petite anglaise

July 31, 2006

two months' notice

Filed under: misc, working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 6:59 pm

It is a Tuesday morning in early May, four days after my dismissal interview. An interminable bank holiday weekend alone, fretting about the future, has left me drained and exhausted. Luckily Tadpole is with Mr Frog’s parents for two whole weeks, a stay which was organised long ago to coincide with the childminder’s holidays.

Fortunate timing, I will admit, as I am in no fit state to care for anyone else right now. This logic does little, however, to take away the dull ache that her absence provokes.

I fire off a short email to my soon-to-be-ex-boss, enquiring as to whether my dismissal letter is ready. I have a deadline to respect for my apartment purchase, meaning that I must pull out or confirm the loan within the next five days. The very last thing I need is to wait for the postman deliver a letter sent by recorded delivery snail mail.

Rather than spend the next few hours on tenterhooks, pacing and willing the phone to ring, I watch several episodes of “Lost” back to back, still clad in my Miffy pyjamas. Focusing on suspenseful television is a helpful displacement strategy: my own stress is put on hold, temporarily, while I worry about mysterious monsters in the jungle instead.

The phone trills at 2.30pm.

“Allô?” I answer, pretending I do not know to whom I am speaking, despite the fact that the caller ID is clearly displayed on my handset.

“Catherine? How are you?” my boss stammers awkwardly.

It is a shame it has come to this, because despite our differences and occasional fallings out, we did get on pretty well, as a rule. And now we don’t quite know how to speak to one another.

“Oh, you know, I’ve been better,” I reply breezily, making a supreme effort not to betray my nervousness.

“I think I should be in a position to give you a copy of your dismissal letter this afternoon,” he continues cautiously.

I sense a “but”, and am not proved wrong. “It really depends on whether you agree to write a letter asking to be excused from serving your notice period…”

Notice period? My mind races ahead. If there is a notice period, that means that I am no longer being dismissed for “faute grave”. My suspension will be transformed into paid leave, I will get my holiday pay, and a small amount of severance money. This is all good news.

But, if my suspicions are correct, writing the letter he is asking for would mean waiving my right to a paid two month notice period. Not good.

I mumble something about mulling things over and arrange to drop by the office at the end of the afternoon. I replace the receiver, and when I look down, realise that my hands are visibly shaking.

A rapid telephone consultation with a union juriste confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is out of the question for me to write any such letter.

It occurs to me that my ex-boss seems to be playing the role of the good cop, who has, against all odds, negotiated the best possible deal he can on my behalf, whereas, in fact, the real aim might be to make me feel so pathetically grateful that I will willingly sign away my rights.

This impression is confirmed when I arrive at the office.

I sit, opposite my ex-boss, in his glass walled office, only a few metres from the desk where I once worked. He seems dismayed when I decline to write the letter, and makes a great show of consulting fellow partners (running up and down the stairs, taking calls from a nearby meeting room) while I wait, trying to keep a lid on my panic, and, through a supreme act of will, refraining from taking a peek at the letter of dismissal left tantalisingly on his desk every time he vacates the room.

At one juncture he returns to tear up a copy of the letter with a theatrical flourish. A dramatic gesture; but I note, with an inward amusement I take pains not to display, that the original copy remains intact on his desk.

“Well,” he says, “I don’t know what to do now… I’m going to be away for a few days … and it doesn’t look like we can resolve this today…”

I say nothing, motioning as if to pick up my bag.

“Wait, stay there, I’ll just try one last time,” he says, and heads down the stairs once more. When he returns, he picks up the letter, and takes it to the photocopier.

I appear to have won a small victory.

He walks me to the lift, a manila envelope clutched in my clammy palms, my legs decidedly wobbly.

“Of course, I can’t promise that I won’t take my case to the prud’hommes.” I say, as the lift doors begin to slide closed.

Because this is far from over, as far as I’m concerned.

July 26, 2006

wardrobe malfunction

Filed under: misc, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:48 am

I sit cross legged on the floor, biting my lip whilst contemplating several flat packs of furniture and wondering how on earth I had managed to convince myself that I could assemble two gargantuan wardrobes without assistance.

