Updated: Jul 9
“She’s a bit of a ringleader”
This is a slight misquote of a line from ‘Circus’ - an absolute banger by Britney Spears, a description often used for paedophiles who own an island, and of course, a verbatim quote about yours truly, from a work appraisal I received in 2018 while working at an accountancy firm.
This appraisal described my character as “dramatic”, my behaviour “inappropriate” and it even suggested I had a “vendetta”. It contained the truly baffling sentence “she just sat with a small smile on her face”. Quite dramatic and inappropriate for a professional appraisal, if you ask me.
Before I tell you of the events that preceded this rather damning yet peculiar feedback, I must stress that everything I am about to tell you is true - I do not lie in this blog nor do I in my life*. However, this is exactly what a liar would say, and based on what is to come, I wouldn’t begrudge you, if, at any point, you suspect that I have embellished this story. However, I need you to know I haven’t.
The main reason I need you to know this is because I pride myself on both my writing and my creativity. If I was going to make a story up - if this were truly a work of fiction - I would create something better than what you are about to read. I would have at least changed the setting or given the characters personalities. Alas, this story took place in an accountancy firm and the only thing more dull than such a setting is the subjects themselves.
Most works of fiction know better than to include accountant characters, and those that do typically have ones who are simply pretending to be accountants to cover up that they are actually spies or something far more interesting. The only film I can think of with an actual accountant character is the appropriately named ‘The Accountant’ but even Ben Affleck had too much range to be believable as an accountant.
The only detail I have changed is the names of my subjects because I don’t want to be sued for libel for sharing a story in which laws are broken. I consider the involvement of myself, a law-abiding citizen, a result of nothing more than a series of unfortunate events - and for this reason, I have opted to call the three protagonists Sunny, Violet and Klaus.
This could lead you to assume, by default, that I must be the villain, but I implore you not to think of me as Count Olaf. Instead, I ask that you think of me as Lemony Snicket, an incredibly troubled writer, falsely accused of felonies and un-relentlessly hunted by his enemies. As you read on, I think you will find this fits better, despite there being one minor difference between Lemony and I
When I received the aforementioned appraisal in the form of an email, I was confused. I thought it must be a mistake - an email somehow lost in the virtual sphere mysteriously making its way to the the inbox of a trainee at an accountancy firm, but intended for another recipient, one who, perhaps, lived a slightly more dangerous life. The most rebellious thing I had ever done was have an underage drink alone in my dorm room in America. If you’ve read my last blog, you will know that I had already repented for these sins and as such, I believed myself to me the last person anyone would describe as a ‘ringleader’.
As also mentioned in my last blog, I wasn’t a very good accountant. A big part of this was because I never wanted to be an accountant. No one really wants to be an accountant, you just wake up one day and you are an accountant. I became one when I stopped playing golf, when I made a decision that I would ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’. I thought a boring 9-5 could provide me with the life I thought I wanted.
The accountancy firm I ended up at provided a job that I was qualified for - it was a graduate scheme requiring good grades but from any discipline, and they said that all necessary skills would be learnt on the job. I was hired on the basis of my first class sports science degree - a degree I didn’t particularly want but that allowed me to play collegiate golf, and one I certainly never expected to have to put to use (unless anyone from the sporting world wants to book a comedian with a lot of knowledge of sport rather than a dude who just likes sport).
My new job offered a comfortable salary that would allow me to enjoy my life away from the office, and that was all I wanted. After a childhood of playing sport competitively, I was exhausted, burnt out, and jealous of my peers for their ‘normal lives’. I romanticised the normal. I applied for a job at an accountancy firm because I wanted normalcy. I wanted to finally sleep in at the weekends and go to brunch and birthday parties. I wanted a 9-5 and it’s contractual obligations and mutually beneficial arrangements, nothing more and nothing less. I wasn’t interested in going above or beyond anymore. I wanted a boring drama free life. Unfortunately, and much like my sole inspiration (T Swift obviously), I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me.
I was merely plodding along through life patiently awaiting retirement, under the apparently deeply flawed presumption that ringleaders and accountants were mutually exclusive groups of people. I had this view based this on the dictionary definition of ringleader (something that I didn’t know by heart at the time as I cannot stress how infrequently this word appeared in my vernacular) combined with first hand knowledge that accountants very rarely possess any sort of leadership skills.
