17 July 2023

The man who mistook his wife for a hat : 2006-2009 : Enders Analysis

 1976. With trepidation, I knocked on the door of the Durham student newspaper to volunteer, opened it and encountered a cacophony of shrill, loud voices in an office no bigger than a two-up-two-down front room. A dozen people in close proximity were conversing at sufficient volume for their voices to project into a distant corner of a non-existent adjacent room. Never had I heard so few people generate so much noise. Not a chummy American loudness, but a commanding-the-troops ‘I’m in charge’ harshness. When one woman spoke, it sounded exactly how I imagined a horse might talk. I had stumbled into toff-land, the privileged world of the privately educated, a parallel universe of entitlement I had observed in television historical dramas but not realised still existed in the late twentieth century. Did I grow accustomed to their gratuitous noise pollution? No.

2006. With trepidation, I started my first day’s work at Enders Analysis. Its location in elite Mayfair, opposite the rear entrance of Park Lane’s Grosvenor Hotel, conveyed ‘class’. I was given a desk in a cramped room shared with colleagues who spoke loudly in plummy accents. The previous occasion I had endured transportation to toff-land, thirty years earlier, at least my commitment had been voluntary. Now I was indentured to spend forty hours a week in this socially hostile environment. Each occasion I opened my mouth seemed to confirm my appointment as the ‘accidental analyst’ to a job usually pre-ordained for yet another privately educated chap. Within days, the questions started.

“Why do you arrive at work so early every day?” asked Ian Watt one morning.

“My wife has to start work early, so I leave home with her,” I replied.

“Your wife is a banker?” my colleague suggested. I struggled to maintain a straight face at such a bizarre presumption.

“No,” I responded with hesitancy. “She works in an NHS hospital.”

There was a gap. I sensed a sharp intake of breath.

“Ooooohhhh,” said Watt with evident disappointment that betrayed a palpable disregard for public service, whether someone worked in a hospital kitchen or the deputy chief executive’s office.

If boisterous office chit-chat (“I’m off on holiday to Brazil next week”) proved insufficiently distracting, it was accompanied by personal phone calls made from colleagues’ desks, sometimes communicating disturbing content. Do I really need to hear you phoning a credit card company to increase the limit on a card in your father’s name for which you had applied and use? We all carried personal mobile phones and could go outside to make calls but, for these colleagues, there was evidently no shame or embarrassment in broadcasting their latest Famous Five-ish japes.

One regularly phoned his wife and, instead of a loving message, he would bark orders to her at the top of his voice as if she were a half-deaf scullery maid in his medieval castle. The tone of his phone calls disturbed me sufficiently to glance around our room to determine if the others had similarly felt they were being forced to eavesdrop on a suspected witch undergoing torture by the Inquisitor. None of them looked up or flinched during his tirades, as I did. I felt so alone in this workplace, observing that such humiliation of a fellow human appeared not only acceptable in toff-land but might be practised by my other colleagues.

“My wife is an opera singer,” he would turn around to tell us once his aggressive phone diatribes ended. I was uncertain whether this occupation was some kind of toff codeword for ‘slave’, or perhaps his entire household was staging a never-ending operetta in the ballroom where he had to phone in his part as the angry, posh analyst husband from Mayfair. His behaviour made me contemplate walking over and committing workplace violence but I was restrained by my poor chances in a pistol duel at dawn.

I soon discovered that ritual humiliation appeared to be my new workplace’s predominant management style. Within weeks of starting the job, I attended my first one-day radio conference at a Mayfair hotel a few hundred metres from the office. During the opening morning session, I received a text from a colleague telling me to return to the office because our boss needed me to do something unspecified urgently. Reluctantly leaving the conference, I returned to the office to be told that our boss was not there but would return soon. By the time the conference ended, I had wasted most of the day sat at my desk waiting for something, anything, to happen that required my presence.

If your private schooling imbued you with the notion that Miss Havisham was an ideal role model, such behaviour must simply propagate down your family money-tree. Many more humiliations followed, all of which I accepted with the uncomplaining resignation that a servant is forced to adopt to remain in the employ of an unhinged ‘big house’. The consequence is that the master progressively ups the ante in order to prompt a reaction, any kind of reaction, to their extensive repertoire of humiliations … and so it was.

