Thursday, 30 September 2010

Josh Bennett - A Jack Bauer For Our Times, Plus How To Keep TV Licensing At Bay

It turns out that Josh and Robbie have become film-makers. They are making a series - a whole series - of films called, "24........Minutes." These are all to feature Josh Bennett as the Jack Bauer of Northwick. The weightlifting video was just the first of what is to come!

This is too horrible a thought to contemplate, especially if I want to retain any professional credibility at multi-agency meetings about anti-social behaviour, so I going to decide what to do about it as soon as I get some free time. At the moment, I've got too many other things to do, what with Greg still away at conference.

The usual suspects are still on Red Ed-fuelled form, and then there is Mr Warner. He is having a major problem with TV Licensing who, he says, refuse to accept that he does not own a television and have been "persecuting" him for the last two years.

I am initially inclined to take this with a pinch of salt, but he does sound exceptionally stressed about it, and says he is becoming fearful that officials will raid his home late at night. Apparently they just won't listen when he tells them that he has never owned a TV set in his life.

He's going to send me all the threatening correspondence he has received, so that I can work out what to do to help him. Once he's rung off, it occurs to me that it will be very difficult to show conclusively that he doesn't own a TV, so this case may end up being much more challenging than I first thought.

How do you prove a negative? Maybe I should suggest Mr Warner buys a cheap portable, then gets someone to film him chucking it into a bin. Then he'd have compelling evidence of his distaste for television. But wouldn't it be ridiculous to have to go to such lengths when your only crime is to choose not to own a TV set?

I used to fantasise about getting rid of ours, and God knows how often I threatened to throw it out of the window when the kids were younger and wouldn't do their homework.

I never dared go through with it, though - unlike Kishanda Fulford.* Mind you, she did own a lake, which made the whole process rather more spectacular than anything I could have hoped to achieve with only a tiny pond to aim for.

This whole thing just proves that you should have the courage to act upon your convictions. If I had followed Kishanda's lead, I probably would have avoided the need to deal with the consequences of being the mother of an anarchist film-maker with delusions of stardom. I shall advise Mr Warner accordingly.

*Kishanda Fulford, wife of Francis Fulford, whose family was featured in the 2004 Channel 4 documentary series, The F***ing Fulfords.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

More Virtual Sex And Some All-Too-Real Weightlifting.

I've been like a rabbit in the headlights all day today, despite one short episode of virtual sex with Johnny at lunchtime. That was much more successful than the real McCoy, not to mention that it didn't make me feel half as guilty.

Johnny's not happy with things staying in the realm of fantasy, though. He's still going on and on about when we're next meeting. I can't work him out at all. He was the one who kept insisting that there was to be no commitment, as if it was some sort of mantra.

Now he seems to have forgotten his caution and has plans for us to become like that couple in Same Time Next Year. I don't think I can keep this up for another twenty-three years! There's a limit to how much darkness you can insist upon, especially with someone as accident-prone and short-sighted as Johnny, and even he is bound to notice the chin hairs eventually.

In the evening, Max still isn't really speaking to me, after the Mrs Bloom argument - which is a bit miserable, as I'd quite like to talk to someone vaguely normal, having spent today alone in the office again. I call Connie, but she's doesn't answer her phone.

There's no point in even trying to contact Josh. He's becoming more like a lodger than a son, because he nearly always leaves for work just before I arrive home. (Luckily he's getting more than the guaranteed four hours' work a week at the moment, but all of these seem to be scheduled between the hours of 5:00pm and midnight.)

So there's only one thing for it: a session of maternal Facebook stalking. Connie appears to be doing nothing but playing on Farmville, so she's not up to anything worrying. Unless killing your braincells in an alternative reality counts as worrying. Even if it did, I can hardly criticise, can I? Not after today's virtual shenanigans with Johnny.

I switch my attention to Josh's Facebook page. I wish I hadn't. His latest post is a video clip, entitled, "24 Minutes. Episode One." I press play. Do I never learn?

The scene starts with Josh and Robbie in Robbie's car, driving into Sainsburys' car park. There must be someone else there doing the filming, but I never find out who it is as they never appear in front of the camera.

It's not at all clear what's going on, and there's not much conversation, just a lot of hysterical giggling which, in retrospect, should have served as a warning of what was to follow. I keep watching, though I feel a bit grubby and sneaky about it. (Is this how men feel when they watch porn on the internet?)

The next shot is of Josh and Robbie unloading something very large into a space in the middle of the car park, which seems fairly busy with shoppers. A number of them are filmed looking curiously on as the boys struggle with metal poles and what seems to be a padded, black seat.

The giggling has increased, but there's still no clue as to what the boys are up to, until..... oh, my God. I can't believe my eyes. It's Josh's weights bench. Fully-assembled, and situated smack bang in the middle of Sainsburys' car park.

Bloody Josh is lying on it lifting weights, while Robbie is pretending to be his personal trainer, convincingly attired in jogging bottoms and wielding a stop-watch.

The film stops short after the somewhat unamused approach of a security guard. For God's sake, I'll probably be banned from the store next time I try to do the shopping.

I feel I deserve an immediate explanation, so I text Josh:

"Josh, what the hell were you doing weightlifting in a shoppers' car park?"

I get nothing but a smiley face in reply. Just wait 'til he gets home! I'm surprised that I haven't had any letters from constituents complaining about yobs terrorising local shoppers yet. It can only be a matter of time.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The First Wives' Club, and Other Forms of Rivalry.

Blimey. Sounds like things aren't going at all well at conference. Well, not for Greg, anyway.  (David Miliband might say the same, I suppose, but that's another story.)

I'm not used to Greg sounding insecure but, just before I leave work after a fairly hellish day fending off the the usual suspects, he phones to say that he thinks he's been rendered surplus to requirements by Vicky. God knows what's going on.

"I don't mind not having to do The Boss's buttons up anymore, Mol, but she's getting on my bloody nerves marching about carrying all his papers, and making me walk two steps behind them."

I don't like the sound of this at all.

"Well, how did he meet up with her?" I say.

"No idea. It must've been the night that he disappeared. When I finally found him the next day, she was already in tow."

"Good God," I say. "You don't think -"

"Who knows?" Greg says. "Anyway, it's horrible. I feel like a member of the First Wives Club. Redundancy can only be a short step away."

This is a very unnerving thought. On my way home, I am so distracted by wondering what Andrew and Vicky are up to, that I almost walk into Ellen who is coming the other way.

"Molly," she says. "How are you? Long time no see."

I consider saying, "not long enough" but, before I can pluck up the courage, she continues,

"Max was late home last night, wasn't he? Wonder what he'd been up to?" Then she winks, says, "By-ee!" and carries on walking. How does she know that? And does she have to sound so bloody smug about it? I bet that's exactly how Vicky's behaving. No wonder Greg feels like a wife who's about to be traded in.

When I finally arrive home, Max is busy chatting to Connie on his mobile so I glare at him and then, mindful of the subject of wife trading, decide that I'd better keep my promise to Dinah.

I am tasked with phoning Dad to see what I can find out about the Thai Bride situation, Dinah having got nowhere with the attempt she made. She blames her poor information gathering on her having been forced to hang up on Dad when he claimed that"everyone looks the same age in the dark."

So now it's Muggins' turn. I brace myself and dial the number.

"Ah, Molly," says Dad. "Bad timing. I'm just going out with the boys."

"Oh, not to worry. I just wanted to check you were okay," I say. "I won't keep you if you're busy."

Dad being out with the boys is quite a relief. For two reasons. Firstly, I am temporarily spared having to listen to him describing his "romance" in Shakespearean terms - which would probably lead me to snap and mention Gary Glitter again.

The second reason is that, with any luck, I've lost my bet and Dad's had his fill of his Thai adventure and is going to settle down and grow old gracefully. (Dinah has been running a book on what will happen next in the Thai Bride saga. I wagered Dad would marry Porn-Whatever-Her-Name-Is during his most recent visit and would try to bring her back with him.)

"I'll phone you later in the week when I've got more time," Dad says. "I've got something important to talk to you about."

Oh my God. Now what? Dinah's going to go nuts if I've won the bet. And not just because she'll owe me money either. Bloody men. This is turning out to be a very bad week - and it's still only Tuesday. 

Monday, 27 September 2010

Missing Persons, A Blast From The Past & Other Oddities

I miss Greg. It's weird not having anyone to share the horrors of the day with, though it sounds as if he's got his own nightmares to deal with. When he phones mid-morning, he says,

"Any idea where Andrew is?"

"No," I say. "You're the one minding him. In Manchester. Why don't you know where he is?"

"Well, I was supposed to meet him in the hotel lobby, and he hasn't turned up. And he's not answering his phone."

"Oh, so he found that then, did he?" I say.

"I found it, not him," says Greg.  "But as soon as I'd given it back to him, he said he had to go outside to make a call and then I lost him. F*ck knows where he's got to."

"Well, he's bound to turn up," I say. "Like the proverbial bad penny."

"Yeah, but what on earth's he going to get up to in the meantime?"  says Greg. "The man can barely dress himself."


"I had to do up half his shirt buttons before we left for all those dinners last night. And re-tie his tie. I felt like bloody Jeeves."

"Well, have you tried his room?" I say. Sometimes people overlook the obvious. Like why their husbands might claim not to know the names of their hotels, I suppose. Oh God. Why have I suddenly been reminded of that?

"He's not answering the door, even if he is in there," says Greg. "Phone me if you hear from him. I'm going to search the secure zone."

I don't hear anything further until mid-afternoon, when Greg texts:

"Found him. Who is Vicky?"

