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, 25 February 2010

WEEK 40 Guardian Angel

This morning, when HOWARD asked me if I did much last night, I paused.

I could hardly tell him I’d been celebrating an article I’d written about anonymous bloggers appearing on The Guardian on-line careers blog. I can’t remember the last time I was so happy. Inside, a joyous ticker-tape parade was going off of all the HOWARD quotes I’ve mentally scribbled down in secret.

“Quiet one,” I told him.

“You’re so dull your life would speed up if I put you in a bloody retirement home. Socially it would give you a boost.”

“Perhaps you’ve broken my spirit,” I joked.

“I was aiming for your neck.”

HOWARD went on to say he’d changed his mind about euthanasia. He’d been all for it, but since meeting me he’s realised that although some people lead shit lives, there are those determined to keep breathing no matter what.

“I’ve come to understand that just because I’d kill myself rather than live your life, it isn’t necessarily the case you feel the same way.”

He stared at me and shrugged.

We are so used to HOWARD’S ‘pro-Eva euthanasia’ that a few months ago, when the PM found the BBC website “Guidance on Assisted Suicide” notes lying by the photocopier, she handed them to me believing HOWARD had forgotten to put them on my desk.

They’d actually belonged to the Senior Solicitor who was doing some legitimate research.

“I think the Dignitas Clinic is in Geneva,” HOWARD continued. “Easy Jet are doing good prices one way if you’re interested and you don’t have to make a final decision till you get there. No pressure though. Like I said –I’ve come to see things differently.”

I didn’t laugh because he was funny; I laughed because HOWARD will see things very differently if he reads The Guardian on-line. I may not be planning my funeral, but that’s not to say I don’t have a new Guardian Angel.

See you soon.

Eva x

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

WEEK 39 Out in the Cold

Having handed in my notice last Monday and then taken it back it was essential I show at least 8 hours of genuine regret for wanting to leave. And it was genuine. I believed HOWARD would try and I didn’t want to lose my bedsit. Showing I was an upbeat team player was a little harder considering my face was still itching with hives. HOWARD, however, was done being nice.

“Simon bloody Weston didn’t make this much fuss,” he announced to our colleagues, waving a hand in the direction of my pink face.

Emotionally raw and tearful, I came upon the idea of a bet.

I bet HOWARD £10 he couldn't go for a week without calling me Ugly.

The calculation went as follows:-

Showing I’m a team player - £5
Showing I was willing to laugh it all off - £5
Not being called Ugly for a week - PRICELESS

“Easy,” he said, accepting. But HOWARD didn't want £10. He said if he went without saying it for a week I’d have to take a beginner's skiing lesson at a dry ski slope. Something wasn’t quite right about this, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Anyway, I think I would have agreed to anything.

He did it though. HOWARD got through the whole of last week without calling me Ugly.

The strange thing is it worried me more. If it was so easy for him, why hadn’t he stopped all the times I got upset? Why’d it gone on for so long? And a question began eating away at my frayed nerves.

Why was it so important to him that I go skiing?

It meant enough to break a habit he'd had from the beginning. Sure, HOWARD was passionate about skiing, but this was out of my comfort zone and straight into the Twilight Zone. He e-mailed me ski times for a dry ski slope which was miles away. He watched as I booked and paid for my beginner’s lesson over the phone.

So, yesterday evening I joined five couples and three groups of friends as we all donned skis for the first time. They’re all practicing for skiing hols. I kept to myself and, being careful in the rain, hopped sideways about half way up the slope and let myself slide down. I felt a curious detachment. The instructor shouted out exercises to try on the move; little jumps, lifting our arms, touching our knees. Up and down I went. The teacher pointed out my good balance and lack of fear. Truth is, all I felt was an aching sense of mental tiredness. I didn’t fall once, not even when I took a discrete look at my watch half way through.

