s teaching me about life. Depressing the hell out of me is more like it. Most evenings he sits there wiping tomato relish off his shirt from his BK Big Whooper with cheese, as he rants on about the shit way the company is run; the shit way the country is run; how shit it is that women have the vote etc. I sit there typing as OLLIE blusters on. Now and then, I’ll stare at him blankly as I open a fresh bottle of Anadin or St John’s Wort.

I wish he was away more often.

When he left for Court the support staff gathered round the PM’s desk. We agreed someone has to stop him before it goes too far. But how far is too far? It’s not the first time he’s verbally attacked the woman. Last time there was an enquiry. Everyone had to do witness statements. It was like a short story submission for Bella Magazine – stopping just short of a cash prize for the most original. The statements were totally different.

I’d been three floors up. I told them I didn’t see it but they still insisted I write a statement. I got carried away and I confess mine had the Cludo Character Mrs White, attacking Dr Black with a branch of racism in the Law Library.

We looked for a brave face who’d stand up to OLLIE. No one volunteered. My blog is as close as I get to brave. But if they catch me doing this I’m guessing OLLIE has a few of those white sheets with eyes cut in them hidden in his desk. If I’m lucky I’ll tie them together and escape out the toilet window just in time.

See you on the soon,

Eva x

Saturday, 21 November 2009

WEEK 16 Here's Looking At You Kid.

Following PHILIP’S strap-line idea, he decided to update the firm photo on the website too. He’d hired a number of new people and wanted a new picture to include his entire team. The photographer was booked for yesterday morning and PHILIP wanted his troops looking smart.

The last thing I wanted was a photograph. I was tired of being looked at. HOWARD’S latest thing was staring at me with his lip curled. He’d also taken to stop checks – like military inspections. He halted me again.

“Wait a second, Ugly. Let me look at you. Worse and worse. Yuk! How’s it possible? Every time I look at you I feel glad about going home to my wife.”

Later he came uncomfortably close, examining my face. I turned scarlet. He told me they’d done an amazing job of hiding the cleft palette scar – just a shame I still talked like I had one.

In the middle of the office he drew colleagues’ attention to his notion that, whilst my desperation for sex was an open door for sad men, my face was slamming it shut at the same time.

On Friday morning, seeing I’d made a special effort, he said my NEXT skirt was something his Nan would wear, my hair could have inspired, “Pirates of the Caribbean” and my blusher made me look like a Russian doll.

He asked me why I’d gone for the “woman serving chips, saying, ‘want a mug of tea with that, love’ image, when I knew full well PHILIP wanted corporate polish.”

My silver necklace was the ugliest thing he’d ever seen and recommended if I was looking for something to wear around my neck then I couldn’t improve on a noose hanging from the branch of a tree. Come to think of it, it was something he’d pay to have photographed.

As the photographer got himself ready, we collected ourselves in a sprawling group in the car park. After much arranging, I was told to stand next to HOWARD.

“Okay,” the photographer said, “I need you all closer together if I’m going to get you in the picture with the sign.”

We sidestepped.

“Closer,” he said.

We huddled together until he was satisfied.

He took one photo after another but didn’t look happy. “I need you guys on the left to step one pace in, and you guys on the right to step two paces in.” We jostled against each other, shoulder to shoulder. A couple of people giggled. Fee earners became impatient. Someone muttered something about there being no one in the building to answer the phones. “Smile”, the photographer said. He snapped away.

Without warning, HOWARD turned to face me.

“Jesus Christ! Get your bloody hands off me. We all know you fancy me but do you have to make it so obvious?” he yelled.

The photographer smiled in resignation as staff howled with laughter. The guy took tons of photographs but I’m guessing the first ones he binned were taken at the perfect moment to catch my horrified expression and the entire company looking at me the same way HOWARD does - looking and laughing.

See you on soon,

Eva x

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

WEEK 15 Less Law...

Over lunch hour the overflow of reception telephone calls are diverted to me. As I’m stuck at my desk I usually bring a book. This week I’m reading Submarine by Joe Dunthorne. Its central character is the clever and self absorbed teen, Oliver, who doesn’t understand the difference between humour and mocking abuse. Oliver is an only child, but if he’d had an older brother then it could have been HOWARD. Funnily enough he decided to join me.

“What are you reading?” HOWARD asked.

I held up the cover, “It’s clever – and funny,” I told him.

He snatched it from my hands and flicked through. As I demanded he give it back, he dodged away and stood behind the Practice Manager, reading. I thought for a moment he was genuinely interested. Then he held up the book in triumph.

“Page 86,” he announced to the PM and others working through lunch. “Page 86 – as follows – She pulls me on top of her but doesn’t spread her legs. My cock wags a little –“

Mortified, I surprised him by grabbing it back. I threw it into my carrier bag. I was beetroot. He knows how shy I get.

“My cock wags a little…a bit inappropriate for lunchtime, Eva, but if you like that sort of thing. HOWARD surprised me by simply returning to his desk.

