Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A New World Record and The Hazards Of Hay Fever

Oh dear. That has to be the record for the shortest stay by an intern - ever. Mr Humphries proves too much for James, who has disappeared in a cloud of loose bowel movements. He hasn't even been back to collect his stuff. Hope he has plenty of Chai tea at home.

The morning goes suspiciously smoothly until almost 10:00. Then Mr Humphries makes the first of a series of visits to the office, becoming more agitated with every one. I deal with the first few, which involve something to do with him being spied on, as usual, but I'm busy when he comes in again just before lunch. Greg takes a frantic call from the Labour Party saying that Mr H is holding Joan at knifepoint in reception. We hadn't got round to telling Party staff that they mustn't rub their noses while talking to him, and Joan suffers from hayfever. Incensed by her apparent use of the code for activating Government surveillance, Mr H has pulled a Stanley knife, and locked her into the room. Poor woman. Mr Humphries even scares me.

The whole building is sent into lockdown mode as I try to contact the Police. Dialling 999 achieves my being put on hold for eighteen minutes - eighteen minutes! The Police Station is almost opposite our bloody building. Greg finally loses his patience and legs it over the roof, climbs down the fire escape and runs there, pushes to the head of the queue and demands a Police escort back to the office immediately - or he will "tell the Home Secretary."

Meanwhile, James has gone green, and is more than usually desperate for the loo. He can't get there, though, because the loos are past reception, where poor Joan is still stuck with a known madman. Eventually, the Police storm reception, arrest Mr Humphries, and cart him off over the road - and the building is open for business again. It is 3:00pm, so I send James off to get some lunch and to calm down. He makes me escort him out of the building. He is almost 6 feet tall, and I'm at least a foot shorter, but hey, whatever. That turns out to be the last we will ever see of him, as he never comes back, and doesn't answer our calls for the rest of the day.

He has made life difficult before he goes, though - as he answered the phone to The Boss while Greg and I were otherwise occupied, and told him what was happening. What an idiot. Andrew has instructed that I call him straight back as soon as "the misunderstanding is resolved." Misunderstanding? Misunderstanding? Mr Humphries' behaviour is more than a bloody misunderstanding. Joan is a wreck, and James looked even worse than her before he did his disappearing act. Most awkwardly, the staff of all the other offices in our building are incandescent with fury. They blame us for attracting undesirables and failing to manage them properly, as well as for their businesses having effectively lost an entire working day's output.

The Police want statements from everyone, and ask whether I will support a charge of harassment against Mr H. The Boss forbids it. I take another look at Joan and decide to ignore him. Mr H needs help, plus it is completely unreasonable to expect staff who don't work for an MP to cope with the challenges we face. Not only that but, if we don't co-operate, we'll encourage the Police to be even less speedy in their response to our emergency calls in future. So first I have to sit in with a still-shaking Joan - not a pretty sight - while she gives her statement, and then I have to give mine. Can't face phoning The Boss back to admit what I've done, as it's already nearly 8:00pm when I leave the office. Max hasn't even phoned to see where I am.

When I get home, Josh asks what's for tea, and Connie is incapable of listening to anyone, as she has got an interview for the IT job and is very over-excited, even by her usual maniacal standards. I am utterly dispensable. I foresee a trip to Primark for new underwear tomorrow lunchtime - lockdowns allowing - and I must remember to buy batteries for my camera.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Risk Assessments, Incompetents & Irritable Bowels

Filing proved to be beyond James. I bloody well can't believe it. What kind of fuckw*t supposedly-A* pupil thinks that you only file by the first letter of someone's name? It's going to take months to find anything now. I ring The Boss and demand he finds James something totally harmless to do, so Andrew gives him a "special project." Something to do with finding out how many teenage pregnancies there have been in Northwick in the last ten years. Of course, James thinks this will gain him access to my computer, but I send him to the library instead. At least they've got more than one loo.

I tell him to be back in time for a meeting I've arranged with a local manager from the Mental Health Trust, on the basis that this will be educational. He looks distinctly unenthusiastic, and becomes more so as the meeting progresses. I am trying to establish exactly the point at which our duty to protect staff and others would take precedence over our duty of confidentiality. Am a bit astonished to discover that several of the constituents Greg and I deem the most dangerous have already been the subjects of a number of Multi-Agency Meetings and risk assessments, none of which we have been included in. We deal with these nutters daily, and without any security! It is agreed that we will be faxed copies of the relevant risk assessments this afternoon - on a "need to know" basis - and we'll be invited to attend the meetings in future. Greg and I are well-pleased at this development, but James looks decidedly pale.

I'm a little pale myself after I read the risk assessments. Amazing how many of our usual suspects have convictions for ABH, are known to carry weapons, and considered to pose a high risk to staff who have to deal with them. One of them even isn't even allowed to attend a normal doctor's surgery, but has to go to a secure facility which has an armed guard! I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have remained in blissful ignorance, relying instead on The Twilight Zone theme to protect me.

The only useful information is a list of those things which are known to trigger certain constituents to commit acts of violence. In Mr Meeeeurghn's case, this is almost anything, but I didn't know about Mr Humphries. A paranoid schizophrenic with a persecution complex, I already knew that he considered that all Government agencies spied on him. What I didn't know was that he believes that other people's unconscious tics are codes to alert the authorities and switch on surveillance. It's only by the grace of God that Greg and I haven't ever scratched our noses, fiddled with a stray hair, or chewed the end of a pen while talking to the man! I'm starting to think that a degree in Psychology would have been more useful than one in Politics.

James says he feels unwell, and that his irritable bowel syndrome is causing him a problem, so I let him go home early. I'm not entirely sure about his sanity, if I'm honest.

Greg wants us to go and get drunk, but I really need an early night. Haven't slept properly since Max's German trip. He's in a really bad mood this evening, seemingly because Connie's got an interview for a job at a local call-centre in their IT department. He overhears her telling a friend that it "isn't brilliant money" and doesn't speak to any of us for the rest of the night. (Apart from Max, I'm the only one who knows that it is barely £1,000 a year less than he now earns.) Johnny and I inhabit very different worlds - and yet was the one that our class voted "most likely to succeed."

Monday, 28 June 2010

Fruit Teas, Dodgy Photos and Naive Interns

Today sees the arrival of the first contender in The Boss' long list of summer interns, who usually fall into one of three distinct categories: purely decorative additions to the scenery; sixth-form leavers with their sights set on PPE at Oxford and then government, and/or those representing favours to Andrew's mates who want us to babysit their recalcitrant teenagers. Today's is one of the PPE batch, James. He's expected to get five A*s at A-level, and appears to be quite without a sense of humour. This may be because he expected the constituency office to be a little more impressive than it is. I think he expected better than a view of the YMCA, not to mention his encounter with the Bus Driver from South Park, also known as Joan who works in the Labour Party office.