The alarms bells first started ringing when the delivery men seemed to be struggling to even carry the boxes. They became deafening when I gutted the first pack and saw the assembly instructions, which portray a lady on a stepladder holding a wardrobe in place, while a gentleman gallantly hammers in nails and tries to resist the temptation to look up her skirt.

Not for the first time this week, I am forced to admit that I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

Happily, help is close at hand, in the form of a handyman who is coming over to help fix the wardrobes to the wall. When he arrives, I flash him my most winsome smile and flutter my eyelashes in what I hope is a feminine and appealing fashion. I doubt these things alone are enough to make him overlook my paint splattered attire and general state of clamminess, but there can be little doubt that I am a damsel in genuine Ikea distress, and he gamely sets to work while I pore over the instructions.

We are in the middle of pulling the first wardrobe upright when the telephone trills. I make a mental note to find a ringtone which doesn’t set my teeth on edge at the first opportunity and pull the phone out of my pocket with my free hand. It is someone from a radio station, whom I had rather inconveniently managed to forget about. I am supposed to wax lyrical about my dismissal on live radio in one minute’s time.

I wonder whether I am about to be the first person to ever give a radio interview whilst standing on a stepladder and holding a wardrobe upright. Given the surreal turn which events have taken since the first piece appeared in the press two days earlier, I am not sure that anything would be capable of surprising me any more. The first media call, on that fateful Tuesday, came from Radio Five Live, whilst I was sitting in the ASSEDIC (unemployment benefit) office, completing my paperwork.

The handyman, once he has heard my bashful explanation, kindly offers to refrain from hammering for the next two minutes and takes my place on the stepladder.

Realising that the level of background noise from the works being carried out in the courtyard may prevent me from making myself heard, I repair to the quietest room in my new apartment and close the door behind me.

And so it comes to pass that I give a live radio interview whilst perched on my toilet.

July 20, 2006


Filed under: working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:26 pm

My phone rings: it is Old-School Boss. I am nervous, but no more than usual. His formal, headmasterly tone always manages to unnerve me, and when I replace the receiver after one of our exchanges I often feel I have slipped back into the skin of the painfully shy and inarticulate schoolgirl I thought I had left far behind.

“Can you come down to my office for five minutes please?”

Something in his voice, coupled with the way in which my boss averts his eyes when I mutter that I have been summoned, alerts me to the fact that something is very wrong.

Old School Boss motions for me to close the door behind me. He doesn’t wait until I am seated to deliver the first line of his speech.

“I’m afraid I have called you here to tell you that I am obliged to terminate your employment with the firm.”

I sit.

My mouth forms a perfect “O” of astonishment.

“This is because of your internet site.”

Somehow he manages to make “internet” sound like an unspeakably filthy word.

He doesn’t care to disclose how it is that the existence of petite anglaise has suddenly come to light, but I suspect the high number of page views I happened to notice last weekend by someone living in my boss’s town were not coincidental. The statistic had made me mildly nervous, but when nothing was said on Monday morning, I dismissed my fears as nothing more than a nasty bout of sitemeter-induced paranoia; an occupational hazard.

I am barely capable of forming sentences, so great is my shock, managing only to stammer: “bbut I hardly ever mentioned work…”

He begs to disagree. “You mentioned work rather a lot in my opinion, and in so doing, you have brought the firm into disrepute.”

With hindsight, I realise this would have been a good time to say “but how can the firm be identified?” However at that precise moment my synapses probably resemble a game of join the dots.

He adds, almost as an afterthought, that he also has reason to believe I had accessed my blog during working hours.

I am handed a letter to read and sign, which invites me to attend a dismissal interview the following week. There is a phrase I do not understand, “mise à pied conservatoire”, the horrible significance of which only becomes clear once I get hold of a dictionary, at home. I have been suspended without pay, pending my dismissal interview for gross misconduct*. The kind of grizzly fate usually reserved for people who endanger the lives of other employees, turn up to work under the influence or embezzle funds.

