Loneliness – Week 34 of the 52 week short story challenge


Dear Diary

I am writing this because my new counsellor has suggested that putting my thoughts on paper would help me with my anger issues.

Anger issues.

That’s what the judge called them anyway. My counsellor says that I got off quite lightly as most people who cause that level of criminal damage will get a prison sentence – even if it is only suspended – and some kind of community service.

My counsellor wants me to start from the point where my issues first emerged. So here goes.

I wasn’t very happy at school. Things weren’t too bad when we all wore uniform and were supposed to look the same.

Except I never did.

Being ginger was bad enough, being overweight and ginger was worse but being unfashionable, overweight and ginger meant that I was the butt of jokes from my fellow pupils and even some of the teachers.

Sixth form was a nightmare. Having always felt comfortable in my uniform, I turned up every day in a suit, smart shirt and tie. I stood out from the Goths. the Emos, the lumberjack shirts and skinny jeans. I was the best-dressed pupil in the school and put most of the scruffy teachers to shame.

My counsellor says that I might have felt less awkward if I’d had siblings to talk to – or even a father – but there has always only been me, my mum and my grandma. They like the way I dress.

I wanted to go onto university – Cambridge or Oxford – and to study politics, philosophy and economics like so many of my  political heroes did. I didn’t do well in my ‘A’ levels though; I was thrown out of the debating club for losing my temper with someone who just would NOT accept my opinions.

Things went downhill steadily after that and the principal told me that I would have to leave the course because of my anger issues.

The situation made me feel low and alone. Why couldn’t people ever see things from my point of view? Even when I shouted at them to get their attention?

My GP signed me off with social anxiety and suggested that I take up some hobbies to try and help me relate to other people. She gave me a list of local groups – one of which was a political group that I liked the look of.

It took a great deal of courage to attend that meeting but the people were very welcoming. Most of them were older than me – middle-aged and pinning their hopes on a party leader who was also middle-aged.

I threw myself into the group. I walked the streets putting leaflets through door; after the first couple of occasions I got into arguments with passersby who wouldn’t agree with my opinions.  I was encouraged to stay behind at headquarters and put leaflets into envelopes after that so that other people could deliver them safely.

A red-letter day approached. Our leader was visiting the branch and I would get the opportunity to meet him – perhaps even get my photograph taken with him. I was so excited and my mum and grandma clubbed together to buy me a new suit, a crisp white shirt and red tie. They said I looked the business and the leader couldn’t fail to be impressed with me.

I met the leader. I had my photograph taken with him. I tried to tell him my ideas on policy and how he should take me on as a member of his campaign team so that I could advise him. He wasn’t mean to me but he didn’t really treat me with the respect I know I deserve. He shook my hand, wished me luck and then moved on to the next group of people who were waiting to meet him.

I felt gutted. This man was my hero and he completely failed to see my potential.

The only bright spot in that day was the commiseration I received from a couple of other people who also felt they had been slighted by the leader. They were closer to my age, they took me out for a drink after the meeting and told me that there was a splinter group forming that would be supporting a different candidate for the leadership.

They made their candidate sound like the only person who could save the party. He was young; a family man who had policies that I liked the look of. My new friends told me that I would be a valued member of the new group and that this was the way of the future.

They collected me for the next meeting. No one had ever done that before. I’d always  had to make my own way to the meetings and back. My new friends introduced me to other new and important friends who let me have my picture taken with them. I already had a Facebook page and had even ventured onto Twitter but now I was being shown how to use social media to support and promote our rightful leader during the election process.

I put the pictures on my Facebook page. Now other people could see how important I was and what a valued member of the party I had become. My mum and grandma were very impressed and told all their friends and our family about it.

With other members of my new team, I attended political rallies. I met our prospective leader, and he made me feel very special. He gave me an important role. I was to get myself a seat near the front of the room at each rally and cheer my head off whenever he spoke. I took it upon myself to boo and jeer when the man I used to respect was speaking. I glared at his supporters and if I was challenged I told them that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

The opportunity of a lifetime arose when I was asked to be part of an interview for a news special on TV. They said that there would be three young people – one for the old leader and two of us for the new leader (to be). We would be asked to give our opinions about why we thought our candidate would make the best leader.

