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."

Saturday, 31 July 2010

WEEK 87 Ying/Yang

I’ve been having a bit of coaching to get my life back on track. I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning it, but Ann Lewis of “Recover Your Balance” fame has been helping me out a bit.

It’s not easy. I’m sure it’s not easy for her either. Sometimes I’m uncomfortable about questions being asked; sometimes I want to throw my toys out of the pram and stubbornly refuse to answer another question. But I’ve learned that’s precisely when I have a breakthrough. That’s the moment I realise something valuable about myself. Dark before the dawn I suppose.

I put my recovery squarely at the feet of my coach. The gravity of what I went through may have changed me forever, but the coaching has helped me begin to embrace the new me; who I am post HOWARD’S audio commentary.

So the events last Wednesday must be something to do with all this. It started innocently enough. I agreed to see a play with an old friend. Her husband had agreed to watch the kids so she was free for the night. My workplace bullying book first draft was locked away so I thought it would be nice to do something different. It was at a theatre I’d never been to and I didn’t know the title of the drama.

My friend and I met in an arty bar, which made me feel a bit old and out of it. I stuck to diet Coke and when other fabulous friends of hers turned up and offered to buy drinks I was determined to stay sober. It’s a school night so to speak. I enjoyed the play (even though half of it was over my head).

Afterwards, I realised my friend knew the cast, the writer and the director. We all headed into town for a few celebratory drinks and, for the first time in a long time, I let myself go a bit. I’ve not enjoyed myself so much in years. I forgot the time. I forgot myself. I was fun and cheeky and, well, alive.

Of course, the next morning it was a different story. Six years since my last hangover and little could prepare me for the struggle into work on Thursday. No amount of painkillers, hot early morning shower, coffee or endless gallons of water could ease the feeling of molten liquid lapping around in my skull. My eyes were hot and heavy. I felt irritable and sullen. It was the anti-climax of course. Surrounded by new friends who encouraged the writer in me – I was in my element. The next morning I felt like I was being tortured as I typed away, leashed to my desk by my set of earphones.

Sometimes these things are opportunities. It’s only in times of real crisis we get to strip everything back and ask, “Who am I and what do I want?”

HOWARD forced me to ask the question and Ann Lewis is helping me find the answer. See, in everything there's a positive and negative.

I’ve just got to lay off the Pinot Grigio.

See you soon

Eva x

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

WEEK 86 Pace Yourself

I did it! I finished the first draft of my workplace bullying book on Sunday.

Having shut myself away to get it finished, when I came up for air there were one or two domestic chores outstanding. I raced to Tesco, chucked my laundry in the machine and cleaned my little flat from top to bottom. Then I turned on my phone and PC to catch up on any messages. I resolved to get everything done before I opened my half bottle of Blossom Hill to celebrate.

I had the shock of my life when I opened my e-mails. My old employment solicitor had sent me an e-mail. I wondered what was up, because I’d paid his bill. It didn’t bode well. I don’t know about your e-mail set-up, but mine shows the first few words of the contents, which read in this case...

“I’m sorry about this but I’m afraid I’ve done something really stupid...”

My mind galloped off 10 scenarios where your solicitor needs to apologise and none of them were good. I tensed and opened the full version.

It’s always the last thing you expect.

He’s signed up for the half marathon for charity and wants to get some serious training in. Ambitious in everything, he wants to get the best time he can. He asked if I might help him, could I draw him up a schedule or go on a couple of training runs with him or something.

I was absolutely delighted. It’ll get us both fit.

Life throws up lovely surprises. I’ve just finished a first draft of a book which includes why employment law should be put through its paces and here’s my old employment lawyer volunteering to go first.

See you soon

Eva x

Sunday, 25 July 2010

WEEK 85 Two Birds, One Stone

What upset me most last week was not learning that the Christmas party was at my old office’s favourite hotel, but my reaction to it. After weeks of making happy and steady progress, HOWARD jumped straight back in my head. His mocking tone was loud a clear; how ugly I am; how my book is a big waste of time; how vulnerable dreamers like me will never amount to a hill of beans; one of life’s essential losers.

So this week’s blog is a short, quick one. I locked the door of my flat last Friday. The moment I got in from work I was determined to finish the first draft of my book, started a month ago. I typed yesterday until my brain fogged, the night fell and so did I, straight into a mentally exhausted sleep less than an hour later. I figure I’ve got about 8 hours of good typing in me today before I collapse. It should be enough. Then I’m going to have a celebratory drink and forget about it for three weeks.

It's such an achievement. I’ve never been so driven and ambitious for something. I also had no idea I have so much to say about workplace bullying. And while I’m writing, of course, I’m only in tune to my own voice. The glorious by-product of this is I’m too preoccupied to listen to HOWARD still trying to dictate my future.