2008. In front of my colleagues, boss Claire Enders told me she did not appreciate my work clothes. My suits were too baggy and my shirts were too patterned. I had not changed my dress style since starting work there, so I recognised this as her latest attrition. I wore a black or grey suit, a ‘designer’ work shirt, a subtly patterned tie and black shiny shoes. Once a month, my wife accompanied me on a Saturday hike around local men’s outfitters to peruse and purchase sale items. As a result of my daily cross-country run, my shoulders were broad but my waist was narrow, making any suit look ‘baggy’ on me. It was not my fault that many of my work colleagues were Billy Bunter-like!

In response, I resorted to wearing a plain white shirt and black tie every day under one of my existing suits. Then, in front of my colleagues, Enders complained I looked like an undertaker and ordered me to go to gentleman’s shops on Jermyn Street to buy new clothes. My patience with these workplace humiliations was wearing thin by my third year there. I neither agreed nor refused. As the only parent in the analyst team financially supporting their child’s university education, I could not suddenly throw my earnings at hideously expensive clothes. I had kept to my employer’s dress code at all times. I hoped that this latest humiliation might blow over … but I underestimated the persistence of my protagonist.

One week later, colleague Ian Watt told me he had been instructed to take me to Jermyn Street to buy new, more suitable clothes. We took a taxi, something I never afforded. During the one-kilometre journey, Watt wittered on about stuff while I shut my ears and stared vacantly out the window. I had decided to go along passively with his mission, as if he were demonstrating his superior breeding to a servant or slave … or wife. I did not lose my temper, argue or contradict him. I was merely a lowly bit player in his ‘Downton Abbey’ roadmap of British society. In my head, I was amused at the ridiculousness of this situation.

Inside the Dickensian shop (“Suits you, sir!”), Watt chose a new wardrobe for me. Bright pink shirts, elastic braces, ugly black shoes. I offered no opinion about his preferences. All I would have needed was a red nose to join a touring circus. He took my ‘outfit’ to the cash desk and unexpectedly asked me to pay. I refused. There was a standoff. Frustrated at not fulfilling the ultimate humiliation of making me fund my own unrequested makeover, he stormed off to replace most items on their shelves, before proffering his credit card to pay for the remaining two. During our taxi journey back to the office, I remained detached even when I heard him bellow at me:

“If you had attended a public school*, even a minor one, you would know how to dress!”

There, laid bare, was his contempt for me. It mattered not one iota that I had started working in radio more than three decades earlier and had successfully launched commercial stations attracting millions of listeners in the UK, Europe and Asia. It mattered not one iota that I had earned more mass media coverage for Enders Analysis with my published reports about the radio industry than all my analyst colleagues combined. All that mattered to him was the type of school I had attended many moons ago. The five-figure sum that his parents must have paid each term for his private school education seemed to entitle him to treat me like … you know what.

Unlike Pip, I harboured no desire to be accepted as a ‘gentleman’ by London society. You could stuff your flouncy shirts, your waistcoats, your pocket watch, your braces, your uncomfortable shoes, your sickening attitude to people like me. I knew who I was and was perfectly content in my own skin. Born in a council house, I attended school on a council estate and was obliged to become male head of my single-parent household at the age of fourteen. That is who I was. I refused to lick your … overprivileged ego.

Back at the office, the clothes bought in Jermyn Street sat in a bag beside my desk. I refused to even look at them. Naturally, further humiliations followed until, within months, I was forced out of my job. When I left for the final time, I placed the bag of new, unworn toff-wear on my empty office chair. There were no farewell drinks. There was no gratitude. There were no goodbyes. One day I was at work, then I had gone. Exiled from toff-land.

Several months later, I received an unexpected call on my mobile from Ian Watt. There was some work Enders Analysis wanted me to do. I knew from experience that Claire Enders could humiliate to the bitter end former employees who had been edged out of her workplace by asking a staff member to renew contact on her behalf. Watt droned on for a while and, though I was sorely tempted to shout an expletive at the same volume he reserved for humiliating people like me, I simply responded ‘no’ and put the phone down.

I don’t wanna go to Jermyn Street … ever again.

[* In British English, 'public school' confusingly means a private secondary school requiring fees.]

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