In the darkness, a few spectators watched outside the perimeter, cheering their beginner friends on as they waddled up and glided down. The drizzle sparkled like snow in the flood lights. Squinting, I kept thinking I could see HOWARD down there, laughing at me behind the chain link fence.

Being honest, I’ve never felt lonelier.

I missed the bus back to town and waited alone for over half hour in the freezing bus stop. I then had a damp trudge across town to get the second bus home. By the time I got in I was soaked, too tired to eat and too cold to sleep. My teeth chattered all night.

There’s no snow on the dry ski slope, but I left feeling very much out in the cold.

See you soon

Eva x

Monday, 15 February 2010

WEEK 38 One Giant Leap for Mankind

My hives worsened over the weekend. Honestly – it’s painful. This morning, having spent a tearful night with an ice pack pressed to my burning face, I phoned work to say I’d be in after I’d seen a doctor.

I was early for my appointment so I stopped in the newsagent and bought a paper.

“What’s happened to you?” the shop keeper asked. “You look like you’ve been beaten up!”

He’s right. My face is covered in this agonising rash. The area around my eyes is swollen and scarlet. My mouth’s puffy. Where my skin isn’t splotchy red it’s ashen and grey. Worst is the rash around my neck. It’s an angry red wheal, which looks exactly like someone’s tried to strangle me with a piece of thick rope. It doesn’t escape me that this is HOWARD’S favourite visualisation. The power of laughter, I suppose. I’m utterly depressed.

Every time I pass a mirror I can’t help thinking, “You are so bloody ugly.”

The doctor said my condition is serious enough that he’ll refer me to a consultant; they’ll have to find the cause. But I knew exactly where to find it. I left the surgery intending to hand my notice as soon as I got to work. I had to detour home first though, quelling yet another panic attack. My head was pounding. I’d had enough.

When I arrived at the office, HOWARD winced at how awful I looked. I told him we need to talk.

“Am I implicated in this…in what’s happened to you?” he said.

“Do you feel in any way as though you might have contributed?” I asked.

HOWARD and I had a meeting where he did all the talking. I was too surprised to speak anyway when HOWARD admitted everything. He said he’d known it was bad and had to stop. He talked and talked; about his family; about how he felt about me and work. He asked me to give him two weeks to change. I said I’d think about it, but I just wanted to leave. I felt free at the thought of it. Exhausted, hot and dizzy, but free. It was such a weight off my mind. So what if there’s a recession? So what if OLLIE’S ex-secretary is in dire financial straights?

Leap and the net will appear.

An hour later, HOWARD asked me again to reconsider. At least wait until you’ve got another job, he said. I wondered whether there was a way to salvage the situation. I sent HOWARD an e-mail saying I’d think about it if he would please, please stop telling my colleagues I’m asking to be raped. I told him it caused me EXTREME anxiety. I asked him to promise he’d never mention the subject of rape again. He agreed.

“It is my unfortunate sense of humour,” he wrote, “and in the cold light of day I do appreciate the distress, which I assure you was my not my intention.”

I wondered whether he had some kind of disorder and wasn’t a sociopath at all.

“Will you stay?” he asked when I gave him his post. I still didn’t know.

“If you leave I’ll jump out the window and kill myself,” he whispered. The threat brought fresh heat rushing to my face. The surreal and over-dramatic promise hung in the air between us.

Two minutes later HOWARD and I were sat back down in our old positions, but I didn’t decide to stay because of his threat or even because I didn’t have another job to go to.

My realisation that no one’s going to hire a secretary on the brink of nervous exhaustion with a bad case of hives halted one giant leap to uncertain future and one giant leap to certain death.

My time will come.

Eva x

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

WEEK 37 Sticks and Stones

Sometimes, if he’s short of a joke set up, HOWARD dips into the past. I knew exactly where the conversation was going when my day started with a history lesson on the fall of Berlin to the Russians in World War II.

“Did you know,” HOWARD began, as I gave him coffee, “German girls and women were forbidden to lock their doors to the Red Army soldiers. They call it the rape of Berlin or something. To put the troops off from raping them the women shaved their heads and smeared their faces with coal dust.”

