DJ Taylor: Office enforcer Bethany Meek has a well-concealed but absolutely iron-clad will


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The Independent Online

Who is there among us without some friend or acquaintance of the calibre of Mrs Bethany Meek, chief ornament of the clerical department of Messrs Blatterthwaite & Sons, sheet-metal manufacturers, Smethwick, West Midlands?

Which is to say, a softly spoken, neatly dressed, undemonstrative woman in her late forties, rarely heard to open a mouth in which butter would probably fail to melt, but somehow capable of bending every situation she comes up against to match the requirements of a well-concealed but absolutely iron-clad will?

Mrs M has been at Blatterthwaites for 20 years, always found seated quietly behind her desk (does she ever take a holiday?), never put out by a request from the finance director for an obscure file last seen in the time of the Blair government, the infallible resort of younger colleagues unused to the office routines, and trifled with at the trifler's peril. They rearranged the clerical department's layout a couple of weekends ago and she arrived at work on the Monday morning to find her particular cubby-hole shunted a yard or two along the corridor. No public complaint was made – Mrs Meek registered this outrage merely by a slight intake of breath; nobody knows who was spoken to, or by whom, but by 11am, the carpenters were back in the building and by lunchtime she was returned to her old locale.

It was the same with the Christmas party, traditionally a sit-down meal at a carvery restaurant but last year advertised as an evening at a bowling alley. Again, nothing was said; no one quite knows how Mrs Meek planned her retaliation, nor the levels of the firm's hierarchy to which she was forced to ascend to carry her point, but within 48 hours the invitations had been rescinded, the restaurant menu was circulating around the desks, and those responsible given to understand that they had behaved in a highly selfish and irresponsible manner.

Naturally, no offence was taken, for how can one take offence at a quiet little middle-aged woman who sits at a desk surrounded by cat calendars and whose greatest dissipation is to be found, in the late afternoon of a winter's day, sucking an extra-strong mint?

On the other hand, it was no less an eminence than the firm's managing director who was once heard to remark that, "The meek will inherit the Earth."