Monday, 24 June 2013

As close to "closure" as I am going to get...

It's been months since I have written in this blog. Not since February 2013, just before I went away on holiday to California with my husband.

We don't earn much, but we live a very abstemious lifestyle which means that every penny we manage to save goes towards travelling. And this holiday had been months in the preparation. I shan't pretend I did much of the planning. Husband is the one who spends long evenings delving into the internet and devising exciting itineraries, and finding great value places to stay, and spotting interesting little places to visit just a stone's throw away from the Interstate.

So there we were in California, living the life, and seizing every opportunity we could to put on our hiking boots and head out into the desert on one of the thousands of marked trails which cobweb the landscape.

And I was hiking along behind my husband, marvelling at the peace and beauty and silence (for we had not seen another human being for at least two hours) when I suddenly realised that my thoughts were not focused on my surroundings AT ALL.

My thoughts were focused upon a tatty little local authority office three thousand miles away, populated by a variety of human beings, some who were my cup of tea and some who weren't. And the dominant person in my thoughts was my implacable foe Remora.

Well, I can't truly explain what happened to me in that moment, but it was as if I heard a very loud voice booming in my ears. And the voice said:

ENOUGH.

Enough of the misery, the pain, the stress, the anxiety and the obsession. For in that moment I truly recognised what an obsession it had all become - the outrage of having been the target of so much spite, malice and bullying, and my total powerlessness over these people who had deliberately set out to cause me so much harm.

In that moment, I understood that I was allowing them to take up residence in my head, and to destroy precious moments of my very hard-earned holiday. And I decided that I was going to evict the f*****s once and for all, live in the present moment, and do everything in my power to use my time productively and enjoyably.

For as a wise man once said, "living well is the best revenge".

Have the past four months been easy? Have I succeeded?

Not 100%. But I believe I am 80% of the way there. I see my friends. I drink lots of coffee. I act in plays, and I go and see others. I visit exhibitions, read books, plan more holidays with my husband, write, and sing with the community choir. I laugh a lot. And I have a lot of fun.

The Jackals are still there, circling. In that respect nothing has changed. But I continue not to engage and not to respond. Sometimes that can feel like "losing". But I know, deep down, that in actuality I am winning.

Here is a photo of my "moment of realisation". I share it with you, in the passionate hope that all of you who have been targeted by bullies, malignant narcissists, and poisonous workplace toxicity will find your own path through the desert, and reach a place of mental and emotional safety.

You will always be in my heart, and I am grateful to each and every person who has helped me on my journey. I am still walking through the desert but I know the trail is leading somewhere amazing....

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Bad Planning

I am floating around doing my job off-site when I get a call from New Boss. He reminds me (just in case I might need my memory jogged) that I have committed to assist with a major departmental project.

“Yes, that’s right”, I say politely, wondering where the conversation is going.

“The thing is” says New Boss. “We need to involve one of the external volunteers. But I want it to be X”.

He pauses. It is clearly A Cue for some response on my part. Only I do not know what response I am expected to make.

“Yeeeeeeees…?” I say interrogatively.

“I absolutely do not want it to be Y,” says New Boss, naming the volunteer with whom I work most closely. “But I have to send out an email to all of the volunteers asking one of them to get involved. What wording do you think I should put in the email which will make totally and utterly sure Y will not put himself forward?”

I do not respond for about 30 seconds. In truth, I am at a loss exactly how to reply. New Boss starts squawking on the end of the phone, wondering if I have heard him clearly enough.

“I can’t help you, I’m afraid,” I say eventually. “I can’t think like that”.

“What are you talking about?” demands New Boss in tones of frustration.

“I’m sorry,,” I try to explain. “It’s just that what I would do is: send out the email, wait and see who volunteers, and then work with that person. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with trying to manipulate the situation. I’m so sorry. I’m not trying to be difficult. It’s just that – honestly - my brain doesn’t work like that”.

There is a short pause. I can almost feel my Blackberry trembling with the vibrations from New Boss’s violently rolling eyes.

“But I don’t think Y is the right person!” he expostulates. “I want X to work on the project”.

“Then just ask X,” I say patiently. “Don’t play games. Just ask X and let that be an end to it”.

“I can’t,” says New Boss sulkily. “That wouldn’t be fair”.

?????!!?

I wrestle with the advisability of pointing out to New Boss that if he wanted to be fair, he would just stick to honourable and transparent processes rather than the convoluted piece of skulduggery upon which he is recklessly embarking. Discretion is rapidly thrashed senseless by Valour, so I hear myself uttering the words above whilst knowing that they will be as welcome as waking up to a beeping sound and realising that the freezer door has been left open all night (this has just happened to me, so I can confidently say this is the most unwelcome thing I can currently think of…..)

New Boss spends ten minutes lecturing me on my naivete and inability to comprehend corporate processes. I just go “mmmmmmm” whilst my feet take me into an adjacent branch of T K Maxx where I can safely distract myself by looking at an array of colourful handbags (internal soundtrack: "my God! There’s a red Osprey bag in here reduced from £245 to £65 !!!" etc etc). At one point during the conversation, I actually suggest to New Boss that I withdraw from the project. But he won’t allow me to do so. I have no idea why not, frankly; as this would solve our current philosophical dilemma.

The phone call is terminated before my desperation for distraction has led me to purchase said bag. I manage to wander back out of the shop with my debit card untouched, knowing that New Boss has now written me off as a promotional prospect, and labelled me A Prissy Moralistic Bore.

For about the millionth time, I ask myself how I have ended up working in local government when I am so obviously unsuited to it. Because most of the time I feel that I am surrounded by people who are totally different to me, and that makes me feel very isolated.

I was once on a training course where we were asked to write down 10 alternative jobs we would have liked to have done, if we weren't doing what we were already doing. And I wrote:

- Travel writer
- Actor
- Vet
- Counsellor
- Massage therapist
- Yoga teacher
- Make up artist
- Children’s entertainer
- Dog walker
- Colour consultant

(some of these were slightly more – ahem – fantastical than others, you understand).

But even so.
How the flaming hookles did I end up as a local government officer...?

I can only put it down to Extremely Bad Planning.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

It's Just Not Cricket

I don’t know where Remora (arch-enemy and Ringleader Bully) has been for the past week, and frankly I haven’t enquired too closely into the matter. It’s been enough to note that she has been gloriously absent !!!

Admittedly, I indulged in periodic fantasies that she had a) emigrated b) resigned or c) been shifted to a different coven; but alas today brought me back to grim reality with a hollow thud. For I walk into our Town Hall office, and there is Remora pointedly sitting in her newly favourite spot - the hot desk directly opposite my own - large as life and twice as malevolent….

(She has the choice of four hot desks, but of course Remora being Remora, she is unable to pass up the thrilling opportunity of being within spitting distance of me – her Number One target).

