So then...

About Me

Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

WEEK 50 The Operation

I cannot believe this is my 50th blog. I never thought it would take this long to find another job! Also, sorry if I’ve been quieter on twitter this week. I’ve been distracted because I need an operation on my shoulder. Let me explain:-

Six years ago I had an accident. The result was a dislocated shoulder which needed a couple of pins and wiring to re-set it. A few months ago the wire began to move, but the real problems started a couple of weeks ago when it became agonising to move my arm, wash and dry my hair or wear tight fitting tops.

HOWARD explained how long he estimated I’d have to live in agony on the NHS waiting list. “I can’t believe I’m paying taxes so you can have what almost amounts to elective surgery,” he added.

After a trip to hospital the doctor concluded they’d have to operate soon. I explained to the PM I’d need a few days off.

“Don’t use sick leave for your operation. You may as well take it out of your holidays,” the PM replied. “You won’t be going away with your mother again will you? You’ve got plenty of days left.”

I stared at her, trying to work out if she was joking. She was serious. It’s now deemed okay to ask for my sick leave to be taken out of my annual leave, and for my annual leave to be cancelled anytime because “I have no life.”

“Hope you’re not worried about the operation,” HOWARD added. “What’s the worst that can happen? Mmm, let me have a think...”

It got worse.

At the start of this week I picked up a cold and chest infection. I battled into work, coughing, sneezing and wincing every time I moved my arm. I worried they’d have to delay the operation if I couldn’t shake it off in time.

“What does surprise me,” HOWARD said, “is that you get ill at all, considering the squalor you probably live in. I thought you’d be more like the African sex workers who become immune to AIDS as they’re exposed to it so often.”

Every part of my life seems painful and unfunny.

Then during lunch yesterday HOWARD tried to access a ‘name and shame’ type website he’d heard about, called “Solicitors from Hell.” HOWARD and the Senior Solicitor discussed colleagues they’d come across who deserved a place on the list. I noted HOWARD’S fleeting look of concern.

I had an emotional breakdown last night. I cried my eyes out thinking people will never understand. Look how my colleagues underestimate the situation. It reminded me how HOWARD had underestimated the pain I’m in, wrongly suggesting I’d have to wait forever on the NHS.

I sat there with my empty box of Kleenex Balm and my swollen eyes. Dazed and thoughtful, I leant against an ice pack. Hadn’t the NHS listened and concluded that the problem with my shoulder was too severe to be added to the waiting list? Maybe people will also appreciate why HOWARD’S case was too severe to simply add his name to the list on “Solicitors from Hell”.

Perhaps people will understand why I put Bullied by the Boss into operation.

I hope so.

See you soon

Eva x

Saturday, 27 March 2010

WEEK 49 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. His reputation as a highly experienced solicitor is growing. More and 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. Petulant and angry she stormed off.

HOWARD told the PM, 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 PM 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. More of HOWARD’S insults are going over my head as I’ve had a strange notion maybe I won’t have to put up with them forever. On occasions I’ve felt a touch sentimental about my colleagues as though, even with everything I’ve gone through, there are things I’ll miss one day.

The PM was warming to HOWARD’S idea that he had brought about these changes.

“When you think about it,” she said, “you have to admit you’re not the secretary you were a year ago.”

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 writer now as well.

See you soon

Eva x

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

WEEK 48 Money Talks

I’m so tired I can’t see straight. Yesterday was HOWARD’S conference. In the morning I sat at home waiting for my lift. I’d been determined to get the train but the Senior Solicitor said he’d overheard HOWARD and if he didn’t stop milking the situation and offer me a lift he’d have a word.

HOWARD was late and I wondered if there was a problem. I’d given him my mobile number, but he’d only made a face and thrown it in the bin. When I asked him what he’d do if there was an emergency, he replied that even if he got to my flat and found it on fire he had no duty to phone the Fire Brigade. He assured me he’d pop to the local shop for sweets and watch the show.

When he arrived he reiterated his instructions from the day before. It was going to be a long day and I probably wouldn’t have time for lunch. Not that he’d pay if we did. If I had to introduce myself then I was to say, “My name’s Eva James and I apologise for being a tedious person.” And finally, if he had to refer to me at all, it would be as his assistant, Baldrick.

