I moved departments to another building across town and knew no-one. I recognised a couple of names from email correspondence, but that was it. Except they all seemed to know all about me. I could tell in their eyes that they despised me, even though this was the first time we had ever met. I though it might be because I had got the promotion over someone in this department who they were fiercely loyal to, but no. Nothing like that at all.
My new colleague, Pam shed some light on it. I didn’t have to ask twice. She was one of those women who was championed the underdog and wouldn’t pull up the ladder after herself. She seemed unconcerned about whether I would shoot the messenger. I didn’t. I was grateful.
“You’ve got the same name as that woman who was caught doing coke and ‘other stuff’ in the toilets at that Christmas party last year with that bloke from Sales.”
“I don’t even know who she is.” I said ” I don’t even know who he is.”
“They think you’re her.” Pam replied.
“Well, I’m not.” I replied.
“I know that but they don’t.” she continued.
“It’s not even as if it’s an unusual name. There’s hundreds of us on facebook.”
My reputation was tarnished before I’d even started working there.
The irony is that I don’t much like socialising with colleagues, so I wouldn’t have gone to the Christmas party anyway, but now I am going to have to go out with them to the Chinese buffet for Pam’s birthday this week. Pam has assured me that after this meal, they’ll know they were mistaken.
I want to stay under the radar and prove myself on my own worth, but I also want them to know that I am definitely not her.
The food was actually half-decent. Prawn toast, seaweed, spring rolls, spare ribs, prawn crackers, chicken noodle soup, shredded duck pancakes with the hoi sin sauce that gives me nightmares, sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken, minced meat in lettuce leaves, some spicy beef noodles, a special fried rice with loads of different interesting bits in it, orange segments or pineapple fritters.
I sat next to Pam, as she seems to have taken me under her wing. I think we are going to be friends. I like a woman who supports other women.
The chat is mostly complaining about work and about people I don’t know. I get asked the usual. Boyfriend, house, kids, holidays, hobbies, pets. None of them are particularly interested in me. Not even when I casually comment on the best Chinese meal I had was just before last Christmas when I was in Las Vegas. No-one registers that if I was in Vegas at the same time they had their party, then it couldn’t have been me in that restaurant toilet in Leeds shagging some bloke.
When it gets to hobbies, I say I’m into music and I write a blog. “About knitting.” I add quickly. I am sure now that none of them will ever spend time searching for it let alone ever read it. I tell a couple of craft anecdotes to prove how nerdy I am and to bore them.
“I’m in a stitch n bitch, knitter natter group on Ravelry. That’s our knitting forum. You know when you get wool and it’s all twisted beautifully, and you have to wind it into a ball? That’s called a skank. It’s a cross between a skein and a hank. I met Kaffe Fassett twice.” He’s the most famous knitter I know, and they’ve never heard of him. “What about Tiny Owl Knits – she used to be the singer in Massive Attack when they went on tour? Attic 24?” Still nothing. I was expecting at least one of them to know something about woolcrafts or even music. Just something to divert the conversation somewhere else.
I feel like I’ve just met the in-laws for the first time at a family wedding and they think I’m boring. A joke. A complete square. As cool as a geek.
Normally, I would own my own shit. Take responsibility for my mistakes. If it was me in the toilets, then I would say so. But it wasn’t. In this case, I just know it would be “the lady doth protest too much” so what’s the point? If anyone asks me if I know what they are saying about the-person-with-the-same-name-as-me, I’ll just say, “Yes, I started that rumour.”
Gossip is like ripping up a piece of paper and letting the pieces blow away in the wind. You’ll never get every scrap back and you’ll never know who has read those scraps of paper or where they’ll end up.