HOWARD pulled up a website about it on Google.

“See, they raped any female between the ages of about 10 to 80. I read somewhere that 10% of them committed suicide after.”

I waited for the punch-line.

“Of course, we all know you would’ve sat there eating your dinner and thinking, “When they do show up I’ll want to remember every minute!” I bet you wish you had a time machine!”

I told HOWARD if I had a time machine I’d go back and save as many as I could. I gently rubbed my itchy neck and collar-bone. I returned to my desk and hunted for my lip-balm. As I applied it, my top lip felt like it was on fire. HOWARD, however, hadn’t finished his history lesson. He said I had to understand that it was easy for rapes to happen because the women had been dehumanised by the Soviet troops.

“Dehumanised? But you dehumanise me - calling me a Spaniel and saying I’m ‘an odious creature’.

“Yes, I know,” he agreed.

For the rest of the day HOWARD was reasonable and upbeat, save for refusing to use my name. Sadly, I wasn’t feeling good at all. My neck was insanely itchy. My eyes and mouth felt like I’d applied a ‘Deep Heat’ rub instead of make up. I checked it out in the toilet. My neck was covered in scarlet wheals. I rubbed the stinging rash with my fingertips. I knew what it was, of course. And I knew why I had it.

Last month I’d had this same crazy rash flare up. I was terrified. I thought it must be an allergic reaction to something I’d eaten. It’s extremely uncomfortable and depressing. It feels exactly like you’ve fallen head first into a thicket of stinging nettles. Three visits to the GP and one late night call to NHS Direct they’d ruled out aspirin allergy and finally confirmed it was urticaria, commonly known as hives. It’s often triggered by emotional reactions such as stress or anger. Say no more, I thought. They’d given me tablets and, thankfully, after a week it cleared up.

I was pleased that HOWARD was too busy with his audit to notice the hives. He would have only laughed at me. The first time the rash appeared he’d mistaken it for psoriasis, telling me not to get any flakes on his files but, other than refusing to address me as anything other than “Ugly”, he was pre-occupied.

“Have a nice evening, Pug,” he said as I pulled on my coat, careful to keep the collar away from my stinging neck.

The solicitor next to him laughed and said, “Sticks and Stones.”

The rhyme ran though my head as I walked home.

If I did have a time machine, after trying to save as many of those German women as I could, I’d find the author of the “Sticks and Stones” chant and throw them headfirst in a thicket of stingies. They’ve obviously never had hives.

And, as they struggled to free themselves from the nettles, I’d tell the writer about dehumanisation and the women of Berlin.

See you soon,

Eva x

Saturday, 6 February 2010

WEEK 36 Invisible Man

Yesterday it was a solicitor’s birthday so at 12.30pm the entire office, save for HOWARD and I, left for her birthday meal. They’d been granted an hour and a half. I don't get copied in on e-mail lunch invites. I've worked through lunch so long I'm invisible. HOWARD, for his own reasons, never joins in.

Without an audience, HOWARD is quieter. He made us both a hot drink and got on with surfing the internet. I thanked him, but didn't so much as take a sip. I still don't trust him.

Around a year ago, out of the blue, HOWARD started making me a cup of tea once or twice a day. It was odd considering I worked for someone else in a different department. He didn’t even sit anywhere near me, but office politics dictated HOWARD then had to be included in my ‘support staff’ coffee rota. It wasn’t long before his motives became apparent.

My old desk faced the open plan kitchen, set into a small alcove. Attracted one day by HOWARD coughing, I looked up to see him spluttering all over my tea bag. I raced over but was too late to prevent him dropping it into my cup and pouring the water on.

