Secretarial: Moral: beware of party favours

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The Independent Culture
AT A party, I bump into Martin, whom I haven't seen in five years. Martin is a couple of years older than me and has turned out to be something of a wunderkind, having set up his own specialist magazine publishing house at the age of 22. His firm now does in-house magazines for big companies, as well as such publications as Fish-Fryers' Monthly, the Ditch-Diggers' Gazette and The Morticians' Journal.

He employs 30 people, and has a house in Notting Hill and a pair of diamond-studded cufflinks, which he fiddles with a lot. Martin hasn't so much changed as got more himself; his confidence is now almost overwhelming. I ask him how he had the nerve to go out on his own and he just says, "Well, it never occurred to me to do anything else".

And then he asks me what I'm up to. And before I know it, he's going, "Well, why don't you come and work for me?" And before I know it I'm saying, "OK. When shall I turn up?"

So now it's two weeks later, and I'm at Martin's offices in Brixton. The offices are on the fifth floor, up a set of worn concrete stairs in a building just down the road from the station. Panting, I push open the door to find a grimy little lobby with worn cream lino flecked with red spots, and a buzzer attached to an internal door. I press it. Wait. Press again. A voice picks up and says, irritatedly, "Yes?" I give my name. "What do you want?" the voice asks.

"I've come to start work."

"Nevereardovyer," says the voice, then buzzes me in to a large, bare room. Under the windows a score of people are attached to their telephones by headphone cords. Three people sit in a knot around a computer screen, and look up as I come in. "Yes?" one says. "Hi," I say. "Is Martin around?" "Not at the moment," says a blonde. "Um, well, Martin offered me a job a couple of weeks ago and told me to start today." The blonde rolls her eyes. "He's always doing that," she says. "Look, he won't be long. Why don't you wait on that sofa?"

Then a door opens and a woman emerges, backwards, shouting. "If you think you can get away with this you're wrong!" she cries. "I'm suing and I'm going to win!" Martin follows her, smiling. "You'll find, Daphne, that you haven't got a leg to stand on. We don't have a contract." "We'll see!" she shouts, then wheels on one foot and slams the door. Martin smirks, scratches his head and looks around. He begins to retreat into his room, and I say "Martin!" He stops, peers at me, then smiles.

"Hello," he says. "What are you doing here?" "I've come to start work, remember?" I say. "No, um, when? Oh, yes, at Marcy's party." "What do you want me to do?" I say. "Why don't you come into my office?"

Behind the door is a comfortable room with a leather chesterfield, coffee- table, ashtrays and a computer. Martin sits on the chesterfield, crosses an ankle over a knee and gestures me to take a chair. Puts his hands behind his head, elbows out, looks at me. "So," he says. "What was it you said you were hoping to do again?"