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!

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

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 hooker adverts
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,

Eva x

Monday, 14 December 2009

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 Office Manager 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. 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. 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.

“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

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. Nausea would sum it up.

If they were looking for signs of romance when the meal began, they were disappointed.

“Yuk,” he said. “Cover yourself up, people are about to eat!” HOWARD took my shrug from the back of my chair 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!”

I excused myself and snuck out.

When I got home, 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

Friday, 4 December 2009

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 executive, 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 properly 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 migraine. 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 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
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