Do wish me luck. I’m drowning him out by proving him wrong.

See you soon

Eva x

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

WEEK 84 Circle of Life

I’m not one for dwelling on traumatic events. I’m off, sprinting away from it. I’m fine if I don’t look back.

I mean, distance is good. The more distance I get from HOWARD and his pals, the better I feel. And here we are, July is almost over and that means we’ll be putting up decorations before we know it. I’m doing well, I think. And that’s what I was mulling over in work as the e-mail arrived from personnel. I was typing away, thinking about how things are getting better and better.

I should know by now that that is precisely when a person gets hit out of left field by the past or, to be exact, the ghost of Christmas past.

The e-mail wanted to know who could and could not make it to the works Christmas party at the beginning of December. The venue just happened to be the very same venue my old firm had booked two years in a row.

I went straight into panic mode. I couldn’t breathe. There was no way I could go. Not only had HOWARD made me feel like the most hideous person there twice but in the ET3 my firm had lied and said I pestered him for attention all night when I was the first to leave! The very idea that I would, for the third year running have to sit in the same room, only with a different bunch of solicitors was too much. It was unthinkable. It was absolutely unbearable.

I sent an immediate e-mail saying I couldn’t go.

Questions will be asked. It’s obvious I’ve got nothing booked for that particular afternoon and evening in December. I’ve only recently passed probation and now I’m refusing to go to the social event of the year. They’re already working on themes. It’s Hollywood glamour v ball gowns. I’m hiding welling tears under a heavy fringe hoping nobody brings me into the conversation.

The further the distance from my old firm, the closer the need for distance with my new one.

I’m calming down now, of course. I’ve told them I’m not going and that’s that. Enough of these circles already.

I’ve drawn the line.

See you soon

Eva x

Saturday, 17 July 2010

WEEK 83 Communication Breakdown

It’ll take me a while to get used to the cover-up.

My brother texted out of the blue to say he was paying me a flying visit with his family. I don’t see him that often so I shelved my gym plans and ran around for extra food and presents for his children.

When he turned up we had a couple of awkward moments; the unsettling aura of familiar kids grown into adult strangers. Separate lives. He wanted to know what I’d been up to recently. I paused. I frowned. I wondered what he’d make of my solicitors bill alone. “Not much,” I replied.

As his children bounced on the bed (a novelty having all your furniture in the same room) my brother noticed the papers on my desk. “Are you writing a book?” he asked.

I paused again. I frowned again. I thought about my current 56,000 word count. “Not really.”

“Will you ever get it together to buy your own place?”

“Maybe next year,” I said. “Anyway, what have you been up to?”

Fortunately, his children made it fun for us.

I can’t help wondering what he’d make of it all if he knew. I honestly don’t think he’d believe a word of it. When they left, I bumped my word count up to 58,000.

It doesn’t matter that I’ve signed the confidentiality clause saying I can’t talk about it. I can write about it – and I’ll have more things in common with those reading. We have a mutual interest.

Anyway, you don’t have to talk to communicate. I’m off to celebrate my growing word count by bouncing on the bed.

See you soon

Eva x

Saturday, 10 July 2010

WEEK 81 Saving the Day

I have a pedestrian attitude to money. I don’t spend above my earnings, but I don’t save either. As long as I can pay my rent, bills, food and clothes I’m doing alright. I used to have a friend who bragged about her ISA but, being honest, I couldn’t foresee the day when I would have the kind of savings to get one myself.

Thanks to HOWARD and his pals, I went to the bank this morning and got an ISA.

As the bank clerk did a sweeping examination of my accounts, he mentioned my mobile telephone bill, trying (as they always will) to sell me the bank’s insurance products. He pointed to the screen and I noticed an entry underneath saying that £11 had been direct debited out of my account for Unite union membership.

I told you I had a pedestrian attitude to money. I should have cancelled the Unite direct debit ages ago!

Now, perhaps you’re wondering why I didn’t seek help from Unite when everything kicked off?

Well, um, actually – I did.

The day I walked out of work, leaving HOWARD and pals my terrible resignation letter, I went to M&S cafe to have a cup of tea and think about what to do. The woman behind the till in the cafe was kind and I sat in the window in complete shock.

I remembered Unite had an office in town somewhere. Surely they’d help me. I’d been a member for a while. Most of the secretaries at my old firm had quietly joined one union or another.

I was on my way there when the PM left a couple of messages on my mobile asking me to call her back. She said she was worried about me. I wanted to phone her back and shout, “You should have helped me! You should have helped me!” I started crying and turned my phone off.

As you can imagine, I really needed advice when I got to Unite. I took out my membership card and went to their reception. There was no-one behind the desk. I waited 10 minutes. There was no-one around. The place was deserted. Confused, I went back outside and looked up at the scores of windows. There were definitely people moving about inside.