Bloody hell. There's a blast from the past. Vicky was an intern once, back in the days when I was still relatively beard-free, and while Greg was probably still at school. She was fairly useless at casework, but an expert in schmoozing The Boss. All that manic hair-flicking used to make me feel quite murderous.

I text Greg back:

"Ex-intern. Why?"

He doesn't reply and now he's stopped answering his damned phone as well. So I spend the rest of the afternoon bursting with curiosity, while trying to fend off all the constituents who are phoning up to discuss Red Ed, and whether we're going to have another Winter of Discontent. It is not at all good for my blood pressure.

Things don't improve when I get home. Now Max seems to have gone AWOL too. There's no sign of him for hours, and he's not answering his phone either. I'm really worried by the time he finally turns up about 9:00pm, looking a bit sheepish.

Of course, now that he's home safely, I'm more furious than relieved. This is not a feeling with which I am unfamiliar, having experienced exactly the same switch from fear to rage whenever Connie or Josh used to arrive home late from parties when they were younger.

The kids thought I was mad, but as far as I'm concerned, wanting to kill your loved one - as soon as you realise that they haven't been killed by someone else - is perfectly normal behaviour. Even though Max never seems to think it is.

"How was your day?" he says, as if he hasn't arrived home three hours later than usual.

"Never mind that. Where have you been?" I say. "I was starting to worry."

I don't mention that, in between worrying about fatal accidents, I have also been envisaging Max having rampant, and no doubt unnecessarily noisy sex with Ellen somewhere. I'm not sure which scenario was the worst.

"At a customer's," says Max. "I had no signal, sorry."

"What - 'til now?" I say. Max is supposed to finish work before I do.

"It was Mrs Bloom again," says Max. "This time she couldn't get her electric chair to work."

"Well, couldn't it have waited 'til tomorrow? You won't get paid for this."

Good grief, now I'm going all jobsworth. Before you know it, I'll be working to rule and picketing the office.

"Molly, she's eighty-two. And she depends on that chair. If it doesn't work, then she can't get into it - or out of it," says Max. "Now can we please stop this conversation before we have an argument?"

How does he do that? It's so annoying.Here I am, in the wrong again, even though I've only got his word for where he's been. What is it with men? They'll tell their wives anything to get them off their backs.

I bet Johnny told his wife he was doing a Red Adair when he was really trying to have sex with me. Though, actually, if he had told her that, it wouldn't have been too far from the bloody truth. He did do a pretty good job of putting a damper on things when he fell over and nearly knocked himself out, after all. But that's not the point - or is it?

Honestly, I don't know whether I'm on my arse or my elbow today. But I do know I'm supposed to be in the wrong. I just don't know if that's where I deserve to be.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Hazards Of Too Much Food And Not Enough Alcohol.

Honestly, I might just as well have gone to conference. Greg's been on the phone all day about one thing or another. He's still texting me now, completely distraught, even though I keep replying that I am asleep.

"I am going to have manboobs the size of a house again," he says. "I will never get another girlfriend."

I give in. There is quite obviously no point in aiming for an early night.

"Why?" I say. Or text, actually.

"Third meal I've had to eat in the last four hours," Greg replies.

It turns out that one of Andrew's diary cock-ups was that he accepted invitations to three separate meals this evening. One buffet, and two sit-down meals.

"Even The Boss is full," Greg says. "Never thought I'd see the day. He could live off all the food he's got stuck in his beard for the next week too. Answer the phone, I'm going to ring you."

God. I do as I'm told. It's not as if there's anything better to do, I suppose. I should have tried harder in Ann Summers.

"He didn't remember about the third meal until we were half way through the second one," Greg says. "I feel sick."

"You sound sober, though," I say. "Congratulations. I didn't think you'd actually manage this teetotal thing."

"There's no room in my stomach for anything other than all this bloody food," says Greg. "And anyway, Andrew's drunk enough for both of us. And he's left his mobile somewhere - so if he wanders off, I'll never find him again."

"Well, don't feel obliged to look too hard," I say. "How's it going apart from that?"

"I haven't met any women yet," says Greg. "It's a dead loss. Andrew keeps getting in there first. Why do they like him so much?"

"Raw sensuality," I say, to which Greg makes a retching noise that sounds alarmingly realistic. Then the line goes dead. Oh well, maybe I'll get that early night after all. I wonder if there's any point in asking Max if he wants to join me, regardless of the lack of new equipment?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

A New Leader And I Am Out Of My Depth In A Sea Of Vibrating Plastic.

I have never felt such an idiot in my life. And I am never going to Ann Summers again, either. What on earth is all that stuff for?

Everything's made of that nasty luminous plastic, like those horrible toys that the kids always insisted on putting on their Christmas lists. I used to ignore their pleas and get something wooden and tasteful from the Early Learning Centre instead, but I'm not sure what the Brio equivalent of the sex world is.

After Greg's texted me the leadership result, I am filled with the spirit of change. I realise that I need to take a new direction too, so I decide to surprise Max with something to liven up our sex life. Huh, talk about best-laid plans and all that.

I lurk around outside the shop for a while, and then make a dash for it when I think no-one is looking. As soon as I walk in, I am confronted by revolting-looking stuff - tons of it. I get quite dizzy. No wonder the psychologists say we're becoming stressed by having too much choice. Not to mention a shortage of clear instructions.

I do know what some of it is for - I'm not totally stupid - but there's a whole load of things that I have no idea what you're supposed to do with. This is very unnerving: I used to have my finger on the pulse! Now I feel like someone who is drowning, not waving.

To add insult to injury, who do I see at the counter when I approach the assistant for advice? Only Mr and Mrs Bloody Beales. Oh yuck.

How depressing is it that even Mr Beales has a better sex-life than me, judging by how much his carrier bag is bulging? I can't bear to think about it, especially as he actually winks at me as he walks out. My bowels are still clenching now.

The whole day is about sex in one way or another. And not in a good way, either. Dinah phones as I am trying to watch the X-Factor.

"It gets worse," she says.

"What does?" I have no idea what she's on about. Or what Louis Walsh means either, for that matter. He's so annoying. And that contestant is obviously a usual suspect. I can always tell the nutters before they even start to sing.

"P-ns nm," says Dinah. Or something like that. The Twilight Zone theme is a bit distracting.

"What did you say, Di?"

"Listen, for God's sake. Porn's name. Or names. Plural."

I forget to answer. Well, I don't - but with Dinah, you never know if a pause indicates your turn to speak, or whether she's just stopping to breathe in or light a cigarette.

"Wake up, Molly! Didn't you hear what I said?'

"Erm, yes. Double-barrelled. Porn," I say. This creates a thoroughly unpleasant image of Mr and Mrs Beales in the act, not for the first time today.

"Yes - guess what her other name is?" says Dinah. "I've just got off the phone to Dad. He's back."

"I don't know, Dinah. Why do I always have to guess? Can't you just tell me? It's been a bad day."

I might as well give up watching the X-Factor. I missed it last week too, due to the stupid TV aerial at David and Susie's cottage.

"Well, you've spoiled it now," says Dinah. "But I might as well tell you anyway. It's Poon!"

"Now you're really making it up," I say. "Don't be ridiculous. Poon? As in Poon-Tang?"

Josh looks up and makes a shocked face. Sometimes I'm sure he thinks I know nothing and that he is the product of an immaculate conception. Mind you, after the depths of my ignorance have been revealed by the Ann Summers experience, he may have a point.

"Yes, as in Poon-Tang," says Dinah. "Porn-Poon. That's our father's girlfriend's name. And I am not telling you anything else, as you are obviously not listening. Phone me when you can be bothered to give this the attention it deserves."

Seems to me that I've given this whole porn thing far too much attention today already. With very little reward, as far as I can see. I do hope the Party's attempt to change is going to be a lot more successful than mine. Maybe I should ask Ed what he suggests I buy.

Hotlines, Steaming Beverages And Other Less Attractive Things

The Boss allows me to do surgery with him today, as he's in a very good mood since finding out that Ken* has been chosen as Labour's candidate for Mayor of London.

Greg is otherwise engaged in frantically trying to make last minute changes to Andrew's diary, for which Marie-Louise has abdicated responsibility. Only temporarily - for the duration of conference, as she says that Greg will need to know where Andrew is supposed to be more than she will.

She's right, but what she obviously didn't make clear was that Greg should not, under any circumstances, have allowed The Boss to make entries in My Events* himself. Now it looks as if Andrew is triple-booked all over the place. Greg's conversation is limited to "shit!" and "f*cksake!" for most of the day.

Meanwhile, I get off quite lightly. Surgery's not too bad, for a change. Andrew is so distracted by anticipating the fun to be had at conference, that he keeps a check on his usual crazed promising of the impossible; and the cases are mainly stuff which I can handle via phone-calls to the many and various MPs' hotlines.

God knows how much money is spent on providing all these special departments for the sole purpose of answering MPs' queries. I can't help wondering if the money wouldn't be better spent on improving the standard of service given to the public in the first place, thus reducing the amount of constituents' complaints to their MPs. I'm quite surprised that, as far as I know, no enterprising investigative journalist has yet submitted FOI* requests to find out how much these things cost.

Mind you, I'm not complaining. At least calls to the MPs' hotlines get answered. I nearly had a heart attack in the days before I worked for an MP when I had to phone the public Family Credit line to find out where our family's payment book had got to. It took me about four days of constant dialling before I even got through. That's where push-button phones have such an advantage over the old fashioned kind. Your fingers don't get half so sore when all you have to do is to hit a re-dial button.

