Sunday, 31 October 2010

Nicotine Deprivation And The Ninja Cat.

Well, as if it isn't bad enough that Dad is acting even more suspiciously than usual, now Max is at it, too. And he's in a bloody horrible mood, and seems to be getting through an entire packet of extra-strong mints every five seconds.

"What's the matter with you?" I say, after he's spent the last five minutes swearing. (He nearly bit through his tongue at the same time as a mint.) "And why do you keep eating those?"

"I'm giving up smoking," he says.

"What? Why?" Isn't that a bit of a coincidence after I had to endure an Ellen lecture on the subject only yesterday?

"Don't be silly, Mol. Everyone knows it's not good for you. And it's like having social leprosy these days."

"Well, not when both of us smoke," I say. "Unless you're thinking of getting up close and personal with anyone else?"

"Oh, for God's sake. I want to give up before I enter my next bloody decade. That's all. Just like you said you were going to. I'm a bit more determined that you, though."

Talk about unfairness. Has Max forgotten the provocation I was subjected to on my birthday?

"Well, that wasn't my fault," I say. "What with Ellen and her very public search for a big you-know-what at my party, and The Boss going on and on about Gordon Brown, it's no wonder I forgot I was supposed to be giving up, is it?"

"Excuses, excuses." says Max. There is nothing as annoying as a reformed smoker. Except for Ellen.

It seems nicotine withdrawal is very bad for your judgement, though. Max agrees to give Josh a lift to Holly's after lunch, and they both leave the house together. Two minutes later, Josh comes pelting back in through the door.

"Mum, have you seen Charlie?" he says.

"No. He's probably still out shagging," I say. "There seem to be about ten cats on heat around here at the moment." (Not to mention humans.)

"No, he isn't. He was asleep on the wheel of the car when Dad and I got into it just now."

"Well, then - you know where he is already. Why are you asking me?"

"Well, I told Dad Charlie was on the wheel -"

"And?" I say. I don't like the sound of this.

"And Dad said not to worry - that Charlie'd get off as soon as the engine started. Only he didn't."

Marvellous. So now Max is a cat murderer. I'm just waiting for the Facebook hate page to be created, when Josh explains that, although there was a big bump, Charlie has run off somewhere.

"So he's not dead," he says. "We've just got to find him and take him to the vet as fast as we can."

Honestly, I'm sure some people have restful weekends. We search for hours but there's no sign of Charlie anywhere.

Josh is distraught and keeps telling us that cats always take themselves off to somewhere off the beaten track to die. This is not particularly helpful in the circumstances. When it gets dark, we have no choice but to admit defeat and go indoors.

By the time Charlie finally swaggers through the cat flap and into the house, Max is a wreck. I bet he's dying for a cigarette too, but not half as much as he is once we get the vet's bill. How can it cost £65:00 just to be told that your cat has no internal or external injuries and has therefore had a miraculous escape?

"You may have been right about pet insurance," says Max on the way home. "Especially as I feel like killing the bloody cat myself now. Sixty-five quid and there's nothing wrong with him!"

"He's obviously better than Josh is at ninja rolls," I say.

Max doesn't laugh. Honestly, giving up smoking plays hell with your sense of humour. I'm sure Charlie's smiling from the depths of his basket, though.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Talking To Salvador Dali While Watching A Leprechaun. Effectively.

God, Saturdays are thrilling. Whatever happened to the teenage excitement of getting ready for a big night out? (Admittedly I don't miss the bit where you had to drink half a bottle of sherry and burn your ears off with heated rollers, but that's beside the point.)

Now there's only X-Factor and Strictly* to look forward to. I'd completely forgotten how enormous Ann Widdecombe's bosoms are. I once got in to a lift at the same time as she did, and remember thinking she'd been given my share in the mammary stakes as well as her own. And maybe some other people's too.

Anyway, now I'm wittering, which is what leisure time does to my thought processes. Especially when combined with an encounter with Ellen. I'm sitting outside this afternoon when she appears in her garden - to hang more underwear on the line. (How do people afford matching sets?)

"Still smoking, then, Molly?" she says. (And why do people think it's necessary to state the bleeding obvious?)

"Um, yes," I say.

I want to add, "D'you want to make something of it?" but decide that would make me sound like a mad constituent, so I don't. I am a master of restraint. I'd say mistress but, in the presence of Annoying Ellen, this would provoke uncomfortable thoughts.

"You really should give up. It's a filthy habit," she says.

I have no idea why some people's filthy habits are deemed disgusting, while certain other people's are considered worth bragging about - mentioning no names beginning with E. I light another cigarette from the butt of the previous one, just to show Ellen who's the boss.

The effectiveness of this is somewhat undermined by an immediate coughing fit, but I think I manage to disguise it by pretending that I have choked.

"Want to pop round for another coffee?" she says. "Now that you've spilled that one?"

"No, thanks," I say. "I've got to go and organise Max's birthday party."

"Oh, I'll look forward to that," says Ellen.

Oh, shit! I wasn't going to invite Ellen, was I? Bloody, bloody hell. Why don't I ever think before I open my mouth when I'm not at work? I'm worse than The Boss at weekends. Though even I can't manage to botch the invitations for Max's party, which is proving surprisingly easy to arrange.

It's amazing being able to ask both his parents to come, for one thing. And all his siblings. This would never happen with my family. Any big celebration requires meticulous planning, detailed risk assessments and the intervention of the United Nations. All to ensure that there is never a full house of parents and step-parents in the same location at the same time.

Max has no idea how lucky he is. And nor do Josh and Connie, now I come to think of it. If Max and I ever split up, we'd have to take it in turns to attend family gatherings. I'd miss out on half of my (admittedly-putative) grandchildren's (equally-putative) Christenings, "big" birthdays and probably even Josh or Connie's wedding.

Mind you, it seems as if there's going to be one less parent for me to consider next time I have a birthday. Dinah phones in the evening.

"Bloody hell, Mol," she says. "You won't believe this!"

"Oh, I probably will," I say. "And, Dinah, don't you ever watch X-Factor?"

"Nah, I hate Louis Walsh. He'd put a potato through if it was Irish. Now listen, sis. He's done a runner."

"Who, Louis Walsh? He's on TV right now. That's what I was trying to watch."

Honestly, sometimes Dinah is the Salvador Dali of telephone conversation.

"Dad, you idiot. I've just been to visit him."

"Oh. And?"

"He's not there. I told you he was up to something again!"

"He's always up to something. " (Whatever is the matter with Cher's eyebrows?)

"Molly. Turn the sound down and pay attention, for once! There's a 'For Sale' sign outside Dad's house. And he's back in bloody Thailand - yet again. His neighbours told me."

Dinah rants uninterrupted for another five minutes, while I try to marshal my thoughts. Then she suddenly makes a funny choking sound. (It must be contagious.)

"You okay, Dinah?" I say.

"No-o-o," she says, hiccuping between each syllable. "We've lost him all over again, Mol. How many bloody times do we have to readjust to another sodding step-mother?"

I haven't heard Dinah cry since she was little. It's very disconcerting.

"Well, maybe it won't come to that," I say. "He may not marry Porn-Poon and, anyway, we're hardly likely to have to interact with her when she's in Thailand, are we?"

"Only when I go to bring back the body," says Dinah. "After I've had a holiday, of course. I'd forgotten about that. Thanks, Mol - you've cheered me up. Now you can get back to watching the Leprechaun."

Funnily enough, I don't much feel like it after that.

*Strictly - Strictly Come Dancing. I have such an enormously exciting social life.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Back To Coventry, Metaphorically-Speaking. And The Birth Of A Youth Activist.

Marvellous. It's Friday again, and The Boss isn't speaking to me, also again. This is probably how things are between Boris and Dave at the moment, too - but it makes surgery rather difficult to handle, to say the least.

I start off by trying to persuade Andrew to be moderate in his responses to enquiries, but he soon makes it plain that he's not willing to listen to a word I say. This results in things becoming farcical quite quickly.

The first constituent is an ex-con, who wants The Boss to write to his GP to persuade him to issue a prescription for Viagra.

"I can't get it up no longer," he says. "It's right traumatic."

The Boss nods sagely, as if he can imagine this only too well.

"Terrible thing, terrible," he says. "Have you tried asking your doctor yourself?"

"Yep. He won't agree to it. He's prejudiced against offenders."

"What were you in prison for?" I say.


Now The Boss wants me to write to the doctor to point out that this constituent has served his time and is as entitled to a sex-life as anyone else. (That's debatable, from my perspective. It's not as if everyone is having rampant sex, after all.)

The next constituent is no better. He's a convicted paedophile. (Is the bail hostel running a day-trip to our office, or something?) Now I'm supposed to persuade the man's victim to meet him - to help the paedophile deal with his feelings about the event.

By this point, it feels as if the world has gone stark staring mad. God knows what the press will make of The Boss' intercession in either of these bloody cases, if the news gets out.

The last constituent's a bit of a shock, too. When I go to the door, and call for Mr Johnson, a teenage youth stands up. Followed by Josh.

"Oh, hi, Josh," I say. "I'm busy at the moment. I'll be about half an hour if you want to wait for me."

"I'm with Ben," says Josh. 'I'm his McKenzie's friend." (I wondered why he asked me about that the other night! Reminder to self: always dig deeper before answering.)

"Oh. I see." I don't, actually. I have no idea what is going on.

"We've come to see our MP," says Josh. "There's something very dodgy going on at the cinema, and someone needs to do something about it."

Now it seems as if The Boss agrees. When Ben has told Andrew that he's been forced to resign, Josh takes over. (I think he may have missed the bit where the McKenzie's friend is supposed to remain silent.)

He explains that the cinema has just taken on another batch of new employees. Before anyone can think that this is an early indicator of the private sector stepping in to fill the gap left by public sector redundancies, Josh says that most of those who already have jobs are being got rid of - by stealth. Like Ben.