For the record, the dictionary definition of a ringleader is “a person who initiates or leads an illicit or illegal activity”. My previous appraisal had described me as “shy”, “very quiet”, but complimented on my “work ethic” and my ability to “respond effectively to constructive criticism”. It was also suggested that I would benefit from putting myself forward for more leadership positions. It appeared as if I had overcorrected slightly.
The Friday night after receiving the more recent and slightly more negative feedback, like most Friday nights that preceded it, but not a single one that followed it, I went to the local pub at 5:30pm sharp with all my colleagues. After another long, exhausting week of spending time with people I found utterly intolerable, I needed to relax and destress by consuming alcohol in the company of the same people I found utterly intolerable.
I worked in Marylebone, home to a plethora of pubs - the kind of pubs that frequently appear on top 50 lists found in books that you are gifted from people who know you well enough to be in a situation requiring gift giving, but don’t know you well enough to know what that gift should be. However, despite so many options of where to drink ones sorrows away, we would always inevitably end up in the same pub - the worst pub in the world™. We ignored all pubs in close proximity that didn’t offer sticky floors or an overwhelming musk of regret, and opted to spend the conclusion of every week in the same depressing haunt, staring at the board which read “Daily Specials (updated daily)” in chalk as fossilised as the men who lurked in its corners.
Every Friday night, everyone I worked with, in the risk department of an accounting firm, would make their way to this pub and leave their overpriced handbags and briefcases in a towering pile obstructing the pubs only narrow doorway, right below the fire exit sign.
I was minding my business mulling over every poor life choice that had lead me there, when a manager approached me smelling of cigarettes and a scent which if bottled up and sold as a cologne would be called “Misogynié”. Through pursed lips and red wine stained teeth, he snarled at me.
“Why would you want to ruin her life like that?”
I looked behind me to see if he was talking to someone else, I thought perhaps I was stood in front of a mirror and he had finally come to the realisation that cheating on his wife wasn’t a particularly nice thing to do. I felt bad for obstructing his moment of enlightenment before realising he was actually talking to me.
He repeated himself: “Why would you want to ruin her life like that?”
“Sorry, what are you talking about?” I responded.
I needed clarification because that particular week had been a busy one for ruining lives, and I wasn’t on top of my admin. He told me “I knew” and “I should be ashamed of myself”. I told him that I am - but I had no idea what he was talking about.
I looked around at everyone in earshot - other managers, colleagues, peers, some of whom I mistakenly considered friends. They all looked at their shoes, or at each other, but no one looked at me. No one said a word while he preceded to, at length, tell me what an awful person I was. No one disagreed.
I sat on the tube heading home and everything suddenly made sense. It dawned on me exactly why I had been called a “ringleader" in my work appraisal a few days earlier, and why I was accused of ruining lives in the local pub that night. It was because one of my colleagues did drugs that I have never done, in a country I have never been to. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Okay, perhaps this is not, in fact, relatable content, and this is where the story is starting to sound far fetched. But bear with me, because I promise all that makes no sense now, will make sense eventually, but first I must introduce you to the worst three people in the world.
My climb to the top in my new life of ring-leadership and life-ruining could be traced back to approximately 6 months before my incriminating appraisal, when the third worst person to ever exist, a woman who’s real name is definitely Sunny, joined the company. Since accountants typically find it very difficult to make friends, when she joined the company, they gave her a tax-deductible one at no extra cost, under what they called the ‘buddy system’. Since I started at the company a year before Sunny, I was assigned to her.
Being a buddy involved teaching someone who still irons their shirts and has a glimmer of hope left in their eyes how to submit their timecard and how to use the bespoke software, as well as showing them the best location to have a good cry in - the 4th floor bathrooms.
Sunny was my buddy in a strictly professional sense. I didn’t like Sunny because Sunny was incredibly annoying. Her entire personality involved being vegan, sharing facts about being vegan, and judging anyone who wasn’t vegan. She taught me that not everything vegan is also cruelty free - this wasn’t one of the facts she shared but just an observation I made about her from her behaviour.