“How does he do it?” I asked the PM. “He finds the exact thing to humiliate me. I couldn’t find that particular bit if my life depended on it…and it’s not like that. The book’s not that filthy. Honest. It’s literature. They compared Submarine to J D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It had a review in The New York Times for goodness sake!”

“Least he’s gone now,” the PM said, laughing.

At 2pm, when everyone returned to their desks, I was absorbed in my audio typing. HOWARD snuck up behind me. He snatched my carrier bag from under the desk and pulled the book out.

Where’s page 86…wait a minute…I didn’t read 87 – Jesus, listen to this! Her pussy is wet…I start to really fuck her and my diction changes, hardens…I stuff her, pump her…I’m going to come right up inside her…I will spin her around like a wheel…”

Everyone was laughing, not so much at HOWARD, but at how red I’d gone. It’s stupid, but I ran off and locked myself in the toilet. I tried to calm down. I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath. I knew I’d have to return to my desk but I didn’t want to. I went to open the door.

Pulling at the handle - it refused to budge.

“HOWARD! Let me out!”

He laughed.

“Come on, HOWARD!”

He let go of the handle and declared, “I’m stronger than you.”

Too immature even for Joe Dunthorne’s, Oliver, the whole thing was more primary school than high school. Some days it really is less law – and more Lord of the Flies.

See you soon,

Eva x

Saturday, 14 November 2009

WEEK 14 Gladiators

Weeks ago, an e-mail came round inviting us to get involved and think of a strap-line for the company website. I like writing games so there was every chance the prize - a bottle of Blossom Hill Pinot Grigio - had my name on it, especially as I seemed to be the only one interested.

I researched step by step guides to creating business strap-lines. I walked to work thinking about our firm, what we offered and what we were about. I thought about PHILIP. I tried to imagine what he’d dreamed of for his firm when he first set up. I heard he’d been inspired by the film Gladiator, but I wanted to get back to the real moment when he’d had a dream for this place, Russell Crowe films aside. That moment when he’d walked into this vacant building and envisioned his empire.

I thought about the kinds of law we specialise in; the values we’d have as a business - if we were more focused. We were modern, small to medium in size and, as law firms go, our chaos made us flexible. We weren’t bogged down with the usual company admin like staff appraisals, health and safety or staff contracts. I came up with six lines I was proud of. More than enough – let’s not go overboard. If they weren’t used it didn’t matter. It had been a fun, if truly nerdy exercise.

The only thing to spoil it a little was HOWARD. Catching me scribbling away at lunchtime he snatched the list out of my hands.

“What’s this shit? You think they’re going to use something you’ve written on the website? I wouldn’t wipe my arse on these.”

I grabbed the paper and stuffed it in my desk. Before I changed my mind, I e-mailed it to PHILIP. If one was considered it would show HOWARD.

I forgot all about it until this week, when PHILIP and the PM called me to the boardroom to ask me about the strap-lines. I told him I’d e-mailed them to him and he asked to see them again. I hadn’t saved them on the PC, but I was fairly sure I still had the paper HOWARD had scrumpled up. I went to dig it out.

PHILIP frowned at the creased A4 sheet. He nodded. These are good, he said. The PM agreed. They told me to wait outside while they thought about it. I didn’t wait long.

“Nothing wrong with yours, but in the end we’ve decided to go with a phrase from a Latin translation that PHILIP has come up with. He was inspired by the film Gladiator,” the PM said, smiling.

“Of course,” I said. “Good thinking.”

When I got back, HOWARD was waiting. He asked if they used any of the strap-lines. I confirmed they hadn’t.

“Don’t know why you tried, Eva. I told you, I wouldn’t wipe my bloody arse on them. It’s all about attention with someone like you. Even my sort of attention is better than the alternative – which is no attention at all. You’re the sort who’d put her hand up for a stoning – if it meant people noticing you for a minute.”

A stoning? Was I on the wrong track with those strap-lines, or what? I’m with PHILLIP. His firm is closer to 180 AD than 2009.

See you later, Gladiator.

Eva x

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

WEEK 13 The Holiday

I’ve been thinking of a weekend visit to Edinburgh for ages, but the PM reminded me I still had to tell HOWARD. It wasn’t my taking Monday and Friday off I was reluctant to tell him about, it was the fact that I knew he’d guess who I was thinking of going with. Thank God for e-mail.

As HOWARD strolled over I knew it was going to be a long day.

“Another bloody holiday request? I said I’d take you on the understanding you have no life. Where are you going? Has your appointment for gender realignment finally come up? Going away with your mother, I bet. Twin room I suppose – to keep the costs down, (snicker, snicker) but what if she finds a man?”

HOWARD forwarded me e-mails along the lines of “Edinburgh, Gay Friendly Hotels and Accommodation.” If I leaned back in my chair a little I could see him laughing to himself.

“How are you getting there? Booked a leisure coach trip for little old ladies, eh? By the time your coach reaches the motorway you’ll have learnt all the words to ‘Hang out your washing on the Siegfried Line’ and be stopping every 10 minutes for a toilet break.”