This was my glittering prize.

The day came and I my friends took me to the studiom. I sat around a small table with another lad and a girl while the cameras rolled. The girl spoke first – she didn’t say a lot but I agreed with what she said. The other lad was to speak next and then me.

I felt like I was going to burst. I knew that my mum, my grandma and all their friends would be watching. This was my moment.

The other lad spoke. He was calm and relaxed. He smiled. His words were reasonable.

They made my blood boil.

My turn.

‘You’re talking rubbish!’ I said. ‘Everyone hates your candidate so he’s going to lose.’

There was silence.

My carefully composed statement had vanished. My face was red with embarrassment and anger.

I looked over to my friends. They had vanished.

The girl who had been in the interview with me gave me a dirty look and walked off. The other lad laughed and said ‘Is that the best argument you can come up with? Pathetic. Just like the bloke you are supporting.’

It’s a good job he moved fast because I wanted to hit him so much.

There was no sign of my friends when I came out of the studio. I had to go and draw the last of my benefits money out of the bank in order to get a train home.

Mum and grandma were very kind. They said my new suit looked very smart and that the other two young people looked very scruffy by comparison.

I tried to get in touch with my new friends but there was no response to my calls or texts.

Then I got the letter. It was delivered by hand but I wasn’t quick enough to see who put it through my letterbox.

I was told that the interview had been embarrassing for the party and that I had let them all down by my stupid and aggressive response. They asked me not to come to any more meetings and that my membership would be suspended because I had brought the party into disrepute by my actions.

I went to my room to calm down. I looked on Facebook and Twitter but all I could see were people laughing at me. I was alone.

A plan hatched in my head. I had some money tucked away in my sock drawer. The money was spent on spray paint. Blue spray paint.

I went down to the party headquarters. It was Saturday night and there was no one there. I sprayed paint over all the windows that I could reach. I left the cans in a heap by the front door, went home and went to bed.

The police came the next morning and arrested me. My fingerprints were taken and matched up with those on the cans. I wore a hoodie but forgot my gloves. There was CCTV footage of me buying the paint in the hardware store, and the pub opposite the headquarters had more footage of me spraying the windows.

There weren’t many people in court that day; mum came but grandma wasn’t well. My guilty plea made the process much quicker. There were cameras and reporters outside the court but my solicitor had advised me not to say anything in case I lost my temper again.

I think that I might feel a bit better now I’ve written this down. My mum says I am a good boy but I’m in my twenties now and I need to grow up.

But how?

Dear Diary.

At least I have you now and I am not so alone.

A Villain’s Perspective – Week 14 of the 52 week short story challenge


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.

Bad idea.

A hand shot up.

‘Health and safety regulations apply to all staff, don’t they?’ She didn’t look sarky as she said this.

I nodded.

‘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?’

I growled.

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.

smiley toe

Competition – Week 12 of the 52 week short story challenge

download (1)

Bitchiness alert! 

But consider this a therapeutic blog – please?

After all – it’s all fiction isn’t it?

I can vaguely remember the day you came for an interview. Our boss Barry showed you round the office as if you were his most prized possession. Unbeknown to us he had met you at a different office and persuaded you to apply for the job.

And to be fair, everyone in the office agreed that you were very young and attractive; with more than a passing resemblance to Cameron Diaz in her Charlie’s Angels incarnation. At the time we thought we were paying you a compliment but we later found that it was a comment guaranteed to wind you up.

Not surprisingly, Barry gave you the job – but you didn’t have much in the way of competition.

Introducing a young, blonde female into an office of largely middle-aged (and in some cases aggressively menopausal) women might well have been Barry’s way of brightening up his surroundings. Whilst we all welcomed you; there were some – and I include myself in this – who wondered if there was a brain inside that regularly coiffed head.

It didn’t take long to find out.


Well, there was natural cunning in evidence…

There was also the ability to charm every red-blooded male within a five mile radius – even those senior managers who oozed sleaze as they patted you on the shoulder and leaned just a little too close when looking at your computer screen.