Apparently, a steady stream of cinema workers are being called in to see the managers, accused of small misdemeanours such as taking a day off sick, and then advised to resign "if they want to make sure they have a good reference."

Josh says that these culls of employees happen fairly regularly, according to the few staff who have managed to keep their jobs for longer than a year.

"But what's the point of that, if the company then has to recruit to fill the jobs again?" I say.

"Well, Mum," says Josh. "Oh, sorry, Mrs Bennett - the rumour is that the company gets financial incentives for every worker it takes from the dole queue. And they don't have to employ them for long to earn it."

"Bloody hell," says The Boss. "So they can claim for a new lot every six months or so?"

"Seems that way," says Josh. "If everyone goes quietly. Only I don't see why they should, do you?"

Well, that was a surprise. Even The Boss is impressed. When we get back to the office, he actually speaks to me.

"Quite the young activist, your son - isn't he?" he says. "Seems he's inherited your reforming zeal. It's just a shame yours seems to have disappeared, eh, Molly?"

Then he picks up his briefcase, says, "Come on, Vicky - I'll buy you a coffee," and walks out of the door.

"Well, we can't all be red-soled philanthropists," I say - to his retreating back. All my best lines, doomed to remain unheard.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Louboutin-Clad Piranha Reveals Her True Colours

God knows what Vicky's been telling The Boss during their cosy tete a tetes. She looks really smug when she arrives at work this morning, but doesn't say anything when I ask her how her meeting with Andrew went yesterday. She just smiles a little, through compressed lips - like a piranha before it bites.

Then Andrew phones and demands to know what is going on.

"What d'you mean, what is going on?" I say. (This is another political trick I have learned from The Boss - repeating the question to allow time to formulate the answer.)

"Are you all bloody incompetent?" he says.

"What?" Does he know about the vodka? I only had one shot during working hours, so I tell myself not to be stupid, while Andrew continues:

"Vicky tells me the whole office is a shambles, and that you lot don't know your arses from your elbows."

"Oh - does she?" I say, and try to fix Vicky with a look. She's hiding under that curtain of hair, so this is less effective than I intended. "And what does Vicky say to back this up?"

"Well, that there are loads of things that Marie-Louise had put into the diary on the wrong dates, and that you and Greg are hopeless at managing constituents. She says that you annoy them."

"Andrew, considering that Greg and I are still in one piece - despite being exposed to nutters on a daily basis with no bloody security - and that your response rate on Write To Them is categorised as very high, I think, with all due respect, that Vicky is talking out of her arse," I say.

"Well, I'm just telling you to shape up," says Andrew. "Or ship out. Now put me on to Vicky."

Bloody, bloody hell! Did you ever hear anything like it? I do as he asks, then gesture furiously at Greg to follow me out of the office. We hide in the surgery room while I tell him what Andrew said.

When I've finished, I expect Greg to get so angry that he will have to be prevented from slapping Vicky, but he doesn't. His knees just crumple a bit, and he looks almost defeated.

"Shit," he says. "Shit, shit, shit. I thought something was going on."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know. I've just had that feeling in my water." Greg's water is almost as reliable as The Twilight Zone theme, so I accord it the weight it deserves.

"Shit," I say. (Sometimes the same word, oft-repeated, is the best one can do in the circumstances.)

"Well, there've been a couple of things missing from the diary when I've checked them, that I was sure were in there before Vicky started - like the speech Andrew's supposed to be giving at that university next month."

"But that was in the diary!" I say. "I've seen it too, as I attached some other files to the appointment after Marie had logged it."

"That's what I mean," says Greg. "But while you were away, the Vice-Chancellor's secretary phoned up to change the time, and I couldn't even find a record of the appointment itself."

"So what are we going to do?" I say.

"Looks like it's back to the DIY CRB checks, Mol, " says Greg. "But this time not on constituents. We need to find out what that witch is up to, before anything else happens."


Greg looks at me, and says,

"What does 'hmm' mean? Have you no faith?"

"Not much," I say. "The last check we did wasn't exactly a resounding success, was it? We both nearly got bitten on the arse by Mr Beales' dog. And we forgot he had a bloody shotgun, too."

"So we've learned our lesson. This time we'll read up in advance - and be more careful," says Greg. "Go to the library and take out some crime thrillers on your way home. The inside knowledge will come in useful for our careers, anyway."

"I can't see how. It sounds like we won't even have jobs for much longer," I say.

"Exactly. So if - or when - that happens, you and I will be well-placed to set up as private investigators," says Greg. "Especially on the basis of the publicity we'll get for nailing Vicky. Now let's get back to the office and get this operation started."

Well, I suppose Greg's idea is better than nothing - which is all I've managed to come up with so far - but I can't say I'm very optimistic. Dempsey and Makepeace we aren't.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Dangers Of Russian Vodka, And A Slightly-Drunken Canary With Access To Email

Everyone's in such a good mood today! Well, everyone apart from the constituents. It's very unnerving.

In the morning, Max gives me a cuddle and apologises for his PMT comment.

"I was just being immature," he says, as he gives me an exaggerated kiss on the cheek.

"Humph," I say. (I am not being an elephant, just playing hard to get.)

"Well, I am your toy-boy, after all."

Oh, honestly. A six-month age gap and you never hear the last of it. Which reminds me, I suppose I really must start planning Max's surprise birthday party. Which is bound to be better than mine was, if only because I don't intend to tell him about it in advance.

Unlike my husband, I understand the concept of surprise - which will include not inviting Annoying Ellen if I can get away with it, though I'm not quite sure how I'm going to make that look like an oversight. She'll be round at the first sniff of alcohol, anyway.

Talking of alcohol, I arrive at work to find that Igor has dropped off a bottle of vodka to warm us all up. Greg has already tested it for purity, or so he says.

"Can't be too careful, Mol. You are lucky I am prepared to risk my life as the office canary."

"I don't think canaries were expected to drink vodka," I say.

"You're so anal," says Greg, as he pours another shot "just to be on the safe side."

When he tells me that Vicky has gone to London to meet up with The Boss, I decide to join him in a celebratory drink. A whole day free from eye-rolling, hair-flicking and supercilious comments about how unkindly life is treating my face! It feels as if it's my birthday.

The vodka even helps to dull the volume of Miss Chambers's voice, when she phones to say that the Police have stolen the teapot that she inherited from her mother, during their last visit to investigate her latest allegation: that her neighbours have started running a brothel.

She doesn't explain why any police officer would want a teapot in the guise of a Cornish cottage, or whether the neighbours were exonerated from operating Northwick's answer to a chicken ranch; and I don't ask. Unnecessary questions are inadvisable when your hearing's at risk.

Greg offers me a refill as soon as he hears Miss Chambers' distinctive shriek echoing around the office, but I refuse, just in case the vodka affects my judgement - or my reaction time. (It's vital to be able to end the call the moment that the volume begins to cause dizziness.)

This turns out to have been a very wise decision, as I need all my wits about me when Johnny emails me just after I have turned off the phones at the end of the day. He says that he's sorry for his PMT comment, but that he's "losing patience" with me.

When I ask why, he says that I am teasing him. Me? A tease? I wouldn't have the faintest idea where to start - as per the Ann Summers debacle - but he insists that this is exactly what I'm doing, by refusing to commit to another meeting.

"Well, I'm not sure," I say. Time to bite the bullet. "I can't help thinking that maybe we should both make a bit more effort to salvage our marriages first. Don't you?"

But it seems Johnny disagrees:

"It's not a job, being married," he says. "Is it really bloody worth it when you have to work at it?"

Of course it's a job. And I bet his kids would think it was worth it, even if he doesn't. Is he on another planet, keeping Max's Mormon friends company, or something?

I don't mention them in my next email, though it quickly becomes obvious that I still haven't explained myself properly when Johnny replies, and sends me on a frantic search for the vodka bottle:

"It's not as if you can help who you fall in love with."

Now I've got raging hiccups, no idea how to answer him, and I'm expecting to keel over like a canary any minute - admittedly through hyperventilation rather than gas. It's much less confusing when people aren't being nice to you.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Irritable, My Arse.

Is it possible to have PMT every day of the month? Now even I'm starting to wonder. Unless it's Vicky's constant hair-flicking that's causing me to be so grumpy. Today I manage to fall out with both Max and Johnny. Talk about narrowing one's options.

Max announces that he's going to be late home again tonight - while we're having breakfast. Mrs Bloom has "asked a favour" and he is going to fix a new bolt and security chain to her front door after work.

"But what on earth has that got to do with selling furniture?" I say.

"Nothing," says Max. "But it's not a bad idea to keep your best customers happy in a recession. And it won't take that long."

I can't think of anything to say to this that wouldn't involve unintelligible mumbling and swearing, so I don't bother. I rely on some passive-aggressive huffing and glaring instead. It is only seven-thirty in the morning, after all.

Not that my restraint has the desired effect. Max just raises an eyebrow and says,


Gah. Why do men always think that women's justifiable irritation must be solely due to their menstrual cycle?  I'm sure I read an article* that suggested that, while women are noticeably more irritable in the days immediately before their period, they are still less irritable than men are all the bloody time.

Unfortunately, Max's idiotic question provokes me to actual speech, and I point out that there's no such thing as Post-Menstrual Tension. And that we'd need a far better sex-life if his awareness of my cycle was to be anything like as good as his knowledge of the economic climate. This goes down about as well as you'd expect.

It does seem that Max has his finger on the pulse of the nation, though: work's all about the economic climate, too. Unsurprisingly, I suppose. I have no idea how to reassure worried constituents at the moment, anyway, but Vicky rolling her eyes at everything I say to them really isn't helping. I can't wait for Marie-Louise to come back to work.

By mid-afternoon, I'm wondering whether I can get away with unplugging the phones and blaming it on BT, when there's yet another call. It's Johnny.

"What on earth are you doing, calling me on this number?" I say. Very quietly. There are ears under all that straightened hair.

"What?" says Johnny. "Speak up, woman. There's no point in me phoning to hear your voice if you're going to whisper."