I always get saddled with inducting interns. I'm not sure why. Greg's far closer to them in age, if not earnestness. I obtain the usual Confidentiality Agreement signature, then begin explaining the security measures. This wouldn't take long, if I only mentioned those that The Boss has actually put in place, but I don't. I am far more responsible than that. I explain that you never exit the security door without first checking that there isn't anyone lurking to either side of it, then move on to Special Branch's advice that we always look under our cars before getting into them, and check for people following us either to or from our homes. James starts looking a little concerned. Then I begin to explain the various personalised arrangements for handling the usual suspects, but  am interrupted by the phone ringing. It's Miss Chambers, so James is exposed to the risk to hearing issue rather more quickly than I'd intended. Eventually, he mirrors Greg, who has both hands pressed against his ears. I'm impressed. This kid learns fast.

I'm not sure what to do with him for the rest of the day, as we don't have a spare computer and he seems oddly reluctant to answer the phones. The Boss never thinks about this sort of thing when he accepts applications. I decide James looks to be an intelligent person, and entrust him with some filing. He can't believe the number of live files we have, and the sight of the archive cupboard makes him blanch. Still, he gets on with it without complaint, though he does seem to go to the loo an awful lot, which may be due to that weird healthy tea he brought with him in a Tupperware box. Can't help feeling he'd be better off at the Council. The staff there all drink fruit tea which, along with the wearing of Ecco sandals and long swishy skirts, is an accurate predictor of woolly-headed liberalness and Council employment, at least in the case of women.

In the afternoon, Johnny emails me to say he's back in Russia and to suggest we meet next time he's in the UK. To "keep him going 'til then" he asks whether I have any more photos I can send him, preferably ones with my eyes open? Keep him going where? My arse would take a much better photo than my face, but this is hardly helpful. Someone once told me that, after 40, you can either have a great face or a great arse, and I fall into the latter category, which does make sending anyone a flattering photo rather challenging. Like a fool, I mention this in my reply. Johnny's response arrives with indecent haste - he would be "very happy to receive a photo taken from whatever I deem the most flattering angle, and of any body part I think he'd appreciate." Now what have I done?

Things still weird with Max in the evening. One minute his explanations for his hotel name amnesia ring true, the next I think I must be insane to believe them. Am distracted from contemplating the state of my marriage by yet another phone call from Dinah.

"He's fucking incredible," she says without preamble. She can only mean Dad - so no need to respond. "He was on a date! Visiting Cousin Mike, my arse."

"Not the Thai bride?" I say.

"No," she says. "My friend Annie's mother! He spent the entire weekend shagging her, the bloody hypocrite! He said she was too old when I first gave him her number."

"So what happened?" Do I really want to know the answer to this? As usual, it's too late.

"This morning he told her he didn't think it was meant to be, got in his car and left without arranging another date. I'm so embarrassed."

"So what does he say about it?" I ask.

"He still says he was at Cousin Mike's, for fucksake. Denies everything."

"Why change the habit of a lifetime?" I say, and look hard at Max as I hang up. He remembers he needs to clear out the loft urgently and disappears. Is it any wonder youthful idealism is so hard to cling on to?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave.......

Spend day helping Connie with job applications. She's decided she'd be better off in a call-centre job as she wouldn't be able to actually see people with thin hair and poking-out ears over the phone. I'm quite surprised by the hourly rate offered for some of them - it's almost as much as Max gets since the two pay cuts he's had to accept this last year. I often wonder if we wouldn't be financially better-off if we separated. All my single parent friends manage a holiday at least once a year - I don't know how they do it. I suggest Josh might want to try and get a Saturday job so he could help out with the family finances a bit. His answer is, "Why would I want to do that? I'm busy at weekends."

In the evening Dinah phones.

"Dad has got a new woman, the bastard," she says.

"Why?" I ask.

"I phoned him on his mobile at lunchtime - suddenly remembered I'd forgotten Father's Day - but he sounded a bit flustered and didn't try and guilt-trip me."

"Unusual, I grant you, but what's your point?" I want to finish waxing my upper lip and am a bit worried the strip won't come off if Dinah doesn't hurry up.

Well, he said he was in the pub having lunch with Cousin Mike, so I said 'Put Mike on, then, so I can say hello' - and Dad says 'Mike's in the loo'!"

"Still clear as mud," I say, but Dinah says,

"Shut up, Molly! You don't know what you're talking about. Just stop interrupting and listen for a minute!"

Unreasonableness runs in the family, but no-one ever manages to interrupt Dinah. She lacks self-awareness. Despite my loud sigh of exasperation, she carries on,

"So I get off the phone to Dad and then phone the number you gave me for Cousin Mike's house and - "

"Oh God," I say, and Dinah shrieks,

"Mike answers!"

Sometimes Dinah is so tiring. Now she's not speaking to me because she wants me to phone Cousin Mike and ask to speak to Dad, and I just can't be bothered. We'll know eventually if we're going to get Stepmother Mark IV. The whole family has to attend Dad's weddings - the most recent one was when I last saw Cousin Mike, come to think of it.

Max thinks the whole thing's funny - but Josh surprises me. He's disgusted by his Grandad's carryings-on. Maybe I should ask him what he thinks about Max and the hotel business? Parents can't do that, though, can they? Their relationships are supposed to be rock-solid and entirely platonic, so I'd either just worry Josh or make him squirm with revulsion. Anyway, now I've got to go and try to get that bloody wax off somehow, before Max spots it.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Cousins Reincarnated, Duty Calls and Paranoia.

I'm quite glad there isn't a supermarket surgery again this week, as it allows me a lie-in, and postpones the moment when I have to talk to Max. When I do finally get up, he's weirdly attentive and jumps around making cups of tea and a cooked breakfast. He doesn't even mention Germany. I hate how he does that - makes me have to broach any subject that he knows is going to lead to an argument. Makes me look so confrontational.

I decide to get the parental phone calls over and done with instead. Mum and Ted aren't in - probably on the first of their twice-daily trips to Waitrose. Dad is at home, but says he hasn't got time to talk to me because he's about to leave on a trip  - he's going away for a few days to Cousin Mike's. I thought Cousin Mike was dead, but Dad assures me he's alive and well, and living near Heathrow with his second wife. Dad says he's at an age now when family becomes more important, and so he wants to spend time with his siblings and cousins while he can. I ask him for Mike's phone number and he gives it to me, though he says he thinks they'll be out and about most of the weekend.

