This happened some time during the early part of 1999, when I was working in the Company Secretarial department of Northern Foods plc in Hull. I had just finished A-levels and was working as an Office Junior for a year until I went to university - interestingly, I didn't actually tell the company that, but never mind.

My boss Fran was the single most humourless person I have ever met. She was a fifty-year-old divorcee with a history of being evil and an attention to detail that required the most stringent behaviour of all her staff. No place for a nineteen-year-old kid who was just trying to earn some money.

When not stifling in a suit in a spartan office overlooking a railway yard, my salvation was my crazy friends back home. At the time we were going through a phase of listening to tapes of The Goon Show and quoting incessantly therefrom. My double life as a wild child and respectable suit-wearer couldn't last for ever. Soon, something would slip out.

Slip out it did. Talking about her plans for reviewing the company's Report and Accounts, or some such dull thing, in the office one day Fran said "this is my plan of attack".

I couldn't help it. Quick as a flash I replied, "Looks like a nail".


Fran has a way of looking at someone that literally makes them feel two centimetres tall. Eyes like gimlets and a particular way of holding her jowls that makes one think, "you have displeased me. Prepare to pay the ultimate penalty". I nearly spontaneously combusted on the spot.
It's okay. I can escape from this alive. "Erm, er, nothing."
"No, go on. Tell us."

Damn. "Ahem, erm, it's from an old radio comedy... 'this is my plan of attack' - 'looks like a nail' - 'no, it's a tack' - nothing, really...."
Don't fire me... pleeeasssse....

The second that followed was an eternity of torment as Fran's eyes bored into the back of my skull. Her jowls firmed yet further. I thought she was about to spontaneously combust on the spot. I felt myself shrinking, fidgeted in my chair, and tried to make sure I didn't fall through the weave of the padded seat.

Finally, after I had considered using the fourth-floor window (that's the fifth floor to Americans) as an escape route, Fran said, "oh, the Goon Show. I love that."


Then Fran decided she would quote some Goon Show herself... she said "Min, Min, Min Min Min...?"
Without conscious thought I continued in a Minnie Bannister high-pitched voice, "Yes, yes, yes yes yes?" Fran looked at me, and then I did spontaneously combust....

Anyone who's ever owned a textbook knows that they float around from person to person, as there are countless other students with the same book. They all look alike, and it's not uncommon to open what you thought was your textbook and see someone elses name in there. It happens all the time. A few days ago, I opened my grammer book and found this message:

"Sam Duncan. That's right. This book belongs to Sam Duncan. Both legally and emotionally. So if you find yourself in possession of this book, you're both a criminal and a cretin. Sure, you could keep this book. Hey, I'll never know about it. You're probably thinking: 'Bah! He can't care that much about this book, 'cus he hasn't asked me if I've seen it lying around.' Well, I reckon it'd be pretty damn useless walking around asking every single damn person if they'd seen a spare Oxford French Reference Grammar book lying around. But I can assure you, until you give me back my book, I'll be getting a detention a week for being ill-prepared for my lessons. And as I said before, by keeping this book you're putting a good relationship on hold, 'cus me and this book are like *that*. We just click. We're damn near soul-mates. So come on, you indolent depraved munchkin, spend the 15 minutes finding my locker and give me back my goddamn book, 'cus it ain't yours. And unless you do, you'll go to hell. Honest. Trust me. I've tried. I too used to be an asshole who didn't return textbooks to their rightful owners. But after an incident with a big horny elephant, I saw the error of my ways. Damn, maybe I should stop using this excuse to not do my homework and just get started. Otherwise I'll be up all night."

I was too scared to go anywhere near this guy.

Dark windows greet me.
So they're in the back room?
Or... the back yard?
The garage is empty.

Quick call on the cell phone.
It rings on the dining room table.
No notes left behind.
Did they make it home at all?
They could have walked home by now.

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