Tuesday, December 30, 2014

From the Top Shelf - Unavoidably Detained, part 1

This is a short 'autobiographical' story by Therese Copeland, set in the swinging 60s. It reflects the kind of office life that spanko men always fondly hope exists but never seem to find. Timid, submissive Therese comes to grief at the hands of her very toppy and rather unpleasant boss.

Unavoidably Detained

Having been brought up never to say "no" was the reason I found myself starting my first proper full-time job at the age of 18. Six months prior to that I had worked in the office at my father's firm.

The fact that I was doing office work at all was a disappointment to my family. My two elder sisters left school with a clutch of 'O' and 'A' levels, went on to get good degrees at university, and took up challenging careers in different parts of the country. Mum and Dad were very proud of them. I, on the other hand, failed all my exams except Religious Knowledge, and my grades were so poor that it wasn't even worth re-sitting them. My ambition was just to get married and have babies. I never saw anything wrong with that, but my parents gave me the impression that I'd failed them, and paid for me to do a typing course. After that, as I say, I worked for Dad for a while but things didn't work out...

Mom and Dad talked it over and decided I should try for an outside job. Everything in my life was planned by my parents at the time, and a couple of interviews were arranged. When one of them actually offered me a job I accepted. I didn't particularly like the look of the place or the people, but I had the idea that if someone was willing to employ you it was wrong to turn them down.

I started at McKay, Brent and Piper without having any real idea what they did or what my duties were to be, because the interview had completely confused me. The three bosses had scrutinised me, all obviously competing for the job of top boss among themselves. So, not knowing who to listen to, or answer, or agree with , I just said "yes" and kept smiling. I had the feeling too, that they only gave me the job when they saw how easy going I was - and, perhaps even then, one particular boss there knew I'd probably take whatever he wanted to dish out. I really didn't fancy the place but I thought there was some law about taking jobs you were offered. Naive, wasn't I!

It was a very early start, and I had to be up by 5:30 to leave the house by 6:30. During the hour's travelling time on the train I got a brief rest before starting the day. I needed it. I have never worked in a colder, more unfriendly place. Everything was so official. I even wondered about the home lives of these people, or if they just went into little boxes at the end of the day. I just couldn't imagine them anywhere else except at the office...

Even worse than all this, the entire company was staffed by men—apart from me, though somehow I didn't think I counted—from the three bosses who gave it its name, through the small body of clerks to the office messenger. It was somehow natural, therefore, for me to take on extra duties in addition to the general office work, and I found myself running errands, providing refreshments, cleaning and taking the blame for everyone else's shortcomings. The job was too much for just one person, especially one with my lack of experience, yet I thought all the pressures and mistakes were due to my own inadequacies, and simply tried harder to get it as right as I could. I don't think I ever finished anything at all in the time I was there. At least that's how it seemed.

I was exhausted by the end of my first month, but still couldn't bring myself to simply say 'no' when I was asked to do something new. The three bosses each spent their time countermanding the instructions of the other two, and I could never decide whose instructions were supposed to take precedence. It seemed as if every time I put a piece of work in the typewriter and started on it, one of the men would take it out in mid-type and say "Do this instead. Its more important."

My three employers had different roles in the company, and it was hard to switch from one job to another without getting confused. Trying to juggle three extremely demanding and conflicting bosses was a nightmare. They were all very different individuals too. Robert McKay was quite elderly and walked in a way that suggested he had far more important things to do than run a business. He wore a constant frown, and I don't remember him ever saying so much as a 'hello' or 'goodbye' to me in all the time I was there.

The second, Robin Piper, was by far the nicest. He was fiftyish and terribly fat. Every morning he would sit behind his desk, rub his huge belly and say, "I could do with a roll, Therese." I used to love escaping from the office to go down to the delicatessen for his snacks, because it was always warm there, with steaming kettles and lots of food about. He was the only one of them I would have called 'human'.

The real pain was the youngest one, Trevor. How I hated him. He was the son of the original Mr. Brent and not long out of university. He had mousy colouring and, despite at first appearing to be friendly, was the most unpleasant character I have ever come across. He dressed badly (though I'm a fine one to talk) and didn't seem to realise that his tie absolutely never went with his shirt - which was always slightly dirty, probably due to the fact that he wasn't likely to have a girl-friend willing to wash them. His work involved a lot of figures, and I was forever making mistakes when I typed it up.

I spent each day at work praying for it to be five o'clock, and all my leisure hours dreading my return to the office. The worst period came around 4:45 p.m. I would invariably finish one piece of work, but not have enough time to complete another before going home. I was not allowed to go home until it was exactly on the hour, but neither was I allowed to leave work half-typed overnight. So during these last minutes I had to try and make myself look busy, without being found out - or else end up doing a lot of unpaid overtime (which was more often the case) while everyone else had gone off back to their families or the pub.

On one particular evening I was getting ready to leave because it was, quite literally, only a couple of minutes away from 5 p.m. I suppose I should have learned better by then than to try and get away with even a second! Sure enough Trevor Brent came out of his office, saw me picking up my handbag and motioned for me to follow him back in. I felt my heart sink into my stomach as I entered. It was a musty, ill-lit room with a high ceiling, tiny window and flaking grey paint. He sat down importantly behind his vast wooden desk, a short thin man in a badly fitting suit that matched the paintwork.

"Leaving early, Miss Copeland?"

He lounged in his swivel chair and templed his fingers under his chin, then I noticed again how darkly stained they were from nicotine. I stood there in my unbuttoned coat , wishing I could vanish into the woodwork. I was wearing a frumpish suit, and although my glasses were stylish, my pudding-basin haircut and inexpert attempts to glamorise myself with make-up made me look like a child in a dressing-up game. Even now the memory of how I must have looked, and how helpless I felt, makes me cringe with embarrassment.

