Dear Dave

Friday 31 August 2007

Blunt, farce and trauma

Dear Dave,

My timing is as impeccable as ever.

As you'll recall, I am under obligation to encourage Sarah's manager, Steve, to be a more involved dad and it hasn't been going that well. He's too caught up in work and impressing his manager to really get the message. I think it's got to the point where I'm just not blunt enough for the task. Sure, I can nurture his parenting skills and bring him closer to his inner housedad, but he's going to have to want these things first. He needs to stop seeing his kids as an infestation of little people that his wife is dealing with. He needs a revelation.

Engineering those is notoriously difficult.

I considered various options from subliminal messaging on his iPod to fake memos from senior management. I even devised an overly-complicated plan involving a papier-mache angel, a searchlight and a burning PDA. These all seemed underhand, however (and too much like effort, to be honest). That said, I was tempted by the idea of giving him a near-death experience. Very tempted.

In the end, I decided my best bet was inviting Steve to one of the games nights at my house so he could meet my friend Mike. Mike is good at being blunt.

Unfortunately, I organised the get-together for last night. The big meeting at LBO where they're going to announce the redundancies is today. Obviously, I was somewhat tense about Sarah's job situation and when Rob turned up he was in a similar state over his own.

"You OK?" I said, showing him in and leading him up to the lounge.

"Nervous about tomorrow."

"What's the worst that can happen?"

"They fire me, I never work again, Kate dumps me, I have to live in a wheelie-bin and the Child Support Agency hunts me down with a pack of rabid dogs."

"You've been sitting in your cubicle thinking about that all week, haven't you?"

"Yep, it's not like they've given me any work to do. I've be... Aghh!" We were going upstairs and he gave a little shriek as a mouse nearly landed on his head, did a triple backflip with reverse twist and landed running in the hall. I pulled out some numerical fridge magnets from my back pocket and held up a 9.6. "What the...?"

I shrugged. "We have mice. I think they're practising for some kind of Festival performance. Just keep your shoes on and don't accept if anyone offers you any toast."

He nodded but looked even more nervous than he had before.

"Anyway," I said. "I thought you were trying to look busy completing a project that's already been cancelled."

"They out-sourced it to India."


"It's kind of like a trial run. They're testing communications and structures while making sure these guys can actually code. Time's cheaper over there, so LBO can waste more of it for less money."

"Yep, you're screwed," I said as we entered the lounge and I handed him a beer. "If it's any consolation, I'll look after your HD telly and PS3 to free up some space in that wheelie-bin."

"Not funny. How are Sarah's prospects?"

"The last time I saw her Head of Division, he was bright orange and swearing revenge."

"He can't hold losing at paintball against Sarah. She wasn't even playing."

"Scary Karen tied him to a tree and used a roller. He may not be entirely reasonable about things."

Rob grinned. "I'll find a really big wheelie-bin and you can share it with me."


The doorbell rang. I left Rob setting up the Wii and hurried back downstairs. It was Steve.

The situation was somewhat awkward. Being head of Sarah's department, he knew whether she was going to be made redundant. Sarah had gone to her sister's for the evening to avoid him. I wittered as I took his coat and ushered him up to the lounge. I knew that he knew. He wasn't as abrupt as he usually is, which meant that he knew that I knew that he knew. Then he saw my quizzical expression, his face twitched and I knew that he knew that I knew that he knew that I knew that he knew. And my eyebrows must have raised because it looked like he knew that I...

"So is Sarah getting the sack, then?" asked Rob, as soon as we entered the room.

This refreshingly direct approach almost worked. "Ah, well, all the details are going to be announced tomorrow but I..." Then he recognised Rob. "You work in IT, don't you? You were one of the people that re-did the data analysis thingies last year. Bob, isn't it?"

"That's me," said Rob. "Are all the, er, thingies going OK?"

"Oh, yes. There are a couple of guys I know at a major insurance firm who are very jealous of the inverse customer retainment index calculator. The analysts still seem very pleased as well. It took them no time at all to get to grips with all the new bits and pieces. They just got on with the job as normal."

"Oh," I said, knowingly. "I'd forgotten you did that project for Steve."

Rob looked shifty. "Yeah. I had no end of problems, remember? I don't want to talk about it."

I nodded. Steve had read in a magazine about some 'amazing' software that had all kinds of functionality that sounded useful and had put in a request for extra options to be coded into the LBO marketing analysis tools. There were plenty of meetings but none of the people who actually used the tools wanted the new stuff. Sarah told Rob on the sly to just change the colour scheme and move some of the menus around. It was enough to convince Steve that Rob had done a years work in an afternoon and had the added bonus of not breaking any of the code in the process.

The doorbell rang again and I hurried to answer it. Steve was busy asking Rob if he still mentioned Star Wars at inappropriate times as I left the room.

"Steve here?" said Mike as I let him in. I'd already primed him with most of the details of my situation.


"Good." He headed up the stairs. A mouse flew past his ear and he blatted it out of the air with the back of his hand as it was performing a complicated figure-of-eight spin. It careened off the wall, hit the coat hooks and slid down into Rob's jacket pocket.

"You killed Boris!" I said in the middle of pulling out some numbers.

"He might just be stunned," said Mike. "If you want to take a look."