Just before I went home he cranked it up another level. “There’s a term for people like you, people who go away with their mothers – no joke now…an actual term – It’s SAD BITCHES”. (Canned office laughter).

I avoided eye contact with the accountant who told me she was also going away with her mum this year. Worried I’d take her down with me, she slunk from the room. It’s funny how you think you’re the only one affected, when in fact we are all affected by it to some extent. I wondered how often my colleagues caught the ricocheting bullets meant for me.

“Forget the holidays over here.” He said. “An ugly girl like you is safe to travel anywhere. You could walk drunk down a Thai beach wearing a sign reading I won’t remember anything in the morning – and, trust me, no-one would touch you. Few girls are that fortunate. You should try backpacking!”

It’s a variation on a regular joke of his. Sometimes its Somali pirates (when they see me on the boat, they jump back off). Sometimes he uses history – Stalingrad soldiers (who see me after kicking the door in and then turn and leave).

I need a change of scenery. I’m not ashamed to be going with my mum. I’m not going to creep around pretending otherwise to HOWARD. Working for HOWARD makes a girl appreciate having her mum around to talk to. I can’t wait to get away.

Perhaps it’s less to do with where I’m going or who I’m going with and more who I’m getting a break from.

See you soon.

Eva x

Saturday, 7 November 2009

WEEK 12 What's Love Got To Do With It.

By last Thursday, I’d had enough. My head was spinning. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was first in and for 30 minutes I was alone until a solicitor from the Employment Department arrived.

“How’s it going?” She asked, breezing past. Don’t say anything, I thought…keep a lid on it…she’s only making small talk. I burst into tears.

“Awe, bless you.” She came back over. “It’s that bloody HOWARD isn’t it…” I nodded. “Let’s have a chat,” she said. “We’ll pop downstairs.”

We took our mugs of tea into a meeting room. I didn’t want to get him into trouble, but it was bad enough that I had mountains of urgent work to do without HOWARD making it impossible. I was tired; tired of laughing off his addressing me only as, “Ugly”; tired of him clapping his thighs and whistling at me to ‘Come fetch!’ The day before he’d literally gone a step too far – he’d taken off his shoe and asked me if I wanted to play with it for half an hour.

The Employment Lawyer threw a curve ball. “We all thought he was bullying you,” she said, “but the truth is…the whole office thinks he fancies you. Why else would he give you this constant attention? He doesn’t leave you alone. I mean, it’s obvious, honey, the man’s desperate to get in your pants!”

What the…? Even the Employment Lawyer is clueless. As long as it’s not happening to them, they’re happy to be left out.

But as the morning wore on I wondered if she wasn’t right. Was it the boy-crush equivalent of him pulling my hair in the playground? Maybe…but wait a minute - this is no semi-rational human being, this is HOWARD. There’s no romance here. Surely? I figured I’d watch him and think about it.

After lunch, HOWARD came over. I was offering round a packet of Cool Breeze Wrigley’s Extra. Was it me, or was HOWARD looking at my mouth? Yes, he was. I’d heard about this…a guy staring at your mouth can mean he’s thinking what it might be like to kiss you. He continued to stare.

“In future, Eva,” he said, “please don’t look directly at me when you’re talking. It makes me uncomfortable.”

This was weird. I looked down and blushed.

I blushed again when, that afternoon, a solicitor said she’d found me the perfect blind date. Her single cousin was about the same age as me. Would I think about it? No, I said – it was too public. At least match.com was in the privacy of my own home. She put the pressure on. No way, I repeated. Polite but firm, I stood my ground. I deleted the pictures she sent of him.

HOWARD, overhearing the conversation, sent me an e-mail. He said the woman was a patronising cow who should stay the hell out of my private business. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Seeing him so annoyed and angry made me wonder though. Was it like the Employment Lawyer said? Could it be he was…jealous?

I asked him why he thought it was okay for him to jokingly put my information into match.com - listing amongst my hobbies that, “on rainy days I enjoy self-gratification.” And why he also believed it was okay to use my office e-mail to do it, when the result was I got regular pop-ups in the right hand corner of my screen; a dialogue box which read, ‘secretarybitch – looking for love?” And yet, this woman trying to fix me up was out of order?

“I was deliberately humiliating you,” he said. “She was doing it unintentionally. And what did I tell you earlier about looking at me when you’re talking? Have another Wrigley’s Extra. I might not be able to spell halitosis, but I can smell halitosis.”

He laughed his head off. The Employment Lawyer laughed too, and I closed my case.

See you soon, Eva x PS: Am minty fresh – honest.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

WEEK 10 Who's Who

I should have done this first, but hey-ho. Before we go any further, here’s an essential introduction to a few key players in my office environment.

HOWARD is my boss. He’s a young-ish solicitor with a spiteful sense of humour and a catalogue of morbid obsessions. When he joined the firm it wasn’t long before I found myself inexplicably transferred to him. You see, his secretary went to lunch one day and didn’t come back. The only thing HOWARD encourages is my suicide. As he tested the banisters to see if they would hold my weight, I phoned around the temp agencies but was told, “There’s a recession on – keep your head down.” Keep my head down? Keeping my chin up is the hard part.