There is a sound emanating from Remora’s particular workspace.
The sound of whispering….

Several years ago, Former Boss was actually forced (by Personnel) to send out a mass email instructing all members of his staff to desist from the pernicious and revolting habit of whispering to each other – something which had become rife within the department. Now, whispering might perhaps be the appropriate mode of discourse if one were discussing – oh, um - let’s say: one’s naughty extra-marital grope after Strategic Planning & Transportation Committee, or how neatly one has just managed to smuggle three packets of Post-It notes and a stapler into one’s handbag. But the only reason anyone has ever whispered in our office is because they have been bitching and sniping about one of their poor, beleaguered colleagues and want them to know it. Because naturally, when most normal people feel the urge to say something a teensy bit on the negative side about someone, they have the grace and common sense to do it when their target is not around.

3 colleagues carry this particular activity to a level of expertise which leaves their more amateurish co-workers whimpering weakly in their wake. These 3 are: Remora, Spiteful Manager and Ex-Army Man. Now even Remora cannot whisper all by herself (which must be a source of infinite distress to her) so it comes as no surprise to always see one of her two conspirators welded to her side. Today, the lucky conspirator is Ex-Army Man.

As I have only just walked into the office, I am not the current target. No! Their current target is Life Coach Colleague. He responds to their unpleasantness in his usual robust manner ie leaping up as I enter, hugging me showily, and launching into an animated monologue about the holiday he has just booked.

Life Coach Colleague’s defence against malice is to talk even more loudly about what a great life he has. I admire the hell out of him!

I settle down to work, iPod to hand in readiness for blotting out Remora’s voice. But despite believing I am completely prepared for anything she aims in my direction, she can still catch me napping…

Ex-Army Man has returned to his own desk, at which point I need to consult with him over a minor issue which has just arisen. I go over and stand beside him, and embark upon a quiet chat about the topic (I should perhaps mention that Remora and I are peers, doing the same job in different areas). Suddenly and without warning, Remora interrupts our conversation. Completely ignoring me - and don’t think I mind ! I love her ignoring me - she launches into an instructional monologue on the subject, and then starts making officious phone calls which render my role useless and redundant.

I don’t have my copy of Debrett’s to hand, but I believe this vulgar interruption is a violent breach of etiquette and that it is a damned poor show all round.

So do I say:

“Now look here, old chap. I was rather in converse myself there, what ho; when dash it all, you ruddy well interfered in a matter which had nothing to do with you. It’s not cricket, y’know”...?

No, I do not.

I do not, because I cannot trust either myself or Remora; for the simple reason that we have History between us. I am extremely wary of any form of engagement with Remora, because I happen to know that she is capable of any lie, any distortion, any action which will cause me harm. Not paranoia; just the stark simple truth. (Remora, let us not forget, appeared at a disciplinary hearing as a "witness" to an event she did not even see. Amazing! But then again, perhaps not such a surprising feat for a witch…)

I’m also afraid that if I confront Remora, the loathing I feel for her will totally overwhelm me and I shall be unable to prevent myself from sandwiching her in our smart shiny new printer, and dropping the fire extinguisher onto her head from a very great height.

So I find it safest to disengage instantly, and let the sociopath think she’s won. Thus it is that on this occasion I say airily to Ex-Army Man “oh, looks like Remora’s got it all covered! I’ll let her sort it all out with you”.

I then watch from a distance while Remora (who has now boxed herself into a corner through her desire to provoke and annoy me) has to maintain the “helpful” fa├žade she has constructed, and spend the next two hours of her life, firstly helping Ex-Army Man to create a drama out of nothing, and then secondly to resolve something which was never a problem in the first place...

I, on the other hand, spend the next two hours endeavouring to ignore this unfolding and toxic performance by:

a) editing a set of minutes from a meeting I recently attended
b) chatting to Life Coach Colleague and Affable New Colleague about Scotland and the Peak District
c) enjoying some of Deputy Boss’s death-by-chocolate birthday cake
d) texting my friends and making plans for the evening
e) ringing my Husband on my way back from the Ladies Loo
f) sending a few unnerved Tweets and getting some wonderful replies
g) humming my way through the first half of “Les Miserables” (which I am forced to do, to drown the hideous cacophony of her screeching).

“Red - the mist before my eyes,
Black - Remora’s horrid soul.
Red – a dawning sun will rise !
Black – she might fall down a hole……..”

I think I might just have preferred her when she was whispering.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Just Because I'm Paranoid....

Sometime over the Christmas break I spot a book in a charity shop which whets my interest - “Everyday Emotional and Psychological Problems and How to Overcome Them” (possibly triggered by my recent foray into the realms of psychotherapy).

It’s a very thorough and practical tome, and once I have got over my usual conviction that I suffer from everything contained therein, I find it quite reassuring. That is until I get to the chapter on Paranoia…

Here’s the helpful definition the book provides:
“Paranoia is the unrealistic thought that other people want to harm us”.

Apparently it is quite common – almost as widespread as depression or anxiety. Around 15 to 20 per cent of people have frequent paranoid thoughts, but about 3 – 5 per cent of people will have quite severe paranoia (what psychologists call persecutory delusions).

Oh! I think. How interesting. I didn’t know that. And then I turn the page, and I see a self-assessment questionnaire. Oh, again!! I love self-assessment questionnaires. I’m always filling them out at the hairdressers, in an attempt to discover whether I am in the wrong job/am married to the right husband/am sufficiently “high-maintenance” in my beauty routine/need to overhaul my wardrobe….

Here’s the paranoia questionnaire in full, each question of which needs to be scored between 1 (representing “not at all”) and 5 (representing “totally”).

1. Certain individuals have had it in for me
2. I have definitely been persecuted
3. People have intended me harm
4. People wanted me to feel threatened so they stared at me
5. I was certain people did things in order to annoy me
6. I was convinced there was a conspiracy against me
7. I was sure someone wanted to hurt me
8. I was distressed by people wanting to harm me in some way
9. I was preoccupied with thoughts of people trying to upset me deliberately
10. I couldn’t stop thinking about people wanting to confuse me
11. I was distressed by being persecuted
12. I was annoyed because others wanted to deliberately upset me
13. The thought that people were persecuting me played on my mind
14. It was difficult to stop thinking about people wanting to make me feel bad
15. People have been hostile towards me on purpose
16. I was angry that someone wanted to hurt me

© Cambridge University Press, 2008

Now this is slightly different from being asked whether I spend £5, £10, £20 or £50 on a moisturiser; if I possess any garments I haven't worn for over 2 years; or when was the last time I asked my boss for a raise. But I probably complete it more quickly than I have ever completed any questionnaire. Because the answers to the questions don’t take much thinking about…

Apparently, 85 per cent of people who answer the questions score between 16 and 31 (ie this represents a normal "healthy" mentality); while a score of more than 31 indicates an above-average level of paranoia. People with severe paranoia generally score between 40 and 70.