Trying to teach you how to actually do the job wasn’t easy.

It took patience and the ability to overlook the fact that you were very good at evading work.

You had come from a receptionist’s post where the most mentally taxing issue was working out the whereabouts of people in the building and whether they were ‘available’ or not.

I have to admit that your phone voice was okay – except for  the constantly niggling ‘we was waiting for you to call us‘ or ‘you should of called us earlier‘.

Other less critical staff members put it down to your youth and the fact that you came from a ‘rough’ part of the town.

But me…

I gritted my teeth and tried to close my ears. Luckily you spent most of your time working – and I use that word loosely – in the smaller office.

Your dog got run over a couple of weeks before Christmas and Barry, being the big softy that he was, told you not to come into work until you felt better.

Whilst we were all very sympathetic about the dog, but this was the animal that you came into work complaining about how smelly it was and how it barked at you all the time.  We didn’t expect your mourning to last well into the New Year however. No mention of the poor dog on your return but you regaled us with how merrily you had spent the festive season. Your roots had been done, your nails were newly lacquered and you were wearing a beautiful white wool coat that fitted you like a glove and must have cost all your Christmas money.

The only sign of grief was when you went in to see Barry to explain why you had been off work for so long. It took but a few tears and dainty sniffles – he didn’t ask for a doctor’s certificate or ask you to take the time off as annual leave but patted your hand and told the rest of us to be kind to you – you were refreshing your mascara in the toilet at the time.

Some of us who had covered for you over Christmas and New Year were not feeling too sympathetic as you boasted about your ability to twist Barry round your little finger.

Not an ability that I ever acquired.

Despite having known Barry for several years before he became our manager, he still made me take annual leave when later in the year my husband was rushed into hospital with kidney stones and I had two small children to take to school and collect. He didn’t think my circumstances met his criteria for compassionate leave.

I was still rankling from this when you and your long-suffering boyfriend decided to buy a house together.

For months the offices were inundated with pictures of potential houses. I’m all for youth and exuberance but you really overdid it. You spent more time toting your estate agent specs around the offices than you actually did at your desk. Even total strangers coming into reception asking for advice were cajoled into giving it instead.

A sigh of relief went round the office when you finally completed the sale.

A collective groan went round the office when you decided that you needed our advice on everything you bought for the house – from toilet brushes to cutlery to the colour of the paint for the garden shed. There was far more but those of us who showed less enthusiasm were ignored after a while.


Then we moved from our offices to a different building where we were given one big room with a glass partitioned office at the end for Barry.

Needless to say, you picked a desk where you could simper at Barry whenever he caught your eye, but positioned so that he couldn’t see the amount of time you were busy on FaceAche chatting with your friends while your office mates were busy with the extra work you were making.

Some of your colleagues covered for you.

Some of us didn’t.

We were asked to carry out an audit on the work we were doing in order to justify our jobs. We were aided in this by the IT department who ran stats on each of the computers as well as the telephone logs.

After the first week, guess who had accomplished the least?

Half an hour of batting the baby blues, sobbing in a contrived fashion and using every tactic within your limited repertoire, you managed to persuade Barry that you felt intimidated by ‘some’ of the other people in the office – especially those who criticised your grammar and spelling.

Barry arranged for you to attend Access to English classes after work at the local Adult Education Centre. He then took the opportunity to lecture the rest of the office about jealousy and bullying.

We had eight weeks of you telling us about Shakespeare and how we should be reading Romeo and Juliet – like what you were. It was inconceivable to you that any of your colleagues had ever even heard of Shakespeare. Access to English had turned you into a self-confessed culture vulture in only eight weeks. Your own access to English was still limited but at least the spelling improved on your FaceAche posts and the very dodgy emails you circulated.

Those of us with more sense and an awareness of the computer use rules,  deleted the emails without opening them – I really didn’t need to look at pictures of male genitalia  thank you.

The IT crowd picked up one of your dodgiest emails when they were running a security check. You tried to plead ignorance and said that ‘a friend‘ had sent it out on your behalf and you hadn’t even looked at it.