Oh, bloody hell. How does he expect me to have a conversation with him while Vicky is listening in? I decide that, if it's only my voice that he wants to hear, it won't much matter what I actually say, so I can pretend he's a constituent.

"Ah," I say. "So you're not happy with what Iain Duncan Smith has said about people needing to travel further to work?" (It's the best I can do off the top of my head.)

"What? What are you talking about? Of course I'm happy with it - I travel an entire bloody continent, you idiot," says Johnny.

His tone resembles a grumpy constituent's rather too convincingly for my liking. Not to mention that his job is hardly typical, is it? But I plough on regardless.

"Well, I see your point," I say. "Spending large amounts of money on travelling to work is all very well, if you have a full-time job. But all those poor people on zero or four-hour per week contracts, who get short notice of their shifts, or are sent home early, are indeed in a wholly different position."

"Molly, what the hell are you talking about?" says Johnny.

Honestly, sometimes even International Directors of Global Oil Companies are very slow to catch on. Vicky's still earwigging - so there's nothing for it but a two-pronged approach. I start typing an email to Johnny, while still talking to him.

"I will be happy to raise this with the Minister for Work and Pensions," I say. "I'll send you a copy of my letter, and we'll take it from there."

At the same time, I hit send, and my email saying: "Johnny, get OFF the phone!" is on its way.

"For God's sake," says Johnny. "Oh, hang on. Ah. I see. Well, I'm sorry to interrupt your vital work." Then he hangs up. Was that tone of voice really necessary?

I send another email:

"There's no need to be sarcastic."

Johnny's reply comes straight back:


Can someone please tell me the point of having an almost-lover who is just as annoying as one's husband?

*Article - here it is. I rest my case. I may even send a copy to a certain oil baron, and print a copy for Max.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Bloody Guy Fawkes. And Not For The Reason You Might Suppose.

God, I hate Guy Fawkes. Not because he wanted to blow up a load of MPs - I can understand that sentiment only too well - but because of bloody fireworks. It's not even the end of October yet, but here we go again.

Just like every other year, the phones are red-hot with constituents complaining about the effect of the damned things on Rover, or little Tiddles - and going into mind-numbing detail about exactly what said pet does in response to something going bang outside. (Usually a bit of whimpering, followed by hiding under the stairs, in case you're interested.)

I mean, I like animals as much as the next person, and don't like to see them distressed - but I wish these people would get a grip. They never phone up or write in when a neglected elderly person has lain dead in their home for weeks on end, or in response to reports that a child has been horrifically-abused. As for the poor people of Haiti, Pakistan, or anywhere else facing problems beyond our comprehension - well, they might as well not exist.

For some constituents, none of these things are sufficient to cause outrage. All's well with the world, as long as hamsters aren't being distressed by Catherine Wheels. And don't even get me started on rockets' potential for causing PTSD* in Guinea pigs. According to Miss Bloody Emms.

After a whole morning of complaints, I moan about it to Greg. Now I wish I hadn't.

"Well, it's simple," he says. "Just ask 'em if they eat meat when they call."

Honestly, has he learned nothing from the cat in the bin incident? You can't be too careful these days. In fact, I may have to talk to Joan about cancelling the Labour Party fireworks display, too. We can't afford to alienate any more voters, after all.

It looks like grinning and bearing it is the order of the day. Roll on November 6th. It can't come soon enough.

*PTSD - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Generally triggered by experiencing a traumatic event outside the experience of most people, and which causes immense psychological distress. I'm not sure if Miss Emms has read the definition recently.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Warning: The Unseen Hazards Of The Big Society.

What an awful night that was! I've never had such a terrible night's sleep. I hate staying at other people's houses, especially older people's.

Why on earth are they so attached to the concept of sheets and blankets? It's fatally flawed. And bloody dangerous, too.

First I had a  nightmare in which I was being made to wear a straight-jacket. (Keep your thoughts to yourselves.) Then I thought I heard Mum calling and, when I went to climb out of bed, I got horribly tangled in the sheet and ended up falling on the floor.

Mum heard the crash, and came to see whether I was okay, so our roles got a bit muddled, to say the least.

There's a bloody great lump on her head by the morning, poor thing - and all because she was trying to do her bit for the Big Society.

It turns out that the reason she stinks of gin - did I mention that last night? - is because she was carrying a bottle of the stuff when she fell. It smashed and the contents went all over her. This is a relief, as I'd been wondering whether she'd taken to drinking in secret. (She was married to Dad, after all - so no-one could blame her.)

The gin was for an elderly neighbour, who has persuaded Mum to do her shopping and deliver it to her house. (Given that some might consider Mum to be fairly elderly herself, I think she should be given credit for her community-mindedness.)

The contents of the neighbour's weekly order never vary: gin, gin and cigarettes. She'd make a perfect date for Greg if she wasn't in her nineties. Anyway, it was while crossing the road to deliver the goodies that Mum buggered over her skirt.

Not that the neighbour seems particularly grateful. When I pop over this morning to tell her about Mum's accident, all she asks is whether the cigarettes are still dry - and when Mum will be well enough to go and buy another bottle.

Honestly, the woman's as much of a party animal as Annoying Ellen, albeit in a rather solitary fashion. That's probably why she keeps passing out in the bath and having to be rescued by Ted.

Bugger, now I've lost my thread. It's probably due to spending too much time with Mum, who could give Kevin Turvey a run for his money any day of the week. Or to sheet and blanket-related sleep deprivation. Now where was I?

Oh yes, keeping tabs on the elderly. When I finally arrive home this evening, after Ted's got back from his fishing trip, Dinah rings.

"Heard from Dad?" she says. Oh, for Pete's sake. Does it never end?

"No," I say. "I've been on Mum duty. What's up?"

"Thought I'd better check on him, but I can't get any answer again."

"Well, when you find him, let me know," I say. "I can only monitor one parent at a time. Our family forms far too big a chunk of the Big Society all by itself."

Now I could really use a gin - but my bottle turns out to be empty too. I bet bloody Josh has drunk the last of it. Maybe I'll go back to Mum's and try licking up what's left on the pavement.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Good God, Is Everyone Going Commando?

Bloody Buddhists. No offence but, honestly, I could kill idiot brother Robin. He's probably cost me a gold star.

It's all going so well up until teatime, too. Max has suggested he take me out for a meal and, when I say I don't think we can afford it, he says he has 2 for 1 vouchers for Pizza Express - and that Mrs Bloom gave him a tip the other night. (I don't enquire what for, but am hoping he hasn't become a gigolo.)

So I'm all excited, and am upstairs hurling clothes around in an attempt to find something to wear, when the phone rings. Then Max appears, looking very concerned.

"What now?" I say.

"It's your Mum," he says. "No, don't panic - she's all right. She's just had a fall."

"Oh my God," I say. "Where is she?" I'm sick of that damned hospital, thanks to Josh.

"At home, with the paramedic. I said you'd get round there as quickly as possible."

"Shit. And just when Ted's away fishing, too." Probably without a licence. Ted's a man who knows how to live dangerously.

I abandon the hunt for clothes, and grab my handbag and coat. Oh, and Arnica. I don't care what the LibDems say about homeopathy, this stuff works. It's been proved effective on too many occasions, all Josh-related, to be a fluke.

Then I have a moment of clarity.

"Has anyone told Robin?" I say. Max shakes his head, so I start dialling the number as we head for the car.

"Ah, Moll," says Robin, the albino Isaac Hayes of Buddhists. "How's it hanging? All cool with you?"

"Yes, I mean, no. Rob - Mum's had a fall. I'm on my way there now. Are you coming?"

"Oh no,"  says Robin. "You're the expert at family stuff. I'm sure you've got it all covered - and I've got some mates coming round tonight. Poker."

I don't say anything, so he continues:

"I'll leave it in your capable hands, then - shall I?"

"Sounds like I don't have a choice," I say, before I hang up on him. Practice compassion daily, my arse.

Talking of arses, God knows what Mum's been playing at. When I walk in, she's sitting on the sofa, wrapped in a (hopefully non-flammable) blanket and looking very pale.

The paramedic's bustling around, and Mum starts mouthing something at me. I move closer, and she whispers in my ear.


"I know it is, Mum," I say. "But the paramedic says you're fine, just a bit shaken up."

"No," she says, looking very agitated. "I need you to get me some pants. I haven't got any on."

Good God. Now my mother's walking around knicker-less? What the hell is going on? First Mr Beales and his Ann Summers habit, and now this. It's all far too much.

Later, after Mum's had a cup of tea, and explained that she tripped over the hem of her skirt, she tells me that the reason she wasn't wearing pants is somehow related to the sore buttock thing. Tender skin and seams, or something.

"If you say so," I say.

Then Robin arrives, all smiles and bonhomie. Maybe he did some emergency chanting, or divination, and the Buddha revealed that it might be a good idea to turn up and earn some Karma points.

He holds Mum's hand, smiles devotedly, and makes her scrambled egg. I wonder if maybe I'll be able to go out with Max after all, but then Robin kisses Mum on the cheek, and says,

"Gotta run, Ma. People to see, places to go - you know how it is. I'm sure Moll will stay overnight. She's the expert, what with having kids and all."

If you read about the murder of a Buddhist with a penchant for bling in tomorrow's papers, don't forget that there were mitigating factors, that's all I can say. I dread to think who Max is sharing his voucher with right now. Hopefully someone else who doesn't wear knickers - but only because they're male, and called Josh.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Some Less Than Astute Judgement Calls.

Well, it seems as if Nick Clegg was caught with his pants down yesterday, doesn't it? (Must be a peculiarly Liberal thing, mentioning no Irish names.)

He and Dave reminded me of how Connie and Josh used to behave when they were little, and had been caught in the act - swaying from side to side, and looking at the floor, while swearing black was white. Or that the IFS* was wrong, in Nick's case. Hardly an astute position to take, I'd have thought.

