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!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Can't Bully Me

I hope you saw the BBC Three documentary, Can’t Bully Me, which followed four youngsters as they tried to overcome the traumatic effects of bullying, with the help of the Red Balloon organisation.

It was very emotional. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy, let alone children. But it was a program of light and shade. The support the children got from Red Balloon was amazing. In fact, I took some of their advice myself yesterday.

Still unable to go to the work Christmas party, colleagues are curious. It’s only a week away now. As they discussed their dresses and gave me questioning looks, I felt under pressure to go. But I know full well, if I force myself, it will trigger a string of panic attacks. Work mates imagine I don't want to go because of a previous Christmas indiscretion. How can I explain it's because I'm terrified of being bullied and humiliated because of the way I look?

And that’s the reminder I got from Red Balloon. It’s to employ patience. If something makes me very anxious – then that’s the way it is for the time being.

Best wishes


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

WEEK 115 Family Familiar

Job identity is a powerful thing.

How many times have you worked with someone curt, driven and disinterested, only to find them the height of charm at social events?

I’ve known loads of people like this. The kind of people about whom colleagues whisper, “You should see her when she’s out! She’s a different person.”

I started thinking about this when a solicitor said, “It’s strange. Giving a client a dressing down isn’t difficult when I’m wearing the guise of a solicitor, but I wouldn’t dream of addressing someone in the same manner if I was representing myself.”

It made me consider how the employment roles we adopt often alter our behaviour completely, not only with clients or customers, but also the people we work with. We can be one person in work and someone entirely different off the clock.

Whilst we all compartmentalise, we should be mindful of ourselves when we do. We must resist, as far as possible, sacrificing our individuality for a generic job identity. It’s a short step from being curt, driven and disinterested to being outright rude to colleagues when the heat is on. And even targets of workplace bullying can succumb to the stereotypical labels directed at them and accept them as some sort of personal definition.

The goal, perhaps, is to be the kind of person in work your family and friends would still recognise if they chose to spend a day with you.

It’s extremely important, even if it is easier said than done.

Best wishes


Sunday, 10 October 2010

I Didn’t Do It

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a legal secretary it’s that, on paper, things aren’t always as they seem.

Employment claims, obviously, involve work conflicts. The worst ones (usually the ones about bullying or harassment) are the ones where the bully and the employer pretend there was no conflict at all. Bullies often claim their relationship with the accuser was 100% conflict free; that the Claimant has another agenda.

Under pressure, the employer or guilty boss/colleague will go to such lengths to prove they’ve been set up that the whole thing becomes bizarre. They’ll allege things like “After our innocent chat about the weather, the Claimant started to cry and complain of harassment! She’s obviously after money!”

I heard this hundreds of times at my old firm. “We didn’t do anything. So and so is suing us because she’s a money grabbing *****”.

Weirdly, people buy this. But here’s the newsflash. The majority of people walk away with a settlement ranging from one to two month’s wages. Considering they’ve probably walked out of their job months before and have a solicitor to pay – they’re probably stacking up debts that one or two month’s pay isn’t going to touch. They know they won’t get much - but something is better than nothing when you've been bullied out of employment.

We all know the real security is keeping the job you’ve got - more so when you have a family, a mortgage to pay and bills coming in.

So when an employer or one of its employees says, “I didn’t do anything – he/she was trying to maliciously extort money from the firm” – it’s only a matter of time before the thing they didn’t do happens again to somebody else.

Best wishes


Friday, 17 September 2010

Suzy Lamplugh Trust

This is my 100th blog!

In the last week or so, I’ve found myself dwelling less on bullying and more generally on how vulnerable working women can be, especially when we’re living on our own. There are so many stereotypes heaped on us: awful assumptions made by colleagues and society at large. It’s still a man’s world. Howard's not the only guy to find the joys and miseries of working women one big joke. He simply took it to the next level – finding past examples of the rape and murder of women quite hilarious.

It’s a sobering thought.

Still, how can I be sad when I've written so many blogs? It’s such an achievement. And how I wish I could tell Howard that to celebrate my milestone – I’ve donated some of his settlement money to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

See you soon


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Settlement cheque

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.

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 going to be here waiting.
Lots of love,

Eva x

Thursday, 1 July 2010

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.

My solicitor is 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. By Christmas I might have owed 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. You can put a price on education.

Lots of love,

Eva x

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Money Talks

They’re sending the money tomorrow.

It’s so quick my head’s spinning. My solicitor will hold it for me for a couple of weeks, but Howard and his pals are desperate to pay me off. They can’t get the money to me fast enough.

I can’t make sense of it. I never wanted money. I just wanted Howard to sort himself out and stop humiliating me. Why would they rather send over a wad of cash than apologise?

Truth is, I don’t know what to do with the settlement. What’s eating me up isn’t just the fact that I still wish I’d found a way to Tribunal, I’m also really scared. This is my big chance to change my life and I don’t know where to start. It’s a pressure I never saw coming. I have to make a decision about the direction for a new start.

The money is nagging me to make a decision. It won’t shut up.

What I really want it to say is 'sorry'.

See you soon

Eva x

Thursday, 17 June 2010

White Knight

Anyone reading my tweets will know I almost went AWOL this morning. I was going to go somewhere, anywhere. I couldn’t face work. I couldn’t face signing the Compromise Agreement. I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t know where I was going, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was going to ditch it and run. That kind of panic is a place that I never want to revisit.

I forced myself through it. I made it into work and later to the meeting, where I started crying when we started reading the Compromise Agreement.

It dawned on me, as we read on, what my solicitor’s role was. I’d expected my solicitor to come to my rescue. I expected him to rail against the bullies. I expected him to defend me and to fight the other side. I expected him to make them pay and bring justice.

This is not what solicitors do.

You expect a white knight - you get a white flag.

Originally, for ambiguous reasons, Howard had launched an attack. It led to a two year war. His motives no longer matter. It simply had to end. This is a solicitor’s job. He/she stands between two feuding parties and tries to force peace/compromise/negotiation. They aim to get the best for their clients in the shortest possible time and, yes, they hope to earn lots of money.

My solicitor said he’s failed his client if a case gets to Tribunal. He should stop the war – period.

I’m stumbling out of my trench and wondering what’s become of my world.

I’ll keep you posted.

Eva x

Monday, 14 June 2010

Swimming with Sharks

Howard once drew a picture of me naked being menaced by a mighty shark. He said the shark represented male lawyers. He wrote the caption above it, “Help, help, I’m a vulnerable person.” Then he tore it up and threw it in the bin.