I SCORE 76 OUT OF 80 ?!?????!!!

(I would have scored 80, except that I don’t have particular recollections of being stared at, so Q4 only rates a 1….)

It’s not that I don’t know I am paranoid. It’s just that it appears I am now being asked to agree that my paranoia is totally unfounded; instead of being a symptom of having been bullied. Because I would contend, your Honour, that the statement “certain individuals have had it in for me” is in fact – um – FACT, and not merely belief.

The book further suggests that readers ask themselves other questions such as:

- Would other people think one’s suspicions were realistic ?
- Is it possible that one has exaggerated the threat ?
- Is there indisputable evidence for the suspicions ?
- Do my suspicions persist despite reassurance from others that they are unfounded

And I think – well, the people who “reassured” me that my suspicions that two of my managers and a nasty little clique of co-workers were bullying me were unfounded were HR and New Boss. Who conveniently ignored the “indisputable evidence” I had most helpfully provided (witness statement, emails). And I am in no doubt whatsoever that Remora the Remorseless, who meddled her way into a formal disciplinary hearing as a key witness to an event which took place when she was not even in the room, was motivated by a desire to cause me maximum damage (Line Manager actually admitted this, during our Mediation session !!)

However. However. 

I am very willing to concede that what happened had such a profound and lasting effect upon me that it severely damaged my sense of security and safety in the workplace for over a year, and made me wary even of co-workers who had played no apparent part in the proceedings. As a result, I became totally isolated, fearful, and began to suffer panic attacks....

The good news is that over the past six months I have reconnected with The Decent People.
But even today, I still wouldn’t trust one of The Jackals for a second.

Just because I’m paranoid…..?
Doesn’t mean they are not out to get me.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Cynics Begone !

Perhaps the stars are in alignment.

Or perhaps, time is indeed starting to do what they said it would (heal).

But I am now feeling fairly relaxed on the approach to the Town Hall; rather than the fluttering, nervous feelings of anxiety which have plagued me for most of the past year.

It's not that I have rested on my laurels and simply waited for things to improve all by themselves. Dear me, no. I have been extremely pro-active in terms of my own recovery....

Firstly, I have spent significant proportions of my waking hours in Support Group meetings, and talking to Support Group members over coffee, and texting them, and ringing them, and emailing them (last night, I even stood in sub-zero conditions on the corner of the street and talked for half an hour with Sue Inner Circle, whom I haven't had the chance to catch up with properly for ages).

Secondly, I have worked hard to build up a life outside work, which has hugely diminished its importance in my eyes. I'm now singing with the community choir on a regular basis, and have already auditioned for 2 forthcoming productions with the amateur theatre group I have joined. Haven’t actually been offered a part yet, but I continue to be astonished by my own new-found confidence - which includes auditioning in different accents without feeling stupid !!!

Thirdly, I have voluntarily (and not because Occupational Health Doctor was so keen on me doing it) entered into psychotherapy to help me come to terms with what happened last year - the bullying, the way other people joined in and subjected me to organised social exclusion, the confidentiality breaches, and the role played by that famed office sociopath Remora. And after 8 sessions, I have been able to shake Therapist’s hand, thank her and say goodbye (for now. Never say never!). And I feel happy to have forked out the £400, because it has represented a meaningful investment into my own well being

And finally, thanks to social media, I can feel connected and close to other people who are being bullied/have been bullied/have difficult bosses; and every day I can scroll down my phone and find something to laugh about or empathise with - which is indescribably wonderful (its impossible to get too worked up about The Jackals' relentless cynicism and negativity, when I have just read something inspiring under my desk!)

Cynicism.

I’ve been hearing a lot of it in the office recently. Scathing, sneering comments about people, places and things; all made loudly by the dominant group (The Jackals, naturally) which unsurprisingly deters anyone else from voicing their own opinions, or views, or likes, or tastes.

Cynical comments might seem, on the surface, to be harmless amusement. But I don’t hear that. I just hear a depressing sub-text. One which seems to say “notice me! I am so clever! I am sooo witty! I am so hard, incisive, brittle, tough, I am so totally superior to anyone who doesn’t think like me.

I am TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL”.

Here’s a thing.
I’m not cool at ALL !

- I have several Chris de Burgh albums
- I like Country and Western music (I liked Keith Urban before Nicole Kidman had ever heard of him !)
- My doormat has a picture of two rabbits on it
- One of my favourite books is “Anne of Green Gables”
- When I feel a bit down, I watch “Ice Age” or “Up” or “Monsters Inc”
- I have a particular fondness for the colour pink
- I believe in God and I go to church every Sunday
- I love singing hymns
- I cannot pass a dog without saying “oh look at that adorable dog !!”
- I have a collection of special teddy bears who sit along the back of my sofa
- I skived off work last Friday afternoon just so that I could go and see “Les Miserables” on the day it opened, and I cried all the way through every scene. I am not kidding (there are reasons I go and see films on my own)

I could go on and on (and on. Yes, indeed. Sorry about that).

But I imagine I have given you enough of a picture to demonstrate why I am very VERY wary of relaxing and being myself at work. Because whilst I am happy to defend my likes, preferences, and fondness for small cuddly animals; I don’t see why I should have to !

So I will just carry on striding into the office wearing eyeliner and power heels (Sheesh, thank God for Clarks Softwear is all I can say), and letting The Jackals all carry on believing that I am the hard-nosed b*tch they have painted me as. And as soon as they start with the cynical comments, and being nasty about the lovely Anne Hathaway, I shall be putting on my iPod.

I don’t want to get too close to their cynicism.
It might be catching ….

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Ring in the New

I've been back at work for a week, and so far, so good.

New Boss has initiated two conversations with me, and his manner during both of them has been pleasant, respectful and courteous. He has resisted the impulse to do impressions of me, tell me near-the-knuckle jokes, or throw accusations of "over-sensitivity" in my face. Instead, we merely chatted amiably about how we both spent the Christmas and New Year break.

Now I have no way of knowing if this entente cordiale will continue, but it would appear that by bearding this particular lion in its den (click here for details), I have temporarily halted what had started to become a very uncomfortable working relationship.

This lesson – the lesson of appropriately challenging inappropriate behaviour – is brought home to me yet again when I receive an email from Line Manager in the middle of the week. It starts “Katharine” and ends “Line Manager” (except he uses his real name, of course…). And the sentences in between are professional, courteous and unexceptional. Which would not be worthy of comment, except that Line Manager’s emails to me used to be abrupt, rude, sarcastic and hostile !!!

So what changed?

What changed was that I submitted a formal complaint against Line Manager for bullying, and after (an admittedly ghastly) six months of protracted investigations, my complaint was upheld.

