Have you ever been confronted by an enraged middle-aged woman waving a teabag? Until this week, neither had I. Let me explain.
I’ve moved into a new office at work. My employees make us do this quite often for reasons none of us can quite fathom.
I work as a university lecturer teaching journalism (hard to believe, I know) and a couple of months ago me and the colleague I share my room with were informed we had to move to a new office, eight doors to the left – about 20 feet away.
Our old office used to be directly opposite the staff kitchen which was extremely handy for warming up food and rinsing your cups and making a fresh brew. Our new office, however, is a bit of a trek from the kitchen, so, to save time, I have got in the habit of throwing the empty dregs of old teacups out of our office window.
The danger of this is that the two offices below us, on the first and ground floor, have small amounts of tea dribbling past their window about 14 times a day.
I didn’t actually think about this until Monday, when a middle-aged woman rapped on our door.
I knew just from looking through the glass pane this woman was not happy. The colleague I share my room with – who is lovely and has become a good friend – was busy speaking to a student so I went to the door and stepped into the corridor.
Before I could even say hello, Angry Woman thrust a teabag towards my face and barked: ‘Is this your office?’
‘Erm, yes it is,’ I said, slightly uneasily, eyeing the teabag. ‘Why?’
‘Have you been tipping tea and coffee out of the window?,’ she snarled.
This was awkward.
Clearly I was the guilty party, and indeed my colleague had been telling me for months to stop doing it because it would be annoy the people below us. However, this woman looked so furious I was worried that should I own up and confess she may produce a handgun from her blouse and shoot me through the head. Twice.
‘Ah,’ I said, and nodded gravely. ‘It’s the lady I share an office with. I’ve seen her do it once or twice.’
‘Once or twice?’ shrieked the woman in front of me, face reddening with rage by the second. ‘It happens about 20 times a day’.
I wanted to point out this was an exaggeration because the previous day I’d only done it six times at most, but again thought better of this.
Instead I shook my head and tutted. ‘I had no idea she was doing it that often,’ I said. ‘She’s in with a student at the moment so can’t speak, but I’ll have a word and make sure it doesn’t happen again.’
She glared at me and bellowed, ‘well, it would be much appreciated if you could. We’ve had to clean our windows every single day for the past two months. Janet has even had to buy a new J-cloth.’ And off she marched.
It wasn’t until later that day that I summoned the courage to tell my colleague what had happened. Actually, that’s not quite true. I told her a woman had knocked at the door to complain about the tea. ‘I told you you’d get in trouble for doing that,’ said my office colleague. ‘What did she say?’
‘Oh, I just owned up and apologised and she was okay,’ I lied.
This approach backfired two days later when the same enraged woman returned to our office, when I wasn’t around, to confront the woman she thought had been dumping her coffee and tea.
To the immense credit of my colleague she didn’t grass me but womanfully took the blame and apologised. I have since had to buy her 14 tins of Quality Street and make every single brew (none of which I have poured out of the window) as a debt of gratitude, and will probably continue having to do so for the next 20 years.