There’s all the little things that show that he cares, not just the annual birthday lunch. For example, he always brings me a treat back from any meeting that he attends – a pack of biscuits perhaps, or a mini muffin (he doesn’t know I don’t eat them and I wouldn’t dream of hurting his feelings). I remember one day when I was sniffing and sneezing at my desk he came back from a senior management meeting with a ginger and lemon teabag in a paper envelope. He put it on my desk as he walked past saying, ‘here you go Sylvia, this might help your cold.’ I was so touched by his thoughtfulness. I just stared at the teabag and before I could say thank you, he was gone into his office. I know it’s silly and sentimental, but I still have that teabag. I have never opened it. I keep it in my bedside table drawer and sometimes, if I have had a particularly difficult day, I find it calming to take it out and breathe in its aroma before I go to sleep.
Every second Wednesday he treats me to what he calls a ‘working lunch’ in the staff canteen. We do talk about work mainly, but sometimes the conversation moves onto more personal territory and he tells me about what his boys have been up to or updates me on his father’s illness or his house extension. I always listen intently to whatever he wishes to share with me and try to provide supportive comments. Over the years I have heard a lot about his soon to be ex-wife, carefully hiding my glee beneath a concerned face when he has confided in me about her appalling behaviour. Prof also likes to tell me about his research and finds it incredibly helpful to use me as a sounding board as he thinks through his ideas. I am thrilled that he values my opinion, although I never have anything critical to say as he is way beyond me intellectually. I tell him how interesting I find his work and that’s why he has given me the honour of proof reading all his papers and book manuscripts before they go to the publishers. ‘You are so good with the details, Sylvia,’ he always says, as he passes me another one of his stuffed plastic folders. ‘What would I do without you to look after me?’ I hurry home looking forward to spending the evening immersing myself in Prof’s work, delighting in finding missing commas and correcting spelling mistakes, playing my small part in his superb contributions to the field of Educational Sociology. I don’t mind the extra hours I put in for free doing this for him. In fact, I enjoy it and it makes the time I am away from him easier to bear.