I have had two objectionable employers. The first was Barry, who supervised the Devon amusement arcade in which I worked for three summers to help fund my degree. Every morning, without fail, Barry would greet me by saying “What’s the matter, wet the bed?” He would make many an unpleasant little ‘joke’ of this ilk, and compounded the irritation by going “Eh? Eh?” until you acknowledged it, by which tactic he denied you the natural defence of ignoring him. Barry was not good company. Even for a Devonian man in his late 60s he was appallingly racist. He referred to all black or Asian people as ‘coons’. When I told him that I went to university in Bristol he remarked: “I used to like Bristol but it seems now that every time you turn a corner you see a black face.” I gave him no encouragement in this line but neither did I heroically speak out. I wanted my wages. One day he purchased, from God knows where, a set of repulsive Sambo-style figurines which he cheerfully placed into the 2p pusher machine as prizes and as he did so he sang a little song about “putting in the coons.”
Barry was lecherous, frequently quizzing me about whether things “were still free and easy” at universities. He leered as he did this. He was, surprisingly, married. Every couple of weeks a newsagent called, I think, Steve, would stop by the arcade and drop off a large black bin liner, sealed with gaffer tape. This was Barry’s regular delivery of pornographic magazines. He also literally stank, exuding a greasy, idiosyncratic body odour which, it took no great leap to imagine, might have been manufactured by his bad thoughts. He died of heart failure soon after my second summer at the amusement arcade and I shed no tears upon hearing the news. I’ve no idea what they said in his eulogy but I imagine it wasn’t the above.
My other objectionable employer was Mark. Mark was not as straightforwardly objectionable as Barry but he had a much bigger impact on my life. He gave me my first proper job and subsequently promoted me rapidly and frequently. I am both grateful and resentful towards him. Mark was a serial entrepreneur. He was narcissistic, generous, selfish, chippy, erratic, insecure, domineering, weak, tunnel-visioned, brilliant, thick as a brick, famous (in his field), mad, infantile and, in many important ways, a complete fraud. I have exhausted my views on Barry in two paragraphs, but I could write a whole book about Mark and someday, perhaps, I might. And then again I might not. It could be that this post is enough.