Sunny also enjoyed repeatedly telling everyone who didn’t need to know, how her name was spelt. She would always introduce herself as “Sunnie with an i.e.”, as if she expected to end up as the subject of someone’s blog one day and it would deeply upset her if her name were to be spelt incorrectly throughout.
Now, Sunny actually did make far fetched and unbelievable stories up. Sunny actually was a pathological liar. This is a bold statement, and one I wouldn’t dare to make unless certain. They say there are only two things in life that are certain. These are, of course, (1) taxes; the exam of which was an absolute nightmare but Sunny wouldn’t know this because she never sat it, and, (2) death; one of which there would be in Sunny’s life, like clockwork, at the exact time of the tax exam and every other exam, allowing her to conveniently sit them out. I am aware that if my suspicions are wrong, even suggesting someone was lying about the death of a loved one would be a horrible thing to do. If this is is indeed the case, I really cannot apologise enough to Sunny, her late dog, grandad, close friend and all seven of her grandmothers. May they all rest in peace.
I understood and greatly empathised with where Sunny’s obvious lies stemmed from - her complete and utter aversion to exams. The ACA exams are no joke - they are rigorous, demanding, and most of all, incredibly boring. We had to do them alongside work commitments, so it meant an awful lot of weekends and evenings spent studying. It is a big commitment and sacrifice to your social life, and relies on the reasonable assumption that those who wish to be an accountant do not have a great deal in the way of a social life to sacrifice. I shared Sunny’s distaste for having to do these exams because of my aforementioned desire to finally have a social life.
You might question why I applied for and accepted a job that required me to sit exams if I didn’t want to do exams, and that’s an understandable query. The reason is because I never actually applied to be an accountant, and I had no interest in being one. I applied to be a trainee in the technology risk team at an accountancy firm and was hired for that position. At my interview, I was told that the exams were optional for my team because we worked alongside the accountants and if we wanted to take them to better understand their work we could, but we could also choose to opt out. I decided that is what I would do. I was told this was no longer the case on my first day of work and I would also have to study to be an accountant. By the point I was told this, I could’ve declined to sign the contract, but it didn’t feel like an option to back out given I had just moved to London and signed a year’s lease on a flat.
The qualifications I was forced to obtain were irrelevant to my day job, which I was actually quite good at. This didn’t change the fact that exams were weighted with overwhelming value at companies like mine. Inside the bubble of the sad little world of accountancy, your success or lack thereof, in these exams define you as an employee and person. I did not excel at these exams by any means - since I had no interest in, or aspiration to use such qualifications, I opted to study just enough to pass. Often times my low grades meant I was treated like an idiot by my colleagues. I found this narrow-minded definition of intellect upsetting. I was frustrated having to spend my free time studying for exams I had no need for or interest in, only to be met with condescension from my colleagues when I did what was required of me - an unimpressive but still passing mark.
I have never been much of a numbers person. Like Lindsay Lohan in ‘Mean Girls’, I had to move around the world frequently when I was a child, but unlike Lindsay Lohan, my favourite subject was not maths because “it’s the same in every language” - I actually enjoy diversity. I wasn’t a good accountancy student and I was perfectly aware of this - but I was also perfectly aware that I didn’t want to be. I knew that my ability to balance credits and debits was not the only thing capable of defining my intellect.
As Einstein once said “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you should put it back in the ocean, because you’re actually the dumbass here”. I really didn’t appreciate the way that people spoke down to anyone who had done poorly in or, god forbid, even failed an exam. What if I could instead write poetry which has the power to make people feel a profound sense of understanding of themselves and the world around them? I can’t do that. But what if I could? Would be very cool.
Violet, the second worst person in this story, didn’t share such an outlook, and made it clear that she thought I was an idiot. Violet cared a lot about exams and her career. Violet was also the ultimate “pick me” girl. She would insist that “she wasn’t like other girls”, and I would tend to agree - she was awful. She was part of a small group of women that I despise - those who actively work to hold up patriarchal structures.
