Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Tommy Cooper, Vince Cable And Keats: Not As Unrelated As One Might Think

Gah. This bloody snow is screwing everything up. Now Johnny says he's not sure if he wants to risk flying in from Moscow next week for what is supposed to be our night of passion. Or evening of passion, anyway.

"I'll make it up to you, I promise," he says. "But I just can't afford to get stuck there between Christmas and New Year. Never seen anything like the cock-up at Heathrow. Bloody pathetic what a few inches of snow causes in the UK."

I refrain from pointing out that the Russian winds aren't exactly helping, but Carlotta and Marie-Louise seem to agree with him about the efficiency of British travel. They have decided not to attempt the journey from London for today's office lunch.

"We really don't want to spend hours sitting in a freezing train, only to have to walk along the railway line to safety, and then hang around for a coach to get us to Northwick," says Carlotta. "And Marie doesn't much feel like spending any more time with The Boss than necessary, anyway, while he's still being so horrible to her."

So, by the time we arrive at Salvatore's for lunch, we're a pretty depleted group: me, Greg, Andrew and bloody Vicky. Mind you, the atmosphere's better than it is at home, as at least The Boss is in a better mood than Max was when I left home this morning.

Andrew is in a very good mood, actually. I've no idea why, unless he's just realised how lucky he is that his penchant for attractive young women hasn't left him in a mess to rival Vince Cable's. So far.

Andrew's even feeling generous, and opens his battered old briefcase with a flourish to reveal a clutch of gifts. I'm suddenly reminded of Tommy Cooper, but I don't say anything, as the presents look pretty promising for a change.

For a start, they don't look book-shaped, so hopefully they don't contain sequels to the matching copies of Cooking With Northwick Piccalilli that Andrew gave me and Greg last year. We were convinced he'd got them free when he was taken on a tour of the factory a few months earlier.

Anyway, I digress. (Must be the hormones, or the thought of Piccalilli.) Andrew hands us all our gifts, and says:

"Ho, ho, ho. Happy Christmas!"

He really does look very pleased with himself.

"Did Trish choose these?" says Greg. "They're ever so well-wrapped."

"No, I bought them," says Andrew. "Although Trish did help out with the packing. I'm no good at that fiddly stuff."

He glances at Vicky, who doesn't seem very impressed with her small package. To be fair, it isn't half as nicely-wrapped as the others and, as she inspects it, a tear in the paper reveals something turquoise underneath.

"Ah, yes. That one," says Andrew. "Trish ran out of time, so I had to wrap yours myself, Vicky. Anyway, hope you all like your presents, and thanks for your hard work this year."

I'd prefer not to be watched while I open mine, after last year's proved virtually impossible to look thrilled about, but The Boss looks so expectant that there's no choice but to get on with the unwrapping. I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Greg tears the paper off his first, only to find a box of Matchmakers. Cool mint ones, admittedly - but even so, he doesn't exactly look overwhelmed.

"Oh," he says. "Um, yeah. Matchmakers. Thanks, Boss."

"No, no," says Andrew. "Open the box."

He laughs, and nudges Vicky - as if there's any chance of someone as young as she is understanding a reference to Take Your Pick. She doesn't disillusion him, though, and I can't bring myself to, either. There's something almost childish about Andrew's excitement today, and it would feel too cruel to put a dampener on it.

Greg does as he's told, and slides the box lid back.

"Oh," he says again - though this time in an entirely different tone. "HMV vouchers - brilliant! Thanks, Boss."

"Trish thought the boxes would fool you," says Andrew. "Now your turn, Molly."

I'm as chuffed as Greg was when I open my box - originally containing Morny soaps - to find that it too contains vouchers. For Northwick's premier beauty salon.

"Oh, Andrew," I say. "Thank you so much. I've never been to a beauty salon before."

"I should think he can see that," says Vicky, as she puts her package into her bag. Unopened.

"What have you got, Vicky?" says Greg.

"I don't know," she says. "I'll open it later, in private."

I'm expecting The Boss to object, but when I turn towards him, he's winking at her.

The meal's gorgeous - as it always is at Salvatore's - although there are a lot of awkward gaps in the  conversation. I don't know if this is because Greg and I are barely drinking, as we've still got work to do today, or whether it's because Andrew only seems interested in what Vicky has to say. God knows why, as that's as boring the hell, as far as Greg and I can tell from the little we can hear in between her giggling.

Andrew and Vicky are extremely well-oiled by the time Greg and I decide that we're more than ready to go back to the office, and Andrew's trying to persuade Salvatore to ignore the smoking ban and allow the smoking of a pipe.

"Salvo," he shouts. "Join us for a drink - and meet Vicky, a very bella donna."

"Isn't that a poison?" says Greg, as he passes me my coat. "And wouldn't you think he'd be a bit more careful in the company of a giggling young woman?"

"Yes," I say. "You would, wouldn't you?"

Then we both stare at each other in horror, while images of tape recorders and journalists' notebooks swirl through our minds.

"Sod Belladonna," I say. "Let's just hope Vicky doesn't turn out to be La Belle Dame Sans Merci instead."

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