Here is the bespoke sign that marks the entrance to my youngest niece's bedroom.
It says, 'Hattie room. Keep out. Ore else. My den room. Secret fun. Say password. Only freinds allowd.' A smaller sign below shows a straight-down-to-business list of exactly who the chosen freinds are. There are no grey areas, apart from maybe when it comes to spelling.
Oh, sweet, sweet candour of youth.
Young girls, it's true, can be a thoroughly toxic species with the capricious nature of their friendships. The female population of any school is essentially an unfathomably complicated and constantly shifting Venn diagram of who is talking to who, and who isn't. Dialogue comes from an ever-evolving and logic-free lexicon of rumour, counter-rumour and supposition. Do boys operate this way? I think maybe their abuse is purer, less machiavellian – a simple arsenal of physical aggression and myriad synonyms for 'homosexual'.
But the casual decimation of other people's feelings aside, I am strangely jealous of my niece's scruple-free frankness. In my former working life – which ached with thankless responsibility, and jangled with the sound of idiots asking me questions which I had already answered, I would conservatively estimate, at least three times before – a sign like this at the approach to my desk would have been a dream. I wonder now why I didn't think to make one, out of flatplans I diligently handed out that were barely read, and decorated with a colour palette of highlighter pens that Dulux might call 'Chemically Anxious Flowerbed'.
Instead of a list of freinds allowed in, I probably would have focussed on those who had to stay out, with a self-assessment questionnaire for anyone thinking about approaching my work station which would have read thus:
If you answer 'yes' to any of these questions, please assume I am out of the office and speak to my deputy. Even if I appear to be sitting in front of you, eating a banana and swearing at Radio 1, please be assured that this is, in fact, a hologram, which cannot respond to your requests.
1) Do you work in advertising?' (There are some excellent people working in advertising. Peggy Olson, perhaps. I have not worked with those people.)
2) Have you ever called me 'babe'?
3) Have you ever attempted to give me a shoulder massage at my desk, which I clearly found uncomfortable?
3) Are you in the office on work experience? Has anyone ever described you as an 'eager beaver'? 'Enthusiastic'?'Keen'? These are all excellent qualities, but if you are in possession of any of them, please don't ask if you can shadow me any time before noon.
4) Are you hungry? I am in possession of some snacks, but I do not wish to share them with you. Please refrain from forcing your stupid, clumsy hand uninvited into my bag of cashews/Maltesers/rice crackers, splitting the sides and sending tiny treats skittering over the precipice and into the doomy abyss between my desk and the wall, thus catering a buffet for the building's rodent colony and taking up my valuable filing space.
5) Are you here to ask me the question 'What is the latest date I can write/shoot/start/finish [insert name of feature/task here]? The answer is almost certainly a negative amount of days.
This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Also, I can tell you this, because you are all my freinds: the password to gain entry to my desk area is 'contempt'.