Friday, 20 August 2010

Divorced From Reality, In More WaysThan One.

I need a holiday. My fuse is growing shorter by the minute  - I do like the occasional oxymoron - and surgeries are proving more and more challenging. Today's is particularly aggravating. First up is Martin Brooks, banging on about having been the original fourth Beatle and wanting The Boss to have another go at getting the monies he insists he's been cheated out of.

He's brought an old tape recorder with him and wants me to plug it in so we can hear him in concert with John, Paul, and George. When I say that we really don't have time, he starts singing Hey Jude, very badly indeed. I am tempted to suggest he forms a band with Igor and goes on a nationwide tour, which would kill two very annoying birds with one stone, but luckily Andrew's in a better mood than I am and manages to get Martin out, without us actually having promised to do anything - for a change.

Then it's on to housing - so Andrew does his usual thing of promising constituents that we'll get their situations sorted, when the chances of that diminish daily, along with the housing stock. Travellers appear to be the scapegoat of choice today. Richard Levison - he of the refined tastes and the skin-afflicted fiancee - has this to say about a family who have just been moved out of a flat on his estate into a three-bedroomed house:

"They're travellers, so why do they need a bloody council house? I thought the whole point was to go travelling. Explain that!"

Andrew has a go at answering, and for once, doesn't try and pass the buck to me. I think he can see that I am barely clinging on to my self-control since Martin's hideous singing demonstration.

Then it's divorce and all its ugly, child-damaging fallout. First is Paul Taylor, who is still desperate to get regular access to his daughter. He has spent every penny he has, and a lot of his bank's money too, on trying to get the courts to enforce his right to access - all without any real success. His ex-wife just complies with the order for a couple of weeks, and then starts messing about again - the child is unwell, or there is an important family celebration planned, or it's just "inconvenient."

Paul is reaching the end of his tether, and I can see a time approaching when he will just decide that it has all become too painful, and that he'd be better off giving up and hoping he can explain it to his daughter when she reaches an age at which she can make her own decisions. Meanwhile, he pays the maintenance regularly, and can't keep a girlfriend for five minutes, because he is becoming so eaten up with frustration that his ex-wife's behaviour has become his only topic of conversation. Of course, the real irony is that it was Paul's wife who had the affair which led to the breakdown of the marriage.

Compare that to Mike and Penny Templar. The bloody creeps. Mike ran off with Penny, leaving his wife and three young children. Penny is, of course, at least fifteen years younger than the previous model, and obviously had ambitions to become a WAG, if her dress sense is anything to go by. They come in at least once a month, despite the fact that Penny also phones me weekly - always to complain about the amount of money Mike is expected to pay in maintenance for his children.

She's looking oddly smug today, and the reason soon becomes clear. She is pregnant.

"So now the CSA'll have to agree to reduce the amount Mike has to pay that grasping bitch," she says. "Won't they?"

"Well, they do have a formula they work to, which takes account of the number of children a parent is responsible for," I say.

"Damn the formula, that'll hardly reduce it at all," says Penny. "We need a much bigger slice taken off. We'll have to move, fit out a nursery, and we really need a holiday too."

"Well, I'm sure your husband wants to be sure that all his children are well-cared-for," I say. I look at Mike Templar, urging him to say the right thing. Just for once. He wimps out as usual, and looks down, fiddling with his shirt cuffs.

"Well, you need to explain to them that his new family is the most important thing," says Penny. "That bloody woman needs to get a job. I mean, I won't be able to work once the little 'un is born."

I am counting to ten in my head, slowly. It doesn't work - I still want to punch Penny. God knows how I manage not to. It hasn't even occurred to her how she'll feel if Mike trades her in next, and she becomes the one relying on his payments to feed and clothe her child.

I have to have two cigarettes in a row, once surgery is over. It's a shame Paul and Mike didn't get into conversation in the waiting area - I'm pretty sure Paul would have thumped both the Templars if they'd started moaning to him about maintenance.

In the afternoon, there are a hell of a lot of letters to get through. I can see why some MPs are reluctant to do surgeries. If you only allow constituents to contact you by letter or email, half your casework is done already - as long as the letter is comprehensible. Staff just have to send it off to the relevant ministry or agency with a covering letter asking for comments.

Phone calls and surgery appointments are totally different. Summarising constituents' garbled complaints becomes like one of those old-fashioned exercises we used to be given in English Language classes - where first we had to demonstrate our comprehension skills, and then precis the passage. Some constituents manage to scramble or obscure the details of their cases so thoroughly that it can take me half an hour's head-scratching just to make enough sense of the complaint to even stand a chance of explaining it to anyone else. And that's when the cases aren't bonkers in the first place.

My head hurts by the time I've finished, but then I get a brief email from Johnny, via his Blackberry. He says he's in Scotland with the family, so can't email me as much as usual, but that he has a solution to Josh's under-achievement: bring back grammar schools.

"It worked for us," he says. I'm inclined to agree, though more on the basis of my classmates' experiences than my own. I'm not at all sure that Johnny would have got where he is today, had he gone to Josh's school. I am  definitely turning into a Tory. I'd be eaten alive if I spoke up in support of grammar schools at GC* - even though I'd be arguing that they seemed a bit more bloody effective at ensuring social mobility than Northwick High is likely to prove for Josh.

Mind you, I'm probably only a failure because I am, after all, an insecure, maladjusted child from a broken home - which is why I am still fantasising about punching Mike and Penny Templar, even though Johnny wants me to imagine something entirely different. I know Paul McCartney probably meant well when he wrote Hey Jude, but if he'd punched John Lennon, it might have been more effective.

*GC - General Committee Meeting of the Constituency Labour Party, as usual.


  1. How do you do it day after day? Sorry to hear about the A level mare but its NOT THE END just a short interlude:) I have had several careers, non of which had much to do with my first degree.. And a lot of people I know just got on with it and they are mostly successful...

  2. I shall be quite happy as long as Josh doesn't decide he wants to do a job like mine ;-)