It sounds like nothing, but that was the first time I phoned the Samaritans. That was when it really felt less like bullying and more like mental torture. I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but there was something about it, something that spoke to me on a subconscious level perhaps. I don't know.

Or at least I didn’t until today. I didn’t until I was crying on the phone to my solicitor. He wasn’t sympathetic. He said people like me who don’t have the money to pay up front don’t get to call the shots. He said I can’t have it all ways. He said either way they’ll humiliate me and lie about me until it’s over so I can settle quickly or drag it out and waste more money.

He just wants his cut of the CFA. 

I wonder if Howard's picture was a premonition.

It feels as though I'm surrounded by sharks - being torn to pieces.

How does anyone survive this?

Eva x

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Nuclear style

Last Friday, my solicitor gathered all the documents Howard swore didn’t exist.

They were the documents Howard assured Senior Management I was making up. He said the documents had to be an “elaboration,” a work of fiction from a deranged, lonely individual who couldn't tell fact from fiction.

When my solicitor scanned them all and e-mailed them to Howard and friends they all went into meltdown. Nuclear style.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was stewing in depression, completely oblivious that a couple of miles away Howard and Senior Management were imploding. I don't know why my solicitor didn't tell me what he was about to do, but this is what happened:-

1.They issued an immediate Temporary Reporting Order to stop me talking to the press and followed it with an application for Permanent Reporting Order.

2.They threw a settlement offer on the table in the financial bracket that would be awarded at Tribunal for serious sexual harassment and discrimination.

3.Howard was told he would have to pay the lion’s share of the settlement himself out of his own pocket.

4.They agreed, without argument, I can write anonymously about workplace bullying and harassment and draw upon my personal experiences to do so.

It’s over, bar the signature on the Compromise Agreement.

I know it’s no Hollywood ending. I didn’t get to turn up to Court looking amazing. My barrister didn’t humiliate Howard and force him to admit he did wrong. My old firm didn’t promise to treat their staff better.

However, maybe I've taught them a little lesson.

Don't underestimate writers!

See you soon,

Eva x

Saturday, 5 June 2010


I owe you an apology. I was misguided. I thought I could change things through creativity and understanding; that truth would triumph and good would win in the end. And even as I write that, it sounds hopelessly naive. I genuinely thought I might make a difference.

My solicitor, who hasn’t known me for long, has called me an idealist twice, both occasions saying it like it was a dirty word.

And I’m afraid, when I got drawn into putting up a fight, I may have dragged you along in my delusion that David could beat Goliath.

This is real life. David’s been marmalised. Goliath leaves the messy scene intact with an only an annoying headache and slightly less cash in his pocket.

It’s over for me in terms of fighting Howard and his friends. I’m outnumbered and out-financed. The only thing that remains is that if they won’t agree to remove the confidentiality clause – I will have to ditch my solicitor and represent myself to Tribunal. It’s my worst nightmare, but I’m in this process and it’s too late to back out.

Truth is, I think I may have got it wrong. Fighting for my cause changed nothing.

I’m not saying don’t fight...I’m just saying eventually you will have to chalk it up to experience and move on.

There has to be a better way to resolve these things. In the meantime, I’ll be here for you, like you’ve been here for me. If bullies are going to win as a rule, we need to support each other. As long as we’re trying to make a difference - maybe we’ll get there.

See you next week. Take care of yourselves and thanks again.

Eva x

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Impossible Causes

I saw my solicitor today. I was determined to fight on until he threw me a question which I’d never considered.

Do I have any savings to pay a barrister?

Due to the volume of evidence my solicitor said I will now probably have to pay a barrister up front. “Few barristers,” he said, “will read all these documents and lead a 6 day trial on a Conditional Fee Agreement.”

Also, Howard and friends have panicked and employed a top London barrister so we can’t hire just anyone. He said, knowing their barrister, my chances of winning have fallen from 100% to 75%.

Who on earth have they got? Kavanagh QC?

If anyone knows any brilliant barristers who would accept this case on CFA please let me know. They can read about it first-hand here and decide.

I need a miracle.

I’m praying to St Jude.

I'll keep you posted...

Eva x

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Reading Days

The biggest problem people have when trying to prove they’ve been bullied is a lack of evidence. After the event, when asked to give examples of the incidents including times, dates and names of those involved, it's hard to recall specifics.

“But I left months ago...” they'll say. “I can’t precisely remember, but it was around October, or maybe it was November – but it was horrible. And it got worse!”

The best case scenario, with no evidence, is a lawyer will pull out a Compromise Agreement and the worst case scenario is they’ll say it’s a waste of time. Not a leg to stand on. The bully has sneakily covered their tracks. The victim looks like a liar.

My own bully, on the other hand, got complacent. Howard wasn’t concerned about covering his tracks. The more they let him get away with it, the more he believed he was invincible. He sent me scores of offensive e-mails for a start. And I collected the evidence.

Too much evidence apparently!

There is so much evidence my solicitor isn’t comfortable. He’s had to book a “reading day” at the Tribunal, which will cost me more money. There was a tone to his voice, as if he wished we could leave half of it at home.

“It’s just expensive all round,” he said.

It may be expensive and inconvenient for people to take time to review the evidence, but it is more costly and inconvenient to have no proof against Howard when he accuses me of being deranged.

Keep a workplace bullying diary; keep e-mails which prove what you are saying. Keep everything you can. If you are being bullied, you’ll need it all.

Eva x

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Happy Anniversary

I’m off to celebrate in my own quiet way - enjoying the sunshine with a glass of wine or two this afternoon.

Exactly a year ago on the 23rd May 2009 Eva James/Bullied by the Boss was born. I knew exactly what I wanted. I just had no idea how to pull it off. I could type, but I had no idea how to start a blog. It took a while to set it all up. I certainly couldn’t have done it without the most helpful and generous IT guy and repeated loans of “Blogging for Dummies” from the library.

Like a year ago, my plan from this point on couldn’t be clearer. I know exactly what I want, but again, I have no idea how I’m going to pull it off. I’ll still need your help, you know. I need your company on a new journey - all the way to the Employment Tribunal.

So it’s about time for a birthday wish...and maybe a drink to courage.
Let’s hope it comes true.

Eva x

Saturday, 15 May 2010

ET3 Horror

I’m haunted by Howard's ET3 Grounds of Resistance. I enjoy writing myself, but if you’re interested in sexually morbid fiction then Howard's your man.