The duty calls have taken a fraction of the time they usually take, and now the rest of the day is stretching ahead unappealingly. I ring Dinah.

"Dad's gone to visit Cousin Mike," I say.

"Thought he was dead," says Dinah. "We went to his funeral. Remember?"

"That's what I thought too, but Dad says that was Cousin Fred."

"Christ," says Dinah. "We have far too many bloody relatives, living or dead. Where's Mike live then?"

"Near Heathrow."

"Heathrow? Airport? You serious? Give me the phone number." Dinah is so bossy.

"Why?" I am completely confused.

"Well, how d'you get from Thailand to the UK?" says Dinah. "God, you're dim, given what you do for a living. No wonder the country's in such a mess."

I give her Mike's number. I don't want to know what's going to happen next.

I spend the rest of the day thinking about men and why women are automatically suspicious of them. Is it because we're genetically paranoid, or is it because of what they get up to? Max makes his inability to recall the name of his hotel for the 24 hours he was staying in it sound perfectly understandable when I finally crack and ask him about his trip. It was booked for him; the company guide had all the details; they were driven there from the airport by coach, and it was dark when they arrived. Then he couldn't read the name from the hotel signage or stationery because it was in a completely over-the-top Gothic script. When I still look a little dubious, he gets cross and falls back on the old chestnut:

"If you don't trust me after all these years, then what's the bloody point?"

 The after all these years bit is the point, but I'm now so confused that I drop the subject. I almost wish there had been a surgery today. I know exactly what to do to help constituents with their problems.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Marxism & Thatcherism Combined, and The Return of the Errant Husband

Sometimes it feels as if Fridays occur more often than other days. It certainly doesn't feel as if a whole week has passed since The Boss was last in the office, sitting with his feet up on my desk and helping himself to my breakfast. I do wish he wouldn't swear so loudly while I'm on the phone to constituents. They all know it's him because of his Brummie accent.

He's really demanding today.

"Molly, get me Paul Whatsisname on the phone."

"Andrew, you have the phone in front of you. Have you lost the use of your hands?"

"Find me his number then."

"Andrew, I have never heard of Paul Whatsisname. Who is he?"

"I don't know. You'll have to write to him instead. Bloody incompetent staff." The Boss rolls his eyes and finishes my croissant. There are crumbs everywhere.

I'm starting to worry about him a bit. Why he thinks someone from the Party is spying on him, God knows, especially as he can't have any secrets which would make it worth the effort - given that he makes his views known to anyone who stands still for more than a second anyway. But there's no reasoning with him this week.

He insists that we hold our usual Friday briefing in the corridor today, and that only I attend. Next week will be Greg's turn. The Boss reasons that, this way, Greg and I will be less dangerous if we turn out to be moles, as we will only know half of what's going on. I suspect that the person who actually only knows half of what's going on is The Boss himself, but wisely say nothing.

In the afternoon, Roger Fennis comes in for his surgery appointment. Apparently he is being paid far less than his much-younger colleague, whom he trained to do the job. The Boss is shocked to the core.

"That's bloody outrageous, Roger. I'm not having that. You leave it with me and we'll get it sorted." He pats Roger on the back and says, "Disgusting. Oh, and make sure you join the union too."

As soon as Roger has left, The Boss says,

"Molly, get onto that straightaway. Can't stand bloody bad employment practices."

I can't believe it. The Boss is a Marxist where other people's employers are concerned, but a veritable Thatcherite when it comes to his own staff. Just hope Roger has more luck with the union than I've had so far.

After I get home from work, Max suddenly recalls that he is married, and begins sending a flurry of texts which give me a blow-by-blow account of his journey home - but only from when his plane lands at Heathrow. He chooses that moment to share the name of the German hotel - now that it's bloody irrelevant. I had been intending to keep his meal warm, but after that, I burn it to a crisp by "forgetting" to turn the oven down, and then I go upstairs to take an exceedingly deep bath. This ensures that Max will be both hungry and unable to take a shower, as I have used all the hot water. I also tell Connie where Max's secret stash of Ferrero Rochers are kept, and I authorise Josh to drink the only can of beer left in the fridge.

I go to bed before Max finally arrives. I can't get to sleep, though, and hear him fall over the pair of shoes I deliberately left in our bedroom doorway. I watch the inevitable trouser dance through one half-open eye, and then do a very convincing stretch and turn manoeuvre so that my back is to him, just as he tries to snuggle up. Half an hour later, he's snoring like a steam train and I'm back downstairs making cocoa. I look everywhere for the valium Dad left behind when he came to stay after Stepmother Mark III left him, but can't find it. Looks like two sleepless nights in a row - the phrase, "I don't know the name of the hotel" keeps running through my head.

Irrational Thoughts, Loss of Purpose and Unlikely Claims - Leading to Wrinkle Formation.

God, it must be so much easier to be an animal, incapable of rational thought. Greg goes into a long rant this morning, which culminates in him asking me if I've ever considered that, for every constituent we push up a housing or hospital waiting list, there is another, less-vocal one who drops down a place. I haven't. Until now. All sense of purpose is obliterated. Greg says he copes with this disturbing knowledge by "contemplating his payslips regularly." Now I know he must be being paid more than me.

The Boss phones to check that Greg and I are obeying his edict not to speak to the "spies" in the Party offices. We aren't, mainly because we rely on them to rescue us from constituents whenever we are assaulted, but I don't tell him that. I just mumble something about us all being on the same side, to which he replies that he didn't have me down as being so naive, and that we are to communicate with Party staff as little as possible from now on. He has written his GC Report already and is going to email it to me - when he can find Carlotta and get her to scan it in. Scan it in? Why the hell can't he just type it like anyone else would, when he's actually written it while still in the office? It's more understandable when he writes it on the train - but if he's just planning on emailing me his notes, they'll be hieroglyphics as usual.

Johnny says he's still in London after having been called there to stand in for an "embattled colleague" and would I like to meet? He also says that it is a shame that Max and I can't be together for our anniversary and asks whether I don't think I am being taken a little for granted. I forget to ask him what he and his wife did for their wedding anniversary in my non-committal reply.

Talking of weddings, Dinah says she found two possible candidates for dates for Dad amongst her friends' mothers, but Dad ruled them both out without even seeing photos as "too old." She says that they were both more than fifteen years younger than him. Seems as if his recent passion for Thai food is destined to last a bit longer, though at least he's finally interested in good food. His last wife was the worst cook in the universe, bless her - known throughout the family as The Dorset Poisoner. But at least she was a respectable age. Dad will be getting metal framed glasses with a double bar across the nose before you know it.