New Boss told me during our pre-Christmas conversation in his office that he did not feel entirely relaxed around me, because he knew that I had strong views about how I want to be treated. Which I found a rather strange comment at the time, as I don’t imagine I want to be treated much differently from how most people want to be treated. I doubt very much if New Boss and Line Manager think of me with particular fondness – which is fine, because I don’t consider them my friends either. But I do expect them to treat me as I hope I treat everyone. Civilly and professionally.

One of the methods the Jackals formerly employed to upset me was social exclusion, ensuring I was within earshot when others in the office were being invited along to some gathering after work to which I was pointedly “not invited”. I expect the social events are still ongoing, but a stop appears to have been put to the petty playground tactics and loud proclamations. So I am no longer bothered. And I’m no longer bothered for 3 reasons:

1. What I don’t hear, can’t hurt me. Because it was never the gathering itself that was the issue; it was the deliberate attempt at public humiliation which was so upsetting. A humiliation to which I am no longer forced to play audience is meaningless.

2. Over the past year, I have worked hard to fill my life with lots of other interests; so I would not be free now, even if I were invited. If I chose to, I could now be out every single night – at choir practice, at a Support Group meeting, at a rehearsal or playreading, or just having coffee with a friend. If I had never been bullied, I would not have the life I have today. So although I am a long looooog way from feeling “grateful” for what happened, I do accept that today my life is far more rewarding, stimulating and interesting than it once was.

3. And finally, the stark truth is that many people I work with are – hmmmm, ‘ow shall I say? – different to me. The Jackals are tougher, a lot more cynical, with a fondness for schadenfreude, and a dislike of other people’s successes. I am tempted to write that these particular people are “nastier” but that is merely personal perception (I am sure that the Jackals also possess many good qualities. It’s just that these are quite hard to spot when they are in the workplace……) But it is the Jackals who lead the office socialising, so it is their values, qualities and interests which dominate proceedings. And these are things in which I am extremely happy not to share…

It’s been a while since I have felt any desire to “join in” with my co-workers; but perhaps New Year = New Start...?

So on my first day back at work, I email the office as a whole saying I have left some edible treats in the kitchen area. This is fairly standard practice when someone returns from having been away for any length of time, but I haven’t brought in any treats for almost 18 months. (Not having been quite in the mood, you understand....)

My treats seem to be well received, because a number of colleagues come up to me to say they’ve enjoyed them and to say thank you. And I start to hope for a future featuring a reasonably settled office environment. An environment where although not everyone is the same, we do all at least manage to treat each other with civility and respect.

Because – frankly – that would represent significant progress…..

Friday, 11 January 2013

Remora the Remorseless: Chapter Six

In which Steppy and Remora conclude the adventures begun in Chapters One, Two, Three, Four and  Five...

By the time Steppy returned to the Castle, the primroses were in full bloom. Steppy smiled upon seeing their gentle yellow faces, imagining that they heralded a more cheerful epoch ahead.

On her return, Steppy seized on any opportunity to work outside the Castle grounds, and this limited the occasions when she was in the same company as Remora. But Steppy did not wish for confrontation or discord, and so she continued to smile upon Remora when their paths crossed, and to make polite conversation.

But it seemed to Steppy that the more she withdrew from Remora, the more her former friend sought her out. It was clear that withdrawing was going to be a delicate and difficult matter.

"The Head Butler has imposed a great and onerous workload upon me", Steppy said, to explain why she was struggling to meet for their lunchtime repasts, as they had done Back In The Day. "I hope you understand...."

Remora had always accompanied Steppy to every gathering and event held in the Castle, cleaving to her side like a succubus. But now, Steppy decided to start venturing out on her own. And so one evening, she went alone to a gathering without telling Remora she was going.

When Remora discovered this, she felt a white hot anger inside her, which was quenched only by the icy shard at her heart. And she reacted with great unkindness, and subjected Steppy to Sarcastic Incantations.

Steppy knew that this was a difficult transition for Remora, and so did not react - but the Incantations had already cast their spell, binding Steppy with Guilt and Doubt.

She tried once more to broach an open, honest conversation with her former friend, where they could speak freely about the shadow which seemed to have darkened their erstwhile amity. But it was not to be. Instead, Remora said, for the last time:

"I have no idea what you are talking about".
So Steppy told Remora that she felt their friendship should be cooled.

Had Remora been sad, Steppy would have understood. Had Remora been:

- bewildered
- confused
- irritated
- vexed
- miserable
- at a loss, or
- sullen

. . .Steppy would have understood.

But Steppy was entirely unprepared for Remora's Great and Awful RAGE.

So unexpected, extreme and terrifying was Remora's rage - expressed in a violent sotto voce hiss, in a corridor of the Great Town Hall - that Steppy felt as though she was staring at a demon which had suddenly burst forth from inside Remora. She simply did not recognise this person who was staring at her with bulging eyes and scarlet face, hissing imprecations and vowing revenge.

And Steppy knew in that moment that she had been right to withdraw from Remora. Because Steppy was not witnessing "normal" anger. It was the rage of a gaoler seeing her long-captive prisoner break free from their chains and finally escape.

In the months following her Great Rage, Remora cunningly ensured that Steppy's name was blackened throughout the public servant workforce, so that servants who had always spoken amiably to Steppy now became silent and cool. And Remora spoke often to the Head Butler and Grand Vizier, who now began to bully the servant Steppy who was under their command, and cause her untold upset and distress.

And thus Remora the Remorseless - who was in truth a Witch more great and powerful than Steppy had ever imagined - achieved her ultimate end:

She had begun to control almost everyone about her.
She now held them IN THRALL.

Steppy was deeply troubled and upset by what was happening. She sought counsel from the Female Sages, and from physicians who might cure her troubled and disordered soul (for yes, Steppy was so affected by what had happened, that she was afflicted with insomnia and nightmares; and required potions for anxiety and panic attacks). And Steppy worked hard on her recovery, and focused on her life outside the Castle, and told no other servants the truth about what had passed between herself and Remora. Because to tell them the truth, she would have to speak of Remora's secrets. And despite everything that had passed, Steppy knew this would be wrong.

Slowly, slowly, Steppy began to recover; and over time she began to reconnect with the many servants in the Castle who liked and respected her. But she learned to do these things very quietly, because every time Remora learned that Steppy was carefree and happy, she would not rest until she had once again poisoned the minds of others against her former friend and prisoner.....

Five long years have passed since the day of the Great Rage, and yet Remora continues to be an implacable and deadly enemy to Steppy ! So although this chapter brings The Tale of Remora the Remorseless to a close, it does not bring it to an end.

For I very much regret to say, dear Reader, that the adventures of Steppy and Remora are never likely to end.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Remora the Remorseless: Chapter Five

In which Steppy and Remora continue the adventures begun in Chapters One, Two, Three and Four...

