This happened some time during the early part of 1999, when I was working
in the Company Secretarial
department of Northern Foods plc
. 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....