The first time I read it, I couldn’t digest it because I kept shouting at the document, or bursting into tears and raging against the lies. Days later I tried reading it again. The same thing happened. The bits I hadn’t read the first time had me yelling, cursing and crying within seconds. I cried all night.

Desperate, I phoned my solicitor the following morning and asked if they were allowed to make it up completely. Are they allowed to lie from start to finish?

The answer is yes.

Why isn’t this made clear to people? Even as a legal secretary, I had no idea.

My solicitor ensures me that cases are won and lost on the evidence. He said he admired me for what I’m doing and really doesn’t want me to give up. He called me a “trooper.”

I told him that Howard had seriously underestimated my ability to find help and support outside work, when none was forthcoming within. I told him there were independent people I'd reached out to for help, who might back me up. If they do, then Howard won't have a leg to stand on.

I’ve put the ET3 away for now. I can’t even look at it, let alone get to the end, but from what I’ve read of his fiction so far...

The butler probably did it.

See you next week.

Eva x

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Attack

They attacked.

I was going to give loads of specific examples from Howard's Grounds of Resistance as they are such outrageous lies, but my dignity wouldn't allow it. I'll give you a few though. The allegations are so outrageous it’s almost funny.


Most of his behaviour towards me, Howard claims, was to deter my sexual pestering. Without knowing I’ve done so, Howard mentions many incidents I’ve blogged about. He says I did them to myself in an attempt to get sexual attention. At one point he says he believes I quit because I didn't think he'd leave his wife! Other things, like the shredded letter from my ‘Resurrection’ blog, he claims never happened at all.

I'm so angry and upset. Even though it’s not like I didn’t see it coming. What a surprise! They are alleging that I’m desperately lonely and needy because I live on my own.

I feel like I’m in the middle of an extraordinary experiment into workplace bullying. It’s hard to explain, but the allegations on both sides now are so awful, I don’t know what will happen next. Howard and his colleague are, as yet, unaware of the mountain of evidence I’ve been collecting for almost a year – but they will find out soon enough.

So I guess the experiment is this:-

If I can’t prove that I was being bullied then no one can.

Wish me luck.

See you soon. Eva x

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The More Things Change...

That temp agency I wandered into the day I left my job was founded by a woman who successfully sued after being bullied in work.

I had no idea of this when I walked in clutching my resignation letter. She’d used her settlement to start her recruitment business over a decade ago and the solicitor she phoned on my behalf was the very same who’d originally won her case.

When she read my resignation letter she’d wanted to kill Howard and was determined to get me back on my feet and employed again.

I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t want to be a secretary again. I quelled my panic by telling myself the jobs market hadn’t picked up. However, I’d overlooked my new friend’s ability to pull some strings and champion my cause.

The interview I went to yesterday for an employment secretary was sprung on me by the recruitment agency at short notice. The manager of the agency told me to call in and see her first, where she promptly read me the riot act. I was not to let Howard ruin almost a decade of experience. I was not to let him win. I was to go and put on a brave face and get the job. She told me exactly what to say if they asked about my previous employment and she gave me a reference.

I almost fell over when they offered me the job half hour after the interview ended.

I cannot believe I’m going to be working as a secretary again after all I’ve been through. I can’t believe I’m going to have to put on a brave face and pretend I’m alright. I’m reminding myself I’m in this position because of someone’s kindness and that’s the main thing.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ll keep you posted

Eva x

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Crepe Crusader

There can’t be many women forced out of a job because their boss was so offended by their ugliness. Imagine feeling hideously ugly, divorced, living in one room, and unemployed. I’ve lost hope, I’m living from day to day and I’m crying all the time.

Ollie's ex-secretary met up with me and we discussed the stress of clinging to such an awful job and the effects of eventually walking out. She confessed after she left she’d begun obsessively cleaning and had begun hoarding anti-bacterial wipes. I nodded.

I have my own confession. Two or three months ago I started obsessively buying pancake mixes. It doesn’t matter which brand (although Betty Crocker is my favourite). The funny thing is, as I’ve mentioned, my flat is quite small. When I ran out of room in my cupboards I arranged the batter mix on top of the units. My mum was concerned for my mental health and ordered me to stop buying them. I couldn’t. The stockpile grew. I worried about what would happen if I ran out. I told my mum the pancakes weren’t hurting anyone.

Even depressed, I can see the funny side. Wherever you sit in my flat you can’t escape the Betty Crocker boxes above the kitchen units.
I guess it’s no co-incidence that the strap line reads “Betty Crocker – Stir in the Smiles.”

I wish.

See you soon

Eva x

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

I Quit

I’m in shock.

There had been whispers for months, but no-one believed it would happen. Yesterday it did. The Office Manager handed out our contracts of employment. I stared at my skinny envelope in surprise.

There was no mention of the legal assistant/paralegal work I was doing. The Contract confirmed I was a legal secretary again. It was a lower wage than Howard had stated.

I went cold.

I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.

There had to be some mistake.

I didn’t have time to ask Howard because we were called into a department meeting. I tried to concentrate on what Philip was saying about aggressive marketing. When he spoke of an advert in The Law Gazette I assumed this was another aspect of raising our profile. However, when he unfolded the proposed advert and slid it towards Howard I realised I was wrong.

It was an advert for the job I'd been doing up - until that morning.

Once the meeting was over I asked to speak to Howard about the advert. Amused, he told me I was getting above myself if I thought I’d ever make a fee earner. Later, I found out that he'd told colleagues I wasn't capable of progressing.

Last night I wrote out my resignation and gave it to the head of personnel this morning who asked me to wait until he took some painkillers for his hangover. I left immediately. I walked aimlessly - ending up at a local river. I froze after sitting on a bench too long as my mobile phone filled up with voicemail messages from the Office Manager and Howard. They sounded worried I would kill myself or something.

A couple of hours later, I headed for a temp agency, telling them I needed work. The manager asked me what happened, but I couldn't speak so I handed her a copy of my resignation letter. She took it from me but halfway through said, “I can’t read anymore.” She picked up the phone and called a local law firm.

“I’m sending her over to you now,” she said. “This is the worst case of bullying and harassment I’ve ever seen.”

I was told to go straight to the solicitors and then come back. She promised she’d find me another job.