Like most things you dread though, the conference didn’t turn out so bad. Some of it was really interesting. I managed to catch the end of a fascinating talk on the gender pay difference in law firms and how if female solicitors aspired to senior positions it might as well still be the 1970s. I threw myself into the job and I was so busy that the first time I looked at my watch a whole two and a half hours had slipped by. The second time I looked, I was shocked to find it was four and a half hours later. As HOWARD predicted, I’d forgotten all about lunch. Before I knew it, we were on our way home; an exhausting day of leaflets and running round after HOWARD far behind me.

We got on quite well on the way back. It was the camaraderie, I suppose, of a job well done. When HOWARD dropped me off he even waved goodbye using more than two fingers.

Problem was, of course, I thought it would last.

Today, he wasn’t in for half an hour before talking about how ugly I am. He involved two colleagues in debate on how men prefer pretty with a horrible personality than ugly with an amazing personality. You could learn to live with someone with a horrible personality but not the other way round, he announced, staring at me.

“I never met anyone who hates women as much as you.” I said, hurt. “And

I’ll remember everything you’ve said next time I work 11 hours straight for you”

“I don’t hate all women,” he said. “Just the ugly ones.”

“If you hate me so much,” I demanded, “why on earth don’t you replace me with a man?”

“It’s quite simple,” he replied. “You have to pay them more.”

There was nothing to say after that.

I consoled myself in the thought that men might earn more than their female contemporaries, but it doesn’t stop them being cheap when they want to be.

See you soon

Eva x

Saturday, 20 March 2010

WEEK 47 Appearance's Sake Only

Yesterday morning, getting ready for work, I turned on the taps to be greeted with a faint hiss, a couple of wet clicks and - nothing. I tried all the taps, turning them on, off, on, off – nothing. I tried the shower and heard the faint gurgling of distant pipes followed by a dry silence. The bath taps were no different.

I spent 15 minutes checking on and off before giving up and heading to work early. I was dying for a cup of tea. A colleague who lives by me came in and said the water was back on. It had just been a burst main. Half an hour after that, I realised I couldn’t remember whether I’d turned all the taps back off. My imagination ran away. I pictured water gushing out of the taps as my water meter readings span like the play of a slot machine. Moaning to the Practice Manager, I explained my taps predicament.

“Get HOWARD to give you a lift back”, she said. “It’s only 10 minutes away.”

They talked HOWARD into it. Unhappy, he moaned it was “for appearances sake only” and how this would make a dent in his hourly rate. I was grateful for the lift and relieved to find none of my taps on. It took us just under 20 minutes.

I paid for it though:-

“I was surprised I could park,” he told everyone. “Sheltered accommodation is usually disabled parking only out front. I can't imagine living like that. I bet she can stir a tin of beans whilst sitting on the toilet.”

He remembered we’ve got a one-day hotel conference next week where HOWARD is a guest speaker and I’m going along to help. It was some distance away. HOWARD laughed over my lack of transport. I asked how we'd get there. “I’m driving,” he said. “You’re on the bus.” He told me which number to catch.

“I agree with Margaret Thatcher”, he laughed. “If you have to use public transport you know you’ve failed in life. By the way, when I drive past don’t embarrass me by waving. I won’t acknowledge you in public.”

“Fine,” I said. I got the hotel details and opted for train times from the internet.

HOWARD was put out. He did a prompt U-turn, saying he understood it might appear selfish. He insisted he’d give me a lift but, once again, he made it quite clear it was for appearance’s sake only. I realised he doesn’t like it when I’m the one who asserts a desire to stand apart from him. So I’m putting my foot down. I’m going down there by public transport. I’m happy not to travel there with HOWARD or one of his snooty colleagues.

He’s not the only one concerned about his appearance.

See you next week

Eva x

Thursday, 18 March 2010

WEEK 46 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? 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.”

Even with his cutting humour there had been slight improvements. The pay rise was really helping and I looked forward to the meal.

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. “And stop being so bloody grateful for the pay rise.”

“But I wasn’t expecting it,” I replied.

“Nor was he,” the Senior Solicitor said. “He wanted you moved by him, but he didn’t want you to have a pay rise. That part was down to PHILIP and I. 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?”

Turns out, I was the last to know.

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 PM had given him my telephone number, 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; 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 and might it not be possible they could rescue each other?

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.”

Although there isn’t a chapter on Abusive Bosses in “He’s Just Not That Into You,” I figure that’s only because the authors thought it was obvious. So until he starts complimenting me, offers to buy me dinner and flowers and apologises for everything he’s said to me – I’ll continue to assume he’s already speaking from the heart.