By the time we lock up, Greg's thoroughly over-excited about conference. So over-excited that he's decided to stay teetotal throughout so that he can keep his wits about him. I assume that this is because he wants to stand the best possible chance of keeping up his new politically-correct facade, but he says it's not.

"I don't want to put off the ladies by getting in a state," he says. "Not while I am in such great physical shape, thanks to my new exercise programme."

I've got a funny feeling that The Boss has been telling Greg that conference offers a lot of potential for shagging amidst the political cut and thrust - though I don't remember anyone offering me any sex the year that I was there. Perhaps my kiss of death reputation preceded me.

Anyway, I have advised Greg not to wear his special conference hat if he wishes to take advantage of anything that is on offer, and to try to avoid dressing like a Mormon. Not that he could look any worse than The Boss if he tried. I'm just hoping that Andrew's had his dinner suit cleaned since that food throwing incident.

When I get home, I decide to put my feet up and do a couch potato. I have decided that I'd better be careful not to over-exert myself, what with my newly-identified blood pressure problems. (Bother, I've forgotten to make an appointment with the GP. Note to self: phone up first thing Monday morning.)  I need to start taking responsibility for my health and well-being. I have a stressful job, after all.

Not as stressful a job as Josh's, as it turns out. Working at the cinema seems to be turning into something worthy of a horror film. His face is green when he finally comes in around midnight.

"Good God," I say. "What on earth's the matter, Josh? You look terrible."

"I feel terrible," he says. "You won't believe what I found when I was on clearing tonight."


"Cleaning up after all the punters have left," says Josh. "I can't believe it."

"Well, what was it?" I say. I am trying to avoid suspense. Blood pressure concerns.

"One of the large Coke cups," says Josh.

"What's so bad about that?" I say. "Am I missing something?"

"I wished I'd missed the bloody thing," says Josh. "There was an equally-large turd in it."

"Oh my God! What did your manager say?"

"She just told me to get rid of it," says Josh. "She didn't seem surprised, so f*ck knows how often this is going to happen."

I go to give him a sympathetic hug, but he shakes me off, and says, "'Night, Mum. I'm going to bed, as soon as I've had a shower. Probably with bleach or something."

Max wakes up at that point, so I tell him about Josh's discovery. He is less than sympathetic.

"Bet they didn't warn him about that in Film Studies," he says.

Honestly, how can a film be so exciting that it makes you shit yourself in a cup? And what is happening to the world when people think it's okay to leave things like that for other people to clean up? This is not at all what I wanted for my son. He might be annoying, but no-one deserves that.

I am going to write to the manager of the cinema and suggest that they allocate customer's names and addresses to specific seats, like the airlines do. Then, if customers leave anything behind when they leave, the cinema staff can post it back to them. Or Greg would probably agree to hand-deliver it. He is an expert in the field, after all.

*Ken - Ken Livingstone, see Lord Mayor of London (2000 - 2008), or anything about keeping newts.
*FOI request - Freedom of Information request, here.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Come Back, Norman Tebbit: Worryingly, All Is Apparently Forgiven.

Oh my God. When are politicians going to learn to recognise shades of grey? I despair, really I do. And I have no idea what is happening to my politics.

Today I manage to fall out with Pete Carew, the deputy leader of Northwick Council. I do wish he wouldn't sneak into the office like that. I've just got off the phone to one of the council officers, who has made a major cock-up by revealing the name of a noise nuisance complainant to the perpetrator.

This was despite the fact that the complainant had been assured his identity would be protected in future because, last time he complained, he was subjected to death threats and vandalism, which the Police are actually treating very seriously.

The council officer is so defensive about his stupid error, that I almost lose my temper during the conversation. When he's not making pathetic excuses, he resorts to monosyllabic responses to very straight questions. It's like trying to get blood out of a stone.

As soon as I've hung up, I shout through to Greg's office:

"God almighty, Greg. When are the Council going to get some bloody competent staff? Some of this lot wouldn't last five minutes in the private sector."

"Hey, Molly," says Pete. "What's with all the public sector bashing? It's the bankers' fault, as well you know."

"God - where did you come from?" I say. "I didn't know you were here. And anyway, I'm not bashing the public sector. Not as a whole."

"Well, it sounded like it to me," says Pete. "I've worked in it for thirty-five years and I'm bloody proud of what I've done."

"Well, you work hard, Pete," I say.

That's where I should end the conversation, but for some insane reason I don't. Instead, I continue:

"But I can't help thinking it'd be bloody refreshing if someone in the Party would acknowledge - just for once - that not everyone who works in the public sector does a good job in return for taxpayer's money. Or has an essential job. Constituents know that's not the case."

"Humph," is Pete's considered reply.

Honestly, when will people learn that trying to defend the indefensible really pisses the public off? And me, actually. I worry a lot about the dangers to the economic recovery of cutting jobs, (especially as Max is much more likely to lose his job than is Pete), but I don't see how pretending that every bloody job is essential, or being done well, helps to protect anyone.

There follows a predictably ill-tempered argument, which ends up with Pete asking me how on earth I can say any of this when I work for a Labour MP; and me saying that that is precisely the reason why I am saying it - due to the fact that I am exposed to constituents' often well-founded complaints about incompetence within the public sector on a daily basis.

But I'm apparently supposed to believe that there are no public sector jobs which could be cut without negatively affecting the public. I can think of one council officer who wouldn't be missed, straight off the top of my head, but this doesn't go down well at all when I mention it. In fact, I'm sure Pete mutters "fascist" under his breath as he takes his leave.

Greg has been mouthing "shut up" at me throughout, the bloody hypocrite. He's suddenly become very party political since he found out he was the one going to conference this year. Usually he takes the view that you could sack half the public sector and never notice the difference, and he's always reading out stupid public sector job titles, and ranting about the salaries.

Now it'll be me that the local party is moaning about, rather than The Boss, for a change. I shall have to pour oil on troubled waters once I've calmed down - but that's going to take a while. "Fascist" was completely uncalled-for. I'm no fan of the bankers, as our bank manager would be only too happy to confirm.

I'm still in a foul mood when I get home, and am quite likely to lose my temper with Josh or Max, especially if they say anything flippant about PMT - so I decide it's safer to stay out of the way once we've finished dinner. I'll read the papers in bed before QT* starts. (I'm still trying to catch up on everything I missed during our so-called holiday anyway.)

Imagine my horror when I come across this article, and find I agree with almost everything in it. Not content with turning into the bearded lady, I now seem to be becoming Norman Tebbit, of all people. I can't bear it - I used to despise him almost more than anyone else in Thatch's cabinet, especially for that "On your bike" thing.

It's a good job I'm not going to conference this year. I'd probably get lynched. I wonder if there's a link between fascism and sexual frustration?

*QT - BBC Question Time. Essential viewing for MPs' staff, as the usual suspects all watch and want to discuss the next day. They obviously have nothing better to do, either.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Saintly Sons, A Visit to the Optician & Max Demonstrates Great Sensitivity.

It seems that not every parent thinks their child is a problem. At the other end of the spectrum is Mrs Bloody Lomax, whose wretched son Stephen can apparently do no wrong. According to her, he has almost as many opinions as The Boss, and on about as many subjects - all of which he seems to know equally little about.

Nevertheless, Mrs L deems her son's every utterance to be of enormous significance to mankind - hence her almost daily phone calls to share his words of wisdom with a wider audience. I do wish she'd keep his bloody pronouncements to herself.

It's about time Greg took his turn to deal with her - but he's in the loo when she phones, the lucky bugger. He really needs to buy some more Imodium. Today she drones on and on about something or other that I don't bother to listen to, and then she says that she thinks Stephen would make a much better MP than The Boss.

I don't argue with her. There's no point, and anyway, she could be right. Stranger things have happened and open-mindedness is my new stock-in-trade, although I have never actually met the sainted Stephen, perfect son, scout master and accountant. All I know for sure is that he works for the county council, whose accounts didn't really stand up to scrutiny the last time I heard....

Talking of scrutiny, I go to the optician's at lunchtime for my annual eye test. Luckily for me, if not for Mum, she's been referred to the Glaucoma clinic at the hospital, and so my test is free* for once. This is very good news, as otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford it and would soon have been squinting like Johnny was without his glasses. Maybe I should get Stephen to sort out my financial situation.

My eyesight's even worse than last time it was tested, but then I knew that already, given my recent inability to see my eyelashes in my 25x magnifying mirror. (Very challenging for mascara application.) The optician gives me the usual lecture about working on a computer all day being very hard on the eyes, and the need to take regular breaks.

"Tell me something I don't know," I say. Famous last words.

"Well, you need to make an appointment to see your GP," she says. "Look at this."

"Yuck," I say. "What is that?" It looks like one of those Lennart Nilsson photos of foetuses in the womb.

"Put your glasses back on," says the optician.

It turns out that the photograph is of the inside of my eye, and she says that the result indicates that I may have a major problem with my blood pressure. Marvellous. Now I'm really worried.

I tell Max about it when I get home from work, in the misguided belief that this may gain me some reassurance.

"Bloody hell," he says. "What a coincidence."

"What d'you mean?" I say.

"Well, I just ran into Frank from round the corner when I was parking the car - you know, the one whose house backs onto Ellen's?"

"Ye-es. And?"

"His wife dropped dead while we were away. Had a stroke. Undiagnosed high blood pressure - and she was only the same age as us."

"Great," I say. "Thanks for that."

I wonder what Saint Stephen would advise me to do about my husband. I may ask Mrs Lomax if he gives relationship advice, next time she phones. I just wonder how long it'll take Max to seek advice himself - on the subject of my life insurance.