“I’ve been an Employment Solicitor for a long time” the solicitor said. “But this is the worst case of bulling and harassment I’ve seen in my life. It’s incredible that it’s happening in a law firm. The crucial thing is, of course, can you prove it?”

“Every word,” I said. “I can prove every word.”

When I returned this afternoon with my folders of evidence, his jaw hit the floor.

I would have made a great paralegal if I’d had the chance.

Eva x

Monday, 12 April 2010

A Collection

Today was my first day back after my operation. I braced myself when the barrage of insults started from Howard. I aimed to write down every one. Sometimes there are so many I can’t remember them all.

At least my colleagues like me enough to send flowers and chocolates, I thought. Last Friday a huge bouquet of flowers arrived from the office - my favourites - pink roses and Stargazer lilies.

“Been anywhere nice then?” Howard asked, taking off his coat. He said he could see I'd put on weight, how the sling was unnecessary attention seeking and how I probably didn’t know the difference between masterbating and physiotherapy.

He expressed how disappointed he was to sign a card he believed to be bereavement, only to find it was ‘Get well soon’.

I was in constant pain, queasy from the anaesthetic, but I was determined he was not going to get to me.

“And did you get the flowers?” Howard asked.

I’d already sent a firm-wide e-mail saying thank you.

Howard frowned and said I shouldn’t look so pleased. He said they’d tried to get a collection together, but no-one wanted to give. He said it was awkward. He hadn’t realised how much I was disliked.

“Actually,” he continued, “it was so bloody embarrassing the Office Manager ended up buying the flowers out of nominal office account.”

The Office Manager quietly told Howard not to be so nasty.

As collections go, I'm not bothered either way. I have my own collection. It’s the evidence of Howard's bullying, his insulting e-mails and offensive amendments. More than once he has accidentally recorded himself on his dictaphone.

And I hope there will be no leaving collection for Howard if it all comes out.

See you soon

Eva x

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Wish You Were Here

Apologies if I’m all over the place. The general anaesthetic is still affecting me so I’ll keep it short.

I’d agreed some time ago with Howard and the Office Manager that, when the operation came up to remove the metalwork in my shoulder, I would take annual leave rather than time on the sick. I didn’t have much choice. Due to our ‘rolling’ sick policy if you take over 10 days then you’re on statutory. Take statutory and Philip wants to sack you. I can’t risk not being paid in the future if I become ill, let alone losing my job.

The Office Manager reiterated last week, while booking her holiday in South Africa, that it would be one thing off my mind if I used my annual leave. Howard smiled, commenting that he is going skiing in Andora.

Yesterday, after two days of staring at a wall in the Trauma Clinic, they wheeled me to theatre to operate.

“Where would you most love to go on holiday?" the anesthetist asked.

Holiday? I groaned and lost consciousness.

When I came round I wanted to get straight home. My mother came to collect me. We passed through the concourse on the way out.

“This is nice,” mum said. “Look, they have Costa coffee, and WH Smiths and Boots. Ooh, and there’s a jewellery shop and a Post Office.”

Shuffling past the Post Office, I thought of buying a postcard to send to Howard. I managed a weak smile at the thought of him receiving my holiday regards.

“Dear Howard, wish you were here!”

See you soon Eva x

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Thomas the Tank

Since working opposite Howard, he’s changed. He’s happier in the job. I wonder whether it’s having me at hand to bully. He’s getting on better with his wife. He’s calmer and there’s an air of confidence about him that wasn’t there before. More of his colleagues are dropping by to get his advice on their files, which is how yesterday’s row erupted right in front of my desk.

A junior solicitor from another floor was panicking and needed his help. She explained the problem. She needed to send an urgent letter, but it would take too long for her to find the necessary clauses. Would he mind writing it for her? Howard leaned back in his chair. He told her she’d learn a bigger lesson by digging herself out of the mess. When she reminded him she didn’t have time he reminded her neither did he. Angry, she stormed off.

Howard told the Office Manager, when she asked what happened, that he was good at training in a ‘non obvious’ kind of way. He used me as an example.

“Think back a year ago. If I’d have told her she’d be promoted to signing up clients and taking statements she’d have run a mile. She’s totally changed since working with me.”

The Office Manager nodded in agreement.

“It’s true,” she said. “You have changed.”

“Its knowing what they need on an individual basis,” he continued. “Her sort respond best to insults and threats rather than praise. Eva, you need to be manhandled to get the best out of you. Of course, I mean ‘man’ in the literal sense. When it comes to training I’m Thomas the Tank Engine”.

I asked what he meant.

“Thomas is doing the hard work up front – dragging the moaning, whinging carriages along behind him.”

They did have a point, but not about Thomas the Tank Engine. I had changed. Two months ago I’d been considering suicide. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I’d been suffering with hives and depression. Nothing had changed on paper, so how was I coping better now?

I’m still having panic attacks, bouts of crying and still stuttering when nervous, but I feel a bit better. I haven’t felt physically sick about going to work for a couple of weeks. I’m reading again at lunchtimes. I bought some new clothes on the weekend for the first time in ages. The last couple of mornings I’ve woken up with this feeling that everything’s going to be fine, as though I’d had a nice dream I couldn’t quite remember.

It was then the penny dropped. They’re right. Howard has changed me. I’m not the secretary I was a year ago.

I’m a blogger too.

See you soon

Eva x

Thursday, 18 March 2010

From the Heart

I’d forgotten the guys in my department were to be given a treat. The Senior Solicitor had booked lunch at a French restaurant. Howard, having also forgotten, found he’d double booked. He made his excuses and contented himself trying to rain on my parade.

“We’re paying for your lunch now?" he said. "It’s enough that you’ve benefitted from being promoted out of pity. Saved me the bother of charity donation. You’re off the dole queue. What more do you want? With the pay rise you got, you should buy me lunch.”

In the end only three colleagues turned up, the Senior Solicitor and two others. We weren’t sat down five minutes before the conversation turned to Howard and how he was besotted with me.

“But I think he wants to kill me,” I argued.

“No,” said the Senior Solicitor, as his colleagues shook their heads. “But stop being so bloody grateful for the pay rise.”

“I wasn’t expecting it,” I said.

“Nor was Howard,” the senior solicitor said. “He wanted you moved by him, but he didn’t want you to have a pay rise. It was embarrassing – wanting someone promoted because you fancy them, but campaigning against a pay increase. I mean, he really argued with us about it. D’you know how hard it’s been listening to him going on as if it was down to him?”