As the days lengthened and the icicles shortened, Steppy hoped for a similar mellowing in her friend Remora. But the enchantment which bound Remora was a deep and dark one, and the icy shard at her heart showed no sign of melting...

One morning at the very end of Winter, the Head Butler of the Great Town Hall summoned Remora, Steppy and some of the other public servants to meet with him in his inner sanctum. Steppy was invited to speak about the servants' workload. But every time she opened her mouth, Remora (sitting beside Steppy, as was her wont) opened hers too, cutting across Steppy's words as if the speaker was wearing a cloak of invisibility. The first time, Steppy assumed that it had been an act of misadventure.

But it happened again. And again. And again.

And in the weeks that followed, Steppy began to feel she was facing Remora upon the jousting field. For suddenly, Steppy felt assailed on all sides, as though she had been entered into a competition without her knowledge or consent.

Remora began to learn another language - one Steppy also spoke.
Remora began fashioning a quilt - because Steppy had done likewise.
Remora wore the scent that Steppy wore, joined the course of learning upon which Steppy had embarked, invited Steppy's friends to her dwellinghouse for repasts, and began writing verses (as Steppy did).

Cunningly, Remora published these achievements and activities loudly; so that were Steppy now to mention her own, it would appear as though she was mirroring Remora!

And any time a member of Great Town Hall royalty or another servant paid Steppy any attention at all, Remora made sure she crossed the Castle from one side to the other in order to thrust Steppy out of the way, and ensure that she - Remora - was the cynosure of all eyes....

Steppy was baffled. Steppy was bewildered. Steppy was hurt.
But when, during their still-regular lunchtime sojourns, Steppy tried to speak to Remora about the change in her behaviour, her friend affected complete ignorance. And never once did she utter truth about what was happening.

It seemed now to Steppy that the servant who had once cleaved so closely to her side had become a stranger. Had the real Remora been abducted and replaced by a changeling ??

Poor, foolish, naive Steppy ! She did not realise that Remora the Remorseless had simply begun to unveil her true nature.

As the first primroses of Spring began to appear, Steppy was granted a leave of absence from the Great Town Hall. She chose to travel to a land far away, where she might forget about the strange enchantment which seemed to bind her friend. The journey was long, and Steppy had much time to ponder the strange and troubling season which had just passed, and the many painful episodes which had occurred.

Then a question began to pop into Steppy's head, over and over again.
And the question was this:

"What is a friend?"

And Steppy concluded: a friend is someone you can trust, someone you can count on as they can count on you, someone who is kind to you, who makes you feel good about yourself. A friend is loyal, loving, and honest. A friend is someone you are drawn to, as a source of laughter and light. And a friend is someone who will never deliberately do you harm.

And Steppy pondered long until the ducat finally dropped in her head with a very loud clunk.

- Remora did not fit this description in the slightest.
- Remora was the very antithesis of this description.
- Ergo: Remora was not her friend.

All during Steppy's travels, the same realisation reverberated over and over again.
Remora was not her friend.

By the day of the homeward journey, Steppy had decided that on return to the Great Town Hall, she would have to gently end the close relationship between herself and Remora. Because Steppy - naive and foolish though she was - had finally woken up and smelled the primroses.

And she believed that Remora would not really care about this decision of Steppy's.

But alas, dear Reader, Steppy was so very very wrong....

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Remora the Remorseless: Chapter Four

In which Steppy and Remora continue the adventures begun in Chapters One, Two, and Three...

Directly after the Gathering in the Great Town Hall, Remora’s behaviour towards Steppy became increasingly strange.

- When they met to share a lunchtime repast, Remora now nibbled only at breadcrumbs. Which would not have been worthy of comment, except for the fact that she constantly pressed many tempting and highly calorific morsels upon Steppy.

- Remora began to tell Steppy that many other servants in the Castle did not like Steppy - that there were servants she needed to stay away from, who wanted to cause her harm.

- But most unsettling of all, Remora started to dress exactly like Steppy.

At first Steppy thought she must be imagining it ! She and Remora had always clad themselves in totally dissimilar garments, so it was surely coincidence that they were now enrobed identically. But day after day it continued. Steppy wore a full skirted floral emerald robe, and Remora purchased the same. Steppy wore a violet bonnet and shawl, and Remora wore the same. Steppy acquired a black and white cloak, and two days later, Remora appeared in the same.

One day Steppy deliberately tied her hair back into a tight knot - something she had never done before - just to see what would happen. When Remora appeared in the Castle the following day with her hair similarly knotted, Steppy’s head swam dizzyingly, and she felt as though she was stumbling through a mist.

Remora was still constantly by Steppy’s side so their parallel garb began to look quite peculiar, and one day Steppy heard some of the other servants talking about it. So Steppy diplomatically tried to raise the matter with Remora, but her friend said she had no idea what Steppy was talking about. Which made it somewhat impossible to discuss the matter with her any further....

Steppy then discussed the matter with the Female Sages - wise women whom Steppy had befriended over the years and who were to be found at the end of speaking tubes, or in forest clearings where coffees could be imbibed.

Steppy asked the Female Sages one by one if they could shed light upon what was happening to her friend Remora. Was she perhaps under a new enchantment? And if so, how could it be broken??

The Wise Female Sages went away and conferred; then sent their answer back to Steppy. Her friend Remora was, perhaps, insecure.

Steppy decided to remain totally loyal to Remora, and so began to practice a more subtle magic to counteract the mirroring spell. She bought her friend Remora special parchments such as “Colour Me Beautiful”; and gave her the collected works of those famed Witches of Garmentation Trinny and Susannah. She complimented Remora often upon her appearance, and bought her potions and unguents by the score. Steppy did everything she could to encourage Remora to be herself.

But Remora did not want to be herself.
For this was the secret wish that Remora had never shared with her friend:

Remora wanted to be Steppy.

And, dear Reader, she would stop at nothing to achieve this end….

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Remora the Remorseless: Chapter Three

In which Steppy and Remora continue the adventures begun in Chapters One and Two...

That winter, Remora returned to the Castle with a brand new face, but so cunning, subtle and deep was the spell which had been wrought upon her, that all those who gazed upon Remora appeared unaware that anything in her appearance had altered ! Which amazed Steppy, as it seemed to her that her friend now partially resembled a gerbil (the tummy fat the magician injected in her cheeks and jowls had perhaps been a procedure too far …?) But Steppy remained utterly loyal to Remora, and kept her secret safe just as she had promised.

But as the days passed, and the snow thickened and the icicles lengthened about Anonymous Castle, Steppy began to sense that the Changing Magic had transformed more than Remora’s outer appearance. Her one-time friend was becoming distant and strange.

Steppy wondered if Remora was still settling back to normality after the deep magic which had been wrought upon her, so she vowed to be as patient and understanding as she could, in the hope that the coming summer would bring a restoration of their former friendship.