I couldn't think how to stop him making my tea without looking downright rude. My colleagues thought it was lovely of him. If only they could have seen him. Sometimes he'd lick the edges of the bag as if it were an envelope; He'd wipe his nose on it, or drop it in the bin. Sometimes he'd fish the bag out of the boiling water with his fingers, scalding himself in the process. Sometimes he'd make my tea with a spoon of coffee in the bottom. I couldn't help laughing at the absurdity of a solicitor going to such extraordinary lengths to ruin my tea. No-one would believe it. When others discovered what was going on it killed them. It was ludicrous. I told him to stop doing it, but my objections only made it all the more funny.

Days rolled into months and the undrinkable tea kept arriving. Colleagues snickered with horrified laughter. I wondered why it was happening. Putting on a brave face, I worried as to where the joke would end.
About three months later, HOWARD was messing about with the tea again and making a terrific racket. He rifled through the kitchen bin for a used tea bag, which he dropped into my cup. I ran over and cleaned my cup out. HOWARD snatched it back, promising to make it properly. He took a fresh tea bag from the caddy and stuck it down the front of his trousers.

I should have been angry, but I was embarrassed and just felt an overwhelming sadness. I fought off the strangest desire to say something to make him feel better.

'Don't' he said, unable to meet my eyes.

We avoided looking at each other and returned to our desks.

HOWARD brought me back to the present, asking if I minded not being invited out with the others. I told him it didn’t bother me.

“You are beyond depressing,” he told me. “What exactly is the point of your life, Eva? Do yourself and everyone else a favour. Contribute to the human race by organ donation. I’ll even help you find a way of killing yourself with minimal impact so doctors can maximize organ harvest. I’ll look it up on the net for you now…”

I looked at my cold tea and remembered that moment in the kitchen alcove. We both know what happened back then. For a split second, HOWARD had vanished and I saw a deeply lonely guy who'd do or say just about anything not to be completely invisible.

See you next week.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

WEEK 35 Man in the Mirror

HOWARD and I now face each other all day. Our desks are mirror images and perhaps it’s because of this a horrible thought occurred to me. I realised our similarities. I typed out a rough list is as follows:-

• HOWARD is bullied by his wife. I’m bullied by HOWARD.

• We both defend ourselves from bullying by way of creativity and humour, HOWARD verbally employs his cruel wit and I use this blog.

• HOWARD’S office image is that he’s a great solicitor. This is counteracted by him being an office bully. A more modern company would sack him for gross misconduct.

• My office image is that I’m a conscientious secretary. This is counteracted by the fact that, due to this blog, I’ll definitely be sacked at some point for gross misconduct.

• HOWARD and I make ourselves feel better, if only temporarily, by damaging each other. The fact that he doesn’t know I’m doing it is a moot point.
I slumped behind my monitor, staring at the list and wondering where it will end. Feeling both depressed and guilty, I peeked at him over my screen. HOWARD was absorbed in costing a file, his pen gripped between his teeth as if smoking a pipe. He hadn’t been too bad all day.

Before going home I tried to chat with him. I thought perhaps I should try harder to get him to see how friendly I am. I asked him about hobbies, what he liked to do.

“For fuck’s sake,” he replied. HOWARD jumped up and stormed over to the PM’s desk in the middle of the room.

“I can’t listen to her,” he said, attracting everyone’s attention. “Can’t you have her back over here? She’s like the bloody teacher off “Charlie Brown…‘Whah wah wah wah ywah ywah’. That’s all I hear…’Whah ywah wah. Do you like this, HOWARD? Do you like that? Wah wah ywah.’ For fuck’s sake! Take her back?”

“No. You were the one who asked for her to be moved there!” the PM said, amidst the laughing.

I switched off my computer, grabbed my coat and, with as much dignity as I could manage, I wished my colleagues a nice evening. Passing HOWARD, I said goodnight. As I got to the doors he called my name.

“Eva!” HOWARD shouted. “Listening to you makes me want to kill myself!”

HOWARD’S words reflect exactly how he makes me feel at my lowest.

It troubles me to think our mirrored feelings, when they break, might bring a lot more complication than seven years of bad luck.

See you soon,

Eva x
Bottom Swirl