I approached a couple of secretaries on the quiet when I got back. I also asked the Practice Manager. The collective opinion was humiliating. He fancies me. It’s why I got promoted and why he doesn’t leave me alone. They believe he’s cruel to me because he doesn’t want people to know.

I tried to see it from their side. I thought back to how the Office Manager had given Howard my mobile number and how she’d tried to keep the peace through a million upsets. I remembered how she was always telling me his wife didn’t take care of him enough and how he was bullied at home. For the first time I got the sense that not only did they think he was in love, but that they were kind of hoping something might come of it. Something special might happen to this pair of unhappy co-workers.

HOWARD was back on top form by the afternoon. He told the office how he encourages me to focus on my work:

“I told Eva one way of distracting herself from lesbian urges is to concentrate on her job. Throw yourself into your work, I said. Then I thought - your work, why not a river? Encouraging! Gotta watch it though. You heard? Male rape’s on the up? Can’t be too careful. She’s more of a man than I’ll ever be!”

There isn’t a chapter on abusive bosses in the dating advice book He’s Just Not That Into You, but I figure that’s only because the authors thought it was obvious.

See you soon

Eva x

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Quiet Life

This morning, Howard's phone rang as I was putting away his files. He was downstairs. I reached over the mess and answered it. It was a medical consultant wanting to know if Howard had received his e-mail. I figured Howard must have been waiting for it because his Office Outlook e-mails were open. I couldn’t see anything from the consultant. Howard's last e-mail was from the Office Manager - referring to my recent complaints about his behaviour.

Tripping over my words, I told the consultant I’d call him when his e-mail arrived. I lowered the handset.

“Take no notice of her,” the Office Manager had written. “She’s overtired and oversensitive. After all, she walks back and forth to work and she goes to the gym. Why can’t she just chill out and have a bottle of wine and a packet of crisps!!”

I sank onto his chair, telling myself it wasn’t really a surprise. The Office Manager is a personification of bystander apathy when it comes to bullying. I was crestfallen to see she’d e-mailed him my mobile phone number too.

After lunch, the PM confessed to being upset. She’d been downstairs in the accounts room when she’d overheard a number of colleagues talking about her. Having heard her name mentioned she’d crept to the door without being seen. Some colleagues had said she did nothing to help when people needed it; she’d sell staff out for a quiet life. They proclaimed her useless.

“What’s wrong with wanting a quiet life?” she said. Tearful, she phoned her husband for sympathy.

When Howard returned he ran through some of his hilarious scenarios where I might die. The Office Manager sniffed and smiled. It wasn’t long before she was laughing again. Howard said he only had one request regarding the arrangements for my funeral.

“I ask one thing, Eva,” he said. “I want them to have a last gender check during your autopsy – to clear up my nagging doubts. Look at Caster - that runner. You should get yourself tested and perhaps they could pop your male bits out.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t think about me like that,” I replied.

HOWARD was already absorbed in his work.

“How should I think of you?” he said. “Oh, I know. My favourite is on the First World War battlefield in no man’s land - in the middle of decomposing.”

Without looking up, he raised two fingers.

Resigned, the Office Manager and I looked at each other, rolling our eyes.

“Or there’s the other way I think of you,” he continued, “which is like a walking advert for contraception. One look at you and the Catholic Church would adopt a more lenient stance. Feel free to book time off to visit Rome.”

If the PM gave as much consideration to every overheard conversation as she did to the ones involving her, I might enjoy a quiet life myself.

See you soon,

Eva x

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


After Howard spent his lunch internet shopping and changing his life insurance, he asked me if I had any life insurance.

“No”, I said.

“Who’s your home insurance with then?”

“I don’t have anything like that either”.

Howard stared, open mouthed.

“I rent. My furniture’s rented.”

Howard doubled over laughing. “That’s so sad,” he roared.

He wiped his eyes and looked round to see if anyone else was listening. I kicked myself and tried to save face.

“I don’t really believe in all that materialistic nonsense,” I said. “Like Michael Landy...I saw a programme about him. He did this art installation, Diminishing Returns, where he put all his stuff on a conveyor belt and fed it into a shredder. It was brilliant...I mean, it’s terrifying and brave and brilliant and – "

“Jesus – there’s something wrong with you!”

“But can you imagine? All of your things? Appliances, furniture, everything personal...gone.”

“You’re a...a gypo...a - freak,” he said. He spilt a little coffee on his shirt. He dropped half the file he was looking at on the floor.

Howard's duplicate Counsel’s Advice was on my desk to be shredded. I wheeled the office shredder over and plugged it in.

“Why are you doing that now?” he asked. “You’ve got typing to do. You’re slow enough as it is. It’s like watching a Daisy Wheel.” Howard milled his arms. “You type like you’re in a gay fight. You’re the only secretary who’d be faster just using two fingers.”

The machine drowned him out, allowing a pleasant day-dream where he fell in the shredder.

See you soon

Eva x

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Just Dance

Whilst Howard's impressions of me pleasuring myself have recently been replaced with vibrator jokes, the lesbian accusations continue. So I signed up to determined to find Mr Right and set the record straight.

I figured it was one way to take my mind off things and might lead to an hour or two sat in front of a man who’d say nice things. I had my first date yesterday evening. His name was Liam, his photos looked nice and genuine. I admit I wanted everyone in work to know.
Howard, of course, tore me to shreds.

He started innocently enough, asking if Liam drove. I told him I thought so.

“That’s good,” he said. “Because think how many people you’d make happy if both you freaks died in a car accident.”

He ran through scenarios where the guy was blind or disabled. When I asked him why he had to be so spiteful he said he was merely a “conveyor of truth.”

I turned up my audiotape and tried to drown him out.

Quarter past twelve, Howard suddenly became conscious of the fact that he’d wasted an entire morning making cruel jokes at my expense.

“Just so I don’t feel guilty later,” he told the Office Manager, “I’m doing this for Eva’s own good.”

I burst into tears. I couldn’t help myself. I ran to the toilet and came out embarrassed, wiping away smudgy mascara tracks.

I stood outside the toilet door collecting myself and walked around the corner expecting to see Howard looking contrite. To my shock, he was instead performing a small dance of triumph for the Office Manager. She turned away, disgusted.

I’ve never known anger like it. I saw red. I had to stop myself doing something stupid. I went outside for some air, wanting to hit something, a brick wall – anything. I walked until the wind cooled my temper.

I returned to an e-mail from HOWARD saying he was joking and hadn’t meant to cause offence.

