26 April 2004
They’ve parachuted in a new head of department. He never says one word when a phrase from the vision statement handbook will do; hence he refers to the Lawyer as “Number One Troubleshooter” or “Head of Flapjack Procurement” in an attempt to make him feel important and part of the new team. And he never refers to him by name.
Now, I admire people who are always asking “What do you think, Gillian?” and saying “That’s so true, Nigel”, even when they hardly know people, because it sounds like they care, and I never do it because I’m worried I’ll get the name wrong. But this guy doesn’t seem to use names at all. Could it be a brave new management technique?
“Even at meetings, he always introduces me as ‘Law’s Roman Abramovich’ or ‘Nighthawk the Project Closer’,” moaned the Lawyer. “And I don’t know whether he’s insulting me or not.”
He thought the boss may have forgotten his name, or never memorised it, and although I pointed out it didn’t take a great deal of initiative to find out what one of your lawyers is called, he said initiative is not what bosses are hired for.
He began a series of skirmishes to draw his name to the attention of the boss – signing emails in 24pt, sneaking in and leaving his post on the man’s desk and then blaming the postboy, getting his secretary to roam the corridors shouting his name loudly and so on. Meanwhile, the roles he was allotted became ever more fanciful: ‘Body in the Typing Pool’, ‘Lord of the Ring Binders’.
In despair, he invited him to Sunday lunch and instructed me to call out from the kitchen for frequent help. He also asked the kids to be alternative and use our first names instead of grunting “Muh” and “Duh” at us, as they usually do. Of course, he was on a hiding to nothing, as children believe they are, individually, the centre of the universe and everyone else around them merely slots into a role, having no identity of their own – thus nice Mr Hyams becomes “the stupid maths teacher”, siblings become “you brat”, and I become, in Subjudice’s case, “my MUHther”, accompanied by a sigh and a roll of the eyes.
Half an hour into lunch and we hadn’t got so much as a syllable of the name out of the boss – and even the wife was joining in: “Isn’t your husband funny, getting out all his old school reports like that?”
The Lawyer joined me in the kitchen, where I was dishing up the roast. “I’m going to kill them,” he said, picking up the carving knife. “Or hurt them lots.”
“Well that won’t help,” I said. “Criminals don’t have first names either; you’ll just be a surname in a newspaper report. Why does it matter so much, anyway?”
“I want to be an individual!” he shouted, brandishing a sieve and looking quite heroic in his weekend uniform of tan cords and navy-blue sweater. If you put him next to the boss, you’d think cloning had leapt ahead. I pointed, silently, to the children, who were taking refuge in the kitchen: Deminimus in his Manchester United top, Subjudice texting her little pals about having to sit through another “STPD SDY LNCH”, and Liability filling out an application form for the My Little Pony Jockey Club. The Lawyer collapsed in on himself and followed the roast out to the table.
“Tremendous, here come the Feeders of the Five Thousand,” said the boss. “Who’s the Jamie Oliver in your kitchen, then?”
“My wife,” said the Lawyer.