There was so much misogyny at the firm - honestly, if I had a dollar for every sexist thing that happened at that company… well, I’d have 79 cents. There were countless instances of sexism at the company. There was a known pay gap, but there was also every day sexism from managers who appeared to be strong proponents of the belief that if you do something you love every day, you’ll never work a day in your life. With so much misogyny from the men in the team, the women often knew there was only space for one woman to succeed and were pitted, or chose to pit themselves, against each other.
Violet behaved as if there was only space for one woman at the table and did everything in her power to make sure that no other woman stood in her way. She saw every woman as a threat - even me, which was laughable. I wasn’t a threat to her or her career. Violet was ambitious with dreams of climbing up the career ladder and willing to knock off anyone who might be in her way. I had no interest in climbing the career ladder, as it sounded a bit too much like cardio for me and I’m terribly scared of heights. While her dream job was to be CEO at a financial company, my dreams have not once involved any sort of labour. She wanted to be a powerful businesswoman, and this was something that has never appealed to me. I have heard that with great power comes great responsibility and given my severe aversion to responsibility, it was never a trade off I wanted to sign up for.
A subscriber to the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle, Violet behaved like any character from that wall street movie Leonardo DiCaprio had been in. I, on the other hand, was young and naive, like every woman Leonardo DiCaprio had been in. I witnessed Violet doing drugs regularly. Considering we were far from being friends, this wasn’t off the clock - she frequently took drugs at work events and at work itself. It was common knowledge in the office that she was a fan of the drugs as she received a bong for Secret Santa. It was also fairly common knowledge in the office that I wasn’t - because I say things like “fan of the drugs”. I was the odd one out, and I quickly learned that most accountants just want to be bankers, and bankers just want to be rockstars, and rockstars just do a lot of drugs. In the accounting world, cocaine use was as prominent as receding hairlines. I never judged any of the wannabe rock stars for their extracurricular activities, but I often felt judged for not partaking. Violet partied with the boys and they welcomed her into boardrooms. I was told someone like me wouldn’t be as fun to take on away trips.
Eventually, a manager chose to set up a team in attempt to rectify the barriers faces women such a “boys club” environment - a team centred around diversity and inclusion. I asked to join, but alas, the man who ran it said no. This man was a manager called Klaus. Klaus is the worst person in this story, and in my humble opinion, the entire world.
Klaus was the ultimate faux male feminist as well as faux intellectual, and any interaction with him would include him unsubtly throwing in the kind of knowledge you have from literary classics without having actually read the literary classics, in an impressive pretence to appear like someone who knew how to read. Think any man who has ‘read’ 1984, he was Spark Notes in human form. He shared widely known facts as if he was the first to ever think of them, and it worked - people fawned over just how clever he was. A sensitive man. A reader. He liked to bring up pieces of trivia like “Frankenstein isn’t actually the name of the monster… Frankenstein is the name of the man who created the monster”. He would pause to take a sip of his IPA, and then say…“And don’t you think… that actually makes him the real monster?”.
After constant rude comments and general awfulness from Violet, I asked my line manager if I could just not work with her. There were so many people in my department that this was a feasible request. I worked in a massive team of people and it was possible to meet some of them once a year at the Christmas party. There were some people I didn’t meet until my leaving drinks. My request was rejected because too many people had already made this request not to work with her, which was not only a phenomenal effort in such a large team, but also might be the first clue that she was the problem.
I would suggest that if someone has a long list of enemies, then they might, themselves, be the problem. I would also suggest that you do not apply that same logic to my blog - I am confident that all subjects have been justifiably and accurately demonised.
Unfortunately, because my line manager was incapable of grasping the need for confidentiality, Violet immediately found out I had made this request. She doubled down, treated me worse and worse, and made my existence at work beyond unbearable. I felt sick even going into work and had to be signed off because of her behaviour.
When I finally felt okay enough to return to the office, I met with HR to discuss her behaviour, which could only be described as bullying and harassment. This resulted in my line manager speaking to her line manager, Klaus. Now, Klaus and Violet were friends and would often hang out together at the weekend smoking weed - so you can rest assured that there was absolutely no conflict of interest, and he, at all times, treated me with nothing but fairness and professionalism.