He wasn’t aware, of course, I’d seen him dancing. Noted. If he ever finds out about this blog, I'll have to do a similar dance of triumph.

Eva x

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

WEEK 41 Comedy Doubles

My ‘Guardian’ high didn’t last long. The stress of the last few months is written all over me, but today almost tipped me over the edge. I accidentally saw an e-mail HOWARD sent to the PM claiming my complaints about him were fabricated because I’m desperately lonely for attention.

All the make-up in the world can't cover how grey and exhausted I’m looking. My headache came back, as did the heaviness on my chest. I’m developing a noticeable stutter.

Midday, HOWARD went into his Beaker routine for the PM, announcing that I look exactly like The Muppet Show character when complaining about him. After e-mailing me a picture of Beaker, HOWARD topped it all off with an impromptu Michael Jackson moonwalk.

Needless to say, the whole thing ended up in a meeting room where the PM sat on the fence, denying having witnessed anything.

“Next time you complain I’ll be happy to let them fire you,” HOWARD said. “I understand that you’re lonely, vulnerable and lacking in self confidence, but this needy attention seeking has got to stop.”

HOWARD and the PM are laying groundwork to stop me taking him to a Tribunal.

I realised that if I didn’t buck up and start wandering round with a fixed grin I was heading for a disciplinary. There was something else too – the heavy feeling left me. I don’t feel scared anymore. The guilt I felt about blogging has gone.

So, right then and there I resolved to be the perfect secretary. I’d speak only when spoken to and I’d be bright, chipper and helpful. When HOWARD’S disgusting jokes about me started up later I laughed along.

I’ll play the happy fool in our comedy double act. I’ll let the comedian pull my strings for laughs. At some point he’ll realise he’s chosen the wrong dummy.

Because I’ve made him the star turn in my act.

See you soon
Eva x

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Guardian Angel

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

I wasn't going to tell him I’d been celebrating an article I’d written about anonymous bloggers which appeared on The Guardian on-line careers blog.

“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 Office Manager 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 a 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.”

He'll also come to see things differently if he checks out The Guardian careers blog.
See you soon.

Eva x

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


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 worry about where my rent was coming from. 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.

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 liked 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 discreet 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 worse.

I missed the bus back to town and waited alone for over half an 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


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.

Howard and I had a meeting where he did all the talking. I was too surprised to speak anyway when he admitted everything. He said he’d known it was bad and had to stop. He talked and talked - about his family and about working with me. 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. 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 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.”

“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.

The truth is that no one’s going to hire a secretary with hives and on the brink of nervous exhaustion. I have to get myself better.

Eva x

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

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 Deep Heat ointment instead of make up. I checked it out in the toilet. My neck was covered in scarlet splotches. 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. At first, 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 they’d 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.”

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names will never hurt me

Really? Because, if I did have a time machine, I’d like to find the author of that little chant and throw them headfirst in a thicket of stingies. They’ve obviously never had hives. I’d also like to tell them about dehumanisation and the women of Berlin.

See you soon,

Eva x

Saturday, 6 February 2010

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's coughing, I looked up to see him spluttering all over my tea bag.

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. When others discovered what was going on it killed them. It was ludicrous. I told him to stop doing it, but my objections apparently 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 and rubbed himself with it.

I was sickened and embarrassed and 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.

“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 disturbed guy who'd do or say just about anything not to be completely invisible.

See you next week.

Eva x

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

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, our colleagues insist, 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 no doubt 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 peeked at him over my screen. Howard was absorbed in costing a file, his pen gripped between his teeth as if smoking a pipe.

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 Office Manager'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 Office Manager 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. As I got to the doors, Howard called my name.

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

There's the mirror, right there. Howard's words reflect exactly how he makes me feel at my lowest.

See you soon,

Eva x

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Boutros Boutros Ghali

I really hoped, given my pay rise and extra responsibility, things might work out. My desk move happened quickly, nobody made a fuss and Howard was pretty quiet.

Sadly, yesterday he was back to his old self. I couldn’t escape from it at lunch either. I still had to answer the overflow telephone calls from reception.

I’d completely forgotten to use the Dictaphone I’d bought as an aide memoire. While Howard was chatting to the Office Manager, I tried to understand the manual and how to work the machine. I’m not great with technology. I’d just about given up when Howard returned. Knowing he’d laugh at my incompetence, I chucked the Dictaphone in my bag.

The remainder of the day was horrible. Before going home, he said he could say and do whatever he wanted to me now. When I asked what gave him that idea he pointed out there are still no jobs around.

"And look what happened to Ollie's secretary," he said.

I don’t need reminding. I've got a box of her personal possessions under my desk. Philip, who’d never warmed to her, had bullied her into a breakdown - then threatened to sack her if she came back. She’d been replaced with an equally tearful temp.

It was only when got home, I realised the Dictaphone had been recording. It registered 37.33 minutes. It shouldn’t have heard anything from the inside of my bag but I was curious so I plugged it into Windows Media Player.

It was 37.33 minutes of my lunch. There’s nothing at first… then Howard's voice telling everyone I’m gay. He tries to convince them for about 10 minutes. Everyone’s laughing. I deny it. I tell them I was married. HOWARD changes tack, talking about how ugly I am. Other staff can be heard laughing. Howard tries to persuade them to agree. Again, I repeat over and over that I’m not gay and neither am I ugly. Scornful, he asks a series of personal questions about my family, which I’m reluctant to answer. Are they are as ugly as I am? Or are they uglier? All the time, I'm trying to eat lunch and answer the phone.

Then Howard tells me on the recording, over the giggling in the background, that I’m not to get upset later because he says I’m ugly. He’s sick of me crying about it. He does his new impression of me as Beaker from The Muppet Show.

“I’m sick of you getting upset” he says, “and I have to do my Boutros Boutros Ghali bit.”

Not wanting to hear more, I switched off Windows Media Player. It was a mistake to listen to it. How naïve was I to think I could be a fee earner or to think I have a future with this company.

What I’d heard gave me nightmares last night. I woke up after one bad dream where Howard was pressing against me, holding my wrists down against the desk and telling me I’m sacked if I don’t type what he tells me. He leans on me and forces my wrists down harder so I can’t move…I woke up shouting for him to leave me alone.

I have to find another job soon!

So much for him being Boutros Boutros Ghali.

Eva x

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Eternal Optimist

Yesterday a new temp gave me a contact at a recruitment agency.