I spend our wedding anniversary on my own, or effectively alone, as both kids are still in self-imposed exile upstairs. What a sad git I am. I don't seem to have any friends to go out with, or none who won't insist on making me feel like a poor relation, and even Annoying Ellen isn't in, when I pop round to check she doesn't need to borrow the corkscrew again. Max doesn't phone me until after midnight, and forgets to say Happy Anniversary anyway. He sounds as pissed as a fart, and is still claiming that he doesn't know the phone number or even the name of the hotel he's staying in. When I say that I need it, in case of emergencies, he says there's nothing I can't handle, given my job - and that he'll see me tomorrow night. Then he rings off.

What kind of halfwit doesn't know the name of his hotel - when he's been staying in it for the last 24 hours? If anyone told me that their husband had told them that, I know exactly what I'd think was going on. But I don't want to think that about mine. A weekend in London looks very attractive, all of a sudden.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Honesty is the Worst Policy, and How to Fail Both Your Children Equally.

Greg is out of the office in the morning, "raising awareness." He texts me at 11:30am and says that he has found a solution to all our problems with difficult constituents. "Nuke 'em," is his measured response. He comes back shortly afterwards and says that he is too traumatised by his run-in with Miss Harpenden to describe his experiences. My morning hasn't been any better than his, so we decide to treat ourselves by nominating lunchtime as Writing Honest Letters Hour. This is a luxury we occasionally indulge in. A typical example would be my reply to Mr Ellis' repeated threats to kill himself if we don't get him what he wants:

Dear Mr Ellis

Thank you for your letter threatening to throw yourself off the multi-storey car park if we do not stop your next door neighbour from turning off her light switch so noisily. I regret that I will not be able to be present tomorrow at 4:00pm as you requested, as I have to be in the House of Commons from Mondays to Thursdays. However, if you could possibly arrange to re-schedule the event for 4:30pm on Friday, I shall be more than happy to attend.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Sinclair, MP for Northwick East.

Mrs Underwood has written in to ask whether there are plans to increase spending on public benches on the short route between her house and the betting shop. Greg replies:

Dear Mrs Underwood

Further to your recent letter, I regret that there are currently no plans to increase spending for accessible seating in your area, as any additional funds are earmarked for tax cuts for me.

Yours etc

Andrew Sinclair, MP for the hardworking people of Northwick East.

This cheers us both up no end, though we do spend all afternoon regretting that we're not allowed to tell the truth the whole time. It's almost heartbreaking to have to shred our literary masterpieces before we leave work, but it's been a welcome distraction. I even forget that Max won't be home tonight as he's jet-setting off to Germany for his business trip - until I get home and remember that I have to deal with Josh and Connie by myself.

Do kids ever grow out of sibling rivalry? I hear yelling and incredibly-loud banging as I let myself in the front door, only to find Connie calmly listening to her iPod while Josh is kicking the hell out of the back door. It turns out that he has been stuck outside in the back garden for the last two and a half hours, and has missed the entire England-Slovenia match. May have served him right though - as he apparently called Connie a freak who didn't have any friends, before she locked him out. God knows what the neighbours must've thought. The air was blue. He couldn't get out since we eschewed Neighbourhood Watch in favour of adding barbed wire to the six foot walls around the garden, and padlocked the gate. Max keeps the key on his keyring. (I'm sure it was Steve Ellington who burgled us both times, but can't prove it.)

Connie says she is depressed as, not only does she have the most vile brother on the planet, but she didn't get the H&M job, as predicted - though the manager did write and thank her for a "most entertaining interview." She and Josh spend all evening in their respective rooms, each furiously complaining about the other to their friends on Facebook. The only thing they are agreed on is that I am guilty of outrageous favouritism, though they disagree on which of them I apparently prefer.

Now I'm dreading tomorrow night - Max and I have always spent wedding anniversaries together until now. He's left me a note saying,

"Darling, we're out of milk. Can't find details of hotel but will phone you tomorrow and let you know then. All love, Mx"

Can't find details of hotel? What sort of stupid statement is that?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The trials of Mr Meeeeurghn (whose name is bloody hard to spell consistently).

The working day is largely consumed by constituents phoning with their reactions to the Budget, with one notable exception. Mr Meeeurghn phones and starts screaming that he is being mis-treated and that we have to protect him - now - as he is a refugee. Then he puts me onto someone else, who identifies herself as a member of staff at Primark. It turns out that Mr Meeeurghn is trying to claim a refund on a pair of jeans that he insists have never been worn.

The weary-sounding girl says that the jeans are covered in bleach, and that Mr Meeeurghn is threatening to kill them all, or at least most of them - a bit like the Iraqi Information Minister - if they do not give him his money back. He apparently told them that he would phone his MP who would make them do it. Meanwhile, they have a queue of customers that reaches down the stairs and out of the shop, none of whom can be served until Mr Meeeeurghn has been dealt with. (Primark sales obviously aren't suffering due to the recession.)

I tell her to put the screeching Mr Meeeeurghn back on the phone, tell him that I cannot help him, and then go and check that the new office door is double-locked. Primark have security staff. We don't, and nor do we have bullet-proof glass, as Greg is at pains to point out - yet again. 

Monday, 21 June 2010

Disturbing Resemblances, Yachting Directors of Global Oil Companies, and Uncharacteristic Empathy.

God, why do I look so different in photographs to how I imagine I look? The Boss' website is being updated, to allow him to blog - asking for trouble - and I have to have a new photo taken. The result makes me look like Mr Burns in The Simpsons. When did I become a hunchback? Charles Laughton had nothing on me. I blame it on the weird position I have to adopt while talking on the phone to Miss Chambers and trying to preserve an ear-protecting distance from the receiver. Last night's misguided attempt at pole-dancing didn't help my posture much either, but what's a girl to do when her husband and son spend five hours in a lap dancing club on Father's Day? (Max claims they only went to the pub and that Josh is winding me up, but he looks suspiciously cheerful this morning.)

My photo could be worse, though - Greg looks exactly like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho in his, which may well be scarily accurate. He says he thinks he looks "damned attractive" and will scare off lunatics, so I can't persuade him to change it, but I'm not letting mine go anywhere except into the virtual trash. Am going to suggest the web designer uses the EMO-style photo that I sent to Johnny Hunter instead. The constituents probably won't notice that I have my eyes shut, or will think I'm wincing with empathy for their plights.

