I should have known that she meant trouble for me. There was something about that bird that really wound me up; she really knew how to push my buttons.
I was fresh out of college and in my first job when I met her. It was at an induction course for new staff and I was scheduled to do part of the health and safety briefing. I was a bit nervous when I saw the sea of faces in front of me but I got through it and handed over to Joanne; technically my senior, who was going to talk about safety at work.
Unfortunately for Joanne, she decided to wear a pair of high-heeled shoes that would never meet H & S standards; she fell off them on her way to the stage and had to be helped to reception for a check from a first aider – who was due to give his own talk half an hour later.
I went back and delivered Joanne’s talk and in order to fill out the time I asked if there were any questions.
A hand shot up.
‘Health and safety regulations apply to all staff, don’t they?’ She didn’t look sarky as she said this.
‘So, all staff should be wearing clothing and footwear appropriate to the work environment, shouldn’t they?’
Slow on the uptake, I nodded again.
‘I’m sure we are all very sympathetic about the young lady’s unfortunate accident, but if she had complied with regulations as you suggest…’
The sarky bird laughed. They all laughed. I blushed. My confidence gone, I looked helplessly at my boss Carl. He came on stage and gestured for me to leave. He joined in the laughter and apologised but pointed out that he couldn’t have had a better example to emphasise the importance of adhering to health and safety regulations if he’d tried.
I felt gutted. He had them in the palm of his hand. He was on my hit list and so was the sarky bird in the audience.
I didn’t even have to try to get rid of Joanne; she was demoted to the post room and I was bumped up to Carl’s deputy. Not much of a promotion considering there was just the two of us, a secretary and two work experience girls, but I was on my way.
Getting rid of Carl was complicated; people liked him and he had worked for the company for ten years. He was getting complacent though, happy to leave much of the work to me and the clerical staff. I soon had them all eating out of my hand; I knew the importance of turning on the charm.
After a few months of surreptitious cancelling and rescheduling of orders, meetings and training, Carl’s star was sinking and he accepted a sideways position into another branch of the company when it was suggested that he had lost his grip on the whole facilities issue. He never found out that I was the one who had sabotaged his work.
They interviewed me for Carl’s job and not surprisingly, I got it. He gave me a brilliant reference. Fool.
My next goal was to build up my very small team into something more impressive. It wasn’t hard; a mastered the art of being extremely accommodating to senior managers and effective at saving money. Why pay out for professionals when you can get it done on the cheap and earn yourself extra brownie points? The building janitors came under my remit now and I used them to carry out maintenance and delivery jobs that had been contracted out previously.
Okay, so they weren’t that good at carpentry and the shelves and worktops they put up were a bit dodgy, but they could paint walls, move office furniture and weren’t averse to a bit of unofficial work after hours if given sufficient sweeteners.
One of the work experience girls had taken quite a shine to me – and I fancied her too. I waited until she had gone back to school and turned sixteen before I made our relationship official of course; knocking off underage schoolgirls in office hours would not have gone down well – however tempted I was. She wasn’t terribly bright and had made a hash up of every office job I gave her but she was tall, blonde, very attractive and could be relied upon to do as she was told. My ideal woman.
The retirement of the canteen manager gave me my next opportunity to increase my empire. I would have responsibility for a cook, three kitchen assistants and a healthy budget to play with.
Saving money in the canteen was child’s play. I found a cheaper food supplier and changed the menus. The cook objected to the poor food quality and handed in her notice. The company marched on its stomach and as a consequence a replacement cook who didn’t care too much about good ingredients was appointed.
Most of the staff were happy with chips; with fish and mushy peas on Fridays, sausages, burgers or pies during the rest of the week. I made sure that there was cheap salad available as I had already experienced the pointlessness of taking on the stroppy vegetarians.
My child bride and I got married – she was eighteen and pregnant by this time.
There were a few people who weren’t deceived by my charms; if they were on the same management level as me or lower, I did my best to undermine them. I was getting good at this game. Most senior managers realised that I was an asset to be used to their advantage; there were a couple who were cool and distant in their dealings with me. I was very careful not to cross them.
By the time I came across the sarky bird from the induction again, I had a son and a daughter, and a wife who was bored with being at home. She got suspicious when I took to working later than usual. She wasn’t that daft; there was a seventeen-year old cleaner who had added spice to my life. We would meet up for swift but exciting sex in a disused office when the building was deserted.
At about the time my wife was getting to be an unnecessary irritation, a new project team moved into the building. I was told to find temporary accommodation for them and ultimately an office – or two – as the team expanded. I was called in to a meeting with the senior manager in charge of the team and his team members – one of whom was the sarky bird from the induction.
‘Goodness me Adrian!’ she said. ‘Haven’t you risen up the ladder since the last time I saw you!’
I blushed and the other occupants of the room demanded to know what she was talking about.