Talking of astute, Greg and I nearly wet ourselves when we hear that that's the name of the submarine that ran aground this morning. It seems Sam's not the only person who has found Skye to be a strangely hazardous environment. (I probably talked it up, what with mentioning Sam's Scottish SOS - but I'm trying not to feel too bad about that. Guilt-induced hiccups are so exhausting.)

Anyway - back to the point. Given the controversy of recent days, today's surgery isn't too bad - probably because all the appointments had already been booked before the Spending Review.

The phones were busy, though. I kept dropping mine because my hands were so bloody cold. It is no fun being skinny in cold weather, as last night's events proved only too clearly.

When I got home from work, I was freezing cold, and dying for a cup of tea, so I wrapped myself in a blanket and then went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Bad, bad move. Flames and blankets do not mix. The house still stinks of melted fleece, and so does my hair.

It's a good job The Boss seems to have taken up smoking a pipe again, as otherwise I'm sure he'd have noticed the funny smell. If he was capable of noticing anything other than Vicky's legs, that is.

I'm getting very tired of her being here now - there's hair everywhere from all that pseudo-casual flicking. Probably enough to knit myself a new blanket. It is a time of austerity, after all. Not that that should encourage Monsieur Clegg to be economical with the truth.

*IFS - Institute for Fiscal Studies, much lauded by Nick Clegg for its impartiality and accuracy during the election campaign, but now apparently incompetent.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

More Muddled Political Analysis From An Insider. (Mirthless Laugh.)

God, I do wish I'd had flu this week. Or taken a day off yesterday. It's so unfair to expect constituency staff to react to major policy announcements when they haven't any time to watch the news, PMQs or even to read the papers during their working day.

I'm still trying to make sense of the Spending Review now - though that's a pretty tall order, given the breadth of its reach. The detail is impossible to understand - probably deliberately, if my long-held suspicion of statistics is anything to go by.

I gather Georgina* is being accused of playing fast and loose with some of the numbers, as The Boss nearly had a stroke over some of the stuff he said George had pinched from Labour.

My head's hurting and I just want to go and lie down quietly in a darkened room. Maybe if I took the economy with me, we might both feel better by tomorrow.

I need to get away from Max yelling at the public sector representatives on the TV, too. Every time one of them comes on, and claims that the public sector is taking the sole hit for the bankers' failures, he goes mad.

Part of me can't blame him - they do rather talk as if the private sector hasn't been feeling any pain whatsoever. Do they only socialise with others who work in the same field, I wonder? Surely they must know someone who doesn't even have a pension, or has already taken a pay cut or lost a job this year? You wouldn't think so from the rhetoric - though don't tell Max that. I really don't want to encourage him.

The worst thing about all this is that the most vulnerable are - again - the most terrified by what's going on. The expert claimants can probably afford to be phlegmatic about cuts to the welfare system - they'll just work out new ways to get around it. I just wish that, for once, attention would be paid to ensuring that it's not reducing the numbers claiming that is the focus, but ensuring that you do pay those who are genuinely in need.

So often I see people with severe disabilities and terminal illnesses struggle to get DLA, while those who have a bad back that recovers miraculously at the thought of a rugby match or a night out get the higher levels of everything going. As usual, those who are the most ingenious survive, while those who are the most honest seem to go under.

Take Pat's new boyfriend. Well, that's a bit of a misnomer, actually - as he's fifty if he's a day. DLA, Incapacity Benefit, full Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. He hasn't worked a day in his life since he left art school thirty years ago. And how has he done it? By virtue of some very creative thinking indeed.

He sees aliens. Well, that's what he tells the Benefits Agency, anyway. Disprove that, if you can. His visitors from outer space don't stop him sub-letting his council flat, taking trips to Spain to sell the stuff he buys at car boot sales, or dealing in cannabis. (His long-term fondness for drugs may, of course, have something to do with his "illness.")

When she pops into the office today, Pat's full of how wonderful he is, even though she does squirm a bit when Greg starts ranting about having to pay for "this scrounger" out of his taxes - along with shell-suits and fat-mobiles, of course.

She looks even less happy when I ask her whether she thinks her boyfriend's mad.

"Um, no," she says.

I'm in a really bad mood so I press on. Forget elephants, I'm a bull in a china shop today.

"So, if you think he's telling the truth, isn't that even more worrying?" I say.

"How d'you mean?" Pat's getting a bit twitchy now.

"Well, if he really does get visits from aliens who do unpleasant things to his bottom and his mind, aren't you a bit worried they'll come round to yours one night to get him? You know, when he 's staying with you?"

"I hadn't thought of that," she says. She looks as if she wishes I hadn't, either. You can't say I don't have a forensic mind, however incompetent at statistics I may be.

*Georgina: George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Georgina is the name by which he is affectionately known to The Boss. He has an increasing problem with millionaires telling constituents that we're all in it together.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

David Cameron:The New Billy Graham? And The Perils Of Strategic Thinking.

So the Government's being accused of a lack of strategic thinking. No change there, then. It's not something the last Government were known for either, if I'm honest. And I'm not at all sure what The Boss's strategy with regard to Vicky and Marie-Louise is, either. I'm just hoping that, whatever it is, it'll backfire - just like all his plans do. Eventually.

Bloody Vicky's still driving me and Greg mad, and I do wish she'd shut up about how much her clothes cost. Hasn't she ever heard of austerity? Although she looks a bit like a young Sarah Palin - scary! - her wardrobe's an identikit for Sam Cam's, who also doesn't seem to be shopping at Primark yet.

Talking of the Camerons, I can't help wondering what the PM means when he keeps going on about "Let's all come together." Leaving aside the sexual connotations - just for a minute - he sounds like Billy Graham, which is very worrying what with what's going on in the US with all those evangelical Tea Party campaigners. I can't tell the difference between them and the usual suspects: they all seem equally barking mad to me.

The best-case scenario is probably that David's kindly trying to remind us that sex is free, in the wake of the Spending Review, and to keep us all occupied during what's bound to be another Winter of Discontent.

I suppose I could mention his idea to Max, not that having no money has ever acted as an aphrodisiac in this house. By the time you've opened the bills, and argued about what that mysterious £27.96 point-of-sale transaction was for, you're lucky to be even speaking to each other, let alone feeling remotely amorous.

Mind you, if what Johnny says about he and his wife having grown apart is true, it seems that money's not exactly a guarantee of a good sex-life either. (Unless you're David and Samantha.)

Maybe he should splash out on some contact lenses, just in case it's his clumsiness that's causing the problem. It certainly put me right off when he buggered over and nearly knocked himself out. After all, consciousness is a minimum requirement for half-way decent sex - despite what some men seem to think.

I wonder if being clumsy is an indicator of being crap in bed? Max is awfully dexterous - which isn't necessarily a good thing, now I come to think of it. It could mean having the ability to juggle more than one thing at a time, by which I mean, "woman." That's a type of strategic thinking we'd all be better off without.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Collective Male Madness. An Under-Reported Problem.

God knows what's going on this week. The more I dither about meeting up with Johnny again, the keener he gets. It's most peculiar. I can't help thinking that both of us should be making more effort to sort out our marriages - if we don't want our kids having to deal with sort of parental nonsense that Dinah and I face on a regular basis.

Dad didn't even mention the Thai bride during his last phone call, but I have a horrible feeling that that doesn't mean she's out of the picture, and Dinah agrees. She says that the rule of thumb with Dad is that, the less he tells you, the worse whatever he's up to really is. A bit like Josh.

Mind you, I might be well-advised to keep Johnny happy. Not for more roses - the Joan Collins debacle was far too bad for my blood pressure - but because my attempt to sort things out with Max isn't exactly going well.

It would help if he didn't keep being so late home from work. I can't believe that one old lady can need so many out-of-hours visits. It's not as if Max is responsible for Care in the Community, which usually seems to be my bloody job. In fact, I'm not even sure that I believe in this Mrs Bloom at all.

It's as if all the men I know are caught up in some sort of collective madness. It's probably George Osborne's fault. Everyone who calls today seems to be freaking about about how bad the news is going to be in tomorrow's Comprehensive Spending Review.

Everyone except for Mr Beales, that is. He has much more important things on his mind when he comes to the office this afternoon. He wants a progress report on what I've managed to get done about his speeding ticket.

"Well, nothing," I say. "You already told me you were speeding. Just pay the fine."

"But what about this charge of dangerous driving?" he says.

"Well, you need to talk to your solicitor about that," I say. "I'm not qualified to give you legal advice."

"Doesn't seem like you're much good at anything. It's simple." He sighs, as if I am a complete half-wit, and then continues, speaking very slowly - just to make his point.

"I. Only. Hit. The Policeman. Because. He wasn't. Wearing. A Luminous. Jacket."

Gah. Does he never give up? I'm sure I'm hyperventilating.

Mr Beales waits for me to finish coughing, and then says, triumphantly,

"And he still isn't wearing the bloody thing either - another accident just waiting to happen."

"How do you know that?" I say.

"I'm a photographer," he says. "We are used to working undercover. I'll send you the evidence as soon as I get it, and then we can talk about what to do next."

For God's sake. What we should do next is to get Mr Beales committed, though maybe I could ask him to check out Mrs Bloom first, if he really is any good at stake-outs. And he could find out who Ellen was with when she bought those Lebkuchen, while he's at it - if that doesn't make me sound completely paranoid. Maybe this week's madness isn't exclusively male, after all.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Just Because You're Paranoid, Doesn't Mean The Bastards Aren't Out To Get You.

Well, I wish I could say it's nice to be back at work, but it isn't. Mainly because Vicky the mad hair-flicker is still covering for Marie-Louise, though I can't say I can see much sign of her doing any actual work.

Greg and I can't even manage to have a proper conversation as, every time we start talking, she seems to appear from nowhere. What sort of woman can move silently in four inch heels?

He resorts to passing me notes after an hour or so, all labelled "Eat this once read." He draws a skull and crossbones on each one, too - just in case I haven't already got the message.

