Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Replacement

The Hill House
Glasgow - city whose edges I have merely skirted, en route to the Highlands or Loch Lomond, or the Hill House at Helensburgh. A city I really only know only through the lenses of Ken Loach, Lynne Ramsay and Taggart. But now there's this - far from the gritty tenements (but equally far from the school of Rennie Mackintosh) we find a bunch of trendy architects. .

The trendy architects splurge on champagne, have turntables on their drives for their fancy German cars, and live in houses and offices made almost entirely of glass. And you know what they say about people who live in glass houses.

Turntable for a fancy German car

Then one of them (Ellen) gets pregnant, not quite planned, but not properly prevented either. A rash moment, a bit of carelessness: well, we've all been there... (haven't we?)

Ellen is in the middle of a major project designing a library, a concrete cuboid structure that seems to based on a scheme of several Center Parcs chalets stacked skew-whiff on top of each other, with a lot more of that glass and not much thought about where to put the books.

But it's OK, because the architect - pre-Brexit - gets a decent maternity leave allowance (though she is determined not to have much time off post-baby) and is allowed to interview for her replacement.

The job goes to Paula, who is big on mascara and lip gloss, who has got a kid herself but feels finally ready to throw herself back into full-time work.

Paula is very good at her job. Then Ellen goes a bit paranoid on pregnancy hormones and becomes convinced that Paula is only good at her job because she wants to take Ellen's job off her, which is technically illegal. It seems Ellen has a bit of a background of instability and depression. Her husband was her psychiatrist (which surely is technically illegal too)?

But we can all relate to Ellen's fears - is it really possible to have a family and a career? Will she be as capable in her job once she has the baby and has to live without sleep? How much time will she need to take off work when her daughter picks up all the nursery germs so can't go into child care? Can you still look smart enough for an office job when you haven't had time to wash your hair, your clothes are smeared with yogurt and your fingers whiff of poo? And will she be able to give the baby all the love and attention he or she needs when she is expected to stay late at the office for a crisis meeting every other night?

'Young Iggy Peck is an architect
and has been since he was two,
when he built a great tower - in only an hour -
with nothing but nappies and glue.
"Good Gracious, Ignacious!" his mother exclaimed.
"That's the coolest thing I've ever seen!"
But her smile faded fast as a light wind blew past
and she realized those nappies weren't clean!'
(Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts)

The Replacement
reminded me of a former colleague of mine who was, in short, a trouble-making shit. She made everyone's lives a misery with her driven ambition. She was determined to oust the rest of us by sucking up to the boss and highlighting our failings behind our backs. She had no social skills other than bitchy retorts and a nervous laugh, or just sulky silences if she was in a bad mood. Our line managers entirely failed to grasp the situation, so when I had to have a period off sick after an injury, this colleague was chosen to stand in for me. Recovering and still vulnerable, I got back to work to find my office moved into, all the papers on my desk and the icons on my screen lined up with obsessive compulsion, a load of procedures changed without any consultation, and my job virtually taken away from me. It put tremendous pressure on me to have to prove my worth all over again when I was all too aware that I was performing below par.

Paula is also pushy and critical, charms the boss and the library client, tells tall tales, and makes changes to Ellen's designs without running them by her first. But there the similarities end. Because my annoying colleague probably meant well (in that she was just trying to get the work done perfectly) and didn't go round stealing babies or murdering people. For when Ellen's boss falls through a (controversially added) skylight in suspicious circumstances, it suddenly seems that Ellen's fears about Paula may have more than a little grounding.

Paula in fact turns out to be completely bonkers. Though it's not without reason. Her daughter had actually been killed in a hit and run accident a couple of years before. That would send the best of us mad with grief. And convince us of the unfairness of the world. All these people having children who don't treat them well, who don't love them enough, who don't deserve them. So it's no surprise Paula's got a bit of a vendetta against the woman whose maternity leave she is covering, who doesn't understand how lucky she is and who seems determined to put her job first.

It all comes good in the end, more or less. Ellen knows a mean trick with a torch battery and an airbag that allows her to escape from a locked car in a locked garage, Paula is led off in handcuffs, and Ellen finds her stolen baby underneath the skylight in the library and realises just what she could have lost.

Her marriage, however, doesn't recover. And she doesn't go back to work. Not that she seems to be missing much - all they ever did in the office was pout at the glass walls and fart around on Snapchat. So ultimately Ellen ends up with lots of quality time to spend with her daughter, which she seems to spend hanging out at the cemetery.

No comments:

Post a Comment