A story for July: An Extract from The Discreet Charm of the Big Bad Wolf

July 2023

July 2023

Ulf looked at his in-tray and sighed. This was not because it was piled high with pressing matters; it was not – it was empty, apart from a memorandum about micro-aggressions in the workplace that the Human Resources department had recirculated. Ulf had heard that they felt people were not paying sufficient attention to their memoranda, and were proposing in future to send two copies of every memorandum or letter.

Ulf’s colleague, Anna, had been incensed over this. ‘You’d think they’d have something better to do,’ she complained. ‘In fact, sending a memorandum about micro-aggressions amounts to a micro-aggression, in my view. Certainly sending two copies does. It’s like sending an email in capital letters. That’s a micro-aggression if there ever was one.’

Ulf had been more moderate. ‘I suppose there’s something in it,’ he said. ‘Looks can hurt. Things unspoken can be damaging. People need to bear in mind how others feel.’

Anna pursed her lips. ‘Denying a micro-aggression can amount to a micro-aggression, you know.’

Ulf stared at her, and then realised that she was not being serious. ‘I don’t think you can legislate for courtesy,’ he said. ‘You just have to hope that people will treat one another well. And by and large, they do.’

‘Yes,’ said Anna. ‘And the exceptions end up here. In our in-trays.’

Now Ulf gazed at his empty in-tray. He was concerned: the Commissioner was always weighing up the work statistics of the various departments, and nobody wanted to be underemployed. That was the quickest route, they said, to reallocation to the traffic and parking department, an unglamorous corner of police work from which most people never re-emerged.

From across the room, Anna looked up from a report she was reading. She had seen him gazing at his in-tray and had correctly diagnosed the cause of his concern. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘You have an appointment. Somebody called just before you came in. He wanted to speak to you.’

‘Personally?’ asked Ulf.

‘Yes. He was very insistent. I offered to help him but he wanted you. By name. Ulf Varg. Brother of…’

Ulf groaned. Occasionally his brother’s friends approached him if they were facing difficulties of some sort. He usually succeeded in putting them off, but he had to at least hear every caller out.

‘Did he say what he wanted?’

Anna shook her head. ‘He said it was sensitive. He said that’s why he’s coming here.’

‘When?’ asked Ulf.

‘This morning. Ten o’clock. He said he’d be here on the dot.’

‘OCD type,’ said Ulf.

‘Passive aggressive?’

They sometimes played a game of psychologically typecasting their clients. There was a category for everyone, Anna said.

‘And for us?’ asked Ulf.

‘Depressingly normal,’ said Anna. ‘Or normally depressing.’


This extract is taken f