I sit in the secretarial pool, just behind OLLIE, a criminal solicitor approaching retirement and an overweight misogynist who believes junk food keeps him working class whilst driving a Bentley and renovating a second home in North Devon. His recent sympathy with an alleged rapist sums him up:-

“These days, you can’t so much as touch a woman, I’m the same as you mate, bring back the good old days.”

Bring back the good old days? They’re coming back, aren’t they? Or did they never leave?

I could speak up but our firm is headed by PHILIP, a taciturn Glaswegian Company Director with an impossible temper. He has an incomprehensible accent and a penchant for kicking his cabinets. A heavy gambler, PHILIP rarely does anything by the book and complaints about the operation of his company get you fired.

By the CVs coming in - they know we haven’t a choice - we can be replaced by 40 others. But if I have to sit in this hot seat five days a week then I want you with me. Perhaps you’ll be objective. Maybe I’m being oversensitive. Maybe it is alright that when HOWARD last made me a cup of tea, he put the teabag down his trousers first.

See you soon

Eva x

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

WEEK 9 (Weds) - Office Routine

Let’s be honest, most offices are places of dull routine. My working day is much the same day in, day out, spent plugged into HOWARD’S dulcet tones on audio-tape. I type away and drift off.
HOWARD’S routine is a little different - his comedy routine that is. When I’m not listening to him on audio I can catch his spontaneous, live performance of Eva based repartee. Today the theme was my ex-husband and my lack of boyfriend.

“I’m not surprised your ex-husband left you, Eva. I mean, I can’t imagine what the man went through having to wake up and find you in the bed. Is that why he left? He couldn’t bring himself to touch you? Yuk!”

He got a few laughs. But hang on, I thought, there weren’t so many. Also, the first time he pulled this routine I’d been embarrassed, but I’d heard it too often. Was I finally getting used to it? Was his routine getting…dare I say…boring?

I looked around as he continued. Most were zoned out working. OLLIE’S secretary yawned and stretched. Two solicitors were staring out the same window and the office junior was standing by the copier looking on the verge of dribbling with boredom. HOWARD’S stand up routine was getting stale. I was triumphant. Trouble was, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. HOWARD became louder and more animated until his audience woke up.

“So, Eva, tell us. Your ex-husband…was your marriage annulled or did he compromise with the sex thing on condition that he put a pillow over your face so he didn’t have to look at you? Eugh! How long has it been exactly?”

HOWARD told the Practice Manager he’d have a whip round to afford me a male prostitute - to put me out of my misery and stop me mentally raping him.

I was accused of spiking his BBQ Pot Noodle with the date rape drug Rohipnol.

And so it went on…all day.

It was like that scene out of The Nutty Professor. The one where Professor Sherman takes the girl he fancies to a comedy club. Do you know the one I mean? The comedian makes fat jokes about Sherman, who tries to laugh it off. The comedian is crueller - the room is splitting their sides. Sherman’s smile fades. The comedian continues; the laughter continues. We know Sherman is humiliated and we feel for him. The comedian turns his routine up and asks the audience…‘Should I get him?” The audience yells, “Yes,” and screams for more.

Well, it was like that, minus an understanding TV audience.

I got in after work feeling really sorry for myself - not only because of the jokes, but because I was wrong. There are some routines you never get used to.

So I’ve decided to take control. I plucked up the courage and subscribed to match.com. I’m scared, but the only way to change someone else’s behaviour is to change your own. And maybe it’s about time my own routine changed. I’ll keep you posted.

Eva x

WEEK 8 (Tuesday) - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

I wasn’t going to blog about the events last Sunday. It makes me more identifiable and I don’t want to be fired, but something I read on a charity on-line brochure is worthy of an extra blog. Worth the risk – I hope.

Our solicitors do a lot for charity; cycling across different parts of the world; trips to Africa to help villagers. Because they all drive in, more have now walked up Mount Kilimanjaro than walked to work.

This year we’re raising money for HOWARD’S charity, Cancer Research. Months ago, he threw himself into training for the half marathon, which took place last Sunday. Six of them entered as a corporate team (minimum of four per entry). Finishing times are combined and ranked against other teams. Last Thursday, when three dropped out, HOWARD needed a last minute volunteer to avert disaster.

It wasn’t going to be me. I might have considered it, but the last two weeks HOWARD’S been running round the office like a gorilla saying, ”This is how Eva would run it – if she wasn’t so fat.”

He doesn’t know it, but I do run. Under HOWARD’S initial bullying campaign I couldn’t eat or sleep, but found running relaxed me. I got faster. The weight fell off and I slept better. I’ve only ever told the PM and OLLIE’S secretary how I enjoy running, which is how OLLIE’S secretary innocently told the office I might be able save the day.

While HOWARD was in the gym over lunch, I was talked into bailing out the corporate team. Fair enough, I agreed, I’d do it. It felt good. I’d put my stress running to good use - for HOWARD’S charity. He’d have to appreciate it.