The four of us were made to sit down to “discuss our feelings”. One young woman (me) reported harassment at work, but it was treated like a cat fight between two young women, and two men mediated it in the most condescending way. We were treated as if we were teenage girls fighting over a boy. All the language used around it was deeply misogynistic and was not the language that would be used to describe the situation if it was between two young professional men. Describing a situation between two young professional women in the misogynistic manner they did wasn’t fair on either me or that psycho bitch.
It was eventually agreed that Violet and I could go our separate ways and I thought that was that. A little while later, Sunny and Violet spent a week together at a client’s offices, in Dubai. I spent the same week at a client’s office in Swindon. When Sunny returned, a few days before I was accosted in the worst pub of all time, she came to me, her buddy, and therefore first port of call, in tears, with a very serious accusation about Violet. I looked back at Sunny’s tear filled eyes and responded exactly how any well trained buddy would; “These are not the 4th floor bathrooms. Have I taught you nothing? Get out of my face.”
Sunny told me that she had gone to a bar with Violet after a day of work in Dubai. She had to spend more time with Violet than contractually obliged, so immediately I understood the tears. Sunny said that Violet was out on the pull. I am not in any way judging that, as I too, am a legend**. If you’ve read my last blog, you know I am pro premarital sex, but it did seem a rogue move in a country where such an act is a little more than frowned upon.
Sunny told me she was concerned about the potential consequences of Violet’s behaviour. She said she had told Violet she wanted to go back to the hotel, but getting a taxi in Dubai as a single woman had proven to be an arduous task because many taxi drivers will not pick you up unless in a group or with a man. Sunny was thus forced to wait for Violet, who then decided to bring a man back to their hotel with them, and - who doesn’t love a little jeopardy - went to acquire drugs en route.
So, in summary, Sunny and Violet went to Dubai, and Violet initiated and led an illicit and illegal activity. I think there is a word for someone who does that.
Sunny asked me to accompany her in speaking to HR about what had happened. I looked up advice in my buddy guidebook for what to do if someone does drugs and has sex in a foreign country where these things are crimes and the death penalty exists, and the junior member of staff you are responsible for is collateral. Strangely enough, this section didn’t exist, and after asking one of my peers, much to my dismay, they said that an issue like this had to be raised with Klaus. I spoke to Sunny and she asked that I book a meeting for the three of us.
On the day of the meeting, Sunny said she felt uncomfortable going to the meeting and asked me to speak to Klaus for her. Foolishly, I said yes. I met with Klaus alone. Going into the meeting, I worried that my own history with Violet would affect Sunny’s treatment in her complaint, so I made it very clear that it was her complaint, not mine, and it had nothing to do with me. In no uncertain terms, I told Klaus that what I was reporting had nothing to do with me or my personal feelings towards Violet, and I emphasised that I had not witnessed anything. I was simply a messenger, and asked politely that he not shoot me.
I knew the story would have to be confirmed with Sunny, and I told him that she had asked me to raise it. He thanked me for raising it, and I walked out proud of myself for holding my composure and feeling like despite it being uncomfortable and difficult, I had done the right thing.
That Friday night, when I was sat on the tube on my way home from the pub, after being publicly scolded in the worst pub in the world™, it suddenly dawned on me. I realised Klaus must have told people about that meeting. And worse, he must have thought, and told everyone, that I was lying. So that’s why I was accosted in the local pub because someone did drugs that I have never done, in a country I have never been to.
After the weekend, I went into work. I asked to speak to HR immediately, and all my worst suspicions were confirmed. I was told that I had made it all up. I was told that they knew I had made it up because Sunny told them I had. I spoke to Sunny and she denied this, but Klaus told a different story. Klaus said he went to Sunny and she retracted her claim - now this is all starting to sound a lot like gossiping gone terribly wrong, but he said she said that what I reported never happened.
Sunny is only the third worst person in the world because my best guess is that she was pressured by Klaus to retract the claim, but not before he had a chance to tell the entire office what I had apparently done. It didn’t matter I had emails proving I was telling the truth. It didn’t matter that I had a message from Sunny asking me to go speak to Klaus. HR told me that an email which said “can you please speak to Klaus about what Violet did in Dubai?” could have been about anything.
