Legal Widow

Ballet lesson crisis after Madame Ludmilla said Liability wasn’t ready to go in for an exam that all her little tutu-clad friends are entering. Liability in tears and saying her life is over; me contemplating going to the next lesson with a baseball bat; and the Lawyer acting as if the sky hasn’t just fallen in on his daughter.

“I mean, what’s all the fuss?” he kept asking. “So she’ll do it next year.”

“The point is, she thinks I’m rubbish,” sobbed Liability. “I’ll never be any good. I’ll never be Darcy Bussell now.”

Short silence while I wonder whether to apprise her of the fact that she’s a good foot and a half off being Darcy Bussell, but err on the side of caution.

“No, the point is that she should have the same chance to try as everyone else, even if she messes it up,” I said. (“Oh mum!” wailed Liability.) “And we’re going straight down to the next lesson to tell her so.”

All the mums are scared of Madame Ludmilla because she reminds us of those evil ballet teachers in our childhood magazines who kept girls locked in the rehearsal room and made them dance until their toes bled. Madame Ludmilla, who has been teaching for around a hundred years, ridicules her little charges, makes them cry and sends them home to strap packets of frozen puff pastry to their aching calves – so she’s not far off.

“I’m not putting up with her bullying any more,” I said to Liability, whereupon my daughter cried harder than ever because the idea of standing up to Madame Ludmilla is almost more than a nine-year-old can bear.

“And don’t you look so smug,” I said to the Lawyer. “A bit more standing up to the bullies in your firm wouldn’t go amiss.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, looking uncomfortable.

“Yes you do. All those poor assistants who get set upon and sneered at and made to work appalling hours. And the treatment the girls get – the swear words and the rubbish work and your head of department pretending that you always go to the lapdancing club on Fridays and that they’ll be letting the side down if they don’t come. It’s shocking. And you just let it happen.”

“Well, I don’t like to cross the head of my department,” he said.

“Well, it’s time you stood up to him. If Liability and I can do it then you can too. Believe me, if you haven’t seen a four-year-old whacked on her fourth position with a walking stick, you haven’t seen fear.”

“Yes, but they’re about to put all those mentoring programmes in place and they’re buddying up the girls – I really don’t think there’s much to do.”

“Do you really think those programmes will make those poor assistants feel they’re entitled to a place in the system, that they’ll be given a chance to try, even if others say they’re not ready?”
“Steady on, we’re running a business not a character development workshop here.”

“That’s what it says in the ‘People’ section of your mission statement.”

“Good Lord, does it really?”
“Yes, and it’s all very well mentoring people, but they’ll still be sharing an office with unspeakables. And they’ve got to stand up to them, because people like you won’t do it. I’m sorry, Liability, but I’ve got to build your character here: when we face up to Madame Ludmilla, you’re going in alone.”