By lunchtime, I can't stand the taste of paper any longer, so we go to the pub for a secret emergency meeting.

"How's it been?" I say. "Any sign of Marie-Louise coming back to work any time soon?"

"No," says Greg. "Would help if Andrew would apologise for whatever it was he did to upset her so much, but he seems quite happy with the status quo. He wouldn't even sign the 'get well' card that I sent her."

"What 'get well' card?" I say. "What about me?"

"Oh, don't worry. I forged your signature. It's a lot easier than Andrew's - I practised first, but his was impossible, so I had to give up."

"That's not what I meant! You didn't send me a card."

"Well, you were just malingering. And it's not your job that Vicky's after - or at least, I don't think it is."

Then he shows me a print-out of an article about Jim Devine MP, and what he allegedly did to his office manager to get rid of her.

"Bloody hell," I say. "They think they're a law unto themselves, don't they?"

"I told you to keep up with the outside world while you were ill," says Greg. "I'm thinking of sending it anonymously to The Boss, just to get him to stop acting like such an idiot."

"Do you think it'll work?"

"Probably not, but it's worth a try, isn't it?"

"I don't know. It might just give him the idea of getting rid of me instead," I say. "Marion Kinley was doing my job, after all - not the diary."

"Hmm," says Greg. I really don't like the way he says that.

"Hmm, what? Now what's he up to?"

"Well, he did mention that I could find Vicky some casework to do, while you were away. I didn't, but he seemed awfully keen."

Bloody, bloody hell. It seems I should have spent less time dreaming about Martin Shaw and watching the miner's rescue while I was ill, and more thinking about how to protect myself from the Vicky threat.

I might be good at watching The Boss' back, but I'm not very good at watching my own, as the Ellen situation demonstrates only too clearly. I just hope I don't end up needing a judge or a Manuel Gonzalez to save my bacon.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Malingering, My Arse. Plus What Your Husband Doesn't Tell You About His Day At Work.

 Greg texts me this afternoon. "Molly, enough malingering. When are you coming back to work? Hopefully before Vicky gets your job as well as Marie-Louise's. On the subject of which, I hope you've been keeping an eye on the news."

Now what's he talking about? The only news I've bothered to watch since I went down with flu was the rescue of the Chilean miners. What a fantastic outcome, and an incredible bunch of guys. Though I do think the President should have made a lot more fuss of Manual Gonzalez. Imagine being the first person to have to ride in the Fenix 2!

I mention this to Max, who says, "Why?"

"Well, when he got in it, he couldn't have known that he wasn't going to get stuck in the tunnel a quarter of a mile down. On his own, and without even being able to move his arms and legs. I felt claustrophobic just watching that capsule move into the shaft. I'm sure it gave me palpitations."

"That was because you had a bloody temperature," says Max. "And you have far too much imagination for your own good." He gives me a funny look as he says this. I hope he doesn't know about Martin Shaw.

I don't reply, as I'm not sure where this is heading, but then Max goes on to say that Mr Gonzalez didn't even tell his wife what he was up to when he left for work that day.

"Huh. Typical," I say.

"What d'you mean?" says Max. "He didn't want her to worry."

"That's probably how all men justify keeping secrets," I say. Max looks as if he wishes I was still upstairs in bed, though I can't think why.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Why It Is Inadvisable To Look In A Mirror When Recovering From Flu. Or Out Of The Window.

Well, I seem to be able to smoke again, so I suppose I must be on the mend, even though I still feel as if I've been hit by a bus.

Actually, I look as if I've been hit by a bus, too. Unlike Annoying Ellen. When I opened the bedroom curtains a minute ago, there she was in her garden, hanging her washing out. She must buy that underwear just for show.

I'm surprised she didn't spot me watching her, as my nose is still completely luminous.  Constant sex must protect against flu, if not other forms of infection - as I've never seen Ellen with a red nose. Not once. Maybe she has hers Botoxed, along with everything else. (I have seen her with a distinctly white one, but that's another story.)

God, I feel worse now I'm up. I think I may have to go back to bed. My delirium-induced sex-life with Martin Shaw at least had the virtue of feeling restorative, unlike the cold light of day.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Martin Shaw Goes AWOL As My Chances Of Survival Improve.

I am awake, and not delirious so I suppose I may be going to survive. Unfortunately. I preferred being asleep. Especially when Martin was being so nice to me, too.

Tomorrow I might attempt a cigarette. If I can smoke that, then I'll know I'm on the mend.

I wonder if anyone's missing me at work? They can probably see my nose from there. Josh will keep making references to Concorde.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Patient's Chart: No Change.

Still dying. Still don't care. And where has Martin got to? I want to wear his wig.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Delirium, Which Is Hard To Spell When You Are Delirious

I've got bloody flu. Not manflu, but the real McCoy: I'm shivering like a mad thing despite a raging temperature. And I don't care about anything. Not roses, not Johnny, not German biscuits. And I don't even want a cigarette, so you know how bad things are.

I suppose it's a good thing Vicky can cover for me while I'm off sick. Though, actually, I don't even care about work. Greg's chaos theory probably applies anyway, and my being absent won't actually make a blind bit of difference to anyone.

I am just going to sleep - all the time - and hope Martin Shaw returns during any delirious moments. As long as he doesn't look at my face either. I bet it looks like shit.

Does any of this make sense? I may be delirious now.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Far Too Much Of Men Being Men.

I think I'm coming down with something. Unless it's an allergy to the roses. Or to Vicky. I keep sneezing and my temperature's going up and down like a yoyo. I wonder if this is what a hot flush is like?

It's bloody awful in the office today. Vicky's swanning around on those impossible heels, and referring to The Boss as Andy to everyone she speaks to on the phone. Even to Trish, who I don't think likes it much. She rings back later to quiz me.

"Molly, who is that awful woman I spoke to earlier?"

"Um, it's Vicky," I say. "You know, Andrew's old intern?"

"What, her?" says Trish, sounding incredulous. "What's she doing there? I thought she'd landed some plummy lobbying job."

"I don't exactly know. She was at conference, and then she arrived here. To help out with the diary while Marie-Louise is off sick."

God, this is awkward. Doesn't Andrew tell his wife anything? There's far too much of that sort of thing going around at the moment.

"I didn't even know that Marie-Louise was off sick," says Trish. "Let alone that Victoria was at conference."

"Ah," I say. That word does come in useful sometimes. I can see why The Boss relies on it so heavily.

I use it again, shortly afterwards, when Johnny emails me.

"Did you like the flowers?" he says. "Thought I'd make sure you were thinking about me while I was travelling over the last few days."

"Ah. Yes," I say. Dual purpose answer, too. I'm on a roll of tried and tested ways of being non-committal today, but I feel too shitty to care.

"I thought about you all the time. Especially when I was alone in my hotel room."

"Did I have a red nose and a stinking cold?" I say.

"I don't know," says Johnny. "I wasn't envisaging your face much."

God, there's nothing to choose between him and Max, is there? What with me having a great body - for my age - and a face that my so-called lover doesn't even bother to picture, I may as well go and put that Primark carrier over my head right now. Before Victoria suggests it.

Monday, 11 October 2010

A Very Minor Detail Gets Overlooked.

I knew I was right to be worried about The Boss's plan to deal with Marie-Louise's absence. When I arrive at work this morning, a couple of minutes late after checking that all the neighbours' cars are still where they're supposed to be, Greg is looking very stressed.

"What's up?" I say. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

He puts a finger to his lips and mouths, "Sssh!"


"In your office," Greg says, or rather, whispers. Then he pulls an extraordinary face that is no help at all. He'd be bloody useless at Charades.

Even with Greg's half-arsed warning, I am really not expecting this. Someone is sitting in my chair, and looking through my day book. It's like finding bloody Goldilocks in your bed.

"Can I help you?" I say, in my best frosty voice, and the woman turns to face me.

"Ah, Molly," she says. "I see nothing changes here - except you!"

"How have I changed?" I say, before I can stop myself.

"Oh, nothing. Just age, you know - it'll happen to us all. Eventually."

"Nice to see you, too, Vicky," I say, through gritted teeth. "And what are you doing here?"

"I'm your replacement diary secretary," she says. "Didn't Andy tell you?"

There it is, the bloody hair flick. Vicky's right - some things never change. Unfortunately. And what's with the Andy business? I doubt The Boss has ever been called Andy before, not even when he was a baby. He just hasn't got the face for nicknames.

"Oh, Andrew probably overlooked it," says Greg, coming up behind me, and jabbing me in the ribs. "Minor details were never his thing."

"Oh, I hardly think he sees me as a minor detail," says Vicky. "Now where shall I sit? Here?"

"No," I say.

"Yes," says Greg. "We've got to go downstairs and meet with that constituent, Molly - so it doesn't matter where Vicky sits at the moment - does it?"

He hustles me out of the office so fast that I don't even have time to ask, "What constituent?"

We spend the next hour locked in the surgery room, trying to find out what the hell is going on. Greg tries to phone The Boss, but he's probably still on the train back to London, and isn't answering his mobile.

Bugger. There's nothing for it but to phone Carlotta, and see what she knows about the situation. The answer to that is nothing, or nada. She is as stunned as we are, but Spanish, don't forget.

"Wha-at?" she says. "A replacement? For Marie-Louise?"

"Apparently," I say. "Though I can't see why. I was managing the diary perfectly well, and we haven't got any money in the staffing budget to cover a temp at this stage, either. Get Andrew to call me when he arrives, will you?"

"Oh, yes. I will," says Carlotta, who sounds uncharacteristically determined. She obviously remembers Vicky only too well.

The whole thing is so annoying. Now we have no choice but to wait for Andrew to make contact. I reclaim my desk, but only at a price: Vicky settles herself in the Oprah room instead, where she kicks off her shoes - God knows how she can afford them: don't red soles denote Louboutins? Then she reclines on the sofa, opens her briefcase, and starts making notes - though she doesn't say what about. Probably how many wrinkles I've gained since she last saw me.

