Legal Widow

The Lawyer has developed a new theory on office behaviour. He is quite taken with the idea of writing one of those mono-subject books, such as Butter: the Yellow Brick of Desire, or Pencils: One Man’s Search for a Crayon Called HB that will net him a longitudinal-size fortune. I’m not sure that The Call of the Water Cooler will make him a former lawyer in demand for Radio 4 programmes starring argumentative academics, but it’s a start.

His theory is that the office water cooler performs the same function as the watering hole on the African plains, where all must come to drink, but some come to drink their last.

He divides workers into storks/migrants, wildebeest/prey, lions/hunters and hyenas/scavengers, and says that all have a different reaction to the compelling gurgle of water glugging into a plastic cup.

The wildebeest, who thrive on gossip, make a dash for the water cooler when they hear the sound and mill around aimlessly, talking about who should be thrown out of Big Brother next. They don’t actually want to drink, and make vague, “after-you” gestures to ward off the moment when they have to wander back to their desks and get down to some work.

Straight into the crowd dive the storks, those aloof people who detest gossip. They part the wildebeest herd like Moses parting the Red Sea, grab the cup of righteousness and flap off, leaving behind them a collective muttering about why storks are the most hated animals in the bush.

Prowling round the outside of the herd are the lions, looking for weak wildebeests who can be picked off individually. “Liked the work you did on Borchester Mills,” they’ll say to the young and trembling assistant, easing her away from the herd, before savaging her for all the inside information she has. One snap of their jaws and she’s got stories pouring out of her.

After feasting, they slink off to send emails about shady double-charging practices on long train trips and lawyers being seen in the company of headhunters, securing for themselves meaty project work and juicy promotions.

They leave the young assistant twitching, and the hyenas move in. “You don’t want to trust those lions,” they giggle. “What did they want to know?” and before she knows it they’re dragging the last scraps of gossip from her and running off to the lions’ den to see if they can get a cut of the action.

“This is all very well, Daddy,” says Subjudice, who is listening in lieu of a bedtime story. “But which one are you?”

“Ah,” he informs her. “There is also a special and rare sort of beast called the Wise Monkey, who comes to the water cooler to spread peace and happiness among the wildebeests.”

“And how does he do that, Daddy?” asks Subjudice (she is stuffing her fist in her mouth to stop giggling by now, but the Lawyer just thinks she still sucks her thumb).

“Partly, he does this by rising above the fierce battle for survival in the jungle,” says the Lawyer. “Partly, he does this by bringing with him The Sun or The Mirror, which will have the very latest pictures from the Big Brother website, which the wildebeest are forbidden from accessing. But mostly he has made an illegal copy of the memo detailing the spectacular losses made by three naughty equity partners on Rum Tum Tigger, the bay gelding which fell so spectacularly at Lingfield and, which, following its conversion into 300 tins of dog and cat food, was found to have been bought with a substantial slice of cash reserved for equity profit share.”