This may surprise you. I am an employer. It surprises me because I can hardly organise myself let alone try to manage a full-time employee. Fortunately I employ Toby. He is my personal assistant who valiantly runs my interior design office and now, by default, plans a significant chunk of my private life too. I would much rather work from home completely alone but as you now know there is only so much multi functioning I can fit in there at any given time. My office is about fifteen minute walk from The Spanish Onion. This means I can remain in bed each morning for as long as possible and listen to several hundred people ordering and then eating breakfast before I absolutely have to get up. I am not good at getting out of bed but I am pretty good at speed walking to the office each morning to make up for lost laying in bed time. I can confidently get there on foot whilst simultaneously juggling my portfolio and chewing on a bacon sandwich. You see a lot of people doing that kind of thing in London in the morning rush hour.
Toby studied at horticultural college. He has an in-depth knowledge of everything to do with privet hedges apparently. Unfortunately when he graduated there wasn’t much call for anyone with experience of dense plant cultivation or extensive tree planting in Bermondsey at the time, so the employment agency asked him if he would be happy to try his hand at sourcing Moroccan rugs for me instead. He bears an uncanny resemblance to the Marvel character Clark Kent. Unfortunately he hasn’t yet ripped his clothes off and made a miraculous transformation into Superman. This would make Monday mornings much more exciting, so as you can imagine I constantly live in hope. He takes his assistant role very seriously indeed. It is almost as if his life depended on it. Never before has anyone made interior design seem so crucial to the national security of the country. He has been in my employ for nine months. On day one he asked for a full job description, job objectives and a detailed learning and development action plan. He was very serious and asked me where I thought this job was going. I said I had no idea but did he have any strong feelings either way about slate tile cladding in bathrooms?
I discovered pretty quickly that Toby has a combination of mild agoraphobia and chronic obsessive compulsive disorder. I have to say it has all turned out absolutely terrifically. In fact if you happen to be in the position of recruiting for staff now may I suggest you make both these essential employment criteria. Toby turns up at the office very early and stays late. He never leaves the building in between. I always know where he is and he is never unavailable to take calls. And of course he is fastidious about anything to do with the filing and always has my paperwork slap bang up to date. When I telephone the office and ask him how his day is going he always tells me everything is fully under control. He calls this “all quiet on the western front!” It always sounds as if he has added an exclamation mark when he says this. Sometimes I think there may even be two. This is highly reassuring.
Toby hates mess or any other kind of disorganised chaos. I should say that he particularly hates my mess and my filing system he previously named as Mount Vesuvius. Described thus because every so often it would erupt unpredictably, seemingly all of its own accord, and cause considerable disruption. Great mounds of the stuff cascading into the far reaches of the office like a slow moving but very determined lava flow. When Toby first started working for me I could tell straight away that this drove him absolutely nuts. I swear I saw his eyelid twitch involuntarily whenever I touched or moved a piece of paper. Then one day, when I had been away from the office on a trip to identify a British Racing Green coloured Aga, I got back and sat down at my desk. I have to say that initially I thought I had gotten off on the wrong floor of the building by mistake. Apart from the telephone and computer on my desk there was literally nothing else on it. Chipped coffee cup? Gone. Chipped coffee cup ring stains? Wiped. Paper clips? What paper clips? The rubber bands I had tirelessly wound up into the size of a tennis ball? Bounced. There was not a pen or post-it-note to be had. I entered a previously uncharted world of stationery where everything had its place and involved a lot of plastic pop fasteners, sticky labelling and box files with coil spring levers. There is only one small problem with this level of organisation. I can’t ever find a thing I am looking for. Toby’s thinking and my thinking is unfortunately not compatible. So when I have to search for a file on, say, “Chrome Tap”, logically expecting it to be alphabetically filed under “T” for tap, I find it has not been filed under “T”. Nor has it been filed under “C” for chrome. Toby would file this under “F” for faucet. It makes complete sense to him of course.
Despite this obvious hitch regarding our thinking being incompatible I could not now function without him. He organises my days with military precision. From the moment I walk in and out of the office door my schedule is packed to bursting. The office has become his command nerve centre. Now that he has found a way to track me from the co-ordinates emitting from my mobile telephone my visits to clients are monitored like manoeuvres in the field. This can be problematic when I unexpectedly decide to deviate from earlier plans and go to look at furniture in IKEA instead. I suspect this makes Toby break out into a cold sweat because my pulsating asterisk tracker doesn’t comply with our pre-agreed route.
If I keep to schedule Toby will send a text message which reads something like “Good work! You are sticking to time so far! Next stop Shepherds Bush!” He may include one of those annoying smiley face icons. However, if I have been running late I know he will get overly anxious so for a bit of drama he’ll add one of those animated characters which jumps up and down and cries tears. I sometimes begin to wonder who’s employing who.