I stammered my explanations about having finished my work for the day, and the problems I had getting home before dark. He glanced at the wall-clock and asked when my next bus was due.

"In ten minutes' time," I replied, obviously anxious to get away. "I'll have to wait another half hour if I miss it, and then I won't make the connection with my train, and have to wait another hour." To my horror I heard a tremor in my voice, and my lowered eyelashes felt damp.

"Do your parents worry if you are late?" he asked. "Do you get into trouble?"

"Oh no," I assured him, "In fact, they're getting quite used to it."

"Well there's no problem about you staying until your appointed time and earning your salary then," he retorted brusquely. "Is there!" Then he proceeded to lecture me on my responsibilities and obligations to the firm, all fairly meaningless and repetitive, his eyes glancing now and again at the clock. I don't know why, but I just felt totally unable to move or break away as his voice went on. I suppose it was because, whatever I may have thought of him personally, Trevor Brent represented authority, and that fact alone seemed to drain all my energy and will.

Suddenly he stopped talking and told me I could go. It was twelve minutes past five and he knew I had missed my bus. As I walked to the door he called after me, "Tell Mommy you were in detention," and chuckled heartily.

About a week later I again found myself with 10 or 15 minutes to kill at the end of the afternoon and decided to occupy myself typing a list of things I had to do at home, just so I'd look busy. At one minute to five Trevor suddenly appeared, pulled the page from my typewriter and said, "Never mind that, whatever it is, I need these accounts typed now."

He thrust a wad of papers at me and walked off, still holding my list of domestic tasks. I went cold with dismay at the thought of him reading them. Looking at the reams of figures he had given me, I calculated that they would take at least an hour to prepare. Miserably, but resigned to my duties, I set the tabs for the columns and was just aligning the paper when Mr. Brent stormed through the door. The place was now empty but for the two of us, and he simply said, "Miss Copeland!" and motioned me with a crooked finger to follow him back to his office.

I stood in front of his desk, literally shaking in my shoes as he waved the list I'd been typing in my face, and ranted on about how dare I use the firm's time and equipment for my personal business. Then he rose from his creaking executive chair and came around the desk, then stood so close to me that I was forced to inhale smoke from his cigar. It made me cough and blink and I flinched from him.

"What do you think I should do about this sorry state of affairs?" he rasped.

I stuttered that I didn't know.

"Shall I tell my partners?"

I shrugged my shoulders and snivelled a little and brought out a Kleenex to blow my nose.

"Shall I tell your parents about your slackness and incompetence?"

I whimpered that I would prefer him not to. I didn't like to imagine what Dad would have said.

"Shall I sack you on the spot for abuse of your position?"

"Oh no!" I implored, making it sound as if the horrible little job was a true vocation which I was desperate not to be deprived of.

"So it rather looks like another detention, doesn't it!" he said, returning to his seat. "Well we had better make sure you learn your lesson this time. How can we do that?"

I was so relieved not to be fired that I didn't care. I assumed he would find me even more typing to do before I was allowed home, or get me to rearrange the filing system.

"I think I'll give you lines to do," Trevor snapped. "Yes; go to your desk and type out, five hundred times without errors: "The property of MacKay, Brent and Piper is not to be used for my personal convenience." Off you go now!"

He had to tell me to go again, because I was so amazed at what he said I thought it must be some kind of joke. He seemed serious enough though so I choked back any questions and went off to type my 'lines'. It took me three hours to complete the task, thinking only that the moment I was finished I could go home. During all that time my boss stayed in his office with the door open, watching me. It seemed unbelievable. He wouldn't even let me make myself a cup of coffee and, by the time I typed the final line, I was tired, hungry, thirsty and more miserable than I would ever have believed possible. I took the 'work' to him and he went through it word for word to check for mistakes. He seemed disappointed not to find any.

Trevor passed the pages back across his desk to me. Then,as I automatically turned towards the door to leave, something else he was saying finally impressed itself on my exhausted brain.

"Read what you have typed aloud to me," he repeated.

I blinked down at the first line on the top page and swallowed hard.

"The property of MacKay, Brent and Piper is not to be used for my personal convenience" I read out, then looked up at him. "Can I go now, please?" I whispered.

"Go on!" In great relief I ran to the door to collect my coat when he stopped me with a shout. "I mean go on and read them all," he said with a sneer.

Damp rushed to my eyes.I took off my glasses and dabbed the wetness. "Please let me go home," I begged, becoming seriously worried about getting a train at that time of night. But Trevor made me read the statement out another 499 times, and sat through my desperate recitation obviously relishing the power he had over me. I know it seems impossible nowadays that a girl would stand there and obey a command like that, but I did. When I had uttered the hateful sentence for the last time, I could hardly see through my tears, but he made me stand there for several minutes in sniffling silence before he said that he "trusted I would remember the dictum for as long as I worked there, and would never steal the company's resources again."

Then, as I once more made for the door, he said, very quietly but distinctly, "Next time I shall take even sterner measures, Therese Copeland!" I was too relieved to at last be going home to even analyse what this might imply.
What could be worse than typing lines? We will all find out next week.
From Hermione's Heart


Cat said...

Sheesh Hermione...this jerk is not a top in any way shape or form...he's simply a 'small' bully boy. Poor girl.

Hugs and Blessings...

Roz said...

Hi Hermoine, I'm with Cat, what an awful bully. I feel for her.


ronnie said...

I agree he is a total bully Certainly wouldn't like to work for that firm.

Be interesting to read part II. Thanks Hermione.


Hermione said...

Cat - You're right, he is a bully.

Roz - So do I.

Ronnie - It sounds like an awful job.