What the writer’s life used to look like. Photo: -/AFP/Getty Images
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My mum is the best worst colleague I’ve ever had

There’s nothing more tit-achingly generation Y than sharing an office space that’s actually a living room with your mum.

“So, we’ve been talking, and we think you’re creating a hostile work environment.”

My mum looks up from her laptop and over her glasses.

“What?” she says, “Who’s we?”

She doesn’t sound particularly interested.

“Hank and me,” I say.

“You and the cat have been discussing me?” she says, still typing.

“Yeah. We’ve kind of decided that you’re the office bitch.”

She stopped listening somewhere around “kind of”.

“Shh!” she says, thrusting an open palm in my direction, from the sofa across the room.

“See, this is what I mean, Mum. In most offices people don’t just work solidly throughout the day. They stop to talk about, I don’t know… Theresa May, the diminishing quality of supermarket fruit. Something. Anything. Come on, let’s have a conversation. I think I might have a urinary tract infection. You love all that. So le - ”

“SHH, later,” she says, now frantically waving one hand while she continues to type with the other.

“I can’t live like this,” I say, “I need to have a conversation. I have all these opinions that are just going to waste. Plus, since when do you pass up an opportunity to discuss my health? I’m handing it to you, Mum. I’m serving you my feminine issues on a plate. Tell me to drink cranberry juice or something. I need an exchange of ideas. I’m talking to the fucking cat – objectively the least articulate, interesting and medically savvy person in this house. I’m dying here. This environment is killing me.”

“Eleanor – will you please…”

Uh-oh, she can’t even.

“I’m trying to write a book,” she says, “if you need a break from whatever you’re pretending to be doing, why don’t you go and make me a cup of tea?”

My mum is the best worst colleague I’ve ever had. And I think she feels the same about me. Working from home is one thing; working from your parents’ home is quite another. Sure, I could just barricade myself in my room – sparing both me and my mum the hassle of, well, each other – but lately I’ve decided that I prefer to be around other people when I’m working. There’s just something motivating about the sound of someone else typing. My mum lounges on the sofa, tapping books into existence. I sit on the other sofa, feeding off that sound to write about whatever it is I write about.

It’s only just occurred to me that, outside the context of family run businesses, parent as co-worker is an entirely new phenomenon. There’s nothing more tit-achingly generation Y than sharing an office space that’s actually a living room with your mum. It would be tragic if it weren’t quite nice from time to time (sometimes she lets me speak to her).

Now she’s having lunch. A salad. She’s always had these salads, my mum. These passive aggressive, “well, I don’t know about you, but I’m being healthy” salads. They’re full of raw vegetables, which makes them especially loud. There’s this crunching sound that’s so specific to her and her salads that I couldn’t even begin to imitate it. It’s sort of, “Brrrrunch, brrrrrunch, brrrrunch.” It’s steady and percussive. My lunch rarely consists of anything so rich in timbre. I think I’m supposed to feel bad about this.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she says, interrupting a lengthy period soundtracked by nothing but typing, munching and tea sipping, “Knaidel…”

She looks at me. I’m “Knaidel” (matzo ball) now, not Eleanor. She wants something. She’s doing her pathetic, whiny, “little me” voice. There are only two things she ever needs when she does the voice: tea or tech support.  

“Knaidel,” she says in the voice, “I’ve done a bad thing.”

“Talk like a woman,” I say. This is a joke we have, when she does the voice.

She coughs and deepens her voice.

“Can you help me with something?”

“Oh how the tables have turned,” I say.

“Please, please, pleeeease,” she says, back to doing the voice, “I’ve accidentally deleted a paragraph. We can talk about your urethra if you help me get it back.”

“The moment has passed,” I say.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage