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. Bullied by my boss in 2008, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I started this blog. 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." I was unaware back then that it would catalogue one of the most extreme cases of workplace bullying in the UK. I've found another job, but am subject to a gagging order. I'm still blogging, of course. Just don't tell the lawyers!

Monday, 30 November 2009

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

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

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 Office 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 Office Manager 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.

“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 Office Manager. “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. 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. Getting myself together, I went to open the door, but 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


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 I told myself there was a chance the prize bottle of Blossom Hill 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. I thought about the moment when he’d walked into the vacant building and envisioned his empire.

The only thing to spoil the little game was Howard. Catching me scribbling away at lunchtime he snatched the list out of my hands. I'd come up with six suggestions. If none of them were chosen, it didn’t matter. It had been a fun, if nerdy exercise.

“What’s this shit?" he said. "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 sheet of paper and shoved it in a drawer.

I forgot all about it until this week, when Philip and the Office Manager called me to the boardroom to ask me about the strap-lines. The Office Manager told him I'd come up with a few. I fetched the crumpled sheet and gave it to Philip, who frowned. He nodded. These are good, he said. The Office Manager agreed.

“Nothing wrong with these, 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 Office Manager 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. 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 Philip. His firm definitely closer to 180 AD than 2009.

See you later, Gladiator.

Eva x

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Holiday

I’ve been thinking of a weekend visit to Edinburgh for ages, but the Office Manager 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).

See you soon.

Eva x

Saturday, 7 November 2009

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 said, sitting next to me. “It’s that bloody Howard isn’t?” 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 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. Eugh! 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, embarrassed.

I was embarrassed 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 and the employment lawyer laughed too, and I closed my case.

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