It's late afternoon by the time The Boss finally bothers to phone.

"You wanted to speak to me?" he says. "I'm in a rush, so make it snappy."

"Um, yes. Andrew, about Vicky -"

"Great to have her back, isn't it? She's a breath of fresh air, and tough with it, not like some moaning minnies."

"Back?" I say. "But Marie-Louise is only off sick. She'll be back at work soon."

"Oh well, we'll see about that," says Andrew. "You just look after Vic, and get her anything she needs."

"Well, there is the small problem of a computer," I say. "We have only got two: Greg's and mine."

"Not a problem. I'm letting her use my laptop. Now can you put her on? I want to welcome her back into the fold."

I put the call through to the Oprah room, then Greg and I both put our heads against the door. All we can hear is giggling, and the occasional, "Oh, Andy!" It's all we can do not to retch.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Creative Car Parking, Minus An Eye For Detail.

Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned the German biscuits to Josh. Today I get a call from Ellen. First thing in the bloody morning. She doesn't sound at all happy, but then I'm not impressed at being woken from a rather nice dream about Judge John Deed either, especially not by her. Martin Shaw is very flexible for his age.

"Molly, is Josh there?" she says.

"Um, I don't know," I say. "He's probably still asleep. Why?"

I haven't seen Josh since he left the house to go clubbing with Robbie and the other boys last night. Honestly, these young ones don't even go out until the rest of us are off to bed - not since the Labour government had the bright idea to allow 24-hour drinking.

I used to wait up for Josh to come home, but the sleep deprivation did nothing for the bags under my eyes. Or my patience - though it's Ellen who's sounding impatient this morning.

"Well, have you seen what he's done?"

Does she need to sound quite so snotty? I'm the injured party, after all - or I might be, anyway. It depends on who she was with when she bought those bloody Lebkuchen. I haven't quite worked out how I'm going to find that out yet, without making a complete idiot of myself if I'm wrong.

"Molly, are you listening? Have you seen what Josh has done?"

"No," I say. "At least, I don't think so. What do you mean?"

"The thing with the cars," she says, as if I am a halfwit, rather than someone who is only half-awake.

"No, sorry - I don't know what you're talking about."

"He's turned all the neighbours' cars round ninety degrees, so they're all facing the pavement," she says. "Including mine."

I snort, then pull myself together.

"It isn't funny, Molly. You need to deal with that boy."

"Well, when is this supposed to have happened?" I ask.

"In the early hours, I should think - while we were all asleep."

Honestly, that woman. I sit up in bed, and ready myself for being politely and forensically rude. It's just like being at work, but on a bloody Sunday. With the added bonus of having to deal with the woman my husband might be having an affair with. I just hope she can hear him snoring - that'd put anyone off.

"So, Ellen, let me get this straight. Someone has moved all the cars around, and you blame Josh, even though you didn't see him do it?" I say. "How does that work, exactly? I thought people were innocent until proven guilty in this country. It could have been anyone with a warped sense of humour." Like whoever is running my life at the moment.

"Your car is the only one still facing the right way," says Ellen, as if that proves her point. Which I suppose it probably does. Now I don't know whether to bollock Josh, or hug him.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

An SOS From Skye, And Some Biscuits Whose Provenance I'd Prefer Not To Consider.

Sam's not having a very good time on his sex trip to Skye. Just after breakfast, Max gets a text from him. It says,

"Help! Incompatible in bed and nothing to talk about. Supposed to be here another two days :-S"

So much for sexy underwear, I want to say - but then I remember my new pants and decide against it. Max looks vaguely disappointed. I think he quite fancied Shona too.

"What should he do?" he asks.

"I don't know," I say. "He's your friend, and anyway, he always ignores my advice. I told him to start reading the women's bloody profiles instead of just looking at their pictures on the websites."

"And to ignore the shared interests," says Max. "Bearing in mind the Park Warden and the Tall Enigma."

"Anyway, I'm leaving him to you," I say. "I've got to go for coffee at Ellen's. Are you okay?"

Max looks awfully pale. "Ellen's?" he says. "I thought you hated her after the bin incident and, well, you know - "

"When you snogged her at the party?" I say. Amazing how much of your sense of humour you can get back when you have been sent hundreds of red roses. 'Oh well, I've taken your word for it that there's nothing going on. Is there?"

Now I've said this, I feel guilty about the roses, so I don't make Max answer and instead take pity on him. Or on Sam, anyway.

"Send him a text saying his cousin's in hospital and he needs to come home immediately in case he needs to give blood," I say. "Then she'll think he's a good guy with a rare blood group, and she won't feel rejected either."

"God, you're cunning," says Max. "Sometimes I forget you work for a politician."

I tap my nose and wink at him, then head to Ellen's. I have no idea why she's invited me round, unless it's to apologise for the exhibitionism with the bins the other night. I'm in a forgiving mood, so I shall wait and see what she says.

Ellen's fully-clothed, I'm pleased to report and, although she still looks like a blonde James Blunt who's been shot full of Botox, she makes me welcome and doesn't do any of that one-upmanship thing that she usually does. Or at least, she doesn't do it for at least ten minutes.

She makes the tea, then sits down and says, "How's Max?"

"Um, oh, he's okay, thanks."

"Oh, good,"  says Ellen. Her tone's a bit funny, so I raise my eyebrows and say, "Why?"

"Oh, nothing," she says, and then, "Well, it's just -"

"Just what?" I say.

"He's always so friendly whenever I see him. So friendly. Know what I mean?" She giggles. (God, I hate gigglers.)

"Not really," I say. "Not to Mormons, anyway. These biscuits are great, by the way. What are they?"

"Lebkuchen," says Ellen. "I got them on my trip to Germany a couple of months ago."

Ouf. I can't say I recommend them, after all - they suddenly taste like sawdust in my mouth. Or maybe that's just all the questions I'm biting down on, like: "When were you in Germany? Who were you with? Was it my husband and is that why he claimed he didn't know the name of his hotel?"

I am bloody well not going to make a fool of myself. I am not, or not yet, anyway. Not 'til I find out exactly what is going on. But I am wondering if it's time to wake up and smell the roses. Low cunning may not be the sole preserve of those of us who work for politicians, after all.

Friday, 8 October 2010

I Needed That Like A Hole In The Head. Despite Claims To The Contrary.

Oh, my God. Well, that gold star-induced sense of well-being was short-lived. I have just seen inside someone's head! Not telepathically, by virtue of The Twilight Zone theme, but literally! (This over-use of exclamation marks is perfectly justifiable, as will become only too clear.)

Honestly, if I'd wanted to be a brain surgeon, I'd have made far more effort to pass Biology when I was at school, instead of just concentrating during sex education. But does my disinterest stop Mr Lawson? No, it does not. I have never met such a nutter in my life. And that is really saying something.

Surgery's going quite well today, changes to Child Benefit and public sector pensions notwithstanding - until he comes in. He's never contacted us before, so this is the first time I've met him. I bloody well hope it's the last, as well.

"I want to talk to you about mental health," he says, as he sits down.

"Ah," says The Boss. "And what about mental health, exactly?"

"The professionals' unwillingness to use tried and tested methods to alleviate people's misery."

This sounds interesting. Maybe there's something in it for me? I could occasionally do with some cheering up, so I start paying attention.

"Did you have anything specific in mind?" I ask.

This proves to be absolutely the worst thing I could have said. Mr Lawson smiles - a bit like a crocodile, slowly and with definite menace - then he pulls off his hat, leans forward so that his head is almost touching my notepad, and says,


"What?" I say. I can only see greying hair and a smattering of dandruff.

"This," he says again, parting his hair to reveal what looks like a small hole.

Now Andrew's the one who's interested, while I have lost all desire to find out anything more, thank you very much.

"Is that a hole?" he says.

Mr Lawson nods, which makes me flinch - Christ, bits of his brain will probably fly out and spatter me if he doesn't stop doing that. This is horrible.

"Have you had brain surgery, then?" says Andrew.

Honestly, can't he tell Mr Lawson to put his bloody hat back on, instead of encouraging him? I am starting to feel sick - the same as I did when I was made to dissect a cow's eyeball in class. (The damned thing definitely jumped when I cut through the optic nerve, no matter what Miss Rosen claimed at the time. It nearly gave me a heart attack.)

"In a manner of speaking," says Mr Lawson. "Ever heard of trepanning*?"

"Good God," says The Boss. "Are you serious?"

"Absolutely,"  says Mr Lawson. "Can't recommend it highly enough."

So now I am supposed to write a letter on his behalf, asking why the NHS doesn't offer trepanning to those suffering from mental health conditions. Honestly, the world is going mad. Which is not a recommendation for Mr Lawson's bloody solution.

I'm starting to wonder if he didn't have completely the wrong idea about the purpose of a constituency surgery. I'm probably lucky my head's still hole-free, though I really can't vouch for Andrew's.

*Trepanning - explanation here. I think. I couldn't bear to read it all, and am definitely not recommending it.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Max And The Mormons. A Demonstration Of How Not To Greet A Caller Bringing Allegedly Good News.

Bloody hell. The hospice refuses to accept donated flowers, even when I assure them that mine are definitely not contaminated. So much for my good deed for the day. I have no choice but to give one bunch to Greg (for his mum) and the other to Joan. Not Joan Collins - just Joan. Labour Party Joan, aka the bus driver from South Park.

She's almost as overwhelmed as I was, especially when I tell her that they are in recognition of her fantastic work on The Boss's behalf during the election. I just hope she doesn't try to thank Andrew for them when she sees him, or this is going to get really complicated.

It's amazing what red roses can achieve, though. I feel like a new woman, the sort of woman that men want to send flowers to - and in abundance. I get so carried away, that I buy some more fancy knickers in Primark at lunchtime, and manage to ignore the frisson of fear I feel when I notice that even their prices have gone up.

It probably isn't sensible to take the last bunch of the roses home with me after work, though - but I just can't bear to part with all of them. Max doesn't look very convinced when I say that The Boss told me I might as well keep them as they'd arrive too late to give to Joan Collins.