We all got another lecture from Barry on circulating dodgy emails and were warned that a very close eye was being kept on us now.

Then you and your fiancé decided to get married.

It was terrible.


If I thought the house buying and fitting out was bad – this was a million times worse.

I could see your screen from where I sat and it was a constant shade of violent pink as you surfed the net for your fairy-tale wedding while the rest of us tried to zone out your wedding wittering.

I didn’t care whether your wedding favours were going to be blush pink, purple or puce. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be finding out first-hand anyway.


Even the most doting of colleagues was beginning to get a bit cheesed off with your wedding obsession.

Sales of Black Cohosh from the health food shop increased dramatically and even Barry was seen sneaking a pill or two out of the communal container in moments of deep stress.

(Black Cohosh is very good for menopausal symptoms – allegedly).

The budget for the event of the year climbed and climbed and climbed.

We wondered where all the money was coming from – none of us were paid that much and neither was your fiancé.

When the number of adult bridesmaids requiring designer dresses climbed into double figures, something snapped.

Your husband-to-be called off the wedding on the grounds that it was far too expensive, it wasn’t what he wanted, he was sick of going to wedding fairs and missing his Sunday football, and you just wouldn’t shut up about the (*******) wedding!

You had to have the best – or what you deemed to be better than anyone else’s.

The young man moved back to his mum’s but we were spared the initial fallout because Barry very kindly told you to take time off to recover.

Due to the fact that a couple of your colleagues FaceAche  friends and could see your page, we were all a little surprised that in your grief at being jilted, you had found time to spend some of the wedding money on laser surgery for your eyes as well as several girly nights out and a trip down to that London.

It was noted that your eyes were suitably red and sore when you finally returned and Barry put it down to grief.

We knew different.

Fate took me away from that office shortly afterwards, and into a new office arena where I was better managed, less irritated and far more mellow – for a while.

I heard on the office grapevine that the two of you got back together eventually, and the wedding took place – a much quieter affair because by then you were pregnant and your fiancé had finally put his foot down.

The honey locks reverted back to their natural mousey brown post-wedding; mascara made your lasered eyes water, and you went to work in another office – managed by a hard-nosed female who was wise  to your laziness and unmoved by your sobbing. You eked out your maternity leave as long as you could, and within a few weeks of returning to work had become pregnant with your second child.

This became something of a pattern.

The last I heard you were on your fourth and you weren’t going back to work after this one.

For the record; I never envied you your youth and exuberance. I often asked myself if I would have developed such a deep dislike for you if you hadn’t been so young and attractive. But no, I was never bothered by your external appearance – it was the stuff inside your head that I despised.

It was never a competition even if you thought that it was.

You always reminded me of a poem that I learned at school

For Anne Gregory

by W B Yeats

‘Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’
‘But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.’
‘I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’

I work from home now and am much more mellow these days.


Retelling a fairy story – Week 3 of the 52 week challenge



There was once a man called Colin who had worked hard all his life and was very honest: this honesty meant that he took pride in his work and made sure that everything was done properly. This did not go down very well with his colleagues, especially the management team, who wanted Colin to work faster and didn’t really care much about the quality of his work.  Colin smiled sweetly when his colleagues complained, and dreamed his secret dream of living in a shack on Venice Beach in California. He had been there on holiday with his wife Morag and their two daughters; the women spent their time shopping and seeing the sights but Colin just wanted to sit in the sunshine outside an old wooden shack and be happy.

His daughters grew up and left home; Morag became a senior executive in the same company as Colin. She did not want him to retire. She did not want him to live on Venice Beach. For some years Morag had been having an affair with one of her fellow executives. Carrying on the affair under Colin’s very nose added to the excitement for Morag,  she was also very possessive and wanted to make sure that she knew what Colin was doing at all times. As a consequence it was Morag that held the family purse strings and monitored their bank accounts.  Because of her position in the company, most of their wages were spent on ensuring that Morag looked the part; designer clothes, regular hair appointments to stop her grey roots showing and the odd spot of Botox so that she never revealed a wrinkle or a frown.