“You what?” He shouted at reception, throwing down his gym kit. “Has she gone mad? She can’t bloody keep up with us. She’s massive.” He ran up to my desk.

“So, you’re running? The brain damage charity was last year. Can your run at your size?”
“I’m smaller than the three of you.” I said.
“Only in the chest area.”

Overnight, it became some sort of David and Goliath deal. Feeling the pressure, I spent £91.50 I didn’t have on a pair of Saucony trainers and Nike running socks. Secretaries wrote supportive comments on my corporate T-shirt. By Friday I was odds on favourite in a sweepstake to beat the guys. HOWARD and his colleagues were offended. They’d put in serious training. Had the office gone crazy? I considered not showing up for the race but the PM told me not to bother showing up for work if I lost.

On Sunday, HOWARD did a double take. He hadn’t realised how much weight I’d lost. I ignored the laughter as they took our team photo. When the race began, their tactic was clear. They ran so close behind me it was a miracle we didn’t trip. HOWARD kept up a stream of insults. Fortunately, I’d brought my MP3 player. I could only hear the occasional comment above the music:-

“Boys, it looks like we’re chasing King Kong down a New York Street.”

At about the 10k marker HOWARD’S insults were increasingly breathless and childish. I just tore on. I had a million of HOWARD’S insults in my head anyway. Remembering them whilst running made me run faster. The angrier I got the faster I ran. On finishing ahead of them, I narrowly avoided throwing up over this guy’s fancy dress costume. I had a respectable time of 1:46 and the others weren’t far behind.

HOWARD’S colleagues shook my hand. “You wanted it more,” they said. “Good run”.

“Where’s HOWARD?” I asked. But he’d gone, disappeared into the crowd. I didn’t make a big thing of it. It had all got out of hand in the first place. On Monday HOWARD explained he’d had a bottle of wine the night before; hadn’t had time for as much training as he would have liked.

“It’s alright for you, you’ve got no life. I have to fit training around commitments,” he said.       

They posted our corporate time on the internet and we’d done well. We were respectably halfway up the leader-board, but something else on the site caught my attention. That morning our team mate had been asked to write a few paragraphs about our team for the charity’s on-line brochure. Writing with candour, he admitted they’d been horrible to me in the days before and during the race. They'd forced me to lead throughout. They’d run on my heels. Even with their behaviour, I’d gracefully beaten them. He wanted to take the opportunity to say well done and thank me for saving the day at the last minute.

There it all was, detailed on the charity website.

I understood he was trying to say sorry, but it felt the wrong place to say it. It didn’t reflect well on our firm. That I come out of it well is neither here nor there - it's the long run that concerns me most.


 See you tomorrow – for my Wednesday blog.

Eva x

Week 7 - Birds of a Feather

The week began with HOWARD voicing concern that my laziness eats into his profit costs. He ruins my reputation deliberately - saying it’s for my own good. HOWARD believes secretaries are like battery hens. Keep us on our toes or we’ll get bored and destructive.

I’m fortunate that I sit near enough the Practice Manager for her to see everything HOWARD does. She knows how hard I work and I can’t blame her for not confronting him about his bullying. I don't confront him either. She'd had a series of meetings with him about it when he first started, and soon admitted defeat. However, she did tell him to stay out of my top drawer when he rooted round again to see if I had any food.

“Green tea with lemon?” he said, holding the packet up. “Glad to see you’ve not forgotten your prostate just because of the sex change.”

That afternoon, when I volunteered to help a solicitor by doing some extra typing, HOWARD warned her not to expect much. This’ll teach you, I thought, as I set about clearing my name whilst clearing the backlog.

My efforts had the opposite effect. Job done, she and HOWARD called a meeting for the following morning. I was asked to account for how I’d worked so fast. What usually held me back? Was I on the phone? Was I doing too much admin? Hurt and defensive, I asked if the PM could join us. I needed backup, especially when HOWARD had his brain wave.

“There’s a spare desk opposite me,” he said. “Eva should move there. Then I could keep a proper eye on her.”

There is a tiny, single desk less than four feet away from HOWARD. Hmm, Mr Fox wants to take Miss Chicken away to look after her. Good old Mr Fox. Nice, kind, thoughtful Mr Fox.

“Unless…and I can’t imagine why - Eva wouldn’t want to sit there?” The three of them stared at me across the table.

“Um…um…” I blinked at the PM, willing her to keep me in her little flock.

“I don’t know about moving her away from the others,” said the PM. “I’ll think about it.”

When word spread to the other secretaries that I was to have my own desk there was uproar. For some reason they thought I was being promoted. Only fee earners get a whole desk to themselves. How was I the one being promoted? The PM told HOWARD that, unfortunately, there was no way she could move me given the misunderstanding and the upset caused.

“I’m bored,” HOWARD said later, scrabbling about again in my top drawer. “What have we got today?” He opened my packet of homemade sandwiches and stuffed half a sandwich in his mouth. I sighed.

“You know what this is called, don’t you?” he said, chewing.

“What?” I said.

HOWARD smiled, “It’s called bullying.”