She told them; she built up the story enough to make me look a total prat. They all laughed, not with me but at me and the sarky bird rose up to the top of my hit list.
After that, it was war. I did my best to make life as awkward for her and her snotty team but each time I did, she managed to put a halt to my plans.
The most embarrassing and potentially damaging thing she did was to grass me up to HR.
I had arranged for my wife to work in my office in the mornings – on a temporary basis – we used her maiden name because you weren’t supposed to have a spouse working for you. This had been a happy arrangement for about a month when I got a call from HR asking me when I had interviewed for a temporary office assistant, how many others had been interviewed and was it just a coincidence that the new employee and I had the same address?
It was a close thing. I could have been demoted or even lost my job but with a bit of careful briefing, my wife and I told a good story about her depression and her need to be out of the house again. I blamed my ‘bending’ of the HR rules on my love and concern for my family.
My wife was transferred to another office, and though she was still on a temporary contract, she was kept busy there during the mornings and I didn’t have the trouble of finding her meaningless jobs to do. That was someone else’s problem now.
I had no proof that it was the sarky bird that dobbed me in but the fact that she and her team members seemed to find me a constant source of amusement, and refused to treat me with the respect I deserved, that was enough proof for me.
It was war.
Trouble was, it was war on both sides.
My wife found out about my after-hours meetings with the office cleaner. A friend of a friend of the sarky bird in her new team told her and my life was hell at home and a work for a while. I had to sack the cleaner – which upset the other cleaning and janitorial staff. My wife went on strike when I came home from work and it took shedloads of expensive presents to get back in her good books. She really wasn’t as stupid as I thought she was.
Further cuts had to be made in the budget and it was decided that we would close the office building down and move the staff to a more central location.. We received a good offer for the land if the building was demolished and the new office building was only half-occupied so there was plenty of room there.
I got two of the most expensive estimates I could find for moving the furniture and equipment the three miles into town. Then I undercut them drastically by using our own janitors, hiring a couple of white vans, some large plastic crates and getting the staff to pack up their own offices.
Not surprisingly, senior management jumped at the chance of doing things on the cheap. We had a bit of a near miss when it was alleged that we had bats in the roof of the building though. As they were a protected species we couldn’t get the building demolished until the relevant inspectors had been in.
The crates arrived and were stacked up in the corridors. I got one of my staff to draw up a rota as to which office was moving and when. I saved more money by reusing the crates and going into the new offices to ensure that the staff were pulling their weight and unpacking quickly.
The bats turned out to be temporary residents so there was even more reason to get everyone moved and smash the building down.
There were more opportunities for promotion in the new building. I just had to pull this office move off first.
The sarky bird had moved on to another team; just to add salt to the wound, she had been appointed to a job that my wife had been turned down for. This new team inundated me with demands; room for larger desks because of health and safety issues, storage for confidential files, an accessible meeting room – the list just grew and grew.
A few more cracks appeared in my master plan. I had told the staff to put as much as possible in their pedestal drawers – this meant that I needed fewer crates. The drawers had very small wheels however and the combination of ham-fisted janitors, bumpy car parks and tiny wheels meant that there was a large casualty rate amongst the pedestals – which cost a great deal to replace.
Then there was an accident.
Someone – and no one ever owned up to it – left a crate in an office doorway. A member of staff tripped over it and broke their ankle. I got my secretary to send out an email telling staff not to block doorways and corridors with crates so I couldn’t be held responsible.
We were down to the last week of the move. I was shoving a large desk up the corridor on my own when the sarky bird walked past.
‘Adrian! You should know better than to be moving heavy furniture on your own. Health and safety regulations! You wouldn’t want to have another accident on your conscience now would you?’
She sniggered and went back to her office.
The final crates were stacked outside her office. Maybe the crates were piled a bit high but we were in a hurry.
There was another accident.
The sarky bird’s manager told her to get a crate down from the stacks to pack away some specific equipment. As she lifted the crate free from the stack, another one fell on her foot and damaged her toe.
I did my best to cover my back again but senior management laid the blame at my door – and at the door of her manager. They suspended her on a number of allegations regarding the disclosure of information about the workplace but as the accident led to her being off work for more than nine months the Health and Safety Executive had to be involved and all the allegations were dropped – apart from the allegation that she made sarky comments about senior managers – me included.
The upshot of it was that the company had to accept full responsibility for the accident and pay damages to the sarky bird. She also got a reference and pay in lieu of notice. I got demoted, and my wife got a job that she hated so much that she took it out on me at work and at home.
Okay. Other people lost their jobs because of me. Other people got injured. Senior managers stepped aside and laid the blame at my door and instead of being grateful for my having saved them a great deal of money, they also blamed me for the damaged pedestals and low morale amongst the janitorial staff.
I don’t think of myself as a villain.
I blame the sarky bird.