Actually, I am feeling rather uncharacteristically empathetic today. Anti-Social Behaviour is the order of most of the day's telephone calls. Such an idiotic term, which doesn't at all reflect the utter misery that is wreaked on so many by so few. If there's one thing I blame the Labour Government for, it was their complete inability to call a spade a spade. ASB sounds like a toddler tantrum, which drastically understates the case if our constituents are anything to go by. Whole estates terrorised and, even if we eventually get a result for distraught residents by getting a nightmare family evicted, it's only a matter of time until their new neighbours contact us, equally desperate.

Whenever the subject comes up at at dinner parties - which is pretty rare anyway - our friends look at me as if I'm making up examples for the sake of entertainment. East Northwick might as well be A Tale of Two Cities, for all the awareness of the underclass that those who live in its richer parishes have. When I mentioned the horse and the burnt-out cars in the front garden of Steve Ellington's place, David said, "Oh Molly, you are funny." He should have seen Edmund Beales' bloody Doberman. Bet there were three pit-bulls inside that house as well - Greg and I escaped by the skin of our teeth. I didn't even recall Mr Beales' shotgun licence until afterwards, so I suppose things could have been a whole lot worse.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked, which is what empathy does to the brain. You can't afford too much of it in my job but, getting back to ASB, there seems to be no meaningful deterrent at all. If the nightmare neighbours have children, they'll be re-housed straightaway even if they are evicted - to protect their children. What's even more depressing is how so many of the Council's Housing Officers seem to take the view that the desperate, reasonable residents are simply "moaning minnies." I'd find this rather less irritating if almost everyone who worked in the Housing Department didn't live miles away in rural bliss, as evidenced by their complete inability to get to work at the first hint of snow.

Greg is still determined that we finish what we started with our DIY CRB checks, despite the Beales Dog Debacle. I have agreed to think about it, mainly because the new door is the only security improvement The Boss has approved. This is a bit rich, when you consider that even his favourite drinking den in Millbank has better security than we do. Last time I went to meet him there - ostensibly to participate in interviewing Carlotta LongLegs - I was overcome by claustrophobia when I had to step inside one of those glass tube things, which seemed a horribly snug fit. Then I freaked out because I thought it was never going to open again. Considering how tiny I am, God knows how they vet any fat terror suspects. I'm probably not allowed to say "fat" either.

Just before I leave work for the day, Johnny sends me another email asking if I'm not talking to him. He's apparently been back in the UK for the weekend, on a yachting trip, and says it's a shame I didn't reply to his last message as we could have arranged to meet up. I obviously should have paid more attention to those reports about Tony Hayward on his yacht. (What kind of man calls his yacht Bob, for Godsake?) Maybe I'd have spotted a Putin lookalike hauling the mainstay, or whatever you do on a yacht - apart from falling mysteriously over the side when a pensions scandal threatens, of course. Obviously Johnny's earlier email suggesting a massage was directed at me. I'd tell him where to get off, if I didn't really need a massage to alleviate the pain in my neck caused by trying to spin round the spare curtain pole last night.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Significance of Fathers, Underwear, Circles and Spirals. Not Necessarily In That Order.

I bet you can tell a married woman from a single one, just by the state of her underwear. Mine is tragic.  Rather worryingly, this thought occurs to me while I am trying to draft a reply to Johnny's last email - the one in which he mentioned massage.

I'm hoping that he was so distracted by the oil spill that he forgot he was writing to me, and thought he was emailing his wife instead. Now I can't decide whether to mention his suggestion, or to ignore it and, after a few clumsy attempts at a reply, I abandon the idea and phone Dad instead. It is Father's Day, after all - even though Connie seems oblivious to the fact that this does actually apply to Max.

I am in Dad's good books due to being the only one of his many children who has remembered to send a card - or to phone - until the subject of Facebook comes up.  Then he insists that all his young Thai women "friends" are just neighbours.

He gets quite cross when I question the likelihood of this, on the basis that: a) he lives in a really small village, and b) it's in Dorset. Then he says he's not interested in women since Stepmother Mark III left him, so I ring off as quickly as I can and phone Dinah.

"Can you set Dad up with one of your friends' mums?" I ask.

"Why? What's he up to?" says Dinah. (We have a sisterly shorthand which avoids the need for a lot of explanation, which is lucky as she talks so much that I often can't get a word in edgeways.)

"He says he's not interested in women again," I say. "And that the Thai girls are all his neighbours."

"Christ!" says Dinah. "I'll get onto it straightaway. In the meantime, why don't you write something off-putting on his Facebook wall?"

"Like what?"

"Like asking him if his willy's still bendy, for a start," says Dinah.

There is a triumphant tone to her last comment. I wonder if this is how most daughters discuss their fathers?

After all that, together with yesterday's revelations about Chris Huhne - where do the LibDems get all this sexual energy? - I start wondering if Max fantasises about starting all over again with someone new, probably half my age, and also probably from another continent.

Then I decide that I don't want to know if he does, but I'm unsettled for the rest of the afternoon anyway. I keep finding myself staring at him, until he notices and says,

"What's up? Have I got a bogey hanging from my nose or something?"

It's odd how you don't really notice the person you've been married to for aeons, until you start to consider how attractive they might appear to another person. Which brings me right back to the question of my underwear. I seem doomed to spend my life going round and round in circles.

Mind you, this would be preferable to my life spiralling down the plughole, which is how it sometimes feels when I contemplate all the unused gold stars in the kitchen drawer. Now I'm stuck here with Connie for the evening, as Josh is taking Max out "for a Father's Day drink" - at a lap dancing club, for God's sake.

Honestly, is there no end to the pressure? Now I shall probably have to learn to pole dance. Bloody hell.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

My Parenting Skills Are Called Into Question Yet Again

Today Connie has an interview at H&M for a summer job, but I don't think she's got it. She says everything went well until the manager asked her whether there was anything that really annoyed her about people. (The Boss never asked me that!)

The trouble with Connie is that she's so truthful that she can't understand the point of those interview questions to which the only correct answers are lies, such as what she should have said on this occasion:

"I am very tolerant and really like dealing with the general public."

But Connie doesn't say anything of the sort. Her argument is that any interviewer worth his or her salt would assume that a candidate who answered with such bullshit must be a compulsive liar, and should therefore be avoided.

As a result, she takes the same approach to interviews as she does to life in general: tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. (I have strong suspicions that this characteristic may be linked to Asperger's, as well as an inability to judge when to explain oral sex to an elderly relative.)

So Connie's answer to the H&M manager goes something like this:

"Well, one thing really, really annoys me -"

"What?" says the (presumably-incredulous) manager.

"When someone has thin hair and their ears poke out through it."

Connie says the interview ended very shortly thereafter.

I tell her not to get her hopes up, and manage to keep a straight face for all of thirty seconds, before I start laughing. To her credit, Connie joins in straight away. That's one of the best thing about her - she can always see the funnier side of her crazier behaviour, though I am seriously starting to wonder about how employable either of my children are.

