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 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
Bottom Swirl