"Didn't Andrew want you to courier them back yesterday?" Max's eyebrow is doing that quizzical thing that he normally reserves for Josh's wilder explanations.

"Not when he heard the quote," I say.

"Hmm," says Max, but then the doorbell rings.

Max goes to answer it, while I peer out of the window. There are two men outside, both dressed in dark suits. Uh, oh - this can't be good news. They're either debt collectors, or Josh has been up to something. I walk into the hallway and stand behind Max for moral support.

"Hi," says one of the men. "I'm here to tell you about -" Ah, Mormons.

"Not interested, thanks,"  says Max, and goes to shut the door. That's not like him at all. He'll even listen to chuggers* droning on, way past the point at which I've lost patience and am tugging at his sleeve.

"Hang on," says the man. "Is there anyone else who would be interested?"

He must have spotted me. Maybe he thinks I need saving? I immediately look guilty, but don't respond.

"Not on this planet," says Max.

"I'm on this planet," says the man, who obviously doesn't know when to take a hint.

"Are you?" says Max, and shuts the door.

Good God - if that's not a rash comment in the circumstances. I have no idea what's got into Max - I've never heard him be so rude to anyone. I hope we're both not damned for this! (Being made to go to Sunday School as a child leaves you a bit prone to assuming the worst.)

Max doesn't seem to be worrying about hellfire and damnation, though - unless it's an aphrodisiac. He slaps my arse, and kisses me on the neck. Blimey. I foresee an interesting night ahead. Who knows, there may even be another gold star in the diary by the morning, although it might be wiser not to sneak upstairs right now to strew rose petals on the sheets.

*Chuggers: charity muggers, according to Josh, and especially to Connie, who is always being conned into giving them more money than she can afford. Probably our fault for choosing her name.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A Surfeit Of Roses And An Unexpected Arrival, Not To Mention A Reference To Miss Joan Collins

Blimey, it seems to be a week of unexpected gestures. I'm working away just before lunchtime, when there's a buzz on the intercom. A delivery.

I send Greg to fetch it as I am too busy. (So far this diary business is coming in quite useful at getting me out of making coffee and walking up and down stairs, though I'm still waiting to hear the detail of The Boss' plan to deal with the Marie-Louise situation.)

"I thought you said you didn't shag Johnny?" Greg says, coming back into the office.

"I didn't," I say. "He nearly knocked himself out, and than he turned into Doctor Kildare 'cause of his daughter's chickenpox, remember?"

"Oh yes," says Greg. "Actually, are you sure that's not what's wrong with your face?"

"Ha, bloody ha. He didn't even kiss me properly. Anyway, why are you asking me about Johnny?"

"Because of these," says Greg, reaching behind him into the lobby and producing three vast bouquets of red roses. "The card says "Enough of the delaying tactics - when do we do it again? Johnny. Kiss.'"

"You what? You opened it, and read the card?" I am outraged, though I'm more astonished. Johnny - sending flowers?

"Well, yes, I did take the liberty of taking a peek. To protect you, of course. You can't be too careful, Molly - these bad boys might have been sprayed with anything."

Greg looks me up and down, as if he's never seen me before, then continues, "You must have done something pretty spectacular to get him to send all these."

"I don't think I did," I say, "but I'm certainly going to need a pretty spectacular excuse to explain them to Max."

I'm so surprised by Johnny's super-sized gift that I go tingly all over - unless it's a hot flush. God knows how much all these roses cost! No, I am not going to think about that, as then I'll start considering all the things I need and can't afford - like an urgent scale and polish, and some new thick tights that don't feel like sandpaper as a result of too many washes. Especially when I can't possibly keep the flowers, anyway.

But, oh, they are so beautiful, and they even have a scent, not like most shop-bought flowers these days. I decide to drape them around my office - just for a little while - before making Greg drive them over to the hospice, but then the intercom goes again. There, I knew it. They're going to say there was some mistake and the flowers were meant for a totally different Molly Bennett.

And from a totally different Johnny Hunter. Ah. Hmmm. That would mean that both our names are wrong. Is that likely? Oh, Christ! Max walks in behind Greg, who is rolling his eyes in a silent (and grossly ineffectual) plea for mercy.

"Couldn't stop him," he mouths.

"Bloody hell," says Max. He looks at me, then at Greg, and back at me. "Who are this lot from?"

"The Boss," says Greg, at the same time as I say, "Joan."

Joan? Have I lost my mind? If there's anyone less likely than me to be deluged with floral tributes, it's Joan.

"Joan Collins," I say. "From The Boss. They've been delivered to our office by mistake. Should have gone to Westminster so he could give them to her in person. Some gala do."

Greg's nodding so hard he's going to give himself a brain injury if he's not careful.

"Bit over-the-top, aren't they?" says Max. "I've always thought red roses a bit naf, myself. You had your lunch yet, Mol? I've got a free half hour, so I thought I'd surprise you."

"Oh, you have," says Greg.

I glare at him, but Max doesn't seem to have heard. He takes down my coat from the hook and hands it to me.

"Come on then, let's go to Pret and I'll buy you a sandwich. I know how to treat a woman," he says.

"Indeed you do," says Greg.

I fix him with a glare and run my finger across my throat, before I turn and follow Max down the hallway towards the stairs. God knows what my blood pressure is now.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Green Ink, Faith In Humanity And Fatmobiles.

I wish mad constituents still used green ink. Now everyone's got a computer, it's much harder to work out what I should be careful when opening. (I still haven't got over the whole decontamination incident.)

Anyway, today I spot a lavender-coloured envelope amidst today's post, so I leave it 'til last. Then I stab at it with the letter opener, while my back is half-turned. Eventually I succeed in opening it - without cutting it in half for once, so my technique is definitely improving.

"What is it?" says Greg, from underneath his desk.

"Oh," I say, then, "Aww."

"What? What? Can I come out or not?"

"Yes," I say. "You'll never guess what it is, anyway."

"As long as it isn't any more bloody white powder and my manboobs are safe from being put on public display again, I don't care what it is," says Greg, sitting back down in his chair, and wiping his forehead on his sleeve.

"It's a thank you card."

"Piss off, Molly! Don't be ridiculous."

"See for yourself," I say, and pass the card to Greg. It makes both our days. I can't remember the last time a constituent said thank you after we'd got them a result. Not that I think you should expect bonuses for just doing your job, but a thank you never goes amiss.

It's not as if I even did much to earn this one, either - I only sorted out Mr Bradley's hospital transport, which should never have been overlooked anyway. He writes that he's now got his prosthetic leg, that he's managing "very well" and that he and his wife will be "eternally grateful" for what I did for them.

You've got to love Mr B, even when his thanks make you cry. It seems that I can cope with anything in this job - except for people being nice to me. Greg's quick off the mark with a reality check, though.

"Makes you think, doesn't it?" he says.

"What does?" I bet I've got mascara halfway down my face.

"How some people are so reluctant to ask anyone for help, no matter how much they deserve it, and then all these other bloody whingers - " He waves his hand across all the files and letters on his desk.

"I know," I say. "But at least there's some hope while there are still people like Mr B around. Now answer the phone, and let me get on with all this. I've got the damned diary to do as well today, don't forget."

An hour later, Greg demands that he be allowed to take an early lunch. He says that it is an emergency as, if he does not escape this madhouse, all his new-found faith in humanity will be lost. The reason for this turns out to be that Mr Franklin has just phoned - from the seaside.

"Well, that doesn't sound too bad," I say.

"He took his fatmobile there, on the train," says Greg.

"And?" I can't see what's so surprising about that. Mr F takes his fatmobile everywhere. Because he's fat. That's the whole point, plus I am too busy trying to decipher an invitation from the Cuban ambassador. Flowery handwriting is very hard to read.

"And he's run out of petrol, for f*ck's sake. Halfway down the pier. Wanted me to sort something out."

"And did you?" I ask.

"If I'd been there, I'd have pushed him off the end, but as that's not an option, I told him to phone the AA instead. And if I don't get out of here for a bit, I'll be needing the other AA. So much for a renewed sense of purpose," says Greg, as he puts his coat on. It won't surprise anyone that I decide to join him.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Winter Of Discontent Arrives Earlier Than Expected.

The first thing Greg says to me this morning is,

"What on earth's the matter with your face?"

After seeing my expression, it's also the last thing he says to me, until lunchtime when The Boss phones with some news: Marie-Louise has gone off sick.

"So, you'll just have to do my London diary until I can get someone in," he says.

"Why can't Carlotta do the diary?" I ask. "She's in London. That does help, you know."

"She's too busy," says The Boss.

I seriously doubt that. I'm pretty sure Carlotta still takes a siesta every day - something to do with her cultural heritage. But I let it go, as I'm more concerned to find out what's wrong with Marie-Louise. She sounded fine when I spoke to her earlier, but Andrew side-steps the question when I ask him.

"She's probably got personal problems," he says," and anyway, it shouldn't take long to find a replacement. I have a plan."

I really don't like the sound of this. Andrew's plans have a nasty habit of resulting in him shooting himself firmly in both feet. Or in my feet, actually, as one of my unwritten contractual duties is to put myself in the line of fire. Also, he sounds alarmingly smug, so it's obvious he's up to something. But what?

I decide to ring Carlotta and find out what has really happened.

"Ah, the poor girl has just had enough," says Carlotta. "Andrew has been horrible today. Marie was in tears by 10:30am and locked herself in the loo for ages. When she finally came back in to the office, he told her not to be a baby, and then - the very next minute - she said she didn't feel well and was going home."

"Christ," I say. "Sounds as if it must've been bad."

"It could have been even worse," says Carlotta. "When she got home, she sent me an email saying she was going to resign."

"Oh, my God! Why didn't The Boss tell me that?"

My squeak alerts Greg, who decides it's worth risking approaching my desk to find out what's going on, so I share the receiver between us. Hope he thinks the blotches are catching.

