It’s not every day you receive an email from your boss with the heading “TW*TS”. Well, actually, when I worked as a temp at an advertising agency in the early Nineties, I received much worse but that’s another story. What is the statute of limitations on harassment claims?
In this case, “TW*TS” turned out to be a totally innocent acronym, standing for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – the days my boss Bella suspected we would all be most likely choose if, as she hoped, we agreed to come back to the office for a three-day week beginning in October.
“The problem is, we have to make sure that someone is manning the fort five days a week,” she added.
The objections and mitigations were coming in before I had even finished reading the email. The parents were quickest off the blocks. They needed to be TW*TS. Did Bella have any idea how many inset days the average school had in a term? And they were always on Fridays or Mondays.
I had every sympathy with the parents’ arguments. They had definitely had the sh*tty end of the stick during the lockdowns, having to deal with homeschooling on top of everything else, but one thing they hadn’t experienced was the crushing loneliness of seeing nobody for weeks on end. I needed the long weekends too, to catch up on all the social interaction I’d missed out on. I didn’t say that of course. Not in writing. I had a feeling that it would not go down well.
When it was clear that everyone still wanted to be a TW*T, Bella sent another email, calling a Zoom meeting to discuss the situation.
“Since you’re all so determined to be TW*Ts, we’re going to have to do this by lottery,” she announced. “Each person in the team will be allocated a number and I will put all those numbers into a hat. Your priority for choosing your working days will accord with the order in which the numbers are drawn out. First person drawn gets first pick etcetera.”
“Not fair!” everyone protested.
“Can any of you think of a fairer way?” asked Bella, coming over all King Solomon. “We need boots on the ground every working day and you all have perfectly good reasons for wanting to be out of the office on Mondays and Fridays. I can’t run a business like that. We’re service providers. Our clients need to be assured that we can provide PR services whenever they need them, and that includes on Mondays and Fridays. So we’re going to choose days by lottery. The working pattern will initially last for one month and then we’ll choose again. For the second round, the person who came last in the original lottery will choose first etcetera.”
Bella allocated our numbers in alphabetical order. I got seven. George, who had been given the number four, wailed that four was his unluckiest number and begged me to swap. I agreed and Bella wrote my name next to the four instead. We all watched avidly as Bella tore the sheet of paper onto which the numbers were written into ten pieces, which she folded for the sake of anonymity before putting them into one of her trademark velvet fedoras. To ensure that the process was entirely fair, she called her cleaner Bev into the home office and had her pick out the first number.
“Four,” Bev announced.
“That’s me!” said George excitedly, before he remembered. “Oh no. That’s Trudy.”
I had come first in the lottery. For a moment, it was as though I had won the actual lottery. But with great luck comes great responsibility. Bella invited me to lay out my plan for October, reminding me that I would have to stick to it for the next four weeks. What days was I going to choose? The unofficial office WhatsApp (everyone but Bella) was soon buzzing.
“I need to work TWT more than anyone,” wrote Sarah. “I’m going to be coming all the way from Edinburgh.”
Not my fault, I thought. Her parental priority meant that I hadn’t been able to go on holiday at Christmas, Easter or in August for the past seven years.
“I’ve got a stag do in Ibiza second weekend of October,” wrote George. “If I can have Fridays and Mondays off and make a long weekend of it, I will make it worth your while.”
“My physiotherapist only works on Mondays and Fridays,” wrote Lizzie. “I still need at least four weeks’ treatment before my shoulder is back to full strength.”
Lizzie had injured her shoulder while throwing her bouquet at the wedding to which I hadn’t been invited – not even to the evening do – even though it took place after Covid restrictions on numbers were removed.
I knew that if I caved to any one request, I would upset everyone else. And when the whole scheme was reversed the following month, would any of them consider me? I doubted it. This was my one and only chance to be a TW*T. I was going for it.
“I’d like to work Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, please, Bella.”
Sarah’s Zoom window immediately went blank. Lizzie howled, though her agony was to be shortlived. She was next to be drawn out of the hat and chose to be a TW*T too. Everyone else would have to work a three-day week that included Monday and Friday. No exceptions.
Later, I sent George a WhatsApp. “I’m really sorry about your stag do. Perhaps Bella will make an exception for that week?”
There was no response, though I could see that he was online and that he had read my message. Sarah didn’t respond to my messages either. My phone was dead, but my ears were burning. I just knew that someone in the office had set up a new WhatsApp group, and this time it didn’t include me. After four hours of complete radio silence from my colleagues, I was almost glad to receive Bella’s email entitled “WTF”.
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