Apart from his secret dream, Colin had one other pleasure. He liked to bet on the horses. On Saturday mornings he would wander along to the village newsagent, buy a paper, sit in the cafe and study racing form before placing his bet at the bookmaker. Morag very graciously gave Colin thirty pounds each week from his wages for these bets. He had small wins sometimes but was too cautious to ever make any real money.

Every weekday morning Colin would sit at his desk and wonder why the pile of files in his in-tray never seemed to get any smaller. He knew that he had finished off innumerable cases, but however many he finished, the teetering pile was even higher the next morning. There were times when the usually genial Colin wondered if he would ever finish his work and be able to retire.

Due to a change of management, Colin found himself under even more pressure to speed up his working methods. His new manager, after a week of Colin’s snail’s pace progress, appointed a colleague to work alongside him. Young Alfie had already worked his magic in several other departments in the company and Colin’s manager considered himself very fortunate in acquiring his services before Alfie could be spirited away to another office.

Alfie and Colin got on with each other right from the start. Alfie understood Colin’s work ethics and managed to speed up the process without losing integrity. Colin told Alfie about his dream, and his sadness that Morag insisted that he carry on working because they needed him the money.  Alfie had the knack of getting people to confide in him and after making some discreet enquiries, he discovered the truth about Morag’s illicit affair, and her real reasons for blocking Colin’s retirement.

As well as helping him with his workload, Alfie  shared Colin’s interest in horses and made a few recommendations that increased the winnings at the bookmaker’s. He also persuaded Colin to open a new account at the Post Office with the proceeds. Colin didn’t really like the idea of keeping secrets from Morag, but was won round by Alfie’s suggestion that he see it as the Venice Beach fund and what a nice surprise it would be for Morag when there was finally enough for them both to retire on.

The biggest puzzle for Alfie was that however hard he and Colin worked to clear the backlog, the pile of files never seemed to go down. He decided to hide in the office one night and see if he could get to the root of the problem.

Not surprisingly, Morag was at the root. Alfie melted into the shadows of the large filing cabinets and watched as she crept into the room with her arms full of dusty files. She carefully cleaned them off and placed them at the bottom of Colin’s in-tray. Alfie watched her leave and decided to see what she did next. Colin had told him that Morag’s demanding job meant that she worked late most nights so he usually made dinner for them both after he had done all the housework.

Alfie disliked Morag long before he actually met her but working with Colin made him realise how much she took advantage of her kind and hardworking husband. That night he followed her upstairs to the office of her colleague. He couldn’t see anything through the frosted glass windows but judging from the noises that came from that room, they weren’t discussing business. Morag’s absence enabled Alfie to enter her office and have a look round. He didn’t know quite what he was looking for, but had a feeling that there was more to Morag’s behaviour than just the perpetuation of her affair.

It took a little while but magically, Alfie found just what he was looking for. The age of the Smartphone made gathering evidence SO much easier than it used to be in the old days. He snapped away happily and left the building long before Morag and her paramour had tidied up and departed by separate exits.

It was becoming obvious that most of the case files that appeared on Colin’s desk were those that had been abandoned by other staff, usually because of the death of the person concerned or due to a complete lack of interest by the case holder. Alfie sorted through the files and took the moribund cases for himself before Colin arrived for work. The pile of active cases was very small in comparison and by lunchtime the in-tray was empty for the first time in years.

Colin’s manager was very pleased by this increase in productivity – and at his own bright idea of getting Alfie transferred to his department. He suggested that Colin and Alfie take an extended lunch to celebrate. Morag, dropping into the office to check on Colin, was not best pleased at his absence or by his empty in-tray. She would have been even more unhappy had she known that Colin and Alfie were in the bookmaker’s waiting for the results of an accumulator that Alfie had put on in Colin’s name.

Colin won more that morning than he had ever won in his whole history of betting. Deciding that it was now or never, Alfie took the opportunity to advise Colin of Morag’s affair while they were sitting in the cafe eating an all-day breakfast.

Colin knew already. He had known about Morag’s infidelity for some time but turned a blind eye to it, hoping that it would stop when his daughters left home. What Colin didn’t know however, was that Morag and her lover had also been embezzling money from the company for years and putting most of it in an account in Colin’s name. Alfie explained that she probably intended to lay the blame at Colin’s door if the discrepancies ever came to light.