Then in the very heart of winter, on the darkest evening following the shortest day, there was a gathering at the Castle. And Steppy and Remora, as trusted public servants, were assigned the role of greeting guests at the door. Kings, Queens, and their Councillors arrived one by one in their finery, to eat, drink and hobnob far into the night.

All was going well until a former servant arrived at the gate. Her gaze passing over Remora as if she was invisible, the former servant seized Steppy’s hands and gazed into her face.

“Why Steppy!” she said. “You look so fair tonight !!! Indeed, you don’t look a day older than when I last saw you.” And as she spoke, Steppy caught sight of Remora’s expression, and a chill seized her heart; colder even than the winter wind which howled past them all and into the heart of the Great Town Hall.

Of course, Steppy cannot know for certain what took place later that night in Remora’s dwellinghouse. But given what subsequently came to pass, it does not seem too fantastical or fanciful to believe that upon returning home Remora shut herself into her sleeping chamber, took down her magic looking glass, and demanded to know why her ten bags of gold had not made her special wish come true.

The special wish she had never explicitly uttered to Steppy.

And Steppy further believes that as Remora left her dwellinghouse the following morning, a frozen shard of ice fell from the lintel and pierced Remora's heart, a shard so sharp and so cold that she did not feel the pain of it. And at that moment, her transformation into Remora the Remorseless was complete.

Fairytales have a sinister aspect, Dear Reader.
And I'm afraid this one is going to be no exception...

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Remora the Remorseless: Chapter Two

In which Steppy and Remora continue the adventures begun in Chapter One...

True to her word, Steppy journeyed forth and sought the greatest tooth magician in the land; one who could bestow upon her friend Remora a set of gnashers as white and straight as the aspen tree. And Remora travelled thence with Steppy, and in exchange for a bag of gold, received the tooth spell.

But Remora still seemed ill content, and restless despite her dazzling smile. And one day, while she and Steppy were lunching on a bowl of broth, she swore Steppy to secrecy and confessed that she had gone to see another magician. A most skilled magician, conversant in the Changing Arts, who for a mere ten bags of gold would give Remora a brand new face.

Steppy respected her friend's right to choose the spells to which she subjected herself, but she could not help but convey her fears and reservations to Remora. 'This is deep and dangerous magic,' Steppy told her. 'You will need to be girded by protective talismans - and maybe consider having some counselling?'

For it had long seemed to Steppy that her friend was deeply troubled, so much so that a new face would not necessarily achieve the enchanted existence she seemed to crave. But Remora told Steppy that it would be a walk in the castle grounds.

'But whither will you conceal yourself, Remora?' asked Steppy. 'For you have told me that no-one is to know, not even your household'.

'I shall tell my household that I have had some warts removed from my face,' replied Remora. 'And they will be satisfied'.

Steppy's mind was in a complete whirl. Had her friend never witnessed a woman undergoing a similar transformation? Had she never read Glamour magazine? Had she never stumbled upon 'Ten Years Younger' whilst channel hopping ??!

Steppy tried to explain to Remora that this Changing Magic was so deep that her face would swell as large as a pumpkin, that her eyes would weep perpetual tears, and that her cheeks would be glowing all hues of the rainbow. But Remora did not seem to believe or understand what was being said to her.

There was only one thing for it. Steppy told Remora that she would conceal her in her own dwellinghouse until the changing magic had taken effect...

And so it came to pass in The Year of Our Lord 2008 that Steppy, true to her word (again) hid Remora away for several weeks; nursing her many seeping wounds, washing her bloodstained locks, feeding her gruel, and even lending Fergus to Remora in order that she might cuddle him at night (Fergus being Steppy's very own personal talisman in the form of a large furry bear....). Finally, when the day of Remora's departure dawned, Steppy used her best arts of concealment to create a mask for Remora's still battered face, enabling her to travel abroad without suspicion.

So Remora returned to her household, and from that day to this - despite everything else which followed - Steppy has never told a single other servant working at Anonymous Castle the story of Remora's New Face.

Despite everything else which followed.

But everything else - dear Reader - must wait for another chapter...

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Remora the Remorseless: Chapter One

Once upon a time, in a city not very far away at all, lived a public servant called Steppy.

She worked in a big anonymous castle, along with a lot of other servants. Steppy was an industrious worker and was well liked by her fellow servants. For some years, her life was a happy and fulfilling one.

One day, Steppy was busily working away in the great hall of the Castle when she felt something pulling at her skirts. Startled, she looked up and realised that it was another servant trying to attract her attention.

This other servant was unusual, because she was from a land far FAR away. Steppy had seen her working around the Castle, but had conversed with her only occasionally. She was not even sure what her name was. But now, this other servant brought her face close to Steppy's, and with a toothless grin held tightly onto her hand.

"Hello!" said the toothless one. "My name is Remora. I have decided that you are to be my special friend! Come with me to the kitchens and we will eat our lunch all by ourselves, well away from anyone else. Come! Come!!"

Thus began the strange friendship of Steppy and Remora. The other servants spoke often among themselves about the ill-assorted pair, and occasionally one would be brave enough to mention to Steppy how Remora never left her side, and that Remora glued herself to Steppy like a parasitic sucker fish.

But Steppy prided herself on her loyalty.
So when people said these things to Steppy, she did not listen.

Yet occasionally Steppy wondered how it was that she knew so little about Remora. How her entire picture of this friend was based upon the merest snippets which fell from Remora's lips, rather like the crumbs the mice chased around Anonymous Castle's floors..

Crumbs like these:

- that she had to leave her country of origin for "political reasons"
- that she had once been married but now "wasn't"
- that one of her two "sons" was not her biological child
- that she once worked for a foreign government as a secret agent

But every time Steppy tried to grasp one of these crumbs and study it closely, Remora would turn pale and wan, and look behind her as if a malevolent magic was waiting to swallow her up. And Remora would say "I don't want to talk about it" and "I can't speak about it any longer" and "it's not safe for me to say more".

And Steppy would believe her.

But Steppy was an open, trusting soul, who saw no reason to hide things about herself from a friend. So Steppy told Remora many things, such as why Steppy did not allow wine to pass her lips, and unexpurgated stories of Steppy's wild and dissolute past (for yes! in her youth, Steppy had been a raving drunkard....)

Then one day, Remora took Steppy by the hand and led her to a mirror on the wall. And Remora said "Oh Steppy, you are very so fair! And you are so very wise!! I need your advice. I think I need to change something about myself. Do you think I should dye my locks? Should I dye them as black as the raven's wing?"

And Steppy said "may I be very very blunt? I think you should get your terrible teeth fixed. And if you like, I will personally seek out the most splendid tooth magician in all this land, and I will go with you to meet him, and I will support you on this adventure, and walk closely by your side as each day of it unfoldeth..."

So began another chapter in the story of Steppy and Remora.

A story which - I am sorry to say dear Reader - Does Not End Well.....