*Specsavers tell me that your eye test is free if you have an immediate relative with glaucoma. Presumably because you yourself are doomed to the same fate. 

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Epidemic Alert, And Why Ann Summers Is Probably Not For Me.

God, there must be trends in diagnoses. Today almost every other caller seems to have a child with ADHD. In between, there are two people who have been newly-diagnosed with bi-polar illness. What the hell is going on? Ten years ago, I rarely heard either of these conditions mentioned by constituents, but now both seem to have become all the rage. Either that, or we are in the midst of two epidemics, and the Government should probably be paying attention. Or maybe it's the Government's fault. It's a bit bi-polar itself, at the moment.

Greg doesn't believe in ADHD. He calls it "bad parenting syndrome." I'm inclined to think he may have a point if today is anything to go by. Mrs Engleby wants more done to sort out her son, who's already on Ritalin, and she also wants more money to do it with.

She swears compulsively and with perfect enunciation, but the rest of her conversation is virtually unintelligible, partly due to being interrupted every few seconds by shouted threats presumably directed at her son. At least, I hope they were directed at him. She could just as easily have meant me, now I come to think about it. I'd be running around screaming and kicking things, too, if I was little Kevin and had to live with that woman.

I blame it on all the junk food. Blue Smarties used to send Josh completely mad when he was little. I'm starting to wonder if Greg's been eating them today, as he's certainly having trouble concentrating on anything, other than where the hell his conference pass has got to. I keep trying to reassure him that the organisers often leave it 'til the last minute to send them out, but he's getting really paranoid about it. I think he'd do better to be worrying about how on earth he's going to manage The Boss while they're there.

Johnny's not concentrating either, judging by the number of emails he sends me today. He's trying to persuade me to meet him again next month, and says he's willing to come all the way to Northwick again too, as long as I take charge of his hotel booking - so that he doesn't end up with a crummy single room this time. I am not his bloody PA! Maybe he'd like me to remember his wedding anniversary and arrange to send flowers to his wife while I'm at it. Anyway, I'm not at all sure that I want to carry on with this affair. If an affair is what it is - it probably doesn't count unless there's at least some sex involved.

I can't help feeling that maybe I should take a trip to Ann Summers instead, and buy something that Max will find impossible to resist. Maybe that would save our marriage, and then I'd know what to do about Johnny.

The trouble is that I'd feel such an idiot wearing "sexy clothing" that I wouldn't be able to keep a straight face, even if Max didn't fall over laughing. Wouldn't putting on a nurse's outfit, or something with peepholes all over the place be tantamount to wearing a sign begging for sex, as well? I don't think it would do much for my self-respect, either, though maybe I'm just losing my sense of humour.

I realise that I don't know what the hell I want from one minute to the next, so I decide that I am going to spend the evening thinking seriously about my life in an effort to sort myself out. I'd hoped to do this during last week's holiday, but what with being wobbled every five minutes, I didn't get very far. I don't make any progress tonight either, as Pat calls just after I get home - to tell me she has just been told that she may be bi-polar. Good God, another one. It must be catching.

She sounds elated, as if someone has awarded her a badge of honour - but there's nothing wrong with Pat other than what used to be called being a "moody bugger." Her behaviour is totally unlike that of the constituents I know who were diagnosed as manic depressive years ago, and whose illnesses can be both florid and highly frightening. Also, she doesn't seem worried about it at all.

When I question her reaction, it turns out that Pat really is pleased - as she says that being bi-polar finally explains why her love-life is always such a car-crash. It bloody doesn't. Illness has nothing to do with it. She is just fatally attracted to complete tossers, and acts like a doormat around them. She always has. But she's so chuffed with her putative diagnosis that it seems curmudgeonly to argue, though I have no idea what am I supposed to say in response - congratulations?

Being reminded - at length - of Pat's catastrophic relationship history makes me even less keen to buy a peephole bra and crotchless panties. I bet she owns Anne Summers' entire back catalogue, and a fat lot of good it's done her so far.

Imagine if, as soon as I've finished the washing up, I was to go and get changed into a latex dress or a French maid's outfit, and pounce on Max. He'd think I'd become bi-polar and insist on taking me to the Walk-In Centre immediately. That's if his attention could be persuaded to wander from the TV in the first place. Maybe I should try feeding him blue Smarties. 

Monday, 20 September 2010

Wobbling Back to Reality, Despite Some Somewhat Surreal Horticulture.

This morning, I'm making a cup of tea when I notice that the leaves of the basil plant in the kitchen appear to have grown faces. I think I'm going completely round the bend, until Max spots them and starts laughing. It turns out that Josh has had an artistic moment with the leaves and a biro. Is he on drugs? I must find that "Talk to Frank" leaflet and see if I can spot any giveaway signs.

At least the house was still standing when we got home late last night, which was a big relief. I was pretty apprehensive when we opened the door, but there didn't seem to be much mess when we got inside. Well, that's not strictly true - everything looked incredibly messy, but as that's the norm, I couldn't blame Josh. He'd even put the rubbish out, or rather he claimed he had - until Robbie informed me that Josh had bribed him to do it by offering a glimpse of Annoying Ellen's naked bin day routine as payment.

I'm really not looking forward to returning to work, especially after my "holiday" proved such a wash-out. I'm expecting there to be loads of bad news waiting for me - but Greg appears insanely cheerful when I arrive at the office. He's wearing a ridiculous hat, to which he has attached a big label announcing, "Guess who's off to conference!"

Talk about a mark of inexperience. If Greg had ever been to conference before, he'd know it's nothing to get excited about - and is certainly not the way that anyone with half a brain would choose to spend hard-earned leave* days. Not to mention that his hotel room will be the cheapest and nastiest possible, as the Boss has to pay the cost out of his own pocket. Last time I went, I'm sure I was housed in the broom cupboard. I don't say any of this to Greg, though, as I am still endeavouring to let the constitutionally naive learn from their own experiences. It's just a shame that I seem incapable of learning from mine.

God knows what made me think a week in David and Susie's holiday cottage would be a good way to spend most of my remaining holiday. (Going to conference probably wouldn't have been any worse, now I come to think of it.) The whole thing sounded okay in theory, but that was when I didn't know that I was going to be riddled with guilt after my evening with Johnny, and incapable of enjoying myself as a result.

I also didn't expect the weather to be so bloody awful. I spent the entire time wearing every item of clothing I'd brought, all at once, in an effort not to freeze to death. I looked like a Weeble, and Max insisted on repeatedly testing the claim that Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. Every time I walked past, he gave me a shove. It got very boring very quickly, at least from my perspective. After he accidentally pushed me right over, I refused to play any longer. Then we couldn't seem to think of anything else to do.

So, by the end of the first afternoon, we were stir crazy and desperate to go for a drink, but we couldn't even afford a bottle of cheap plonk from the local shop, let alone a trip to the one and only local pub. It turned out that we'd managed to overlook the fact that we were already at the limit of our overdraft before the holiday even started. I was so embarrassed. I do wish shop assistants wouldn't shout when they announce that your card has been declined.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Max's depression at the alcohol shortage was exacerbated by the fact that the TV picture turned out to be virtually non-existent, so he spent most of his time fiddling with the portable aerial. (This is not an euphemism for anything more exciting.) I decided to stay out of his way until he'd got a snow-free picture, and resorted to prowling around the house like a caged and oddly bulbous animal instead. I even tried to do some sit-ups, until I realised that I couldn't bend in the middle, due to the Weebleness.

I got so bored that being parted from my laptop proved much more challenging than I'd expected. I couldn't stalk Josh and Connie on Facebook to make sure they were okay, I had no idea whether Johnny was emailing me, and I couldn't keep abreast of what was happening in the world of politics. I was quite surprised to discover how much I minded the latter. I wanted to see how things were going at the LibDem conference, and whether the grassroots were going to rise up and revolt against all the manifesto pledges that have had to be abandoned in the pursuit of power.

To add to my boredom, I'd forgotten to pack any books, or rather Max had - seeing as he'd insisted on doing the packing himself. That's the trouble with dyslexics: no appreciation for the escapism afforded by losing oneself in a book. All I could find to read was a copy of Sharon Osbourne's autobiography that someone had abandoned in the cottage.

Ozzy sounds as if he was even more of a nightmare in his younger days than The Boss is now. God knows why Sharon didn't walk out on him, if the stories she tells are true. I can only assume that he must be very, very good in bed, though that's pretty hard to imagine. Mind you, I guess any sex is better than none, which was what was achieved during our holiday.

Max didn't seem terribly interested until our last night, and then I got terrible hiccups halfway through - probably due to guilt. I always get hiccups when I feel guilty. This time, they were so bad that I had to get up and go and try Dad's favourite remedy, which involves drinking a large glass of water, upside down. Well, not exactly upside down, but it feels like it when you get it wrong and all the water goes up your nose. Or down your front.

It took ages before the bloody hiccups stopped, by which time I was soaking wet, and Max was fast asleep. So now it seems as if I am the kiss of death to anyone I might possibly have sex with. Or the kiss of hiccups or chicken pox, anyway. Gah. I bet none of the delegates at conference are going to have any trouble having rampant sex every night. Even Greg might get laid - which probably explains both the cheerfulness and the party hat.

*leave days - MPs' staff cannot attend Party conference during their normal working time, because this would mean that the taxpayer would effectively be funding party political activity. Therefore, whichever one of us is lucky enough to be "chosen" to accompany The Boss has to take holiday in order to do so. Waiting on him hand and foot is even more intolerable when you could be doing something so much nicer with your time. (Unless you are me, and your holidays are even more boring than your working life.)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Out of Office Reply - Molly Bennett, The Office of Andrew Sinclair MP.