Alfie and Colin made a few stops on their way to the office, ensuring that they had assumed a more serious demeanour by the time they got back to work. Morag, undoubtedly tipped off by one of Colin’s colleagues, stormed into the office and gave Colin a good telling off for going out to lunch when there was work to be done. Not surprisingly the in-tray had filled up again in Colin’s absence. Morag also informed Colin that she was going to a conference in London for three days and would be leaving within the hour.

Using the luggage that he and Alfie had purchased, Colin packed up his world that night. It didn’t take long. He and Alfie had made some significant bank transfers at lunchtime so that Colin’s new account reflected his wages and winnings whilst the embezzled funds were to be found in an account that Morag had opened.

Colin was on his way to Venice Beach with a healthy but honest bank balance. Alfie saw him off at the airport before handing in Colin’s notice and presenting evidence of Morag’s duplicitous behaviour to their manager. Morag and her beau were arrested for fraud at a hotel in London at about the same time that Colin was sipping champagne over the Atlantic.

Alfie didn’t turn up for work the next day. He had problems to solve elsewhere.

And Colin? Well Colin Schumacher lived happily ever after of course.





‘The Smotherer – yet another strange person’

Considering the number of people I  have worked with over the past thirty years, I can count the really strange ones on the fingers of one hand.

The really rubbish staff go into double figures but that is for another day.

The Smotherer came very close to driving me round the bend; closer than anyone else ever has.

When she  first came to do some training prior to taking up her secondment in our office, like the rest of my colleagues, I made her welcome.

I felt I should make a special effort to supportive because I already knew her, and because I had been the one to encourage her to apply for the secondment.

I arranged for her to have access to the IT systems so that she could start training as soon as possible.  I supplied her with sufficient training materials and together with the rest of the team, made opportunities for her to observe all the elements of our work.

After a short while I became aware that although she took copious notes, we all seemed to be going over the same ground with her.

When she was asked what she had covered so far, she either got flustered and seemed unable to reply or made a show of looking intently through her notes – but never actually finding the answer.

Given that we had all witnessed what an outgoing person she was, this did not seem to be caused by shyness.

After talking to the Boss about the Smotherer’s lack of progress, I put together two lists of team members, gave her one and asked her to put the areas of the job that she had covered next to the name of the staff member who had gone through the procedure with her.

I passed the other list around the team and asked them to do the same.  This was partly in order to see what areas had not been covered but also to see if there was a discrepancy between what the Smotherer had learned and what we thought we had taught her.  On completion I gave the sheets to the Boss without looking at them myself.

On a personal level the Smotherer appeared to be a part of the team; always the first to volunteer whether it was to wash up, make drinks or take minutes at the staff meetings.

She seemed very interested in us all, often interrupting conversations to give her opinions and advice.  She asked a great many questions, some personal, some work-related but usually in areas where she didn’t need such in-depth information.

I felt that once she had engaged me in conversation she was reluctant to relinquish my attention.  I found her over-familiar.  She sat too close to me when observing what I was doing, and many of her questions were far too intrusive.

I consciously withdrew and was reluctant to talk to her about anything other than the procedures we were looking at, especially after I overheard her repeating very personal information about an absent colleague. She didn’t say anything hurtful or unpleasant but she gave the impression that this knowledge showed what a close relationship she had with this member of staff, when in fact it was something she had just overheard herself.

The Boss felt that she might learn quicker if she started taking calls.    When she was seated near me I found myself frequently interrupted – either by her irrelevant questions or because I overheard her giving incorrect information out .

Virtually every sentence spoken on the phone ended with ‘is that alright, is that okay?’ which made it sound as if she didn’t really know what she was talking about.

She did not take constructive criticism well, becoming flushed and defensive.  I did my best not to be pedantic and  tried to keep the conversation light but it was very hard work and I found it difficult to concentrate on my own work under these circumstances.

I was relieved when I she on moved to work on other desks, but grew more concerned when I heard my colleagues going through the same process.

In November the whole team attended training with some health professionals.