I blame Penelope Leach.* I knew I should have accepted that old copy of Dr Spock* that Mum kept trying to give me instead.

*Penelope Leach: Childcare guru to we babyboomers. Quite possibly responsible for our pathetic need to be friends rather than parents to our children.

*Dr Spock: Usurped by Penelope Leach, and nothing to do with Star Trek.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Ballad Of Mr Thumb, And Why Schools Have CCTV When We Don't

God, I'm so glad Connie's coming home from uni today for the summer vacation. I have had about as much testosterone-related craziness this week as I can take.

I have to ask Greg to take over for the second half of this afternoon's surgery, as Max and I have been called into school to see Josh's tutor, Mr Bowen. Josh is furious that we've been contacted, and he doesn't even calm down during the lengthy period we spend waiting outside the tutor's office. He spends the entire time ranting, just like a constituent.

"That bloody man's got it in for me. He just picks on me - all the time. It doesn't matter what anyone else is doing, it's always, 'Joshua Bennett. My office - now!' He's just jealous 'cause I haven't got a disability," announces Josh, with venom.

"Disability?" I ask.

"We call him Mr Thumb," says Josh. "'Cause his thumb's five times the size it should be."

Josh draws various illustrations of Mr Bowen's affected appendage to support his claims. His outrage seems so genuine that Max and I are feeling really hostile by the time we enter the office. I will not have someone picking on my youngest child, just because his digits are undamaged.

I put on my best MP's Office voice and walk to the desk, my hand outstretched.

"Mr Thumb? I'm Molly Bennett. Pleased to meet you."

Max and Josh collapse in hysterics, while Mr Bowen looks at me in disbelief. I realise what I've done and have to excuse myself. I clutch at my forehead and say,

"I am so sorry, I'm unwell. I think I may be going to be -" and then I run for the door, making (very convincing) retching noises.

Max tells me later that things didn't get any better after my departure. Apparently, when he complained that Mr Bowen was picking on Josh, Mr Bowen replied that Josh was in the sixth-form common room all morning - and all afternoon - of every day, playing poker. Max didn't believe this, so Mr Bowen made him watch a CCTV recording of Josh in action.

Max then tried to argue that Josh was probably only relaxing during free periods but, again, Mr Bowen's response wasn't exactly helpful. Josh was ordered to hand over his homework diary, to enable Mr Bowen to show Max the lesson timetable. The entire cover was decorated with extremely realistic outsized thumbs.

Max says there's nothing for it but to kill Josh. Connie's (unsurprisingly) in favour, and even I agree to think about it.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Not An Ideal Outcome

I have a very bad hangover from the bottle of gin Greg and I drank when we got back here last night after our narrow escape from the dog in Mr Beales' garden, so have decided I am taking a day's leave.

At lunchtime, I get an email from Greg who says,

"The carpenter is here, working away on the security improvements. He tells me that he hasn't bothered to fit bullet-proof glass to the new door he has installed. The consequence for me, if anyone needs reminding, will simply be this."

I open the attachment to find it's a video clip of JFK's assassination.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

I Really Should Know Better Than To Listen To Greg.

I find out why Greg wanted the list. He insists we wait around at work until it's almost dark, and then he says,

"Here are the keys to the Gregmobile - you go and get in. Won't be a minute."

Five minutes later, he re-appears and dumps fifteen manila folders in my lap, together with a map and a torch. I get really worried. Is Greg's Patrick Bateman exterior an unsubtle indicator that he is a menacing rapist? Should Max have been more concerned for my safety? When will Max notice that I'm missing? Will Max notice that I am missing?

"What's number one on the map?" says Greg, swerving wildly to avoid a cyclist.

"What?" I ask.

"Map," says Greg. "On your lap. What's number one?"

I open the map, but can't see and start dropping files all over the place.

"Torch," says Greg, and then, "Fucksake!"

I direct the torch at the map and find fifteen small, coloured dots affixed to various parts of East Northwick. These are cross-referenced to a list of numbers stuck at the side of the map. I cheer up - surely Greg wouldn't have gone to all this trouble to rape someone old enough to be his mother?

"Number one - Eleanor Road," I say. "Why?"

"Find the file with number one on it," says Greg.

I do as he says. The file is labelled, "Edmund Beales." Oh, Christ.

"Gregory," I say, "I thought we were going for a drink. What the hell are we doing?"

"Our DIY version of a CRB check," says Greg. "I am sick of waiting for some mad constituent to chop my head off with a samurai sword, so you and I are going to make a pre-emptive strike."

"Huh?" is my considered response.

"We are going to check out what little we actually know about the crazy f*ckers we have to deal with every day - without security - and see if it stacks up. We could get killed waiting nine months for the Criminal Records Bureau, and Special Branch only ever seem to notice the Animal Rights loonies. First stop, the lovely Edmund Beales' house."

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Disappointment And Delusional Co-Dependency (Whatever That Means)

Mr Meeurghn has been convicted of murder. To add insult to my injured faith in human nature, it transpires that he can't have his passport back because he is on bail and, anyway, he doesn't need it to go home - because he can't go home. His country of origin won't let him back in. God knows what he did there. My faith in the public has taken yet another blow. 

I email Greg and tell him that I don't care if he is still traumatised, I need him back at work tomorrow to save me from plunging into a suicidal depression. 

There is some good news, though. The Boss has approved a new security measure! Just the one, mind you - and that's a replacement door for the one Steve Ellington broke on his way out this morning. 

The viewing panel's shattered, and the frame is all bent out of shape - even though there wasn't a mark on Steve's forehead. I'm pushing for toughened glass to be fitted in the replacement but, if it's more expensive than the ordinary stuff, I'll be out of luck.

Steve's clash with the door isn't the only shock of the day. Johnny sends me an email in which he says that he loves my photo, but that I look tired and "in need of a massage." What on earth? Maybe the oil spill and Obama are messing with his mind, and he and I are locked in a delusional co-dependency. 

I have no idea what any of that last sentence means, but I quite like the sound of it. Sam told me that one of his internet dates said it to him, immediately before dumping him. (I have warned him over and over again to rule out any woman who lists "self-help books" in the Preferred Reading category of their dating profile, but he won't listen.)

