Mr Chan needs a cleaner
I’m taking you back to 1989, I had just turned 17 and had left school the year previous. I’d just finished working at an insurance company up in the city of London, because basically I couldn’t do the job. I had blagged it a few months ago by thinking I was smarter than I was, but the position was far above me.
I was good at blagging jobs, I would go into interviews pretending I knew what I was talking about, when in fact I didn’t have a clue, naïve I know, I’ve learned from that mistake now.
My boss at the time was such a wonderful lady, she liked me a lot and told me that I could stay until I had found something more suitable. Six weeks later I decided that temping would probably suit me better to gain some experience.
The job agency that I had signed up to gave me a call one morning and said they had a placement for me, it was a temp to perm position at a Japanese bank up the city, as a secretary, and they wanted to interview me, I was so pleased.
I put on my best clothes and made my way by train to the interview.
It really was quite a nice bank and I was called in to meet the Director, a very large, sweaty, Japanese man, who seemed delighted to meet me.
He had a gold tea set on his desk that was gleaming, he obviously took pride in that, as the rest of his office was covered with folders and paperwork and completely disorganised.
The interview started and I was doing well, my confidence was showing, I smiled and gave eye contact, everything you are told to do, I really wanted this job.
Mr Chan was sweating profusely and every few minutes, he would reach down, pull open a drawer and pull out a rag, which he would wipe his face with, then place the rag back into his drawer. He asked me if I was competent to type letters, answer the telephone, all the usual office assistant/secretary duties, “competent? I’m more than competent to do this job” I said, and I meant it. “I like you” he said, “You can start Monday”.
I woke up Monday morning, excited, What was it going to be like on my first day? Will I make new friends? Will I learn new things?, This was the start of my career and I was looking forward to it.
I arrived with a few minutes to spare and was greeted by Mr Chans’ PA, tiny woman she was. She led me to my desk, which had nothing on, no computer, no phone,’ NOTHING’, zilch, how the hell am I going to work, I though. She told me that she was fetching a book which she would like me to read. Ahhhh ok, she wants me to look at my contract, fair enough! , then I’m guessing she will show me to my real desk.
She came back with a very big, thick, black book and placed it on my empty desk and said “read”. Now this didn’t look like a contract, but I opened the first page and Read:
MR CHANS BOOK OF RULES…. I was beginning to feel quite nervous, why would someone put a book of rules in front of me and ask me to read it? What rules did I have to abide by? What kind of place is this? Then I read the following:
1. Mr Chan has a flannel in his top drawer, you must clean this flannel twice a day. (Is this for real? I thought)
2. Mr Chan has a gold Tea Set on his desk, (yes I remembered that, shiny, so shiny) this must be polished every evening before you leave. (What?????? )
3. Mr Chan would like his lunch (to his specification) at approximately 12:30 every day. It must be placed on his gold plate, located in the right side cupboard and brought in on his gold tray. (Fuck right off)
4. Mr Chan has his floor hoovered every day, this is an absolute requirement and cannot be missed. (by now my mouth is wide open with shock) and I’m thinking:
I kept waiting for Jeremy Beadle to appear (for those of you too young to know Jeremy Beadle, he was a host on the show Beadles About, which was a hidden camera show, where people would set each other up in prank situations to capture responses) Watch out Beadles about, watch out Beadles about, you’d better watch out, cause Beadles about!! (I bet you sang that didn’t you?)
This had to be a set up surely? He’s got to show up , this is all going to make sense soon.. Who the hell has set me up?
Unfortunately, Jeremy didn’t turn up and now I was nervous, shaking, sweating and angry . I knew I had to go to his PA and find out what was going on, even though I felt sick and thought I was going to vomit. Here’s how that panned out:
“Hi”, I said, “so I read some of the book, but I’m not reading anymore”. “This position was advertised as a secretary and these rules are not for a secretarial position, I don’t even have a proper desk, Where’s the computer and phone? You need a cleaner, so here’s my timesheet, I suggest you sign off the 2 hours I have been sitting here as I’m not walking out without being paid”
That didn’t go down too well. She stood up, turned a shade of purple and screamed “MR CHAN WANTS YOU IN HIS OFFICE TO CLEAN HIS FLANNEL” fuck.., this little woman was fierce, but I wasn’t going to back down and I had noticed fear in her face. “No” I said, “I’m not”, I can handle this little lady I thought. “You tell him that isn’t going to happen and if you don’t sign my form, I’m going into Mr Chans’ office and (wait for it, I used a line that I had heard on a tv show the evening before, never before in my 17 years had I heard it, but it sounded good and it seemed to have some meat to it. Now take note, I have never set foot in a church, well apart from the time I was in the girl guides, but I used this phrase) May God Be My Witness, I’m going to go in there and tell him where he can shove his flannel”.
“MR CHAN WILL BE VERY ANGRY” she screamed. IM VERY ANGRY” I screamed back. “SIGN MY SHEET NOW OR IM TELLING YOU, I WILL MAKE A SCENE AND I PROMISE YOU THAT”.
I wanted to cry to be perfectly honest, but I’m one of those people who either cry or shout, I can’t do middle ground and stay calm and try to work things out amicably and there was no way she was going to make me cry, I had to be strong, but all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball, close my eyes and wait for this to all disappear.
There was a stand off… she was looking at me and I was looking at her. I kept my poker face on and clenched my fists (my hands were shaking so badly, that’s why…Don’t worry, I wasn’t about to punch a woman smaller than me, I couldn’t punch anyone anyway unless I needed to.
She took my sheet and signed it. She signed it, I wanted to hug her as she had finally given me the get out card.
As I walked out, I noticed other people working there looking at me and shaking their heads. Oh fuck sake, this is all I need. I did the head thrusting forward move, the Jack Nicolson where’s johnny face, eyes wide, crazy looking and said “What” They didn’t answer.
I ran outside and burst into tears.
Later that evening, after a big hug from my mum 🙂 our home telephone started ringing and my mum picked up. A few seconds later she said “Tara, Mr Chan is on the phone” “What?” I said, “No way”. I was scared, I was close to peeing my pants and if i’m being honest, pebbledashing the porcelain, was a very close second. I didn’t want to talk to him, I started shaking and my mum suggested that maybe he wanted to apologise, so I plucked up the courage to go to the phone and let him talk. “Hello” I said. “This is Mr Chan, you never cleaned my flannel, I’m very angry” he said. OMG I was so angry, how dare this man call my house and say that. “Now listen here YOU” I said, “GO AND GET YOURSELF A CLEANER, BECAUSE I AM NOT A CLEANER AND I DIDN’T APPLY TO BE A CLEANER, HOW DARE YOU CALL MY HOUSE” I screamed. “I have no clean flannel now, where do I wipe my sweat” he said.
Oh, this man was relentless and very much like a hemorrhoid, you know that pain in the arse that wont go away.
I was done with him and was about to hang up the phone, when I heard the laughter and a voice say “Tara, its Len”. Len is my granddad, we weren’t allowed to call him granddad growing up, as that made him feel old. He was the kind of granddad who always made jokes, put on funny voices and was always up for a laugh. My mum had told him earlier about my situation in the bank and he thought it would be such a laugh to pretend to be Mr Chan, Yeah Len, scare your granddaughter to an inch of her life lol.
Moral of the story… always made sure you know the job description before starting any employment, otherwise you will end up in a role you never applied for and may even face your own Mr Chan AND have to change your underwear 😲
Life is too short to get caught up in the things that don’t matter