W, the IT manager from the London mothership calls just as I arrive at my desk, almost on time. I still have my mac on, and fumble to switch off the ipod, still attached to one ear, while cradling the phone between my head and shoulder. Male readers: this is called multi-tasking. Women are very good at this, especially secretaries like myself. If you don’t believe me, ask Paris Hilton.
“I’ve got a problem [petite], there’s a videoconference scheduled to start in five minutes and there’s no-one around at your end to set up the kit. Can you do it for me?”
“Yep, sure, if you can talk me through it. I’ll transfer you to the meeting room phone, hang on a tick…”
Coat hastily deposited on chair, bag hurled under desk, I race through the office to the meeting room to intercept the call. Not quite the start to the day I had in mind. My version involved a double espresso, a wedge of brioche and a leisurely trawl through the online Guardian. But it was not to be.
The person taking part in the meeting from Paris enters the room just as I am heaving the large, flat screen monitor onto the table.
“Ah, [petite], so you’re setting this up for me, are you?” he says, somehow managing to convey in those few words that he doesn’t believe for a second that I’ll be able to do it. Which is preposterous, but makes me flustered all the same.
He and my boss are like chalk and cheese. My boss gets rather stressed and is occasionally moody, but I get on well with him because he treats me like an equal. He knows full well that I am hopelessly overqualified to type his dictations, but I think at the end of the day he just wants someone around that he respects and can hold an intelligent conversation with. That’s my theory anyway.
This other boss is very old school. He wears braces and sock suspenders (although I don’t have any firsthand experience of those), stays in gentlemen’s clubs when in London, and calls secretaries ‘typists’. When I speak to him, I can’t prevent myself from mirroring his plummy Oxbridge accent. His presence at this precise moment is both unhelpful and potentially embarrassing. Not least because W is on the speakerphone, and is an outrageous flirt. I pray that he has heard Old School Boss arriving and busy myself with connecting cables.
“Right love, see the white cable with the socket like a telephone? Is that connected?”
I roll my eyes. “The RJ45 is in, yes.”
“Lovely. You’re not just a pretty face, are you?”
Now I’m blushing. Webcam in place, remote control in hand, I press the buttons on the front of the monitor, somewhat randomly, until it fires up. The menu comes into focus on the screen, a large, empty square where the London boardroom will appear. There is a smaller inset box where Paris will show up, so that we know what image is being transmitted to London. So far so good.
I press the button to “connect”, as instructed, and an image appears.
“Holy shit!” I yelp, before I can censor myself.
On the monitor, I can clearly see W in London, hair receding, looking quite like Minty from Eastenders. I’ve never seen his face before. I missed the office party held in London a couple of years ago – as I was in labour at the time – so I mostly have to make do with imagining the person I am talking to.
But seeing W’s face is not the reason for my outburst.
The image of Paris, which is simultaneously being broadcast onto a large screen in our London boardroom, is of me. Or, to be precise, is of my cleavage. Clearly I hadn’t got the webcam angle quite right, and there I am, in my full glory, leaning across the table with the remote, my V-necked jumper revealing a little more than I would have liked.
So, a full five minutes after arriving at work, I have managed not only to show my breasts to “Minty”, but also to swear in front of Old School Boss. I can’t imagine how things could get any worse. Except they can and do. Because as W adjusts the position of the London webcam and twiddles with the focus, a sea of smurking faces swim into view. It would appear that their meeting room was already occupied too, with a full complement of London board members. I flee, face an attractive beetroot colour, unable to look Old School Boss in the eye.
I think I may have just become superstitious. I won’t be working on Friday 13th again in a hurry.