Max certainly isn't co-dependent this evening, or not with me, anyway. He barely says anything and looks very tired, so I leave him in front of the TV and catch up on personal correspondence at the computer instead. This doesn't include Johnny, as I still haven't decided how to respond to him yet, but Greg replies to my earlier suicidal email thus:

"What about drinky-boos and a little outing after work tomorrow night? To include pizza and gin, then gin, gin and gin? I have a pent-up rage that needs dealing with, and minority groups will no doubt suffer. "

I ask Greg where we're going, but he won't say. He just tells me to put together a list of all our craziest constituents. (He defines these as the people in whose company I hear The Twilight Zone theme.) No doubt I'll find out tomorrow why he needs it - mine is not to reason why.

When I tell Max that I have a date with another man, he seems unbothered, presumably on the basis that he thinks I wouldn't be tempted by an American Psycho lookalike half my age. Maybe he'd think the same thing about Johnny, the oil-rich Putin lookalike, too - but Max doesn't know about him. 

Even so, I don't know whether to find his faith in me touching, or arrogant. Maybe he thinks that it's irrelevant whether I'd be tempted or not, as no-one would be tempted by me?

Monday, 14 June 2010

Care In The Community, My Arse.

It turns out that Mr Meeeeurghn is in a bail hostel because he has just got out of prison. More details are being sent by post, and are strictly confidential. 

I have no-one to share this with, as Greg is off sick with his self-diagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress. I'm a model of efficiency today, though, despite all the usual suspects being out in force; and am storming through my caseload when Carlotta phones to ask me to sort out her work permit. 

Huh. I’m not doing anything about that, until I hear what The Boss has decided to do about the inevitable job cuts he’s going to have to make now that he has to pay our pension contributions himself. 

Good old IPSA*. I thought they were going to make things a whole lot better, but they seem to have missed the point a bit. Anything that put paid to mad March when MPs ran around like loonies, buying any old office equipment just to make sure that the IEP* budget got spent is a Good Thing, but losing casework staff isn’t. 

I liked my old blue office chair, and really didn’t want a red one even if we did have to find something to spend the money on. (Red fluff gets everywhere and shows much more against black clothing than the fluff from the blue chair used to.) Anyway, if it comes down to a choice between Carlotta LongLegs’ so-called job or my pension, I may have to take a strategic approach. She’s twenty years younger than me!

Going off at a tangent, the usual suspects do make me think, though. When Old Thatch’s Government got rid of long-stay wards in psychiatric hospitals, it seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. Care in the Community sounded so warm, and woolly-headedly liberal, that it was irresistible to even the most rampant socialist, which I was, then

Of course, everyone assumed that two very important features would be put into place to ensure delivery of this great new concept: Care, and Community. Now we - MPs and their staff - have become Care in the Community, so I decide to keep a tally of how many sane enquiries we get in a day. 

Today’s result is nine. Out of a total of thirty-three phone calls, and thirty-nine letters, and not even counting emails. I rest my case. 

*IPSA: Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, see previous explanation

*IEP: Incidental Expenses Provision, one of three allowances for MPs. 

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Dinah's Forecast of Doom, Plus a Meditation on Anniversaries.

God, I'm feeling fragile after last night’s drinking session. This is not helped when Dinah emails me a link to an article about Derrick Bird. 

It seems to imply that he was driven to do what he did by falling for a young Thai woman, who allegedly encouraged him to send her loads of money and then dumped him unceremoniously. Dinah simply writes, 

“There goes our inheritance, and our social standing.” 

I don't bother to reply, as God knows what she expects to inherit anyway. When a man's been married as many times as Dad, there's not exactly a limited number of children and step-children to share the proceeds of one small bungalow and a (probably-fake) Rolex watch. 

My mood doesn't improve when Josh informs me that today is the day that he and girlfriend Holly celebrate their third anniversary. What is wrong with young people these days? Why don’t they make the most of their freedom? I say this to Max, who agrees rather too wholeheartedly, but out of earshot of Josh. Sometimes he's so sneaky.

I can't stop once I've started though. Since when are you allowed to even have anniversaries of when you started going out together? Anniversaries are supposed to be treats in recognition of hard labour at the coalface of marriage, not trivialised in this way! I do not say “congratulations,” and now Josh is in a mood with me. Max does and is, as usual, the favourite parent. Creep.

I assume that this craven behaviour is what Max is referring to when, much later, he sidles up to me in bed, and says that he's sorry but, as usual, I'm wrong. He's trying to prepare me for bad news, instead: that he will be away on a business trip to Germany on our anniversary. I go ballistic, but he says he doesn't have a choice, and that the company are talking about redundancies. 

He seems so worried that I don't have the heart to keep moaning. I wonder if that's why he's off sex? It seems as if Dad and MPs like Caroline Nokes are the only ones having any sex at all at the moment. Life is so unfair.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Insults and Paranoia - A Little Something For The Weekend

Supermarket surgery this morning, and it's as bad as usual. Constituents who have nothing whatsoever to complain about - which is why they don't actually contact the office during the week - spot The Boss sitting under his banner in Tesco's foyer, while they're buying their weekly groceries.

Then they frantically rack their brains to dredge up any minor irritation to talk to him about, purely to be seen by their neighbours in the company of an MP, however unkempt and hungover said MP may look.

So today we have uneven pavements; puddles at the end of driveways; overgrown hedges, and litter. Each complaint will require me to write a letter to whichever is the most-relevant agency, and to send a copy to the constituent - together with a covering letter saying how nice it was to meet them. When we eventually receive replies from the County or City Councils, they'll be sent out with another personalised covering letter.

With the weather we've been having, there are four hazardous puddle complaints alone! Then there are all the beer-toting, polyester-clad, World Cup-crazed constituents who just want their photographs taken with The Boss, who insisted on wearing an England shirt this morning. There has to be more to life than this.

Taking me home at lunchtime, The Boss drives even more erratically than usual.

"Are you still drunk?" I ask.

"No," he says. "I have a lot on my mind."

I somehow doubt that, but I know a cue when I hear one.

"What's the matter, Andrew?" I try to sound as if I give a damn and, as usual, it works.

"Do you think I'm too trusting?" he asks.

"Um,  I don't know. Where is this going?"

"I think those shits in the local Party are out to get me again. I was set up at GC* last night." Andrew's eyes are looking like Mr Beales'. Here we go again.

"Set up how?" I say.

"Bastards wanted me to confirm that, now we're finally in opposition, I can - at last - be relied upon to toe the Party line. Outrageous. I think I may have to take steps to deal with them. I'm sure that swine Peter Carew is angling to steal my seat."

I don't quite know what to say to this. The Boss has recurrent bouts of paranoia anyway - like all the politicians I've ever met - but he doesn't usually look and sound quite so unsettled. I can't actually think of anyone in the Party - Pete Carew included - who'd have either the energy or the desire to usurp him, but then I don't share Andrew's longstanding belief that they'd all stab him in the back as soon as look at him.

