ALWAYS BE NICE TO YOUR SECRETARY
It’s only a few days later, after Gemma has cleared the final detritus from my overflowing out tray, that I notice the little bag again. It has slipped down the side of the desk and wedged itself next to the cupboard. I scoop it out and on to the desk. There is a note: “Thanks for all your patiense and kindness. I have really enjoyed working with you (although I don’t like filing, and I hate Tarquin). I shall always be grateful to you and the firm for allowing me to follow my dreams. Lots of luv. M J”
Despite all the years of training I’ve devoted to her, she still can’t spell.
Inside is a selection of pink, glistening beauty products: ‘hot hair honey’, ‘sparkling skin soak’; ‘beaming bath balm’ and ‘shimmering shower shine’: I pick on up and examine the label: “Heavenil Bodiz combines astral technology with Hollywood glamour to create a new skin care experience for the 21st Century. Its founders were inspired to create a brand which creates out-of-this-world cosmetics for women who have their feet firmly on the ground.”
Well that’s me: feet well and truly in the mud; perhaps these promising potions will rejuvenate me?
Jane thinks not. “What’s all that revolting gunk?” She sees the bottles on my desk.
“Heavenl Bodiz: cosmetics which are out of this world for women with their feet firmly on the ground!”
This makes her laugh. “Well, at least we now know it’s an aspirational skincare brand and not a lap dancing club in Basildon. What’s Mel’s connection with it?”
“Oh,” I haven’t thought of that. “I don’t know. Perhaps she sells it, like an Avon lady.”
“Yes,” she agrees. “I she throws Heavenli Bodiz parties with male strippers and Pina Coladas on tap!”
Is that what she has in mind for her leaving do, I wonder? Jane hopes so; “It will make a change from sausage rolls and melon balls,” she declares. Although not much.
Jane’s hopes are dashed, however, when Personnel announces that all secretarial leaving dos are being combined (to ‘save money’) Any plans Melinda had of gyrating cage dancers are abandoned in favour of cheap wine and nasty nibbles. She doesn’t care though, she’s persuaded the other seccies to head ‘up West’ afterwards, to make up for lost opportunities.
“Tarquin is coming to Soho with me!” she giggles. “We’re gonna take him to a gay bar aren’t we girls?”
“Yeah!” they all chorus.
“You wanna come Helen?”
“Er, no thanks,” I decline. “I don’t want to cramp your style.”
“You wouldn’t do that, you she girls?”
“Noooooooo!” They crowd in on me; eyes wide with mascara, like bush babies with attitude.
“Ah, well that’s very kind, but I have to get an early night. I’ve got too much to do tomorrow.”
“She works too ‘ard, doesn’t she girls?”
“Too hard! Yeah!”
“You should give yourself a break,” Danielle advises, “Make the most of your youth; you’ll be old and wrinkly before you know it.”
“Not if she uses Mel’s products,” giggles Lynnette.
“You aven’t told her?” They turn to Melinda.
“I ‘aven’t seen her ‘ave I!” She protests.
“Tell me what?” I demand.
She takes a deep breath. “That I’ve got a contract to supply beauty products to health spas.”
“Not just any contract!” Lynnette nudges her. “She’s only got a bleedin’ ten million pound deal!”
A TEN MILLION POUND DEAL! I stare at her for a moment. She nods, bashfully, as if it’s all as much of a surprise to her as it is to me.
“How the hell did you manage that?” Jane gets straight to the point. “You can’t even take messages correctly!”
“I don’t really know…..” She admits.
“Her sister got her into it,” Danielle cuts in. “Her ex bought some of the stuff back from one of his many business trips.”
“Sordid affairs,” Melinda whispers. “He used to buy stuff to salve his guilty conscience. My sister really like it and started sending off for it, mail order like. Anyway, eventually, she got into importing and asked me to help. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since then. We got a licensing agreement, set up a website, did a few events and now this.”
‘Got a licensing agreement, set up a website’” This from a woman who can barely sign her first name! I am speechless, well and truly speechless. I have four A levels, a law degree (and more professional qualifications than I can count) and I can’t even get a pay rise. She, on the other hand, has a ten million pound deal!
“Is that why you went to California?” Jane persists.
“Partly,” she admits.
“And, all those sick days…..?”
“And all my hours of lost filing!?” This restores my powers of speech.
“Yeah,” At least she has the grace to hang her head as she admits this one. “I didn’t really ‘ave time to run the business and do all of that.”
“But you were being paid to do all of that!” I shout. “For me!”
“I know,” she admits. “But I was never very good at it.”
That is true. But it’s not the point. “You shouldn’t have been moonlighting when I needed my letters typing! You caused me so much stress and anxiety over the years!”
“I’m sorry,” she bites her lip. “I didn’t mean to. It’s just that I always dreamed of doing somethin’ more excitin’ than just workin’ in an office…….”
There is a sudden, wistful note in the air whilst those of us who still just work in an office are consumed by envy and astonishment and despair.
“Well, well done Melinda,” Liz is the first to speak. “At least you have managed to escape, which is more than can be said of the rest of us.”
“Thanks,” she admits. “I ‘ope you’re not too cross with me Helen. I was gonna ask you to be part of the Heavenli Bodiz advisory team.”
This is too much! Melinda is offering me work! This is some sort of psychotic episode; I’ll wake up in a minute and find myself lying on the floor of my flat.
“You’ll get free samples,” she adds, as if this will clinch the deal.
“I’m not cross with you,” I sigh. “Well, I am, I’m furious and frustrated and upset! But I’m, also, incredibly jealous and surprised and impressed: by Melinda. Of all people!
“Well, that’s ok then!” she laughs. “I’ll sign you up straight away.”
With that small innocent gesture of reward, she hands me a tiny piece of power over The Partnership: the most feckless secretary in Essex becomes my first genuine client.