Thank you for your email. I am currently on annual leave, but will respond to your enquiry upon my return to the office on Monday 20 September 2010.

If your enquiry is urgent, please contact my colleague, Gregory Duke, at the telephone number given below.

On second thoughts, please don't. Greg is not always the most competent person, anyway - and he is going to have his work cut out to manage the usual suspects while I'm away.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Changes in Perspective, or The Morning After The Night Before.

I wake to mad beeping from my mobile. A barrage of texts, all of them from Johnny.

"Good morning."

"I'm so sorry about last night."

"I can't stop thinking about you."

"When can we meet again?"

"I'm on the train. And wishing I wasn't."

Max looks a bit curious, so I tell him the texts are all from Orange.

"Bastards," he says. He's very familiar with Orange's relentless marketing, which seems to fill up his in-box as soon as he's managed to empty it.  Or that's what he claims, anyway - whenever he tries to explain why he never receives my texts. Josh says it's worth all the hassle for the Orange Wednesday codes, but then he would, seeing as he's always the one who gets to use the damned things.

I can barely look at Max as I get ready and rush off to work. There's no time to give last night's debacle more than a cursory thought, which is probably a good thing. God knows why Johnny wants to repeat the experience. I'm not at all sure that I do.

"What the hell happened to you?" Greg says, as I walk into the office, five minutes late.

"Oh shit," I say. "I forgot to text you." Then I realise the significance of what Greg has said. "Oh my God, did you report me missing to the Police?"

"Um, no," says Greg. He fidgets a bit, and says, "Coffee?"

He's obviously forgotten that I am on coffee-making duty for the next two months in lieu of his having acted as my taxi service to Johnny's hotel last night. Then I realise why.

"Why didn't you? Weren't you worried about me?"

"Well, I would have been," says Greg. "But, after I went for a run, I fell asleep in front of the TV and didn't wake up until 8:00am. Few too many gins."

"Oh, for God's sake," I say. "I could have been dead."

"Don't be daft, Mol. If you can handle the nutters we get here, you can handle a bloody oil baron. Anyway, how was he?"

"How was who?" says The Boss. He has a snakelike ability to creep up on you. It's quite repulsive.

"Boris," says Greg. "We're guessing at what his next occupation will be."

Greg makes me do today's surgery by claiming to have an urgent doctor's appointment. Something to do with a suspected stress fracture, due to his "jogging injury." He only started jogging yesterday, so this seems a bit unlikely, especially as he says he only got to the end of his road before he had to give up and walk back home again. A severe stitch, apparently.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that now I have to do the surgery letters as well as finishing up my other casework - and all before I leave work today. I can't leave anything unfinished, not when I shall be on leave next week. Or nothing that it wouldn't be safe for Greg to handle alone, anyway - which represents most things. God knows what time I'll get home tonight - though this may be a good thing, as I still have no idea how I'm going to face Max.

When I finally lock up at 9:00pm, and start walking home, last night's events come flooding back. In their full ghastliness. I can't imagine why Johnny still sounds so keen to continue our affair. If you could even call it an affair, when all it has involved is two chaotic and ultimately very hazardous kisses, and some virtual sex.

Mind you, it has changed my perspective on hard man Vladimir Putin, though. If he's even half as short-sighted as Johnny, he'd be a piece of piss to deal with, if he started throwing his weight about. All you'd have to do would be to steal his glasses. Johnny doesn't seem at all powerful without his.

And Johnny isn't the only one who's acting out of character. Max is being very assertive when I get home. He's done almost all the packing, and informs me that we are not taking the laptop with us, as we are going to "spend quality time together" without distractions. He even wants me to leave my mobile behind, but I refuse to comply with this - not when I am leaving an incompetent ninja at home, with a sex-pest for a neighbour.

I write Josh a very long list enumerating the dire consequences that will arise should he be unwise enough to consider anything as stupid as a house party in our absence, and ask Mum to drop in daily to check that the house is still standing. And that Josh is still in one piece. Accidents will happen, as I know only too well after last night's shenanigans.

So now it's bedtime, and tomorrow I am off on "holiday." At least this might give me a bit of headspace to decide what on earth I am doing with my life. Though if the answer is turning into a bearded lady and growing back my hymen, I have no idea what the solution to that will be.

Short Sight, The Pox and Emanuelle in Nurse's Clothing.

God, what a total shambles. It seems that I am much better at affairs of state (at an admittedly-unimportant level) than at affairs of the heart.

When Max drops me off at the Marriott - which really is bloody miles out of Northwick - Greg is hiding in the lobby, waiting for me. So far, so good. He bundles me straight into the Gregmobile and drives me back into town.

Considering what a terrible driver Greg is, this is not as bad as it could have been, although there is one very hairy moment, when we almost catch up with Max, who is waiting at a set of lights. I don't think he notices us - but it is unnerving, all the same. To avoid any repetitions, we have to pootle along at about 40mph for the rest of the journey, which makes me late to meet Johnny.

I rush into the hotel, looking a bit windswept and very harassed, and am so busy trying to smooth my hair out that I walk straight into someone waiting at the reception desk.

"Excuse me," he says, in a very snooty way, and then, "Molly?"


God, he looks exactly like Putin. Same build, probably the same height - considerably shorter than Max but thankfully not a midget like me. Even the same air of authority, initially - but this doesn't really live up to expectations when he fails to get the hotel to sort out the error they've made with his booking. It turns out that he's been given a single room instead of the luxury double he'd booked. This is probably because he normally has someone like me to book his hotel accommodation, and is incapable of doing it properly himself. Let's hope the similarity with The Boss ends there.

Things improve when we sit down at our table. Johnny can't stop looking at me, and I feel really, really self-conscious, although the lights are so dim that, hopefully, he can't see my incipient beard. I relax a bit after a couple of gins, though - and then we eat, and everything is so nice. At least for a while.

We're just two people, talking: about life, our hopes, how we feel about the choices we've made. No-one mentions kids, or bills, what's for dinner or where the clean towels are. I haven't felt like this in years. Like a woman, instead of just a function.

When we've finished dessert, it's already quite late. Johnny leans back in his chair, then says,

"So, now what? Shall we go up to my room? No pressure - but I know I want to."

No pressure, my arse. Half a continent travelled, the vagaries of Heathrow and British Rail negotiated, a hotel cock-up and an a la carte dinner paid for. I could hardly say no, even if I wanted to. Though I'm not at all sure whether my shivering is due to excitement, nerves or just the omission of my thermal underwear in honour of the occasion.

He takes my hand as we walk along the corridor. It's the first time we've touched, and it feels more intimate than you'd think possible for such a small gesture. Then he opens the door to his room, flicks the overhead light off, and leads me inside. Oh God.

"So here we are," he says. "At last."

He pulls me towards him and leans forward to kiss me.

"Ouch," I say. My hair is caught in the metal hinge of his glasses. Untangling it seems to take ages, and he has to take the glasses off to do so. He puts them down on the chest of drawers, which can only be a good thing as I am sure I look much better without them. Then he moves in for another attempt at a kiss, misjudges the distance and almost headbuts me.


He steps back, catches his foot on something, and promptly falls over the corner of the bed. There's a hell of a crash and I start laughing. I can't help it - it's a nervous thing with me: I always laugh when people fall over. Though I stop when I switch the light back on and see the blood on Johnny's forehead, and his deeply unamused expression. He must have hit the edge of the bedside table when he fell.

So just when I should have been turning into Emanuelle, I have to do a Florence Nightingale impression instead: cleaning the wound, and finding a plaster, while all the time Johnny's sitting there squinting. It's not a good look, but I try not to focus on that. I doubt he can focus on anything without his glasses, judging by how thick the lenses are. I can't see anything when I try them on in a misguided attempt to lighten the mood.

Eventually he's all patched up, and he shuffles over so that I can lie down beside him, and takes me in his arms - it's a good job I'm so small, as the bloody bed is tiny. He starts stroking my shoulder and kissing my neck. This is more like it. Then his mobile rings.

"I'd better get this," he says.

Half an hour later, he's still talking, though God knows what about. His side of the conversation seems restricted to questions about degrees of fever, and the number and location of someone's spots. It must be another Global Oil Company disaster. What on earth have they done now? Poisoned a water supply, or something?

I am dying for a cigarette, so I mime that I am going outside, but Johnny waves at me to wait. Then he says, into the receiver,

"Excuse me a moment, darling - room service is here." Then he covers the phone with his hand and says, "Molly, I'm really sorry about this. It sounds as if my daughter's got chicken pox."

He's on the phone to his wife. His wife. Oh, my God - what am I doing? While my husband is at home, waiting for me. I find my shoes and my bag, blow Johnny a kiss and walk out.

I phone a taxi from the hotel lobby, and am at home before Newsnight has ended. Max is asleep on the sofa, so I tiptoe upstairs and take a shower. I feel so grubby. Though at least I've already had chicken pox - not that I was likely to catch any other kind, given the absence of any exchange of bodily fluids. There wasn't even any nudity. I might as well have worn my thermal underwear.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Day Before The Night Ahead....

God, I am a nervous wreck. I have just worked out that, as I haven't told anyone about my plan to meet up with Johnny, he could kidnap and murder me, and no-one would be any the wiser. This is very stupid behaviour, the sort of thing I'd expect from teenagers let loose on the net for the first time, but not from me. I'm usually the one trying to persuade others to be more careful. I need a plan, fast, so I try to come up with a good one, while Greg makes the coffee for a change.