"Andrew doesn't know," says Carlotta. "I talked Marie out of it, with stories of what the coalition's going to do to the unemployment figures in the next few months. So now she is just off sick - which still leaves the problem of his diary."

"Bloody hell," says Greg. "I can't understand it. He was miles better on Friday so I thought things were looking up. In fact, he was as happy as Larry all week, especially at conference."

"Pfft," says Carlotta. "Today he is determined to upset everyone. Even though he shouldn't even be here, seeing as it's still Recess. He started to dictate some rubbish to me before I'd managed to take my coat off this morning, then said I was a 'bloody amateur' when I asked him to wait a minute."

"Did he ask you to do the diary, then?" I say.

"Yes," says Carlotta. "I told him: Andrew, if you want me to do that, then you have to write all the articles you promised those people at the fringe meetings yourself. Solo. Then he changed his mind. Sorry, Molly."

Sorry, my arse. Bloody, bloody hell. I wonder if Carlotta's going to get to keep the fees for these articles, like she did with the last one she wrote? I bet she is. The Boss doesn't care about money half as much as he cares about publicity - except when it comes to my salary, of course.

He won't be intending to pay me extra for doing his diary, or approve any overtime. He'll just say I need to "buckle down" and remind me of the clause in my contract that covers "any other reasonable duties." That's all well and good, but I do wish IPSA wouldn't leave it to The Boss to define reasonable. It's not a concept that he's overly familiar with.

So it seems I am doomed to become progressively more undervalued by the minute, given the unpaid hours I'm going to end up putting in until Marie-Louise comes back. I am tempted to write to Derek Simpson and ask him what he's going to do about it. I bet he'll say he's far too busy planning mass strikes, and leaning on Ed Miliband to bother with the likes of me.

I really must cancel my union membership, especially now I know what Derek earns - and about his alleged penchant for Thailand. Maybe I could get Dad to put a word in for me, if he should run into Derek during his next visit? Or maybe Porn-Poon could exercise her charms on my behalf? Though, actually, I'd prefer not to think about her charms and their effects.

Carlotta faxes me through all the urgent diary stuff, and forwards me the diary-related emails. She says she'll send everything else in the post. This does not improve my mood. In fact, I am so cross that I spend five minutes cursing and kicking the filing cabinet. Then I have to spend another fifteen minutes trying to get the bottom drawer to open.

Greg starts laughing, so I try to wither him with a look. It doesn't work, even though my face resembles the Infected more than usual.

"Trying to add repairwoman to your job description too?" he says.

"Shut up, Greg - it's not funny. I haven't got time for this! Not with all the bloody diary stuff to do."

"Cheer up, Mol," says Greg. "Think of all the fun you can have, sending The Boss to the wrong locations."

Huh. I wish I could send the usual suspects to the wrong locations. To far-flung destinations, and with one-way tickets. Maybe Derek could take them with him, next time he goes? Miss Chambers rings just before we close, to complain that the man who owns the local Post Office won't serve her.

"Why not?"

"Because he didn't like me calling him a Paki," she says. Or screams, to be more accurate. "Do something about it. I don't know what this country's coming to."

"Nor do I," I say, though I have a horrible feeling that she is oblivious to sarcasm.

Now I come to think of it, I can't see what Marie-Louise has to complain about. Being a Diary Secretary would be a doddle, compared to casework. Imagine only having to deal with the logistics of room bookings, travel and acceptance letters! And I wouldn't have to deal with Miss Chambers any more. But, of course, I shall do as I'm told, as usual. How I envy that Post Office man his self-respect.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A Radical Removal Of Hair. Painless And Effective, If A Little Uncontrollable.

I have decided to do something about all this facial hair. As I can't afford to go to a beauty salon, and can't see well enough to wield tweezers with any degree of accuracy, I have opted for a different solution. A springy wand thing, called a Tweeze-ease or something like that.

It's hideous, like a small, super-thin Slinky with two lurid plastic end pieces - think Ann Summers - and I have no idea how it's supposed to work. This doesn't faze me, though: don't forget I have research skills at least as good as Carlotta's.

I can't do anything about it while there are other people in the house, though. You have to make an effort to retain some mystery, after all - so I wait for Sam and Max to leave for the pub at lunchtime, then find an instruction video on YouTube and start watching it. Luckily, Josh has already left for work, so he can't suddenly walk in and start taking the p*ss either. Or filming me for another episode of "24......Minutes."

I discover that the wand is based on the principle of threading. Which I also have no idea how to do. But there's no substitute for learning on the job, so I get on with it, regardless. An hour later, my face is as bald as a baby's bottom. Somewhat surprisingly, this proves not to be an entirely good thing.

In retrospect, I don't think your face is supposed to be completely hairless. It feels very odd indeed and I definitely shouldn't have tried to use the wand between my eyebrows. Now I look astonished, probably at the fact that one eyebrow is only half as long as the other. And I seem to be developing blotches all over the place.

It'd be just my luck to be allergic to nickel - would serve me right for being too mean to pay for the genuine Epicare wand, which I think is made of stainless steel, and costs about £12.00. Instead - and in the spirit of economy - I opted for a half-priced imitation from eBay, which was no doubt made in a Chinese sweatshop from a metal composite with a higher than average lead content. I'll probably get blood poisoning to go with the blotches.

There's another downside too, in that my wrinkles seem a lot deeper now that they have lost their camouflage of hair, but hopefully Max will fail to notice this. At least when he next strokes my face, I won't have to bat his hand away like I usually do - in case he goes against the direction of hair growth, recoils in horror and says, "What on earth is that?"

So much for optimism. When Max and Sam stagger back in from the pub, they drop like drunken stones onto the sofa, which is already close to collapse. I wish I could get someone to fix that! Maybe I should ask Mrs Bloom to persuade Max that this too is an emergency. When I unwisely mention this brilliant idea, Max glares at me. Then his (bloodshot) eyes widen.

"What the hell's the matter with your face?" he says."You got measles or something?"

I give up. I really do. Men have no idea how lucky they are that they are supposed to have facial hair. Not only are they spared all this faffing about, but it also hides a multitude of sins. I'm sure Max's jowls would look much worse than mine, if only his designer stubble didn't disguise them.

Even the names for male characteristics sound better than women's. Designer stubble versus excess facial hair. Which would you opt for? At the risk of sounding like Connie, life is very unfair sometimes.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Sex Tourism Becomes De Rigueur. Regardless of Destination.

Sam's here for the weekend again. Well, he's here in person, but I'm not at all sure where his head is at. Somewhere in the Isle of Skye, I think - home to his latest internet dating conquest. She has four children. Four - imagine that! I didn't think Sam even liked kids, but he seems pretty determined to try to like hers.

He spends the afternoon making us look at all the photos she's sent him. I can't see most of them as I seem to have picked the one spot where I can't see the computer screen properly, probably because Max has elbowed me out of the way.

He's only supposed to be faking interest out of politeness, but then I catch a glimpse of Shona and realise why he's paying such close attention. I wouldn't have thought you could buy underwear like that out in the wilds of Scotland.

"I'll be seeing that in the flesh next weekend," says Sam.

"Huh," I say. "Not if she's got four children, you won't." Does he know nothing about teenagers?

"They're going to their dad's," says Sam, "So we all know what that means, eh?"

How on earth does Sam think a love affair with someone who lives on Skye is going to last? It'll be almost as daft as Johnny's idea that he and I can carry on a "relationship" while he's still living in Russia. There must be a nice girl nearer to home, who would suit Sam just as well.

Ha! I realise that, if we leave "nice" out of the equation, I have the perfect solution.

"Well, if you don't mind kids part-time," I say, 'why don't you ask Ellen out on a date? Northwick's a hell of a lot nearer to where you live than the bloody Isle of Skye."

This is a cunning plan - devised on the spur of the moment - to kill two birds with one stone. I am such a creative thinker when under pressure. Sometimes.

"I don't like Ellen," says Sam.

"Bugger," I say, at the same time as Max says, "Why on earth not?" The answer to that should be obvious, as far as I'm concerned.

"You said she makes a lot of noise during sex," says Sam. "I can't be doing with all that. Whatever would my lodgers think?"

"Same as me, probably" I say. "That she protests too much."

"Are you questioning my sexual capabilities?" says Sam. Oh, for goodness' sake, now he sounds like Dad, who - coincidentally - phones shortly afterwards.

"I'm thinking of selling the bungalow, Molly," he says. "So I wanted to take your advice first."

"What?" I say. "Why?"

"It's getting too big for me," says Dad. "It's okay at the moment, but when I get older, it's going to become a struggle."

Phew. So he can't be planning on bringing the Thai bride here after all. Dinah's going to be thrilled.

"And I'm a bit short of money with all these trips abroad," says Dad. "By the way, did I tell you I'm going to Thailand again next month?"

"No. How long for this time?"

"Three months, to see how I like living there," says Dad. Christ. I'm not telling Dinah.

"Well, make sure you let Dinah know," I say. "I'm not sure I'm can face it. I'm already worried about my blood pressure."

"You need a holiday," says Dad. "And some excitement in your life. I feel twenty years younger these days."

Good God - is it becoming unacceptable to have a sex life with someone who lives in the same town or city these days? Maybe I should redecorate our bedroom to resemble a hotel room, and buy a mini-bar and some headed stationery if I want to rejuvenate my marriage.

Or perhaps I could persuade Max to drive twenty times round the ring road before he heads for home. Then he could pretend he's off to a secret assignation in a far-flung location, and I could greet him either in a Scottish accent, or by saying "jiggy, jiggy" and swooshing my sarong. I'd have to buy a sarong first, but that's a minor detail.

It seems as if everyone thinks it's normal to travel to find sex, whether to Skye or Pattaya. At this rate, Northwick could even become the top sex tourism destination for International Directors of Global Oil Companies, who knows? Perhaps I count as exotic too - to someone with very short sight, or who has never seen a bearded lady before.