Whilst the rest of the team turned up in office clothes, the Smotherer turned up in a scarlet satin blouse with a plunging cleavage, skin tight jeans and over-the-knee black leather boots.  We weren’t quite sure what to say but if it was an attention-seeking outfit – it certainly worked.

During the training I found the Smotherer immensely irritating.  She was loud, domineering, made silly and inappropriate jokes and on one occasion I overheard her making comments to the health professionals that implied that she felt the colleagues she was working with were  racist and discriminated against minority groups.

When one of them mentioned this to me later I told her that these opinions were the Smotherer’’s alone and that she was a new member of staff who did not speak for the whole team.

I felt angry with her and that she had let us all down by her behaviour but did not feel it was my place to say anything to her so I spoke to the Boss about it.  Up until this point team members had not grumbled about her or her behaviour but these two days seemed to highlight some of the problems we were all experiencing. The Boss was the only male on the course and asked me if I thought the Smotherer was flirting with him because she kept sitting next to him and rubbing her body against him.

I giggled.

After the training we were all pointing out the Smotherer’s mistakes in the hope that she might learn from them but she was very defensive, either blaming someone else for the error or denying that she had been involved – despite evidence to the contrary.

She was the first person I had come across that I could not train and this made me feel demoralised.  Once I realised however that no one else was managing to train her either, I felt a bit better but was still frustrated by the effect that  she was having on the team.

No one wanted to upset her because she reacted so strongly to criticism but when she was happy she was so over the top that she made you want to scream.

In the busy time running up to Christmas we were spending half the time doing damage limitation on her work.   I had to try very hard to bite my tongue where she was concerned.  I told the Boss how I was feeling and he advised me to try and let other people deal with her.

I did my best to be polite and pleasant to the Smotherer, but felt that once I stopped training her and kept my distance, she took this as rejection and decided to focus on making my life difficult.

On the day before Christmas Eve we were short-staffed.

At some point in the afternoon I heard the Smotherer say that she was going to get something from the stationery cupboard.  We were fairly busy and I remember thinking she had been gone a long while when she came back into the room looking very red and agitated. She rushed down the office towards me and insisted that I come with her to the stationery room as she had something I needed to see.

I wondered why I had to come as there were five other people in the room – including the person who ordered the stationery.  I didn’t want to cause a fuss however so I followed her.

The lower shelf of the stationery cupboard had collapsed, spilling  booklets all over the floor. I asked her what had happened and she said that she had walked into the room and found it like this.

No one else had been in the room, the shelf didn’t have sufficient weight to collapse on its own and I could see by the way the books were dispersed that someone had tried to put the shelf back.  I asked the Smotherer to move the books back against the wall and said that we’d get the janitor to look at it after the New Year, but for the moment I needed to get back to the phones.

I was off over Christmas and New Year and although I had found her behaviour a bit bizarre that day, I thought no more of it.

When I came back to work she was on leave and a colleague asked me how I managed to break the shelf in the stationery cupboard ?

I was told that someone else found the mess after Christmas and when asked the Smotherer had said that she knew nothing about it but that I did, giving those present the impression that I was responsible for what had happened.

Luckily another colleague who was on duty with me that day corroborated my side of the story. The Smotherer had tried to set me up.

I made a conscious decision not to be alone with her again in case she made any further accusations.  In supervision I  told the Boss about this incident and other experiences I had with the Smotherer.

She was on Induction training after her leave and the atmosphere in the office was completely different. We could get on with things without interruption and gradually everyone admitted that working with the Smotherer was difficult, no one wanted to upset her but she was very hard work.


At the end of her secondment, the Boss told her that she would not be offered a permanent post because she had failed to meet the standards set for the team.

She cried and said that she hadn’t progressed because I was a bad trainer and that I bullied her.

Fortunately the Boss had feedback from all the other staff and had to tell the Smotherer that  no one else had managed to train her either and that he had seen no evidence of anyone bullying her.

He asked her if she wanted to make a formal complaint against me, the team and himself.

She declined.

I was on leave when she left so I couldn’t be held responsible for the fact that no one organised a leaving do for her.