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Just Being Me...

It's my last day at work before the Christmas break and I am enjoying the Alternative Christmas Lunch I have organised for myself and the 3 other colleagues who were simply unable to attend the department's 'Not Lunch'. We have reached the dessert stage when I happen to mention New Boss's amusing recent public mimicry of my 'posh' voice detailed here. And then I add that IMHO New Boss is a horrid little bully who doesn't seem to have the first clue about how to manage people, and that I no longer have any expectations that he will change or improve.

As we swap taster spoonfuls of chocolate brownies and raspberry panacotta, my three lunch companions uneasily share anecdotes of their own which graphically illustrate New Boss's crude interactions and graceless communications. But then just as we are finishing our coffees and settling the bill, one of my friendly co-workers suddenly suggests that I should 'talk to' New Boss about his new-found fondness for doing impressions, as it is just possible that he is unaware of how I felt about the incident. And the other two agree.

I've never been one to fruitlessly fester over resentments. If something seems to be awry in any of my relationships, I've always thought it better to try and resolve whatever problem has arisen, rather than say nothing and hope it will all get better, or that it will go away. So normally this sort of advice would be right up my street.

But for some inexplicable reason, I find myself demurring...

- Could it be New Boss's comment "that's just silly!" after he had encouraged me to speak to him about my ongoing anxiety symptoms?

- Could it be his helpful exhortation: "you just have to deal with your demons"....??

- Or could it be his failure to do anything about the bullying behaviour of Spiteful Manager towards me, despite the fact that a witness actually provided a statement about it...??!

Probably.

Nonetheless, despite my misgivings and having been persuaded by my friends, I find myself knocking on New Boss's open door about ten minutes before I am due to escape in the direction of various family festivities. He appears vaguely approachable so I am momentarily emboldened.

"Hello New Boss," I say. "Are you very busy, or may I have a quick word?"

"I'm leaving at half past to catch a train," he says. "But I've got a few minutes".

"Thank you," I say.
I then turn and shut the door.

This has a galvanic effect upon New Boss. Really - it is as if someone has just poked him with a cattle prod ! He sits bolt upright and starts a gabbling monologue, out of which I am only able to distinguish the words "I wasn't talking to you" and "you've misunderstood".

Ah. It would appear that despite the "mimicking" interlude having taken place almost four days previously, New Boss has successfully registered that the incident was not altogether pleasing to me...

Resisting the temptation to clamp my hand over New Boss's mouth, I allow him to babble on for several minutes while I gaze into the middle distance. I take little notice of his repeated insistences that when he repeated the exact words I had said, using exactly the same intonation, he was not actually doing an impression of me. Because if I believed that, then I would still be putting out a mince pie for Rudolph and hanging a stocking at the end of my bed....

Eventually New Boss splutters to a halt. He then looks at me and says helplessly "it's Christmas! Katharine, Katharine. It's Christmas, Katharine!"

????

"Yes, I know it is Christmas," I say politely. "It is my absolute favourite time of year. I love Christmas." (I very nearly add "because it is the day Jesus was born," but fear that New Boss will interpret this less as an expression of my faith, and more as an opportunity for further derision....).

I take a deep breath, and tell New Boss as calmly and clearly as I can that when he mocks the way I speak in front of colleagues, particularly colleagues who have spent the past year and half being vile to me, he is not only behaving in a manner totally inappropriate to a Head of Department, but he is also appearing to side with people who have tried (and very nearly succeeded) in making my life a total misery.

New Boss begins squawking like a Christmas turkey.

"I was just teasing!" he pleads. (I note the "I wasn't speaking to you" argument appears to have been dropped in favour of the truth...). "I tease lots of people! No-one else minds. X doesn't mind".

New Boss has just made the grievous error of naming a co-worker who has been a particular thorn in my flesh, and I hear my own voice turn frosty.

"This isn't about X," I tell him. "X isn't standing in your office. I am the one standing in your office, and I am telling you how I feel. I do not come to work to be ridiculed, New Boss. I come to work to work".

New Boss changes tack and adopts a whining tone of voice as he utters the Great Rebuttal of every bully (the one that comes second only to: "you've just got no sense of humour").

"The thing is, Katharine," he says. "What you've got to realise is that I am just being me".

At first hearing, this appears an irrefutable defence! New Boss is just being himself, and therefore (by inference) my attempts to curb his natural ebullience and humour are the actions of a churlish, miserable, embittered old boot.

But on second hearing - M'lud please, if I might crave your indulgence for a moment - one is forced to admit that this defence really doesn't stand up to scrutiny...

I am not an expert on the Nuremberg Trials, but I don't recall Ribbentrop or Hess profferring "but I was just being me!" as an excuse for their shining contributions to the Nazi regime. And search my memory as I might for tales from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I can't recall any members of the security forces pleading "but when I sjamboked those defenceless protestors, I was just being me".

Cromwell, Pol Pot, Jimmy Saville...?
Oh my goodness ! I suppose they, too, were just being themselves !!!

Which makes everything OK.
Obviously.

I ponder for a few moments how deeply satisfying the rest of my day might be were I to adopt a similar philosophy.

"When I told Ex-Army Man he was a sycophantic little twat, hey - I was just being me! And when I thwacked Remora across the back of her head with the giant stapler, guess what! I was just being me AGAIN ! And every time I walk into the office and tell the bullies to go and f*** themselves, I am just being ...etc etc" (I think you get the general picture).

I am not a wee girl. I am technically old enough to be a granny. And as I look down on New Boss's flushed and increasingly belligerent phiz, I am pretty sure that I am actually older than he is (though I am buggered if I am going to draw that particular fact to his attention). But when it comes to patiently explaining to a fellow adult that we can't just go through life doing exactly what we want, but that when we become grown-ups, we are required to modify/edit/show self-restraint/be tactful/behave - golly, I really don't know where to start....

I fall back upon my example given in the previous blog post detailed here, as above. I suggest to New Boss that if I was Jamaican or Nigerian or Lithuanian, he would not dream of mimicking the way that I speak. And for the first time, something I say appears to penetrate.

"Oh. Hmm. Yes, you've got a point," he says. "I'm sorry".

Do I twist the thumbscrews, and make New Boss squirm and wince for another ten minutes?
No, no, no.
Because he has apologised.
And because (as New Boss himself has so helpfully reminded me) it is Christmas.

"That's OK," I say. "It's just that I always prefer appropriate behaviour in the workplace".

New Boss decides to have the last word. Oh dear.

"Appropriate by whose standards?" he says, with a spark of defiance. "Who defines what's appropriate?"

"Well, that's not something either of us has to decide, is it?" I reply. "Because it's all been written down for us, inside the Council's many helpful policies. In our "Code of Conduct - Harassment and Bullying" for example. And in our "Code of Conduct for Employees". So I suppose when we're not sure if our behaviour is appropriate, all we have to do is just check what it says in our policies."