I phoned them up. A woman answered and I asked her if I could speak to a rep. I told her I’d walked out of my job and I was outside.

I was told they do not see people like that. I reminded her that I was only outside if someone could just spare me 10 minutes. I was told, no, they could not. She would get a union officer to call me back on the phone and take details. Incredulous – I gave her my mobile and membership number.

They never called me back. I can only assume they were too busy with newsworthy collective disputes to have time for a legal secretary crying outside on the pavement.

I went to the employment agency and the rest is history...

So today, I had the bank clerk set up my ISA and cancel my Unite direct debit.

It makes me laugh - after what I’ve been through recently and what the country’s been through economically – who’d have thought I’d actually have more faith in banking than the unions!

Lots of love,

Eva x

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

WEEK 80 Ruby Tuesday

At a little before 4pm yesterday, my solicitor e-mailed me in work to say the cheque was ready. There was a new light-hearted tone to his e-mail. I imagined him smiling and waving the cheque back and forth triumphantly, pretending he was just drying the ink.

I popped in on my way home to pick it up. We had an amicable chat, swapped pleasantries.

He recommended, with a note of kindness, I should put it all behind me. If I ever regretted not having my day in Court I should definitely take the time to visit the Tribunal, particularly if there was a sexual harassment claim listed, to see first-hand how Claimants are treated. He thinks I did the right thing.

He also reminded me again, if I was going to write about workplace bullying I would have to be careful to stay completely anonymous. I couldn’t tell anyone about any of this. It’s too small a world.

We shook hands and said goodbye like friends. He handed me a lovely letter saying he wished me all best and that I deserved every success in my future career – whatever I might choose.

I left his office and got swallowed up in the heavy swell of commuters, the hundreds of office staff leaving for home.

I want to be anonymous. I’m used to it now. There’s a real freedom in no-one knowing who you are. I want to be any one of these people in the crowd, rushing from the office.

I figure some of them will be wondering what they can do about their boss who made their day utterly miserable yet again.

I’m in the process of trying to come up with some answers and I’ll go to any lengths to ensure they never hang a name on me.

There’s no time to lose.

Lots of love,

Eva x

Saturday, 3 July 2010

WEEK 79 Anger Management

Last week was a good week. I finally got to a place where I could put HOWARD and his pals behind me.

As the immediate euphoria waned, I realised I was getting tetchy. I’m still unusually out of sorts. Something’s really bothering me. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I’ve landed on my feet in my new job. My employers are kind and friendly. I’ve got the settlement money on the way. What’s to complain about, right?

Yet I could yell my head off in frustration.

My workplace bullying book is going very well. The ideas are tumbling onto the page. And there lies the problem. It’s the only time I feel good and I can’t get enough time with it. I’m resentful of having to go to work, do the shopping and see my friends. All I want is to be left alone to write my book. I’m annoyed at having to grab an hour here or 20 minutes there. I just want to get it written.

It goes without saying - creativity shouldn’t, ordinarily, make you antsy.

The underlying problem is I can’t forget the lies HOWARD and four Senior Management staff wrote about me in their submissions to the Court; allegations so disgusting I couldn’t even record them fully in my blog.

Those members of staff knew what they were doing. They know me as a person. They know the truth. I don’t know how they can face themselves in the mirror, trying and failing, as they did, to mislead a Tribunal with horrendous lies. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.

I’m so angry, so betrayed. If I don’t do something constructive with it, it’s the kind of anger that destroys a person from the inside. I need to keep busy. I need to focus my energy and manage my emotions.

It’s essential to my health now. I’ve got a book to write.

Lots of love,

Eva x

Thursday, 1 July 2010

WEEK 78 Jarndyce v Jarndyce

There was a delay. The first time round HOWARD and his pals signed the Compromise Agreement, but they forgot to date it, rendering it invalid until it was sent back.

Would you want HOWARD and his pals to act for you? They can’t even get the ‘sign and date’ section of a legal document right first time.

Still, we got there in the end. It’s now legally binding.

I rushed off and bought my solicitor and his secretary a present to say thank you for their help. I know they were only doing their jobs. Plus he’s already getting his £7,050 fee for three months work. Can you believe this includes a slight discount? It’s the biggest bill I’ve had in my life.

I’ll never complain about council tax again.

In a few weeks time, if the case had gone on, my solicitor’s fees would have shot up again. If he hadn’t made me see sense, by Christmas I’d owe my solicitor a small fortune and had no settlement left to pay him.

My solicitor and Dickens’ fictional Chancery lawyers share the same advice about Chancery Court and the Employment Tribunal:-

"Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"

It’s a £7,050 lesson, but I’m grateful to my solicitor.

You can put a price on education.

Lots of love,

Eva x
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