“I’m going to have to ask you to collect your belongings, and you will then leave immediately.”

I take a few moments to gather my wits. Cheeks flaming, I slowly make my way back upstairs.

Curiously, when I return to my desk to start gathering up my personal effects, my boss is nowhere to be seen.

*This was revised ten days later to “licenciement pour cause réelle et sérieuse – perte de confiance” – (dismissal for real and serious cause – breakdown of trust). Something of a relief as gross misconduct involves immediate dismissal, whereas “cause réelle” involved a paid notice period during which my presence in the office was not deemed necessary.

July 18, 2006

things fall apart

Filed under: Tadpole rearing, working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 8:00 am

I have hinted, in recent weeks, at events which were unfolding in the background. Sinister events. Events I was not at liberty to discuss on my blog, just yet.

In the meantime I stuck to the safest anecdotes, seething with frustation at not being able to write about that One Single Horrible Thing which was preying on my mind, night and day, causing dramatic (and not entirely unwelcome) weight loss, panic attacks and sleepless nights, in the beginning.

The waiting is over, and I will begin by turning back the clock to my unexplained two week hiatus at the end of April this year. Starting with a post originally written on Wednesday 26 April 2006.

Here goes.

I step into the lift, inspecting my face in the mirror for tell-tale streaks. As I make my way across the park, I wonder whether the nanny will notice that I have arrived from the direction of home, wearing jeans.

I take a few deep breaths as I approach, hoping that my facial expression does not betray my inner turmoil. I very much want to hold things together, for Tadpole’s sake.

Tadpole greets me with indifference, which is not unusual. She is far more engrossed in trying to wrestle a very large Noddy doll off one of her playmates. Her own – a more pocket sized version – lies abandoned on the floor, a grass stain across his cheek.

It would appear to be high time for us to have a mother-daughter conversation about how size isn’t (always) everything.

“Come on sweetie,” I begin, brightly, “you can’t take the big Noddy. It’s not yours. Yours is much better, because he fits in your bag, and you can take him everywhere.”

“NOOOO! I want the big Noddy!” Tadpole rages, face set in a stubborn expression which reminds me, suddenly, of her father.

“Well, that’s a shame,” I continue, with a sudden flash of inspiration, “because it’s little Noddy’s birthday today, and he wanted to invite you to his birthday party… but if you don’t want to come…”

“Can we get a birthday cake?” Tadpole enquires, playing into my hands as I knew she would. “And some candles?”

On the way home we discuss how old Noddy is today (definitely 3) and what kind of cake he would prefer. I realise the boulangerie is closed, and we settle for a chocolate swiss roll from Franprix, the only thing which looks remotely festive.

Once the candles are lit, Tadpole looks at me, suddenly anxious. She points at Noddy’s embroidered smile.

“Noddy can’t blow the candles. Look, he hasn’t got any mouth, mummy,” she says, sounding genuinely sorry for her little doll.

“Well, maybe you can do it?” I venture, trying not to dwell on the parallels between Noddy’s mouth and my self-enforced silence in the days to come. Tadpole obliges, with great enthusiasm.

I look at my daughter, her beautiful chocolate-icing coated cheeks, and wonder how on earth I have managed to make such a mess of things. Here I am, holding a fantasy birthday party, while our whole world is literally crashing down around our ears.

I was “dooced” today.

Suspended without pay, pending a dismissal meeting in ten day’s time.

Asked to collect my belongings together and leave the building immediately.

The words “faute grave” were used. Translated into English: gross misconduct.

Petite Anglaise: the blog that got me fired. Call me naïve, but I really didn’t see that coming.

Please note that due to the rather unexpected levels of traffic (most doocelike) today my host has had to redirect the blog address, create static entry page and all sorts of other tomfoolery, so we don’t bring down the shared server and disrupt other people’s service. In the meantime you may not be able to leave a comment. Hopefully things will calm down shortly, and I will still be able to post in the meantime.

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