My first attempt is not exactly a resounding success. I decide to write a letter addressed "to whom it may concern in the event of my disappearance and/or death,"  which will detail who I am meeting and where, and which is to be secreted in my lockable desk drawer. This plan is aborted before I have even written the note, due to a re-appraisal of its likely consequences.

The Boss probably has a duplicate key to my desk drawer, and will snoop around tomorrow morning before Greg gets into work. If he finds the note, he's bound to tell Max about it, just out of spite, even if I haven't been killed or abducted. (I suspect the existence of another key as I am absolutely positive that I had more packets of fruit pastilles stashed in my drawer last week than are there now.) And if he doesn't have a key, then no-one will find the note anyway, or not until it's too late for it to do any good.

Plan B is straightforward: tell someone I can trust. This rules out ninety-nine per cent of my friends and relatives, and the remaining one per cent that I can rely on all love Max, and would be horrified at what I am up to.

I can't think of a Plan C, so I resort to staring hopelessly into the middle distance and eating a whole packet of sweets instead. When my eyes regain focus, there is the answer, staring me in the face. Or, rather, doing sit-ups in the doorway between our offices.

"Greg," I say. "I need to tell you something."

"Not now, you idiot," says Greg. "Can't you see I am struggling to breathe?"

"But it could be a matter of life and death," I say. (I was brought up never to put off doing something unpleasant but essential.)

"If I don't lose this bloody flab, it'll be my love life that'll be dead."

"Well, that's sort of what I want to talk about," I say - which really gets Greg's attention. He rolls over sideways, and sits up. Oh God, now I've gone and done it. There's nothing for it but to spill the beans.

After I've told him (almost) the whole story, Greg is appalled, but also fascinated. I don't think he's ever thought of me as someone who might have any kind of love-life, probably because I'm married. And he certainly wouldn't have expected it to be with an International Director of a Global Oil Company. Now he doesn't know what to think.

"Are you sure about this, Mol? Max is so nice," he says. "But God, this Johnny must be rich. Has he got any daughters?"

"One," I say. "She's about five years old, so there's nothing there for you."

"True," says Greg. "Though you'd better not mention her to Mr Beales."

So Plan C is as follows: I am to text Greg as soon as I have met up with Johnny, and if we change location, and again when I get home. Which has to be before midnight, or Greg will declare it an emergency and phone the Police.

Just after this is all decided, I get a text from Johnny.

"Arrived Heathrow, & about to board train, " he says. "Can't wait to see ALL of you."

As I'm scrolling through the message, my mobile rings. I'm so startled I nearly drop it, and am even more flustered when I see that the caller is Max. Bloody hell. For one panic-stricken moment, I think that he may be able to read Johnny's text, just because it is still up on the screen when his call comes in. I am losing  the plot.

"What time you going to this Law Society thing tonight?" Max says. He must be driving, as I can hear the car engine in the background.

"What?" Oh, yes - my cover story. I am such a useless liar. "Seven-thirty. Why?"

"I'll be back sooner than I thought from this customer's house, so I'll be home in time to give you a lift to the hotel," says Max. "Which hotel was it?"

Oh, good God. My mind goes blank for a minute. I can't think of a single hotel apart from the real one, and I can't tell him that. Then I recall the Marriott County Hall.

"The Marriott," I say. "You know." (I hope he does, as I'm not entirely sure Northwick even has a Marriott, now I come to think of it.)

"Oh, right," says Max. "That's a bit of a way out. You'd better be ready by seven, then. See you when you get home. Bye, darling."

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. Where is the bloody Marriott? I ask Greg, who starts to laugh. It turns out the Marriott isn't even in bloody Northwick, but is miles out in the sticks. I'd need to take out a mortgage to afford a taxi from there back into town.

"What's it worth?" says Greg.

"What?" I say. I can't even think straight.

"To save your arse," says Greg. "I'll have to pick you up at the Marriott in the Gregmobile as soon as Max has dropped you off, and then drive you back to the right hotel in time to meet the oil baron."

That boy is a genius - even if he does take advantage of other people's difficulties. So now I have signed away my life for the next two months. I am to deal with every campaign postcard and lobbying email, single-handedly - plus I have to make coffee whenever Greg requests it. Without swearing at him.

This date had better be worth all the discomfort it's causing. I'd cancel the damn thing if Johnny wasn't already on the last stage of his journey here. It's not as if I can take a last-minute raincheck when he's come all the way from Moscow, though, is it?

I suppose I'd better go home and try and tart myself up. It may take all the foundation I can lay my hands on, just to mask out the guilt and stress that is probably written all over my face. And, if the last time I tried it is anything to go by, it'll really highlight my wrinkles. I bet I've gained a load more of those, in the last hour alone.

Boredom is starting to seem much more appealing than all this excitement. Bloody Friends Reunited. They have a lot to answer for. The least they could do would be to provide a warning on their homepage of the dangers these damned reunions pose to your sanity, and to your marriage. And some sort of panic alarm service would be useful too.....just in case. God, I feel sick.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

An Unexpected Side-Effect of Wallander. The Swedish Version, Of Course.

Oops, I seem to have accidentally had sex last night. With Max. This doesn't feel like it was a very good idea in the cold light of day, not with my meeting with Johnny set for tomorrow.

I wanted to be in a fever of sexual frustration to justify even thinking about having an affair, not absurdly satisfied and able to recall with rather too much clarity just how good at the whole business Max is, albeit only when there's nothing more appealing on the television. Now I'm a bundle of nerves, all wrapped up with jittery guilt, and I haven't even done anything to feel guilty about. Yet. Talk about awful timing.

Most of the blame lies with the television, actually - or with the schedulers, anyway. If that wretched Ultimate Big Brother hadn't still been dominating Max's otherwise-beloved Channel 4, and if Josh hadn't been out for the night, I wouldn't have dared to suggest that we watch the Swedish* version of Wallander, and nothing would have happened. But UBB is on, Josh is out, and Max detests subtitles, so although he goes along with my idea, he falls asleep five minutes after the programme starts, while pretending that he hasn't.

This procedure - at which he is an expert - involves waking periodically, and saying 'Yeah," or "Hmmm," as if he's genuinely engrossed in what he's (not) watching, but it never fools me, even though I always humour him by pretending that it does. At least, I usually play along until he starts snoring, at which point I can't even hear the TV, so I have to resort to nudging him, hard. Then he gets stroppy and denies that he was asleep in the first place. It's very irritating.

So last night, I decide to try out a new technique, recommended recently by Josh, who tells me that it works to wake snorers up gently. Their gradual return to consciousness supposedly prevents them realising that you've done anything to them, so they don't get grumpy and defensive. Presumably this is only the case as long as you remove your finger from their ear really quickly - whereas mine gets a bit stuck.

"Wha' the hell?" Max says, batting my hand away. "What are you doing?"

I don't want to tell him, so I try to convert the ear-poking into an ear-tickling manoeuvre motivated by nothing more sinister than affection. I forget that Max's ears are erogenous zones, until my "caress" is reciprocated with uncharacteristic enthusiasm, and one thing leads to another. So now I have no idea what happened to Wallander, nor what the hell I am doing planning to meet an International Director of a Global Oil Company for a "date" in a hotel tomorrow evening - unbeknownst to my husband.

Isn't that just bloody typical? My Nan always said be careful what you wish for, 'cause you just might get it - usually at the most inconvenient time, in my experience. I can't concentrate at all - and I'm tired. I'm getting loads of calls about Connaught today but, luckily, most of them are from Council tenants, who are ringing to check whether the company's collapse means that the Council will just move the existing repairs staff over to another company, or whether they'll "get people who know what they're doing" instead.

Although I can just about handle these conversations, I shall probably fall asleep as soon as Mr Beales or any of the deadly boring squad phone, and then Greg will have to try the ear-poking trick on me. He has fat fingers while I have freakishly small ears, so that won't end well either. Subtitles are much more hazardous than has previously been appreciated.

*The Swedish version of Wallander is miles better than Branagh's recent UK version. See here for more information, but don't forget - you can't be too careful where foreign language programming is concerned.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Job Descriptions - Not Always What They Seem.

God, talk about cock-ups. It turns out that Marie-Louise hasn't actually booked The Boss into a hotel for conference. Apparently she thought I was doing it - as if I haven't had enough to do all summer, while she and Carlotta have been taking holidays, and swanning around Westminster as if they owned the place.

"Well, why didn't you tell me you hadn't booked Andrew's room?" she says.

"Because you are his Diary Secretary," I say. "And I have been otherwise occupied, minding him."

I'm not sure, but I think she says something abusive in French in reply. I try to recall the phrase my Dad once learned from a Breton fisherman, and which he used to shout at motorists when they drove too slowly, but it's hopeless. I can't remember it. My brain's still in a post-Recess fug.

I suppose I could phone and ask him, but he's probably busy learning the Thai for bring me my slippers* now, anyway, and will have abandoned any interest in French. There must be another way to deal with Marie-Louise, if I put my mind to it.

When I have found a copy of her contract and faxed it through to her, we finally reach agreement on whose job it is to make The Boss' hotel arrangements. Hers, of course. I think I manage to hide my satisfaction fairly well.

At lunchtime, Max phones to tell me that he's just spoken to David, and has mentioned that he's on leave next week. Apparently David says Max and I can have his holiday cottage for the whole time, if I can take some holiday too, so I check with Greg and then book the time off. Yeeha! Now Carlotta and Marie-Louise will have no option but to do their bloody jobs for a change.

