Last reviewed 7 June 2016
Evie Wyman, small business woman blogger, by Jude Tavanyar.
Three things have occurred in the last 10 minutes, any one of which on their own would fit convincingly into the category of apocalyptic nightmare. Taken together, they amount to professional nemesis, and even if my career prospects were never that healthy in the first place, the little run of jobs I have been having recently were, quite literally, keeping me off the streets. Not, of course, that I would be likely to find employment there — since I have recently been advised by bossy career coach friend Georgia that I have entirely let myself go, and a woman of 56 should expect to look better than a dreary, grey, misshapen, heavily creased and somewhat stained duvet cover stuffed full of someone else’s lumpy laundry.
Hardly an uplifting description, but I plead mitigating circumstances. I mean, it’s not every day that a (relatively high-earning) husband of 20 years decides to do a bunk overnight in order to live a life of rigorous curtailment as a potato-growing ascetic in a monastery on the lower slopes of the Himalayas. Leaving me — since he also set me up with a £100,000 gambling debt undisclosed at the time of departure — with my own life of rigorous curtailment, only this one most definitely not of my own choosing.
But Georgia’s duvet metaphor is right: I have let myself go, much as my career has let go of me. The last time I had a “proper job” before this was pre-children, 25 years ago — which is why the “comedy” training presentations (on how NOT to run a training presentation) I’ve been doing recently on local business team away days have been helpful. Not only does looking like a crumpled duvet actually seem to generate laughs, but the cash these mini gigs earn has so far kept me from moving into a neighbour’s skip and surviving on the scraps thrown in by kindly passers-by.
However, there is nothing metaphorical about the image that confronts me in the bathroom mirror this morning, a bald patch that stretches laterally across my head from my left ear to my right. To make matters worse, and like so much else about my life, it’s all my own fault. Stung into action by Georgia’s cruel comparison with a sagging duvet, I attempted to “style myself up” a bit with some blonde highlights out of a packet. Of course, falling asleep with the gloop still on my head and waking up eight hours later with a burned hairless scalp surrounded by strange, moss-coloured wisps, results in an appearance rather less like Madonna in the Blonde Ambition tour and more like the starring role in a movie entitled “Rasputin the green-haired monk”.
Which (with apologies to the late Ian Dury) brings me to the second reason-not-to-be-cheerful on this miserable, grey Spring day. An email comes through from the mortgage people letting me know it is time to renew, and do I want to discuss the “exciting new packages” they are now offering their loyal customers? This is mortgage marketing speak for “we are putting our interest rates up and you are not going to be able to afford them, you poor fool”. As I have been paying the mortgage these past three months with the last of my pathetic savings, I am definitely both poor, and a fool.
I am just allowing myself a few moments to wallow in self-pity and a packet of chocolate digestives, when nightmare number three arrives.
My mobile ring tone signals the need to wipe remaining biscuit crumbs from my chin and put on my best “professional” voice.
“Evie Wyman, can I help you?”
“For heaven’s sake, stop feeling sorry for yourself! Just put on a hat, it’ll grow back.”
I stare at my phone. The webcam isn’t on. So how did she know …?
“You’ve forgotten, haven’t you!”
“No…… I mean. Forgotten what?”
“Forgotten the new gig I set up for you. Running the online career group today. All lovely women like you, looking for work. A one-hour meeting to build confidence. The link is in that email I sent you a week ago. On Webex. It starts in 10 minutes.”
“Ten minutes! But I’ve never run a...”
“I know. And by the way — we’re using webcam.” And with that laugh that rattles like water bouncing off windowpanes in a Spring downpour, Selina Lightwater — extraordinary, eccentric, elephant-whispering stranger and mentor, who has bailed me out of penury by lining me up with aforementioned comedy training gigs, despite a 100% deficit of skills or experience on my side — hangs up.
Here’s what I learned today about how not to run an online meeting.
If you’re using webcam and need to cover sudden baldness with a hat or wig, try to choose something low-key and unassuming, not a latex full-head party mask of the Queen you bought as a joke, 20 years ago, the last time you went to a party. Similarly, make sure you appear against a discreet and uncluttered professional background, a pot plant, say, or a few intellectual-looking books — not a washing stand covered in greying underwear that you forgot to move from the front room.
Make sure you have the meeting link handy and join 10 minutes early. Avoid, in consequence, barging into the wrong meeting by mistake (a webinar in time management, where you arrive unexpectedly but still feel obliged to spend a further 10 minutes, in order to avoid looking rude). At all costs, do not rock up as Chair to your own meeting more than 20 minutes late and let everyone know it’s because you couldn’t find the link.
Let your voice sound calm and relaxed even if your fully visible headwear screams “raving lunatic”. Smile as often as possible in order to create a high-energy atmosphere, but take care that your jaw muscles do not seize up out of sheer nerves and leave you grinning inanely when one of your participants divulges, amidst sobs, that she hasn’t been to a job interview in five years and doesn’t know how she’ll go on.
Always use a headset with a mic. Even when the headset squashes the aforementioned headmask over your ears, making it impossible to hear properly. Remove offending headgear and be audible, rather than bellow “speak up, I can’t hear you” repeatedly at the computer screen with your volume setting on full.
Turn mic off to eat discreet late breakfast behind the scenes, thereby avoiding disagreeable sound effects, and also avoid triggering the webcam —thus exposing self with latex mask pulled to one side, bald patch visible and cheeks stuffed to bursting with tuna and mayo ciabatta, flashing suddenly and horrifyingly into full-screen mode for the unexpected enjoyment of the entire group.
In short. Avoid running online meetings. Ever, ever again.
Much later that day, I am just drifting off to sleep when nightmare number four arrives. An email from Eric the Ex.
“Evie. I’ve made a terrible mistake. The monks are a boring bunch and most of their potatoes are exported to Spud You Like, so it’s hardly a worthwhile cause. Can I come back?”
Where is the Tesco’s Chardonnay when you need it? I ram my hat over my head, turn out the light and grimly seek oblivion.