I may be a chicken when it comes to standing up to HOWARD, but his theory about battery hens is misplaced. No-one is more bored and destructive than HOWARD. I guessed correctly that the PM was behind the promotion misunderstanding. I may not have privacy where I sit, but I do know I’ve got safety in numbers. Us birds of a feather, we flock together.

See you mid-week. I'm posting on Wednesday evenings too.

Eva x

Week 6 - Race Day

This week, the firm’s kitchen notice boards have been covered in photos from last month’s major social event. You can’t get away from it. It’s the main subject on the firm’s internal 'intranet'. Every summer, PHILIP treats us all to a day at the races. We go insane with joy. The men enjoy it and PHILIP loves gambling, but mostly it’s about dressing up. It’s not just any old day at the races. It’s Ascot - with grandstand hospitality, a five course lunch, full afternoon tea, free drinks at the bar and a glorious summer view over the racecourse.

Our Ascot day started perfectly. I felt like royalty as I sat down to champagne and canapés, or I did until my former boss sat down next to me. We’d hardly spoken since I’d been traded to HOWARD.

We’d been kind of suited. Both of us were quiet and hardworking. We made a good team. She appreciated my enthusiasm and loyalty. However, to HOWARD these things were synonymous with one thing – Spaniels.

His ‘Springer Spaniel’ campaign was relentless. If my boss invited me to lunch, he’d ask which lamp-post I’d been tied to. He wondered how often she walked me. He’d try to get my attention with a whistle, whilst patting his thighs. His bully-spam included reference books like ‘How to Train your English Springer Spaniel’. He asked my preferences on Chappie and Pedigree Chum.

Combined with his other humiliations, having him in the background pretending to sit up and beg made me painfully self conscious. He took to panting with his tongue out. He re-enacted word for word conversations I’d had with my boss - with me portrayed as a dog. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but it bothered the hell out of me. My work rate plummeted, and the work piled up.

My boss had a meeting with me. Things had changed. She demanded to know why I wasn’t concentrating. I was put out. She knew why, like everyone else. At least be brave enough to say it, I thought. Instead, she asked for me to be transferred. The timing couldn’t have been worse for HOWARD’S secretary to walk out. From then on my former boss and I had barely spoken, until Race Day.

I’m not one to hold grudges. I smiled at the waiter as he brought out the food. My ex-boss noticed she hadn’t seen HOWARD and asked where he was.

“Yes,” said PHILIP overhearing, “Why isn’t he here?”

I explained that HOWARD had a prior family commitment. I didn’t add that my day was going to be more delightful for it.

As we tucked into Kent duck and dauphinoise potatoes, I thought about PHILIP and this big treat. Whilst HOWARD is difficult, I couldn’t work for PHILIP. He’s off the scale. His outright aggression is impossible. It’s also well known he’ll overlook misconduct from the fee earners, as long as they are billing high. Let’s put it this way - there wouldn’t be a serious problem with HOWARD if there wasn’t a serious problem with PHILIP.

On the balcony, as my chiffon dress caught the afternoon breeze, I came to a conclusion. I watched the horses thundering round the bend and I laughed, spilling some of my Pimms, as my horse came first. I’d bet small, but I was happy. I finished the last high tea macaroon to celebrate.

My conclusion was this - if Ascot proves anything it’s that there is no excuse for making people unhappy. Even the most aggressive boss can make you feel like a princess if he wants to.

See you next week,

Eva x

Week 5 - War and Peace

I started the week making more typos than normal, allowing a delighted HOWARD to scrawl “FUCK U” across my letters and hand them back. “This shit is going in your personnel file,” he said.

The firm doesn’t keep personnel files. They’d only recently started appraisals. HOWARD’S own appraisal was that morning. I wondered if PHILIP would mention the way HOWARD talked to me. When I asked him about what they’d discuss, it must have been on his mind too because HOWARD did an impression of what he thought PHILIP might say.

‘HOWARD, my son. Do what you want to Eva; say what you like to the girl. I don’t give a shit as long as you keep billing - as long as you keep the money coming in. Just don’t make her actually commit suicide for God’s sake…the firm can’t carry the legal action.”

Never a truer word spoken in jest.

I have to confess I’ve been a little distracted, hence the mistakes. If I’d had a personnel file for HOWARD to look at he might have guessed why. This week I turned 36. I’m not usually bothered by birthdays, but the fact I’m divorced, living in a bed-sit and working for HOWARD isn’t a fulfilment of a childhood dream.

I wasn’t ready for him to know and I don’t have a clue how HOWARD came to find out. I braced myself for one suicide joke after another.

Maybe it was his appraisal and he was worried they’d say something. Maybe he just sensed I was feeing pretty low as it was, and there was only so much I could take. On my birthday, when he gave me a card and a gift it was understated, without him taking the advantage to humiliate me.

“I bought you the most utilitarian card I could find,” he said. I thanked him, not really understanding his point. 

I took the present out of its gift bag. He said his wife had chosen them so if I didn’t like them I could blame her. It was a lovely pair of silver earrings. I thanked him.