Shortly afterwards, there's employment news of a different kind. Josh phones to say he has got the job at the cinema. I'm thrilled, but he doesn't sound very pleased.

'What's the matter?" I say. "You don't sound as chuffed as I thought you'd be."

"Well, I'm a bit pissed off, Mum," he says. "You know how they said it was a full-time job?"

"Yes. I thought that's what you wanted?" It's certainly what he needs if he's to stand any chance of succeeding in the important business of keeping me in luxury in my old age.

"Well, it sounds as if that was a bit of a con. They only give you a four hour contract."

"What?" I can't believe it. "And you're supposed to sign off Jobseeker's Allowance for that?"

"I suppose so," says Josh. "They say we'll all probably get more hours than that in practice, but they aren't guaranteeing any more."

Bloody hell. Is nothing ever as it appears? And what were the Jobcentre thinking, advertising these jobs as full-time? Josh is lucky he still lives at home. Though it's less certain that Max and I share his good fortune. It seems we may have to wait a bit longer for the freedom to have rampant sex all over the house. Josh isn't going to be able to rent anywhere on the salary from four hours' paid work a week, is he?

I am almost tempted to ring Marie-Louise back and ask her if she realises how lucky she is to have a full-time bloody job. Maybe then she'd start actually doing some work. Talking of which, I suppose I'd better get on with mine. Looks like it may take a bit longer before I can tell The Boss to shove his job where the sun don't shine.

*The Thai for "bring me my slippers" is, according to Google translate, "นำรองเท้าแตะของฉันฉัน" or, read phonetically: "Nả rxngthêā tæa k̄hxng c̄hạn c̄hạn." 

Monday, 6 September 2010

Call That An Interview? Abandon Your Dignity All Ye Who Enter Here.

Josh has his interview at the cinema today. I'm keeping everything crossed, which is a little uncomfortable, though maybe that'll compensate for my failure to do regular Kegel exercises. I suppose it's a bit late to start them now, seeing as I am meeting Johnny on Thursday.

Wouldn't it be fantastic if Josh got the job, though? Throughout the day, I keep drifting off into reveries in which Josh owns a chain of cinemas, and is able to keep his mother in the style to which she would like to become accustomed. Then I could tell The Boss where to stuff his job next time he makes me deal with a total lunatic without security. Or if he ever pretends that he has fallen asleep while I am speaking again.

This fantasy is so compelling that I almost manage to convince myself that I am just working out my notice, and so I even manage to stay calm in the face of Richard Levinson's demands that the Government "grows some balls like Sarkozy, and chucks out all those bloody gypsies" who are, apparently, the only reason that Richard and his fiancee aren't being given a three bedroomed council house all to themselves. I rise above all this, lost in my imaginary universe - and very nice it is too.

Reality makes its presence felt the moment I get home, though. Josh is back in ranting constituent mode as soon as I step through the front door. Can't say I blame him. What on earth has happened to interviews? When did they become about how much a candidate is prepared to humiliate him or herself?

Apparently, the Jobcentre sent about eighty young people for the interviews at the cinema - which rather undermined the impressiveness of Josh's achievement in being one of them. They were split into two groups, and then set some of the most stupid and demeaning tasks I can imagine.

These included being asked which fruit you are, and why. (What the hell kind of stupid question is that?) Then came an exercise in recalling and repeating everything the previous ten people had said in one of those "I went to the shops and I bought" tasks so beloved of 1980s TV improvisation shows - you know, the ones which starred Josie Lawrence and occasionally John Sessions (before he got fat and unrecognisable).

If the candidates hadn't already lost the will to live by this point, they then had to say what their favourite film was - to which Josh was, unsurprisingly, the only one to say "Mrs Doubtfire." Next, they were each paired up with another applicant to act out dialogue from film scripts.

I mean, I know this is a job in a cinema, and Josh did have high hopes for his Film Studies A-level, but really - does he actually need to be able to act and recite in order to sell tickets and over-priced popcorn? He reckons he's in with a chance of getting the job, though, as he says most of the other candidates were dead from the neck up and could barely remember their own names. Three of them apparently chose vegetables when they were asked what fruits they were - which Josh thought very appropriate.

He finds out sometime in the next two days if he's been successful. It'll be very worrying indeed if he hasn't been. In the meantime, maybe I should start asking constituents what sort of fruit they are - though the answer would be bound to be "cake."

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A Whole New Dimension to Putting the Bins Out, Thanks to Annoying Ellen the Sex-Pest. Oh, and Teacher..

God, I am getting as blind as a bat. How are you supposed to pluck your eyebrows (or anything else) when you can't see them without glasses - even in a 25x magnifying mirror? God knows how many stray chin hairs are escaping my notice.

I need to get a better-paid job, so that I can start going to a beauty salon, like everyone else seems to. I have no idea how I'm going to tidy myself up sufficiently to pass inspection by Johnny. Maybe I can steal his glasses, and solve the problem that way.

Max doesn't appear to be having any trouble with his eyesight, though I bloody well wish he was. Tonight, he's about to take the rubbish out, ready for tomorrow's refuse collection, when - amazingly - Josh decides to be helpful and offers to do it instead. Well, it is late and Max does look tired, but even so, I'm not used to Josh being considerate. Maybe this is how it's going to be now he's left school?

"No, don't worry, I'll do it," says Max.

"Max," I say. "Are you mad? Josh - Josh - is voluntarily offering to do a household task, and you are turning him down?"

"Well, he'll probably fall over something in the dark," says Max. "And what with his arm, and everything..."

Josh is about as contrary as the usual suspects. If you refuse him anything, even something he doesn't really want, it immediately becomes irresistible. He grabs the bin bag from Max's hand, and heads out of the back door. Max looks really annoyed for a minute, and almost goes out after him, but then he just sits down heavily on the couch, and starts doing a Sudoku puzzle.

Josh is gone for what seems like ages, and just as I am about to go out looking for him, I hear the back door slam, and his footsteps along the hallway. He's shouting,

"Dad. Dad!"

"What?" says Max, as Josh comes into the room.

"Now I see why you wanted to take the bins out yourself. Bloody hell!"

Max is suddenly very red in the face.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says.

"You bloody well do," says Josh.

"Well, I definitely don't," I say. "So could someone please enlighten me?"

"Come with me," says Josh, and drags me outside, along the garden path, and out of the the back gate. It's pretty dark, and I can't see where I'm treading, so I get a bit anxious.

"What am I looking out for, Josh?" I say. "I can't see a thing."

"Sshh!" says Josh. "Look up."

'Oh, my God," I say. "Is that what I think it is? Or rather, who I think it is?"

"Ellen?" says Josh. "Yeah. I saw her face when she first put the light on. Before she pulled the curtains in front of it."

"But she's naked," I say. "And why's she pressed against the glass?"

"Oh, I think the answer to that is obvious," says Josh.

If I had any eggs left after the Yorkshire puddings, I'd throw them at that bloody woman's window. What the hell does she think she's doing? And is this (presumably regular) floor show only for Max's benefit, or is it aimed at any of the neighbours who might be putting out their rubbish?

"Max! How often has that f*cking woman done this?" I may be yelling a little too loudly, as suddenly Ellen jerks backwards, and shuts her curtains properly. I have startled her, unless she's just achieved what she wanted. Yuck.

"Hush," says Max. "Come inside. You're making a spectacle of yourself."

"I am making a spectacle of myself? I am? What about that bloody lunatic?" God, I'm angry. I wouldn't mind so much if Ellen didn't always pretend that it she is my friend, and that Max is merely tolerated as my husband. I'm so angry that I accidentally burst into tears - I have been doing far too much crying this week. Then I remember the girls with cancer, and I get a grip.

"Okay, tell me the whole story," I say. "How long has she been doing this, and how many times?"

"No more than four or five," says Max. "That I've noticed."

"Oh, I think you'd notice. How did it start?" I am starting to feel icily calm now.

"One night I was taking out the rubbish and I smacked the bin bag into the gate, so it made a noise. Then something caught my eye, and I saw Ellen naked at the window. I think she was trying to fasten it."

"Oh really? Did she dive out of the way once she spotted you?"

"Well, no - now you come to mention it." Max sounds genuinely surprised. "But I looked away really fast anyway, 'cause I was worried she'd think I'd been spying on her."

"Dad, she's been playing you," says Josh. "You are an idiot. You should've said something."

It comes to something when teenagers are smarter than their parents, doesn't it? I take a deep breath, think again about the girls with cancer, then say,

"Okay. So when were you going to tell me about it, if ever?"

"I kept hoping it'd stop. And the longer it went on, the more impossible it got to tell you, as I thought you'd flip out and go round and smash her door down or something."

Max might be right about this, actually. I'm feeling pretty tempted to take some sort of direct action. He continues,

"And anyway, I don't think she just does it to me. I reckon she lies in wait for any of the men around here on bin night."

Good God. And Ellen is a teacher. Maybe she should change her subject specialism and start teaching sex education. It seems as if that'd be right up her street. Though talking of streets, I wish she wouldn't give practical bloody demonstrations on ours. I have no idea what to do about this, so I am going to sleep on it. In the absence of any eggs.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Foodie Heaven. Or Hell, Depending On Your Perspective.

God, dinner party conversation has died a death since the advent of foodie-ism. In fact, you can't get away from it at any bloody meal, or at least, not at any meal held at Max's parents' house. Today we go there for lunch and I almost die of boredom. Really. I am not exaggerating, not one single bit. The entire conversation was about food.

