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The Demise of our Relationship

Gabriel Pepper explores the issue of managing PAs

I was painting in the loo, applying happy violet to the indigo and sky blue, with my PA on a ladder, while I worked at wheelchair height. Painting is something I enjoy, it appeals to my sense of order. My PA, Lorraine, is a chatterbox, and constantly taxes me with unbelievable questions. On this occasion she was clearly unparalleled.

"Martin”, she asked, “What word best describes me?"

This is a hard one to answer, as every PA user knows that being diplomatic is an art, and that managing people is the hardest thing, so I was cautious. “I don't know”, I retorted. “What word best describes me?”

“Cantankerous”, she said without hesitation.

I was hurt by her answer, and secretly wanted to shout out “bimbo”.

That evening I played Scrabble with my old uni friend Dr Goldblum, whom I have known for fourteen years. Dr Goldblum is a serious young man, indeed I rather relish regularly defeating him with words like zo, rho or the occasional xi. I am an oracle, citing obscurities to tax the unwitting enthusiast, and I won of course, raising my arms in a grand gesture while Goldblum sighed.

“Lorraine, can you put the Scrabble letters away please dear?” I asked without hesitation, as my evening hours of cover are slim.

“Can't you do that yourself?” asked Lorraine, with a sarcastic grin, something she did not do well.

“No, I would like you to do this”, I retorted peevishly. I watched as she placed the letters in my bag but I was starting to feel stern.

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Next week on Lorraine's shift I was munching fruit as is my custom, gnawing at sugar cane in pre-prepared chunks, when I had the urge to eat three mandarins. “Can you peel me these three?” I asked, pointing at them by my mini fridge, which hums in the corner.

Again she asked, “Can't you do this?”

Again I felt a primal anger welling up, but instead I was matter of fact. “No, I want you to do it, its part of your job. I am a disabled man, I pay you to assist me, can you please assist me in the simple task I've asked you to do?” I said dryly.

Two days after I was sipping my morning coffee, faced with a gynormous pile of paperwork, which accumulates in my drawer. Lorraine sidled in and sat on my red chair opposite, and I could tell from her silly face that she was bursting with words.

“Tell me to f*** off if you want to, but I think you should change your shoes, your trousers and your shirt”, she announced judiciously.

I was totally stumped as usual, caught in the delicate balance between diplomacy and antagonism. Diplomacy won narrowly.

She wandered into my kitchen where there are assorted paint tins, lining the worktop and washing machine. She examined the paint brushes standing in their tins, occasionally emitting a tetchy grunt. “You know Martin, whoever left these brushes here must be really lazy, because you're meant to wash them out”.

I came closer to biting the bullet this time. “Clementina put them away, and she is certainly not lazy”. I was starting to feel acidic. Clementina had been a PA for me for four years, and she is in a class of her own, by far the best PA I have ever employed.

She backtracked furiously of course but the words had been spoken, and she knew that she was on thin ice. She began to dust on the higher shelf on my bookcase, with imprecision and manic speed.

“Can you be careful of that?” I bellowed, pointing at my lava lamp, of which I am proud. I am fascinated by the pattern of the boiling wax as they bubble, and can watch it for hours, but I was too late. The hapless Lorraine knocked the treasured item and it toppled noisily to the floor where it shattered messily.

“Nor do I”, I said, wincing. “You'd better clear it up”.

I sighed and went out in the garden to smoke a cigarette, and returned directly afterwards and entered my front room. I found Lorraine examining the interior of my wooden money casket. I was outraged by her lack of honesty and discipline, and still stung by the broken lamp.

“You'd better leave”, I said coldly. “You're obviously robbing me and I'm firing you”.

“Oh you're joking!”

“Just leave”.

She slunk out of the door.