"I don't want you or Greg talking to anyone from the Party from now on, Molly," he says. "Not even the staff - you can't trust any of 'em."

"But they're in the next office -"

He glares at me, and almost crashes into a woman with a pushchair, who's standing at a Zebra crossing. I decide it's safer to shut up, and live to enjoy what's left of the weekend. I'll deal with this latest lunacy on Monday.

In the evening, Max and I have dinner with Susie and David, to celebrate David's company having just been sold. For three million pounds. To give him his due, David does resist the temptation to remind me that I warned him he'd never make a penny if he set up a courier company, on the basis that the market was already saturated; but he does say,

" Molly, you are the biggest waste of potential I have ever known."

Honestly, David is supposed to be my best friend. Max says afterwards that I should have asked what David meant. I say I don't want to know.

*GC: General Committee, regular meeting of local Labour Party big-hitters, to whom The Boss has to present his GC report, explaining what he's been up to at Westminster. Usually drafted on a napkin from the buffet car during Andrew's journey home on Thursday evenings, and then given to me to decipher, completely re-write to remove all references to jollies, and then pass to Party staff to print and disseminate at the start of the meeting.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Feeling The Love In The Room

Thank God Greg and I refused to go out for the Christmas meal at lunchtime, as surgery is quite bad enough anyway. I try to persuade Greg to go in with The Boss for a change, on the grounds that I've already been lumbered with doing tomorrow’s supermarket surgery, (not to mention missing a gathering of the glitterati as a result), but Greg is having none of it. 

“I am still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” he says, and takes a long look into a pocket mirror to add an air of verité. 

So, as usual on a Friday morning, I have to sit listening to The Boss promising the impossible to each constituent who has an appointment, before he leans back and basks in the love in the room. Later, it’ll be down to me to tell them that what he’s promised is unfeasible, or against regulations, or whatever - and then the constituents will phone him to complain about my attitude. 

Today he assures a single woman with one small child that he can get her a four-bedroomed council house in the same street as her mother, “no problem.” This is despite my resorting to kicking him under the table and making my “Infected” face. 

Then Andrew promises a slimy old man who’s just got out of prison for an unspecified sexual offence that, “of course” we can get him a visa for his Thai bride - whom he hasn’t even met yet. (This leads to me fretting about Dad, and briefly losing concentration, so I can’t recall what the next constituent is promised.)

We do have one case that gets me really “exercised,” as The Boss would say, though. A sweet little guy, called Mr Something-or-other-totally-unintelligible, but which sounds like Mr Meeeeurghn, wants us to see if we can get his passport back from the Home Office as he wants to go home to see his family. 

He gives his address as the bail hostel on Seymour Road. For Godsake, what is this country coming to, when we put traumatised refugees up in places like that? 

Dad would approve though - as long as the refugees weren't young and attractive. And Thai. 

After we’ve finished surgery, The Boss heads for the Oprah Room to do an interview with a reporter from the local paper. (Normally, we only use the room when Andrew needs a lie-down after a particularly hard-drinking lunch, as it contains a comfy couch and is soundproof enough to dull the sound of snoring - but this time it’s being used for its proper purpose.) 

Greg and I keep our ears pressed to the door as a precautionary measure, only to hear Andrew say that he’s had enough of the red ink letters, and has decided to “speak out.”  In response to the reporter’s murmurs of encouragement, he continues:

"I refuse to be intimidated and will not be prevented from opening my mail, which consists of important letters from constituents.” 

Local vox pops later applaud his courage. The Boss doesn’t open his letters. I do.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Lies, Psychological Traumas and the Return of the Incompetent Silver Surfer.

Greg is wounded today. Or rather, his ego takes a knock-out blow. Mrs Nudd bursts into the office - because some idiot has left the door on the catch - and starts screaming:

“What the f*ck do you mean that there’s nothing more you can do for me?"

Then she starts throwing files and chairs around, and ends up holding a letter-opener to my throat. (Why do the nutters always go for my throat? Is it because I am almost a midget?)

Greg is surprisingly butch (for him). He attempts to take hold of Mrs Nudd from behind, but then she grabs me and hangs on, so Greg tries harder and manages to yank her backwards, though she still doesn't let go of my neck. When he eventually succeeds in throwing her off-balance, she dislodges me from my chair and we all end up in a heap on the floor. 

I phone the Police while Greg manhandles (boyhandles?) the still-struggling Mrs Nudd towards the door. She calms down a bit when she hears me reporting the assault, and Greg seizes the opportunity to push her over the threshold and slam the door - but not before she’s hissed, right in his face, 

“You are the ugliest f*cker I‘ve ever seen in my life.” 

Then she goes off into the sunset to pick yet another fight with her daughter-in-law. How on earth does she expect us to make her son “see sense and come home”?

About forty minutes later, a police constable saunters in, says something about being unavoidably delayed, and then goes away looking relieved when we can’t be bothered to press charges. This may have been a mistake in retrospect, as Greg is too traumatised to do any work for the rest of the day, just keeps wandering off into the staff loo and staring hopelessly into the mirror. 

Honestly. sometimes Dinah sounds as bonkers as Mrs Nudd. She phones while Max, Josh and I are eating dinner. 

“Dad’s joined bloody Facebook now,” she says. 

“And?” I say. There’s always an “and” with Dinah.

“He’s got six friends already, apart from me - and they’re all women. I told you not to teach him to use that computer!” 

“Well, maybe they’re old school-friends or something,” I say - with an optimism I do not feel. 

“They’re all about twenty and look Thai! Silver surfer, my arse.” 

Dinah sucks noisily on her cigarette for emphasis, says “Fucksake!” and hangs up. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t matter if I walked off when she phones, like I do with Miss Chambers. I am nothing more than a receptacle for the venting of others and it’s very tiring. 

Much later, when everyone else is in bed, Johnny negotiates receipt of my challenging photo with consummate ease, simply sending an email that says, “Very attractive!” He has more political awareness than The Boss, that’s for sure, and I feel compelled to send him a proper picture as a reward. 

I look hideous in all the non-gurning ones so then I have to spend hours trying to photograph myself without getting my arms in the frame. This is not as easy as it sounds. No wonder all those EMO kids look so odd in their MySpace profile pictures. I end up sending one showing me with my eyes closed, on the basis that this allows me to retain an air of mystery. 

When I get into bed, Max asks me where I’ve been, and I say that I’ve been working on a report for the Select Committee. I don’t think he knows The Boss isn’t on any committees since the election, but he does go a bit quiet after that. Now I’m not sure if he doesn’t believe me, or if he’s just asleep.