HOWARD told the PM to staple the gift receipt to my personnel file. When she asked why, he said when they find my body tied to the railway line, minus a head, he could prove he wasn’t all bad before they sent him down.

As I said, the firm doesn’t bother with personnel files. Probably they can’t be bothered with the admin. After all, do you blame them?

Mine and HOWARD’S files would read like War and Peace.

See you next week,

Eva x

Week 4 - Back to School

HOWARD’S been on about school this week. Maybe it’s the onset of Autumn. There’s a tell tale dry rustle in the stirring leaves, which are just beginning to fall. The breeze is cooler. Perhaps it’s because the traffic is worse now the children are back in school. Whatever it is, HOWARD’S been thinking about my education.

“If you’d paid more attention in school you might have made more of yourself, Eva. You might be doing something like me.”

HOWARD had been a high achieving maths brain-box in school; bright enough to be fast tracked through education. He’d developed a love of economics, but when a career’s advisor said that the law paid well, he’d switched. He was right about my academic record being a little different.

“I can just imagine your school reports,” he continued. “Eva is a sensitive child who keeps herself to herself. If only they knew how desperate for company you’d be as an adult. If they only knew you’d end up with fucking Attention Deficit Disorder because of a lack of human contact. If only they knew you’d end up rocking back and forth like a Romanian orphan.”

I resolved to handle it maturely; rise above it. I told him I wasn’t taking any notice.

“Toughening to the humiliation, eh? Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I still remember what you look like when you cry. It’s like watching Rolf Harris.”

He did an impression of me crying as if I were Rolf Harris, you know, doing that kind of hyperventilating breathing Rolf does when he paints. The clique of fee-earner ‘ladies that lunch,’ fell about laughing and asked what he was doing.

HOWARD continued his impression, shaking his shoulders for added effect and crying into his hands.

I laughed it off; acted as if I didn’t care. I told him he was unlikely to see me cry again.

I turned away from the fresh-out-of-law-school solicitors giggling at HOWARD’S put downs and got back to work. HOWARD continued his Rolf Harris. He reminded me of a schoolboy, clowning in the middle of the office in his white ASDA shirt, black trousers and lace-up shoes.

“Next time I make you cry,” he promised, “I’m going to film it and put it on YouTube.”

No, I didn’t do so well academically. I hated school. I couldn’t wait to leave. And not a day goes by without HOWARD reminding me why.  

See you next week,

Eva x

Week 3 - Needs Must When the Devil Drives

This week the unthinkable happened. HOWARD gave me a lift home. The nearest I’d been to his car was last Christmas Eve. As I walked through the car park he tried to run me over. He was joking…I’m pretty sure he was joking - kind of.

Anyway, HOWARD needed me to work late. I told him I couldn’t - I had a doctor’s appointment and I had to go home first. He offered the lift as a bargaining tool, which I’d been too busy to think through.

I used to have my own car. She’d been as well maintained and loved as an 11 year old car could get. On the MOT last year the garage phoned me in work to confirm the worst. The head gasket was done for. It wasn’t cost effective to repair. I’ll be a pedestrian until I’ve paid off the loan. I listened, sniffed and reached for a tissue. HOWARD sauntered past. It was obvious I was talking to the garage. If there’s a bright side, I thought, at least this meant an end to his ‘lorry driving into my car’ motorway death visualisations.

HOWARD pointed at me and said, “This, like all these things, has happened because you’re a bad person.”

So, as I waited for him in reception, I mused on the idiocy of being in a car with a man who wants to put me in a black bag and dump it on the side of the motorway. I tried to act nonchalant as the receptionist made a joke about HOWARD being a male version of ‘Miranda’ out of that film The Devil Wears Prada. I didn’t bother pointing out that I’m hardly the central character of ‘Andy.’ She put up with the boss from hell because it was the quickest way to launch her writing career into the stratosphere. I’m covering the rent on my bed-sit. Slightly less Hollywood.

A car can tell you a lot about a person, or at least how they look after it. You would have been appalled at the interior of HOWARD’S car. It’s never been cleaned. Old newspapers, magazines and flyers littered the seats. There was a smear of melted chocolate on the passenger seat and, equally, the sweet/stale smell of melted Dairy Milk in the air. Amongst the crap on the floor lay an old, dried tea bag and a scattering of what could have been toe nail clippings. There was a shrivelled walnut in the inside groove of the door handle. There were photos, gym clothes, office ties…It was both thought provoking and chaotic. Tracy Emin could have driven HOWARD’S car through the doors of the Tate and won the Turner prize before switching off the engine.

“I’ve named her after you,” HOWARD said, patting the steering wheel. “She doesn’t work properly and looks like shit.”

Maybe it was being outside the grey neon florescent of the office, but in the evening sun I saw him in a different light. His shave was uneven; his shirt un-ironed. He looked tired. He didn’t wear a watch. Nor did he wear aftershave, unless that was the melted Dairy Milk smell. For the remainder of the journey he talked to me about normal things, like his job and his colleagues. I listened.

“What a surprise,” he said, pulling up at the block of flats I live in. “You live in fucking sheltered accommodation.”