“Sasha’s great,” she said. “You have to ignore the recruitment sales talk – but they’re all like that. Sasha’s fantastic, truly fantastic. Tell her I recommended you. I’ll vouch for your character.”

I uploaded my CV. Ten minutes later Sasha called. She had the perfect job for me - a secretarial job with the local university. It had only come in yesterday morning. “In fact,” she said, “I’ve just been telling them about how experienced you are. This job will be made for you. Come in tomorrow after work and fill out the forms!”

I was reeling. The new temp beamed at me as I thanked her from the bottom of my heart.

Today I fixed the photocopier five times in a row – no complaints. I filled up stationery, held open doors and made rounds of coffee. I was, in my way, saying a cheerful goodbye to the place because, without a contract, I only have to give a week’s notice.

I arrived at the agency this evening telling myself I’d earned this job after what I’d been through. Six recruitment consultants were screaming with laughter at the far end of the room. One of them signalled they’d seen me. I perched on a bright red reception chair, telling myself it was probably only like this because it was late. A thin blond girl ran over, introduced herself as Sasha and unleashed her lengthy recruitment patter. Then she told me to sit next to a young boy, threw a pile of forms at me and ran back to her friends.

Was it me or did they look and sound more like 18 - 30 holiday reps?
I studied the forms. They wanted my full residential history, employment history, references and personal details. This was horrible. Sasha had taken my CV and I hadn’t thought to bring duplicates. Why were these people so noisy? I couldn’t concentrate. The boy looked at me aghast. “I’ve filled my form out wrong,” he said...”I’ve done it wrong.” Uncertain, he repeated it again louder. The girls giggled, but nobody moved. What about the university job, I thought?

Sasha came back. “Let’s swap you two around, huh?”

The boy and I looked at each other.

“She’s got to do a typing test” Sasha said, jerking a thumb at me. “So she’ll have to sit there.”

“Typing test?” I said. “No-one said anything about a typing test!”

Every one of Howard's typing insults sprang to mind. I’ve been typing full-time for almost a decade but my hands still trembled with nerves.

“Can’t you tell me about the university job?” I asked, as she logged me into the test screen.

“Well,” she said, frowning at the PC, “I may have given you the impression that there was a job available now...that’s not to say that there won’t be soon. What I meant was...I told the university all about we had someone of your...experience on our books and they were quite interested.”

“There’s no job?”

“But there could be...They were very excited about you.”

The typing test started. I tried my best to copy type as the words swam. My shaking hands wouldn’t type what I told them. Ringing phones were left unanswered and the recruitment consultants screamed with laughter.

I didn’t finish the test. I sat there – staring at the screen. They showed me out.

All the way home I cursed our temp. I should have guessed what was in store after her annoying comment yesterday as she'd gave me Sasha's details.

“Good luck. It must be difficult for you working with Howard,” she said. “Has he always been obsessed with you like that? It’s romantic really.”

A few months with our firm will do wonders for her optimism.

See you soon.

Eva x

Saturday, 23 January 2010

New York

The minute I prepared for my desk move they postponed it for a week due to a phone connection problem.

I put my two postcards of New York back up. What aspiring writer doesn’t want to see New York? I dream of a long visit, perhaps noting ideas for a novel whilst staying an old Brownstone hotel. I dream of peering up at the Empire State, hot dogs and pretzels, dodging yellow cabs and of stopping to rest and sip coffee on a bench in Central Park.

In the meantime, Howard told everyone he’d extended the hand of charity by giving me a pay rise and the promise of a better job. When he approached the Office with a sheet of A4 and she laughed after reading it, I knew it wasn’t good. Perhaps my New York postcards had given him the idea, but he’d made a sign about me including the Statue of Liberty inscription. He hung it above his desk in full view of the office.

Think of this whenever Eva speaks:-

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless,
The tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 
I’m grounded enough to realise, of course, that New York is a distant dream when I can’t escape this office or even relocate to the other side of the room without technical problems and humiliations.

Eva x

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Wire

Howard frightened me last week, but on Monday I wondered if I’d over-reacted as he joked with the Office Manager about replacing me with digital voice recognition. He’s all for battery operated machines replacing humans. Then he thanked my sex life for giving him the idea.

Later, Howard phoned to say he’d put two packets of paracetamol in his top drawer in case I felt low. The Office Manager said to ignore him. “Let it go in one ear and out the other.”

He asked colleagues if they’d mind chipping in to the spring/summer floral bouquet he’s planning for my funeral. He knows what he’s going to write on the card. “In death she remains as she lived – entirely alone.”

It was relentless.

Yesterday was a new low. Having drew a picture of me naked, being menaced by a shark (him) and saying “Help, help – I’m a vulnerable person”. Then he added a penis to the picture of me, before tearing it to shreds and putting it in the bin. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t forget it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s terrible, but last night I was consumed with thoughts of suicide. I couldn’t stop crying. Desperate, I phoned The Samaritans.

They listened while I cried myself out. They tried to help me see some hope beyond the exhaustion and depression. They gave me a few ideas to help me relax. When I calmed down I decided I had no option but to quit. I’d find a temporary shop job until secretarial work picked up. If I was lucky, I wouldn’t lose my home.

I handed my notice this morning. On my way to a meeting with Howard to explain why, the Office Manager warned with the CVs coming in every day, I was better off staying where I was.

We had our meeting. Howard said sorry for his insults, especially those he’d made that morning before realising I’d quit. He admitted he had no right to tell the new temp that I couldn’t afford a car and my ex-husband was right to get shot of me the way he did. He didn’t know why he said these things. He promised he’d try and stop if I’d stay. He’d also speed up the pay rise and the promotion to legal assistant he’d told me about last week. Everything would be alright.

The Office Manager was delighted when he confirmed I’d be staying and said I mustn’t take any notice of his insults. “I told you,” she said. “Let it go in one ear and out the other.”

I wanted to ask why it had to go ‘in one ear’ in the first place. Five minutes later, Howard sent me an e-mail saying, “You are now going to be sitting opposite me.”

The shark image floated up again.

“This’ll be good for you,” he said as he signed his post. “You should be very grateful. You’re only underachieving because you’re ugly. Pretty people get a hand up the ladder. It’s your face that’s been keeping you at blue collar.”

“Is that so?” I said, exhausted.

“You also have BO.”

So much for him trying to change. Too tired to think - I was defeated. I looked at my new desk across from his knowing there’d be no-one to overhear. I’d be alone. He could say anything.

