Confessions of a benefits manager: Organising the Christmas party

Filling in for the department secretary, Candid is tasked with planning the team Christmas meal, so practical research is called for

When did I volunteer to become back-up for the department secretary? Because since Scary Mary took leave to visit her new grandchild in Australia (pity the poor daughter-in-law, I say), it appears that’s what I am.

I am not really filling in for her, obviously. I mean, I am manager level, right? No one could mistake me for a secretary, could they? Tell that to Big Bad Boss next time you see him. I have been fielding his calls, writing his letters, you name it. But if he asks me to get his lunch, I am drawing the line. It’s all getting too much. No wonder Mary is so scary.

The situation is not helped by the fact Mary’s desk is at the entrance to the department, and now she isn’t there to scare people off (as she does so magnificently), mine is the next desk they come to. So they ask me: is Big Bad Boss in? Is he busy? When will he be back? Where are the toilets? The toilets? I am about ready to scream with the mundane tedium of it all.

Big Bad Boss owes me big time over this. Three times I have had to cover for him, saying he was in a meeting when actually he was not back from lunch. I have saved him from the wrath of the Highest Being, our CEO, who we all know introduced a sandwich machine on the top floor only so that people would work through the lunch hour instead of wasting valuable time away from their desk.

Keys to the stationery cupboard

The only upside to my new unofficial role is that Scary Mary had to give me the keys to the stationery cupboard. You may remember she rations stationery like a miser who pays for it with her own money. You actually have to show her you have filled a notebook on both sides of the paper before she will give you a new one. Well, now I can just go in there whenever I feel like it. Ha. In fact, sometimes I do, just for the sake of it. I open the cupboard merely to run my hands over all those lovely colourful folders. OK, so my secret is out: I have a bit of a stationery fetish. Naturally, I have fully stocked my own desk for the hard times to come when she is back. If only governments and banks operated like that.

I soon realise this isn’t the only advantage our secretary wields. The stationery company calls in to do a restock and they offer to take me to lunch. The salesman is actually rather cute. What fun. The maintenance company comes in to service the photocopier and gives me a mug and a nice calendar for next year. The plant maintenance people come in to do their watering, and they give me a little poinsettia as a gift.

Just when I am beginning to wish Scary Mary was away more often, Big Bad Boss drops the bombshell. It seems she normally organises the department Christmas meal and he doesn’t think she got round to it before she left. Yikes. The Christmas do used to be a huge company-wide event. Now each department does its own thing, but it will still be a nightmare to organise. I start casting around for suggestions, but everyone seems to want something different. Creepy Caroline wants to go for an Indian (at Christmas?), and Lazy Susan wants to go to that dreadful karaoke place. Well she would, wouldn’t she? She loves the sound of her own voice. I get enough of it during the day, thank you very much.

Spending restricted

Those blasted women in recruitment want to go to that new fancy place opened by a celebrity chef, but I know we can’t afford it. Big Bad Boss would have us at the local burger bar, given the chance. He insists we restrict spending to £50 a head for tax reasons, even though this HM Revenue and Customs limit was raised ages ago. I might have to start calling him Scrooge.

Just when I am running out of ideas, I get a cunning plan. I will go into town to check out the local eateries in person. Big Bad Boss can hardly argue with an extended lunch hour to carry out such important research. If anyone comes looking for me, he can jolly well cover for me for a change.

I go along the high street asking establishments for their Christmas menu. Unfortunately, most places are already booked up for large groups like ours, but I notice the better ones are still very nice to me, giving me a cup of coffee and a mince pie while we chat about options for next year. In between each restaurant are a few shops, so it seems expedient to do a bit of Christmas shopping while I am at it. Within a couple of hours, I have got presents for most of my family and a nice pair of shoes to wear to the party. Result.

Finally, at the end of the road, I go into a stylishlooking brasserie. It has only just opened, so is not yet booked up for Christmas. It has a nice room upstairs that we could take over, and they will do us a deal for £50 a head, plus drinks. I am sure Big Bad Boss had meant the budget to include drinks, but of course I am new to all this, so it is easy to make such a mistake. Silly me.

Also, the brasserie offers me a voucher for a free meal for two in the new year as an incentive. How nice is that? Now, I wonder if that stationery salesman is free…

Next time…Candid makes some resolutions.