I realised that, while he laughs at where I live and my lack of transport, he doesn’t exude the trappings of success either. These are recessionary times. His wife may be wearing the Prada trousers but, to afford them, the devil wears ASDA and drives a second hand SKODA.

And, as I chose not to tell him, his tax disc is two months out of date.

See you next week,

Eva x

Week 2 - A Drop in the Ocean

On my way to work, I ducked into M & S to avoid a sudden rainstorm. Out I came, 10 minutes later, with some of those buckets of chocolate rolls, cornflake cakes and flapjacks. We keep a couple of spare tins for cakes and biscuits and I felt it was about my turn to fill them up. “Dig in quick before the chocolate melts,” I told them. The sun had come out and our office gets stuffy by 12pm.

HOWARD was disgusted at my purchase; another classic example of my needy attention seeking.

“Why do you go to such ridiculous lengths to buy friends, Eva? You’ve got no friends here,” he reminded me. “They all fucking talk about you. I hear them. It’s funny.”

“Do they really?” I asked, hurt.

“Grow up,” he said. Now, did that mean yes or no?

I needed sugar anyway. I was giving blood at lunchtime. The mobile blood donor unit had passed me, heading for the community centre, as I walked to work with my cakes. They say the extra sugar can stop you fainting. As I helped myself to another chocolate roll, I explained to HOWARD I had justifiable medical grounds.

“You’ll get massive!” he said. “While you’re in the van get them to check your blood for STDs. Your husband ran off with that woman, which means he slept round while he was with you. If his partner had 20 partners, and the people she slept with had 20 partners, then you’ll be riddled with infection. They’ll have to wash it down the drain to save your feelings. Check the gutter on your way out.”

I made it clear I didn’t have any STDs.

“Probably you’re right. Still, there’s only one thing they can do with blood like yours - and that’s stick it in black pudding. He did an impression of Greg Wallace off Masterchef, “Mmm, this black pudding reminds me of something…tastes like…hang on…it’ll come to me…yes, it’s odd. This black pudding tastes like lesbians.”

As the humidity rose by the second, it was like a different day. Leaving the office at lunch the sunshine was blinding as it bounced off the windows of the blood unit van in the distance. Before long, I’d drunk my squash and was lying on the cot, squeezing my fist to make the blood flow easier. In the background, a radio played Phil Collins’ Groovy Kind of Love; fans stirred the warm air; nurses reassured, blinds were half down to screen the sun. I moved nearer the window and looked up. I watched a plane, a million miles up, crawl across a cloudless sky.

I drifted. I don’t even remember them taking the tube out. My head swam when I stood up. I was faint. It could have been the hot afternoon, but I think it was knowing I had to go back. Suddenly, I couldn’t face an afternoon of ingratitude and insults. I wanted to stay in the van, or take the afternoon off. Anything other than go back there.

I sighed and pulled myself together. I reminded myself I had to have some sympathy for this man threatened by the simplest acts of kindness, who tarnished everything with his sarcasm and cynicism.

Back at my desk a few minutes before HOWARD was due from lunch, I knew I had time. I left a fresh cup of coffee waiting for him with a couple of cornflake cakes on a saucer. Of course, he’ll accuse me of stalking him. He’ll swear they taste like Rohipnol, he’ll probably report me to the PM again for sexual harassment.

These small gestures of friendship towards HOWARD are a lot like giving blood. It’s not comfortable, but I do it anyway. I like to think it does some good in the long run and I’m hoping, like the blood donation, it’s not just a drop in the ocean.

See you next week,

Eva x

Week One: All the Lonely People

This week, HOWARD has been singing Beatles songs or, more specifically, Eleanor Rigby. He assures me I'm very like her; a lonely and repressed loser who’ll never find another boyfriend.

I gave him a face that I keep in a jar by the door.

By Friday he had re-written and expanded the poignant third verse burial. He also substituted me for Eleanor. It goes as follows:-

I’m dead. It’s raining and the ham-fisted gravediggers slip in the mud, dropping my coffin into the hole and tipping the lid. My hideous corpse is exposed. The exhausted gravediggers take a tea break. I died of an obesity related illness so it was a heavy task. The rain worsens. HOWARD arrives to pay his respects. He notices, with some sadness, that he is there alone. The torrential rain gives HOWARD an urgent desire to relieve himself. He looks around for a bush to run behind – there are none in view; no trees either. He can’t hold on much longer. Where on earth can he go? Desperate, he looks down into the hole and unzips…

You get the picture.

Very creative, he’s been working on it all week. Truth is, I think HOWARD is the lonely one. Sure, he’s married, but the whole office knows he’s bullied at home. That’s why he spends so many hours at his desk. And it’s also why they forgive him his behaviour.

I think he’s a sociopath anyway, but don’t get me wrong. I’m not scared of HOWARD. I’m not scared of being just another Eleanor Rigby either. I suppose at the moment I’m scared of one thing. I’m scared of blogging to no-one and, like Father McKenzie, “writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.”

I hope someone is reading.

Eva x
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