New Boss is looking a little bit sick. I expect he is wondering which paragraph of which Code covers "mimicking your own members of staff in order to upset them by making them look stupid".

I look at my watch.

"Oh - your train!" I say. "I mustn't keep you any longer. Thank you so much for listening".
I move to the door and open it, then turn back on the threshold.

"Happy Christmas, New Boss!" I say.
"Happy Christmas, Katharine," he replies.

That's better. Those are Last Words I am more than willing to let New Boss have.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Who Do You Do?

I have been off work ill, and apart from having constant sore throat, headache, back pains and exhaustion, it's been quite pleasant. Because being ill has meant that I do not have to be at work..

But on Monday morning I feel well enough to venture over to the Town Hall and start catching up on the Email Pile.

Some minutes elapse before I realise that the dark head at the seat behind my own does not belong to Jumper-Wearing Colleague, but to a complete stranger. He politely turns and introduces himself to me. He is a new colleague who has joined us that very day! I have long since stopped feeling any surprise that a new member of staff can suddenly appear in our midst without any of us having the slightest notion of what they are there for, because despite New Boss's early monologue on The Benefits of Communication, the departmental waters have now become worryingly opaque and murky.

But there is always such a sense of hope about meeting a new colleague. New people know nothing of office politics, cliques and bullying ! New people offer the Decent People a rare opportunity to chat away with relative safety !! New people might actually influence the department for good, by bringing fresh water into our stagnant, festering little pond....!!!

My hopes, sadly, are dimmed before the day has ended.

New Boss, whom I have already ascertained has employed Affable New Colleague on several previous occasions (The Clue: they both hail from Yorkshire....), enters the office to whisk him off to some Council shindig related to Affable New Colleague's area of work. The latter gathers together his coat and possessions. He smiles at me, and I say:

"it was lovely to meet you".

New Boss bursts out laughing, and repeats "it was lovely to meet you", loudly mimicking the precise way in which I have said this phrase.

I look at him in disbelief.

If I was from Nigeria, or Jamaica, or Bangalore, or Lithuania; if I had a stammer, or a lisp, or even the mildest speech imperfection; I doubt that even New Boss would consider it appropriate public sector conduct to mimic and mock the way I speak (although perhaps I am over-estimating his sense of propriety...). But because I am white, middle class and well spoken; it would appear I am fair game !

It might be wishful thinking on my part, but it seems to me that Affable New Colleague looks a little embarrassed. It's his first day, and it seems a little soon for him to have been introduced to the grim reality of my department, but hey...

"What's so funny about what I have just said?" I ask New Boss.

I ask courteously, but possibly there is steel in my tone. For New Boss suddenly pretends he has said it to Life Coach who is sitting next to me (a somewhat tenuous pretence, as Life Coach Colleague didn't actually utter the words New Boss mimicked !)

I say, in explanation, to Affable New Colleague: "the problem is that I am just too posh for New Boss".

New Boss then comes out with the Classic Bully's Defence - "you're so over-sensitive".

Affable New Colleague turns to me.

"I am not from the same place as New Boss," he says. "I am from York. We are more civilised there".

Blimey. I feel rather as I imagine the Virgin Queen must have felt when Raleigh flung his cape beneath her feet. Rescued. (I doubt Affable New Colleague will ever be encouraged to come to my defence again, but I cherish his gallantry nonetheless).

New Boss marches out of the office, looking unimpressed.
He looks like a strutting little popinjay.
Oh ! Hang on. That's because he IS a strutting little popinjay !

I aim a few words at his departing back, in the broadest Northern accent I can muster:

"Naigght, choook".

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
As they say.
In Yorkshire.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Christmas Convalescence

Whilst the Office Clique has been busily readying itself for the Scarcely Containable Excitement of the departmental Christmas "Not" Lunch, I have been planning a whole series of alternative festive Yuletide celebrations to make up for the fact that I shall not be joining them.

I have arranged several lunches with people I actually like, volunteered to sell raffle tickets at the theatre company's pantomime, and best of all the community choir has been booked to fundraise for the local hospital by singing all the carols we have been rehearsing for the past two months.

Wassail Wassail !

Except that things do not go altogether according to plan....

I spend the weekend in Scotland enjoying my mother-in-law's 90th birthday celebrations with Husband's entire family; but on the Sunday evening I start to feel a bit queasy. 24 hours later, I am floored by the worst virus I have had for AGES.

The following day I stagger into work. This is not because I am being a martyr, but because the very next day our quarterly office-wide meeting is being held - attendance: mandatory - and if I simply ring in sick, it will give the Jackals an excuse to embark upon a Gargantuan Bitchfest Orgy. So I float wanly in and out of the office sweating unattractively, muffle my sneezes unless one of The Pawed Ones is in the vicinity (God forbid I would inflict this virus upon any of the Decent People), and only when I feel that I am actually going to faint do I knock on the door of the only managerial representative on the premises (Deputy Boss - lovely man) and explain that I have to go home immediately.

Now there was a time, not so long ago, when I would have carried on working no matter how ill I felt. I have worked through:

- migraine
- flu
- bronchitis
- trapped nerve in back
- torn calf muscle
- severe acne outbreak caused by injudicious use of some weird kind of skin peel product
- labyrinthitis (admittedly, lying on the bathroom floor with my Blackberry, as I was unable to move my head without being sick...)

But anyway.
You get the general picture.

These days however, I am a normal employee!! Yes, the type who stops working when she is ill, because she has taken the trouble to flick through the organisation's Code of Practice of Absence Management (latest version straight off the press, January 2013....) to double check that despite her longish absence earlier in the year due to "work-related stress", she can take another 3 days off with impunity and without triggering a First Stage Absence Review.

I have vague plans of spending a day recuperating, and then towards the end of the week buggering off to the V & A to catch the "Hollywood" exhibition before it closes and lunching on their nice salmon stuffed with cous cous....

But my vague plans go awry.
Because - dammit - I am really REALLY ill.

So I end up having to cancel: 2 Christmas lunches, selling raffle tickets at the pantomime, and worst of all singing at the hospital with the choir. Which (pathetically) makes me want to bawl my eyes out.

But it's not all bad. In the midst of my 3 days dozing on the sofa in my pyjamas, lacking even the enthusiasm to boot up my laptop, Tweet or blog, I suddenly remember what to do when life starts to go a bit crap. Yes! Break into the Emergency DVD Stockpile !!!

So for anyone else out there with the misfortune to be laid low with seasonal flu, I prescribe the following which are absolutely guaranteed to lift your flagging spirits as high as the star at the top of the tree:

"The Nightmare Before Christmas"
"The Grinch Who Stole Christmas"
and "The Polar Express"  

"I feel you, Christmas,
I know I've found you,
You never fade away...." !!

Gorgeous.