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."

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 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 - 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.
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