Strong words from Fi

No dear reader, before you ask, I have not scuppered my marriage. Luckily Mark’s accusations only amounted to ‘You never talk to me anymore, your face is always in that phone’ and being really really furious about it. Phew. No mention of online assignations and flirting with the ex. I laughed it off and, blushing right to my steely grey roots, hoped he’d put it down to a hot flush (for once thank heavens for the ruddy menopause). If he got wind of Russ’s loved up declarations and the fact that I’d not exactly sent him packing, my husband is not letting on.

But DAMN IT in my fear and panic I’d meanwhile confessed all to Fi. Sitting in her back garden, me in the hammock and Fi on one of her rattan chairs, as the words came out of my mouth I could swear the birds stopped singing. It was like I’d done the loudest fart ever. Fi even stopped slurping her Tanqueray for a few seconds there. Never Mark’s biggest fan – ‘That man could send himself to sleep he’s so boring’ – there she was staring at me in open-mouthed horror.

Pushing a few tendrils of her candy floss pink hair behind her ears Fi proceeded to go a bit mad. “No way. You’re making a big mistake, Amanda. Seriously? Are you effing crazy? Because once the trust is gone, it’s gone for good…”. Ah yes and she should know. The betrayal of Mike, her ex, is still a very sore point INDEED. His dalliance with the feisty millennial, a junior exec at the company where he’s a partner, didn’t last longer than a few months, but he’s been in no rush to beg Fi to take him back.

“I mean what are you even thinking? Your life is damn near perfect. Don’t ask yourself if you want this ex from your uni days, who by the way sounds like a right creep. Ask why you don’t want the life you already have – because make no mistake, you’ll end up losing it all”.

She makes a good point. Are things so bad? Mark’s annoying but we have a pretty good marriage, all in all. I’m a bit bored, yes. Sometimes misunderstood, undoubtedly. But why would I want to risk losing it all for someone who can’t be trusted that I haven’t set eyes on for years? It’s madness of course, but it seems I can’t stop myself. I read somewhere that infidelity is about self-esteem. What’s making me feel so inadequate that I’m getting a buzz from being shamelessly flirted with?

Oh yes, I know, the fact that REDUNDANCY is rearing its ugly head again – and this time it’s not messing. The prospect is something I’ve been dreading but knew, in my heart of hearts, was bound to come. And sure enough this week a scarily formal redundancy consultation letter arrived from the Boardroom Butcher. My whole team’s jobs are on the line.

Confession time
Some hours later I FaceTimed Fi and drunkenly tried to explain the mess I’m in, but soon started to sob. About how empty my life sometimes feels. How terrified I am of ending up on the scrap heap. That I’m sometimes not even sure that (whisper it) I want to spend the rest of it with Mark. A lovely man, no doubt about it, but is his cosy dependability enough for me, a woman with NEEDS? I really don’t know anymore, I informed her, trembling at the realisation that I was saying these words out loud for the first time ever.

Violently tamping down the ice in her glass with a cocktail mixing spoon, Fi stared right at me and slurred ominously “You’re utterly mad if you think you’d be happy without Mark. And you’re getting into a mess you’ll seriously regret. Promise me you’ll un-friend this Russell bloke and stop being an idiot”. And this from the woman whose idea of a relationship is sloppy seconds with Ed from Essex, the priapic yogi.

Yes indeed. Because while she may be worldly wise when it comes to relationship advice, the isolation of lockdown has messed with my best friend’s mind when it comes to her own. That and the copious amounts of gin she’s been putting away on a nightly basis (OK, so have I), plus the weed supplied by Mr Pelvic Lift-off. It seems he’s now a friend with benefits (spliffs, shagging with a side order of self-esteem-sapping nonchalance). And a toxic one at that. Apart from the fact that hook ups with Ed make a mockery of social distancing (where’s he BEEN?), I don’t think this arrangement is helping improve Fi’s already fragile relationship with reality. But hey – whatever gets us all through, right?

A Zoom date with destiny
I’m staring at my own face in the Zoom window and can’t seem to make the rictus grin look natural enough to say “calm and confident”. However I arrange my features, I look terrified. Having barely bothered with make-up during the last few months, today it’s full slap – I’ve brought out the big guns. But instead of looking slick and professional, it just looks weird – too heavy, too dark, somehow emphasising every damn crease. Like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, I look more than a bit deranged.

The whole team has been invited to have casual “no pressure” one-to-ones with Malcolm Butcher AKA The Mad Axeman, in order to share with him our genius brainwaves, our zeitgeist-harnessing tips, “basically your top line thoughts for saving the company, hohoho!”. He makes it sound like it’s all a big joke, but of course I know better. I am all too aware of how these thing work.

Knowing that we’re all anxious not to lose our jobs, the implication is that we’re in a fight for survival of the fittest that involves identifying the team members with the most value – and those who are disposable. Like a desperate game of musical chairs, I have to over-achieve in order to ensure that when the music stops one of the the remaining seats is occupied by my bum. The rumour is that there are only two chairs left. We’re a team of six. So apart from the anxiety this situation produces, it’s making us all view each other as rivals rather than a team – even more so than usual.

And it’s humiliating too. I mean, I’m good at my job, right? After all, sixteen years with the company and a stack of industry awards (admittedly from way back) must count for something. But in the last few years that rock-hard confidence has been shaken by an influx of sharper young execs who are WAY more tech-savvy and inventive than me. Conniving types like The Evil Panda, as well as the sweet ones. Some are only about a year older than Ellie and they sometimes look at me like I’m mad. The way I used to look at my batty old aunty. I HAVE BECOME THE BATTY OLD AUNTY! All the conferences and courses in the world can get rid of that feeling of being left behind.

What’s more, in a post-lockdown world, being good is balanced out by being cheap, and my senior-level salary makes me extra vulnerable. Smiling at Malcolm Butcher, our ruthless MD, I do my best to relax my features. I notice his hair is freshly cut and the eyebrows have been perfectly plucked into evil peaks (is that even ALLOWED?). He has grown a nasty little beard that makes him look like Jeremy Beadle. Another sign that this horrible man is not to be trusted. “Mandy – a sight for sore eyes, as always” he smirks. “Tough times old friend, tough times…” (we first met less than a year ago and I am NOT OLD) “But Mandy love, are you getting enough sleep? You do look a bit… tired”.

As per usual he makes me want to puke. And as our ‘cosy’ chat starts, I can’t get rid of the feeling that he’s pumping us for all our best creative ideas under the pretext of impressing him enough to keep our jobs – but really to steal them before giving us a hefty shove off the nearest cliff down to the sharks and rocks in the Sea of Redundancy below.

But I’m taking no chances. He wants ideas? I’ll give him ideas.

Has Amanda done enough to save her job or is she headed for the scrap heap? Will the Evil Panda beat her to the last chair? Will Amanda reach inside her computer screen and punch Malcolm Butcher’s lights out? Find out in the next instalment of The Midlife Diaries of Amanda M.

By Amanda M

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