Obviously, it isn't about just any old food. No, there is no mention of Hovis or tinned salmon, or Flora margarine. But previously staple foods that are now produced or grown by specialists? They're deemed worthy of a whole lecture series. On and on, and on and bloody on. It puts me right off my food, actually.

No sooner do I raise a forkful to my mouth, then I get its entire history, blood lines, provenance, whatever. What soil it was grown in, or what food it was fed, and whether there were bags of lavender hanging where it was stored, for twenty years before it was deemed ready to hit my (unappreciative smoker's) palate. I am in an agony of boredom within fifteen minutes but it just goes on, relentless.

Max seems unaffected, which is worrying in itself. This must surely be worse than it used to be when he was still living at his parents' house, so he ought to be finding it as irritating as I am. Foodie-ism didn't really exist in those days, after all. I think he must have switched on the part of his brain that allows him to tune out the kids when they argue - but, anyway, he just keeps eating and doesn't say anything.

I'm not allowed to get away with that, though. Instead, I have to go through my entire repertoire of constituent-humouring noises, and throw in a load of "surprised and appreciative" eyebrow raises for good measure. And even then I don't think I make the grade. I don't suppose I ever will, unless I can gain about ten stone, and bone up on the niceties of elderflower cordial production and the optimum time to hang game.

Josh just shovels down some food, then excuses himself, saying that he has indigestion and needs to go to the loo. He doesn't come back until the meal is finally over. I reckon he was playing games on his iPhone - which normally I would consider likely to cause brain rot, but in this instance, was probably an effective precaution against it.

When the time comes for coffee, I am so relieved. Once we've established the exact grade of roast, the fineness of the grind, and the country of origin, my agony should finally be over. Shouldn't it? But no. Max's Dad gets out a magazine, and says to Max,

"Look what I came across the other day!"

Max looks distinctly unimpressed, but his dad goes on.

"Isn't that great? And what a marvellous photo, too. Show Molly!"

"Oh, I don't think so, Dad," says Max, squirming.

"She'd love to see it. Go on, show her!"

Max passes me the magazine, open at the article in question. I sit and stare at it. I have absolutely no idea why I am looking at it, or what I am supposed to say. Now everyone's looking at me, Max cringingly, and the others with anticipation. Even Josh looks curious. Bloody hell, there's nothing for it, but to tell the truth.

"Um, sorry - what exactly am I looking at?" I say. "All I can see is an article about chilli-growing and a photograph of a smiling fat girl."

Max laughs out loud, and his parents look horrified.

"But that is Lizzie," says Max's dad.

"Lizzie Who?" I say. (This is getting tedious.)

"Max's ex-girlfriend, Lizzie,"   says Max's Mum. As if that was both obvious and reasonable.

"What, from before Mum and Dad were married?" says Josh. "Why on earth would you want Mum to look at that?"

Sometimes, I just adore my son. As much as I don't adore talking about, growing or indeed, cooking food. And it is very nice to see how shit Lizzie looks, too. I don't recommend an over-reliance on chillies if you want to keep your looks, that's for sure.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Trained monkeys, Dr Snuffleopagus and the Drama Queen.

Things are really looking up. Today's the last day of Recess, and The Boss still isn't speaking to me, so Greg has to do surgery again. The usual suspects seem to be otherwise occupied, and work is thoroughly uneventful - which is just how I like it.

To add to my joy, Josh phones at lunchtime to tell me he's got an interview at the cinema on Monday. Bloody hell. So all my worrying about his unemployability may have been for nothing.

I'm not used to everything going so well, so I get a bit nervous - with reason, as it turns out. My whole evening is interrupted by various members of my family. First Connie phones.

"I hate my new job," she says. "I wish I hadn't applied for this bloody internship now."

"Why?" I say. Doesn't she realise what an honour it was to be selected? There aren't many internships as prestigious as this, nor that are as well-paid. Connie's earning almost as much as Max - though I haven't told him that.

"A trained monkey could do what I'm doing," says Connie, hiccuping with outrage. "Or a robot. And my boss is awful."

"Oh, well - join the club on that one," I say. I am still working on the principle that, if it isn't cancer, shut up about it.

"He hates women, and only speaks to me when he has to, Mum." God, this is like deja-vu. My maternal sympathy finally kicks in.

"Oh, poor you, Connie," I say. "I know all about that one. Give it another week, and then speak to him about it if it doesn't get any better."

"I would, Mum," she says, "But I can't pronounce his name properly. I can't call him Dr Snuffleopagus, which is what it sounds like, can I?"

This might appear to be a minor problem, but Connie takes such things very seriously indeed. She was once reduced to tears of embarrassment when she phoned the kebab shop to place an order, and couldn't understand what the man who answered was saying. She couldn't handle asking him to repeat what he'd said more than twice, in case he thought she was taking the piss - so, instead, she lost the plot and had to pass the phone to Josh - who presumably reminded them that his father was dead, and negotiated a discount.

I finally calm Connie down a bit, and am looking forward to an early night, when I get a text from Dinah.

"I've had bad news," she says.

This doesn't sound like something to discuss by text message so I try to phone her, but she doesn't answer. Instead she texts again:

"I don't want to talk about it." Oh, for God's sake. I text back:

"Then why bloody well text me in the first place FFS*?" I am definitely becoming more impatient by the day.

There is a lull, and then three texts arrive in quick succession. In them, Dinah spells out her distress at being diagnosed with a serious illness when she saw her GP this morning. Now I feel terrible.

"God, I'm sorry, sis," I type. "What is it?"

Back comes the reply, as quick as a flash.


What the hell is that? I didn't even know Dinah was feeling ill. Or not any more than usual, anyway. Hypochondria runs in the family.

"Dinah, I've never heard of HPD, I'm sorry. What is it?"

"Histrionic Personality Disorder."

I almost collapse laughing. Max thinks I'm choking and starts trying to do the Heimlich manoeuvre on me, until I fight him off.

"What the hell's the matter with you?" he says. "Are you hysterical or something?"

"Probably," I say. "Dinah's just been diagnosed with Histrionic Personality Disorder."

"How did it take them so long to work that one out?" Max says. "That's just another word for Drama Queen-itis."

Later, I go onto Facebook to try to work out where Josh has gone for the evening, and notice that Dinah has updated her status. It now reads, "Dinah is finding it very hard to cope with her HPD diagnosis." I resist the temptation to leave a sarcastic comment, but the effort nearly kills me, and now I need a lie-down. Attention-seeking Facebook statuses always stress me out, even though I make it a matter of principle to ignore them. It's never a good idea to encourage nutters, whether at work or in your private life.

*FFS - for those of you over the age of thirty-five or who do not have teenage children to keep you abreast of what's hip and happening in text-speak, FFS means "for f*ck's sake."

Thursday, 2 September 2010

If You're a Moaner, Cheer Up and Stop Whinging - That's An Order.

It's the second day of The Boss' impromptu holiday, and being without him feels just as good as it did yesterday. I do hope he's really taking some time off, though - and isn't just doing what he usually does when he has a break, which is to get bored and then phone up the local media and offer them comments on any of the day's issues. Often things he knows nothing whatsoever about.

I'm determined to enjoy his absence to the full so, as a precautionary measure, I am not going to read the local paper or watch the local news until next Monday - when I can refer any cock-ups to The Boss' Westminster office. It's about time Carlotta and Marie-Louise did some work.

Despite my attempts to prolong it, my good mood doesn't last for long, as two of today's cases bring me down to earth very quickly. Both young women, both recently diagnosed with cancer. One has just got married and has a five week-old baby. She has a brain tumour. The other - also under twenty-five years old - has breast cancer and has to have a full mastectomy tomorrow. There's a family history of the disease, so the hospital isn't wasting any time.

Both girls live in completely unsuitable accommodation, and their families want to know if there is anything we can do to get them moved, quickly. Imagine trying to cope with the effects of chemotherapy when you live in one room and have to share a bathroom, for example. Or trying to keep your wound clean when your flat is covered in black mould.

I get really fired up, and tell Greg that these cases are my priorities for this morning - so he has to take all the phone calls from now on, until I've finished working on them. This is sensible, because, after hearing such awful stories, I think I'd snap if I had to listen to Miss Chambers going on about one of her stupid conspiracy theories. I might just scream something abusive back at her - for once.

I just want to get my head down, and get on with it. That's the only way to cope with the stuff you hear in this job - don't waste time on mouthing sympathetic platitudes, just try to do whatever you can, as fast as you can, to try to make a small difference. If you allowed yourself to dwell on the full horror of what happens to some people, I think you'd go bonkers yourself.

Stuff like this really does make you intolerant of all the bloody whingers out there, though. It's odd, but true - as far as I can tell - that those who are faced with the worst problems often seem to perceive themselves less as victims than do those who simply have over-active imaginations and too much time on their hands.

It's a shame we can't put some of the former in touch with the latter - a bit like those schemes where offenders are brought face to face with those whom they have injured. Mind you, I reckon Miss Chambers and Mr Beales would still think that their imaginary problems were the worst, no matter what they were told about the lives of others.

I certainly feel lucky today. I just wish that feeling would last - but I know that I'll be back to moaning about my lot, as soon as I forget that things could be much, much worse. Maybe I need to set myself a reminder on my phone, just to keep a sense of proportion.

Perhaps that's an idea the Government should look into, actually. Daily texts or emails to all of us who don't have major problems saying, "Don't forget - things could be a whole lot worse." Trouble is, the Government doesn't exactly have a good record on its use of large-scale technology. Someone would probably programme the damn system to send cheer-up messages to those with terminal illnesses.