Granted, nobody sets off for work each day expecting to have a good time. By the same token, nobody sets off for work to get ulcers either. Yet, it's the latter that comes one's way more often, sometimes via the nature of the work; other times via the nature of the individuals one is forced to work with/work under (usually immediate bosses, mini closet-dictators, minor department heads who believe their role is so pivotal that a company, without their contribution, would list like a rudderless Titanic and sink.)

Carl's a chap I met at the doctor's the other day when I'd gone to take my flu jab, as is recommended here. A grimacing man, it turned out, in the course of conversation, that he worked at an advertising agency and that he also had an ulcer.

He said he had no doubt he picked it up at the work place, making the ulcer sound like any other object you might encounter in an office a paper clip, a box file, an unwashed coffee mug with two-day-old cream lining the inside edges.

He also said, with an air of confidence, he knew who gave it to him, too his immediate section head.

"Quite often, mate," he said, with one of the many grimaces as the ulcer probably twinged, "it's we subordinates that pay for the relentless ambitions of those above us."

She was a walking horror story, said Carl, leaving me in no doubt as to the gender of his ex-immediate boss. Never satisfied, he added. "It wasn't that none of us blokes could ever do anything right. It's just that her concept of what was right kept changing. According to her boss's tune."

To illustrate his point he indicated how, on one occasion, he and a colleague had stayed working late in the office, perfecting their slogan and the accompanying artwork for an anti-smoking campaign, the slogan being "Cancer's a drag. Ask your heart."

The following morning, when she was shown the ad, the section boss, apparently, couldn't stop quivering with nervous excitement. Fussy as she was, she could find no flaw in this effort to crib about and so lavished Carl and his colleague with praise they didn't know she possessed.

Midday, she went in to a meeting with her immediate boss and not three hours later, when Carl said he was in the midst of savouring a hot cup of coffee, he was handed a memo warning that such sub-standard work would no longer be tolerated.

His colleague received a similar printout, which he and Carl both used to fan themselves with and calm down. When confronted, Carl's lady boss gave him the icy eye and said she'd never encountered such rubbish before. "What's the heart got to do with smoking and cancer?" she screeched, apparently articulating the thoughts of her own boss. "Even a five-year-old would know it's the lungs, you idiots," she screamed, said Carl, her words carrying to the others who looked up from their computers, thankful to be outside vitriol range.

Carl and his mate, he said, tried to explain that the ad was asking people to appeal to their hearts, because that's where they felt the "power of decision" lay (not the head). "If you could feel it in your heart you want to quit, nothing's going to stand in your way," Carl said he told his boss.

But she, already privy to her own boss's mindset, was adamant. Several other nasty, uncalled for unpleasantries were hurled, and before he knew it, Carl said, he'd lost his own hold on reason. "There's only so much you can take, mate," he told me, grimacing. "I waited for her to simmer down, then, in the silence, just before I left her office I told her she'd missed her vocation in life. I told her." He told me just before the doctor called him in, "he could have made an empire selling fish."

Kevin Martin is a Sydney-based journalist