See you soon

Eva x

Monday, 15 March 2010

WEEK 45 False Sense of Security

Although the legal threat of the office junior’s bullying allegations have come to nothing, HOWARD has refrained from sending me insulting e-mails again. There is no longer a written record of his ugly, lesbian, obese jokes at my expense.

Not that I’m out of the woods regarding e-mails. For months I’ve been enduring Carry-On style flirting from the Senior Solicitor who sits next to HOWARD. I don’t think I’m alone. He’s Head of Personnel so no-one’s likely to tell him to get lost.

I’m not very good at flirting. However, I did see the irony when he started e-mailing me in defence of HOWARD’S jibes.

“I don’t think you’re overweight like HOWARD says. Do ignore him,” he wrote. “You are beautiful from the top of your head to your very toes. If this was not the case why would I want to cover you with raspberry jam?”

The jam theme went on all day.

You wouldn’t expect a Senior Solicitor and Head of Personnel would use HOWARD’S politically incorrect banter as a jumping off point for sexual banter. I mean, HOWARD wants to kill me and the guy supposed to protect me wants to cover me in fruit preserve?

“Take no notice, I know you’re not gay,” he wrote when HOWARD debated again whether I’m gay. “Thank you. I’m really not,” I replied. “I know,” he agreed. “Our penchant for massage fantasy tells me it’s not true.”

We are all labouring under a misguided sense of security. The Senior Solicitor has no idea that he is trying to be fruity with an anonymous blogger and HOWARD doesn’t realise the Senior Solicitor is quoting his insults in writing.

So I suppose the question today is this:-

As a divorced legal secretary living alone in a recession, is the only sense of security I’m going to have - a false one?

Answers on a postcard...

See you soon

Eva x

Friday, 12 March 2010

WEEK 44 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 Practice Manager - referring to my recent complaints about HOWARD’S 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 PM 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 PM 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. Straining to hear, she listened as her workmates 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 PM 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 PM 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

WEEK 43 Diminished Returns

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 asked around insurance companies,” I explained, “but they said there was no point. My furniture’s rented. There’s only bits and pieces. It didn’t amount to enough.”

HOWARD doubled over laughing. I’d never seen him so tickled. “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. How 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 threatened by my living alone and seeming content. He thinks my pride takes any chance I have for happiness and success, puts it on a conveyor belt and feeds it into a shredder.

HOWARD’S duplicate Counsel’s Advice was still 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.

Between you and me, my pride’s the only thing still intact after 36 years of diminished returns.

See you soon

Eva x

Saturday, 6 March 2010

WEEK 42 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 match.com again 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.

That’s right, I wanted to shout, I’m a normal human being who’s going on a date with a man!

I skipped into work yesterday a different person; eyes sparkling; overly made up; change of clothes in one hand. I daydreamed how it might go. I was scared and excited and hopeful.

And HOWARD 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. Flicking through The Law Gazette, he told the PM it wouldn’t surprise him if the guy took one look at me and then bought me a vibrator as a parting gift. HOWARD reminded me that I was once massive and he didn’t know about Liam but, personally, he would never go out with someone who had the potential to be a porker. He made himself laugh, thinking about what Liam might wear and where he might work. 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 PM, “I’m doing this for Eva’s own good.”

I hung my head and burst into tears. I couldn’t help myself. I ran to the toilet and sobbed my heart out. I came out embarrassed, calming down and wiping away smudgy mascara tracks. I stood outside the toilet door collecting myself and walked around the corner expecting to see HOWARD looking guilty. To my shock I witnessed HOWARD performing a small dance of triumph and amusement for the PM. 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.

Don’t get mad, I told myself.

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.

I thought about cancelling my date last night with Liam. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but it didn’t seem fair. I forced myself to go. He was nice, but not for me. I had a couple of drinks, made small talk and planned my exit strategy.

Walking home, I daydreamed about a more important exit strategy.

HOWARD reads The Law Gazette from cover to cover. I smiled, imagining what would happen if the The Law Gazette ran a feature about Bullied by the Boss. I imagined watching HOWARD’S face as the truth dawns. I played with ideas for a cool or clever remark, but I know the reality is, if he guessed it was me (which is not a given) I’d probably leave without a word. We must have come close to saying and writing everything there is to say.

But when the time comes I have earned the right to do my own dance of triumph and amusement all the way home.

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