“You’ll have to stop thinking like a secretary too. You’ve got to start thinking more like a fee earner. Maybe one day, you’ll have your own Dictaphone.”

“Sorry?” I said, waking up.

“Your own Dictaphone?” He showed me his hand held recorder. “At some point you might be dictating for an ugly secretary of your own.”

I’m popping into town this weekend to buy a Dictaphone. The one I want is £40 in Argos. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.

See you soon,

Eva x

Friday, 15 January 2010

Mr Kipper

Today, while I was eating soup for lunch, Howard returned to his favourite subject of rape.

“Eva’s going to spend the weekend walking down badly lit alleys hoping to meet a rapist.”

Howard recommended I try around pub closing hours. He asked a female colleague to agree that I had the look of a girl asking to be raped. When she appealed to the Office Manager on my behalf, she replied, with a mouthful of sandwich and a helpless shrug, that it was his favourite subject when it came to me. I try to ignore it.

Howard continued, “She probably wears a badge saying, “I’m an estate agent” or “Has anyone seen Mr Kipper?””

I didn’t understand. He reminded me of the murder of Suzy Lamplugh. He said he had an alibi. He’d only been 14 and had been on holiday at the time.

I couldn’t help wondering why anybody other than the police would be so knowledgeable about Suzy Lamplugh. He told me she’d disappeared in July 1986 and was later found dead. Her skull had been relentlessly beaten in with a brick - shattered like eggshell.

“I’ll say one thing,” the Office Manager said when lunch was over, “He gives me a headache the way he goes on.”

A headache is the least of my worries. He’s always pretending to stove my head in with a brick.

Half an hour later I think he realised he’d gone too far. He sent me an e-mail saying he was just joking – it was just the way he was. Joking or not, my hands were shaking and my stomach was in knots. The e-mail went on to say that I’d soon be moving desks to sit closer to him and that I was going to be given a small pay rise.

Forty five minutes later another e-mail arrived. It was entitled “Sexual Offences Rape” and detailed how the law had changed. He commented that oral activities are now classed as rape by a 2004 amendment and he’d been unaware of this fact. Later he e-mailed me on the same topic to say, “There is no excuse for not acquiring knowledge.”

I need to get out!

Eva x

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


This morning I arrived half hour early. Checking the coast was clear, I emptied the shredding into a carrier bag I'd brought and hid it under my desk.

The day before he'd been on about my not having children.

“Thinking about it,” Howard had concluded, “its nature’s blessing. You’re the type of person who should be chemically castrated to prevent them from having kids.”

Then esterday afternoon, he followed me around as I put his files away.

“Do you dream about being raped, Eva?" he said. "I bet you pray for it…wishing - if it has to be rape – please let it be a gang one!”


“I bet when you’re watching Jodie Foster in The Accused you think, “I wish that was me…I wish that was me...”

Howard asked me if I lay awake at night, scared at every sound outside my door. He wanted to remind me that, though I may think I’m too ugly to be raped, there are some deeply sick men out there for whom this wouldn’t matter.

I threw the files in the correct drawers and returned to my desk, only to be followed by Howard. He carried a letter which needed the address changed. Looking thoughtful, he asked for a pen. I handed it over. He scrawled something across the letter. He’d done this before so I knew it was offensive. He took his hand away and showed it to me. I was losing the will to live. I just stared at him. Seeing me at a loss for words he covered the letter up and scribbled further. Again, pulling his hand away – he’d written about my private parts drying up like an old prune. Underneath he’d written how I think women who are raped have all the luck.

Howard showed me everything he’d written. Then he whispered, “I’d better shred this.”

“That’s the best place for it, don’t you think?” I replied.

He pressed the letter to him so no one could see it until he’d safely fed it into the shredder.

“I know you made that mistake about the address, Eva,” Howard announced for the office's benefit. “But, I’m not going to mention it again. I think we should put this whole disgusting matter behind us.”

There were too many people around for me to grab the shredding last night, but I managed to get it this morning. If I can stick the letter back together, I think the whole disgusting matter might come up again in the future.

See you soon,
Eva x

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

All Banter is Friendly

I had a quiet return to the office. Thanks to the office junior’s legal action, Howard has been scared to speak to me. After days of peace, without Howard's ridiculing banter, I was content churning out lengthy letters with their over-complicated legal jargon. Often I think how I’d re-write them. It’s surprising how simple law is – when you cut to the chase.

My letters were interrupted by the Employment Lawyer’s delivery of a Staff Handbook she’d written for the firm. The front cover had a place to sign and date. Underneath read the following sentence:-

"Please note the following policies are not contractual in nature".

A quick flick through told me all I needed to know. It was, in the main, an anti-bullying mission statement - the firm’s internal response to the office junior’s witness statement.

“We expect our staff to treat each other with respect and dignity at all times. We will not tolerate bullying or harassment of any staff by any staff”

Put simply, without the legal padding, the company did not condone:-

Harassment related to gender, race, ethnicity, colour, disability, age, religion, nationality, occupation, marital status, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. There was to be no abuse through e-mail, texts or websites; no invasion of personal space, spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone. There must be no intended isolation or exclusion, stalking or offensive sexual remarks. There should be no public ridicule, sarcasm or humiliation; no abuse of power, position or knowledge. They did not want people to be stressed, demotivated or frightened.

Wow, I thought, that’s great. But I’d forgotten this was written by a lawyer - things are rarely clear cut.

“Nothing in this policy is intended to stop friendly banter between staff.”

I was amazed. I had to read it again:-

“Nothing in this policy is intended to stop friendly banter between staff.”

HOWARD closed his Handbook and sauntered over.

“Eva, do you have any regrets?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I replied.

“So, you don’t regret not being on the property ladder before the economic downturn? Or not having a husband and kids? Or the fact that you can’t afford a car and live in a bed-sit? Or the fact that the few times a passing motorist’s beeped at you, you’ve taken it as a compliment because maybe you look like a prostitute, when the truth is they think you have the depressed look of someone who’ll walk in front of their car deliberately to kill themselves?”

Good old “friendly banter”, I thought. A couple of weeks and the crying with laughter will turn into, well…just plain crying.

The Staff Handbook waffled on, with its pages of tightly packed legal definitions of harassment and bullying, the carefully phrased meanings and its non-contractual foundation. I thought how I would have re-written it more concisely. The best I could come up with is one sentence with an Orwellian twist:-


See you soon,

Eva x
Bottom Swirl