I thought about it. "Nah..." I said, shaking my head, and we continued to the lounge.

I did the introductions. "What do you do?" Steve asked Mike, clearly excited by the chance to network.

"You'd be surprised," said Mike. "It's usually a mixture of public speaking, management, social work, counselling and teaching."

"Really? Who do you work for?"

"Jesus," said Mike, offering Steve a beer.

"Oh." Steve looked at me and Rob to confirm that Mike wasn't having him on. Then he realised that he was trapped in a room with a computer geek, a housedad and a minister of religion. He took a couple of involuntary steps backwards.

I decided to make him feel at home. "Golf?" I said and handed him a wiimote. He looked at me like I was on drugs.

"I'll show him how to do it," said Mike, grabbing the controller.

"Make sure you've got the strap on tight," I said anxiously. "I've rearranged the room so you shouldn't be able to hit anything, but short, sharp movements are just as good as..." I was forced to duck as he took an enormous back swing and then dive out the way as he clubbed his virtual ball halfway to Mars. "...lethal arm-waving..." I muttered.

Steve was entranced, however. The prospect of being able to play golf without leaving the house had him hooked. He wanted to know all about the Wii and couldn't wait for a shot. I had visions of him running out first thing in the morning and buying one with a copy of Tiger Woods and then him never interacting with his family ever again. I'd made yet another error. My only hope was that he wouldn't be able to find the SCART socket on his telly.

As we played, we filled Mike in on the turmoil at LBO. At least, Rob and I did. Steve kept fairly quiet, interjecting only to occasionally defend senior management and their bold plan for the future. Even he didn't seem entirely clear what the plan was, though. Rob had a couple of beers and seemed to relax. He finally began to see the bright side...

"It's not as if I actually like the job, is it? I mean, it's OK, and everything. I get left alone to get on with stuff and the benefits are great but... What if there's something better? I haven't looked. There might be something I could really enjoy."

I nodded. "I hear Britney Spears is looking for a pet."

He appeared momentarily interested and then realised I was joking. "Seriously," he said. "I need to think about it now before... before..."

Mike sank a lengthy putt. "Before you become a dad, you forget what sleep is, you have no energy for change, risk begins to seem more risky and you start to smell slightly of used nappies?"

"Something like that," said Rob.

"Ach, get over it," said Mike. "There's always the possibility for change."

"It would be easier now, though," I added.

"I'm not denying that," said Mike, "but it's always worth working out what you'd do if you lost your job tomorrow - you never know when you might come up with a plan which is worth doing anyway. What are you going to do if they make you redundant, Steve?"

Steve gave a condescending smile as he tapped one in. "I've been assured that my position is safe."

"By your boss?" asked Mike.

"Yes. Scott and I have worked closely together on a number of projects," began Steve. "I feel that he values my contribution to..."

Mike cut him off. "Have you been completely straight with anyone who works for you?"

Steve grunted, shrugged, twitched and looked at me, all at the same time.

"Thought not," said Mike. "Best to at least consider the possibility, if I were you. Would getting fired make you happy or sad? Turn you numb or present you with an opportunity? What do you have outside work to hold onto. Where are you headed? Why are you going there in the first place? What's important? What's your purpose? Who are you and what do you want?"

Steve opened his mouth to answer.

"Heck," said Mike, "don't tell me. Do I look like I care?" He squared up for another big swing. "Tell your wife when you get home." He walloped the ball to within six inches of the hole. "And a fiver says I can beat you over the back nine."

Steve blinked and gaped and then remembered to breathe. Wisely, he declined the bet but he was somewhat shell-shocked for the rest of the evening. The conversation turned to lighter things - children, mice, incompetent plumbers and suitable pets for Britney Spears. We played golf a little longer, then moved on to some bowling. I made Rob and Mike toasties. Steve just had some toast. We finished off with a quick go at Mario Kart. I won (thanks to my many hours of being forced to play by Fraser) but Steve was surprisingly good despite his lack of gaming experience. Rob just kept complaining about the blue shells, as ever.

After that, people started to drift off, agreeing to meet up again soon. Steve went home looking pensive which, I guess, is about the best I could have hoped for. Rob left shortly after. I closed the door behind him and there was a muffled scream as he reached the end of the drive - doubtless at the moment he put his hands in his pockets.

Only Mike was left, seeming to take a while to put his coat on.

"Thanks," I said. "You gave Steve something to think about. I don't know if he will think about it, but it's better than I've done in several weeks."

Mike rubbed his chin and looked at me appraisingly. "What about you? I know your situation is different but what are you outside your job, Ed? You spend your whole time running around after small children. There's nothing more absorbing than that. What's going to happen when Marie starts nursery and you get some time to yourself?"

I started the mantra. "Not much - not in two hours a day, on weekdays, during term-time when all the kids are we..."

"You've told me that before," he said, frowning. "I'm not asking what you're going to do. I'm asking who you're going to be."

"I, er..."

"Yes, Steve is a pompous jerk but stick with him. He's going to be no more lost if he loses his job than you will be when all your kids are at school."

And with that, he was out the door. "See you on Sunday," he said and was gone.

It was my turn to be shell-shocked.

Yours in a woman's world,


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