I don’t believe anyone actually thought I was lying. I don’t think it was ever a case of them not believing me - I think it was easier for them to choose not to. I was the least valuable to the company and most disposable. It was in the company’s best interest to put blame on me - Violet was an asset to the company and I wasn’t good enough at accountancy to understand what an asset was. The truth didn’t matter - I was objectively the worst employee - they would rather get rid of me than Violet, and it didn’t matter to them what it did to me in the process.
All the liars were calling me one, and my reputation era had truly begun. They decided that I lied, and vilified me for it. Everyone treated me differently in the office after that point. I was shocked to be accused of doing something I didn’t do, but I was devastated that everyone around me believed the accusation. I thought I had proved who I was and what my values were. Didn’t they know who I was? Also, and not to go full OJ here, but didn’t they know, that if I had done it, that’s not how I would’ve done it? I pride myself on my creativity!
It’s insane that they thought I would make up an accusation about drug use I didn’t witness, in a country I have never been to. I can’t imagine how insane I would have to be to make that story up and assume Sunny would go along with it. If I really wanted to make an accusation against Violet, I could have easily reported one of the many instances of drug use from her that I actually witnessed. And Klaus could have confirmed I was telling the truth for any of those incidents, as most times, he was also there.
I later heard Klaus’ supposed rationale was that he couldn’t fathom how ‘nice’ I was. He decided I had to be lying because no one would put themselves in the uncomfortable position I put myself in, unless there was something in it for them. That’s how foreign the concept of kindness was to him. He couldn’t understand someone why someone would be nice unless there was personal gain. I must have taken some joy in it. I must have loved the drama. I don’t. I swear I don’t love the drama. It loves me!
Klaus decided that my kindness was a pretence. That it was strategic and manipulative. The meeting with Klaus was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do. I remained composed and unemotional, and insisted that it was about Sunny and what had happened to her, and I didn’t want my personal feelings or grievances to overshadow that. Later at the metaphorical water cooler, I heard my composure described as “calculated” and “emotionless”. If I was a man, I am sure it would have been called “professional” or “mature”. When I later cried after being described this way and having my character ripped to shreds, I was called “hysterical”.
I was painted as a vindictive, angry person. I am, but I didn’t do what I was accused of. Klaus decided that it wasn’t what I said it was - a case of me simply trying my best to do the right thing. I had to have an ulterior motive - a ‘vendetta’. He informed me that I was the type of woman that Violet was - I was told I was the woman who thought there was only space for one woman at the table, and I was clearly trying to get Violet fired so I could have that space. This was absurd. I didn’t want her job. I didn’t even want mine!
People saw what they wanted to see and projected their own meaning onto things that they didn’t know shit about. I didn’t change at all throughout this process, but as my feedback demonstrated, the same traits I exhibited could be perceived in a completely different way. At first my work appraisals said I had a friendly smile, then I was a girl with a vindictive smile, but it was the same damn smile. I don’t think it was a vindictive smile because when I feel like I am about to burst into tears, I force myself to smile. I will just sit there with a small smile on my face.
I might have a different type of smile on my face now, because my series of unfortunate events led to the best thing that has ever happened to me. I left the company soon after. I wasn’t fired, but I may as well have been. The environment grew so toxically unbearable that I had no choice but to leave.
I am so glad I did. Klaus did me the greatest favour. If it wasn’t for him, I would have been content with a normal life of being a mediocre accountant. I never would have hit rock bottom - a place which incidentally happens to play host to a lot of open mic comedy nights. Without Klaus, I wouldn’t have felt forced to leave to do something I had always wanted to do with my life, to become a troubled writer, once falsely accused of felonies, but now un-relentlessly hunting her enemies.
Violet, one of these enemies, was probably right to see me as a threat after all. And Sunny probably didn’t realise I would tell everyone that all she did was lie. With an i.e.
My greatest nemesis and the worst person in the world, Klaus, certainly wouldn’t have expected that I would tell everyone what he did. He also wouldn’t have thought that I am capable of admitting that I do have a vendetta. I mean, I didn’t at the time he accused me of having one, but because of what he did, I definitely do now - so I guess you could say, he created a monster.
And don’t you think… that actually makes him the real monster?
*very occasionally I do