Thursday, 23 December 2010

OUT OF OFFICE REPLY - Molly Bennett, Office of Andrew Sinclair MP.

Thank you for your email addressed to Mr Sinclair.

The Constituency Office is now closed for the Christmas period, and will re-open at 09:00am on Tuesday 4 January 2011.

I will, of course, reply to your enquiry as soon as possible upon my return to work.

Molly Bennett, Senior Caseworker to Andrew Sinclair, MP for Northwick East.

What I don't tell you is that Greg and I will be taking it in turns to come in to the office during the week between Christmas and New Year, to check emails, post and answer-phone messages. This is a precaution, just in case any of you have genuine - as opposed to entirely imaginary - emergencies. (Not that there will be very much that we can do for you even if that is the case, given that the staff of every other agency we might need to deal with on your behalf are unlikely to return to work before they absolutely have to...)

Note that I also don't wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, in case I offend your religious principles. (Though I do hope you have both those things. Even if you don't call them that.)

PPPS I also don't mention that Connie and Josh have banned me from using my laptop over Christmas on the basis that we need to concentrate on bonding as a family. Connie says that she and Josh think it likely that, if we don't make more effort, Max and I will end up splitting up, in what she calls a classic "children leaving the nest" scenario.

Post-Breakfast Coffee at Tiffany's. Or In Northwick, To Be More Accurate.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Thank God today's the last day at work until after the New Year. I don't think I can take much more excitement.

The morning starts badly, when Max informs me that we are not buying each other Christmas presents. Given that I've already bought his, I could have done with this information earlier, and I'm not too impressed that we can apparently afford the gifts he's bought for the girls at work, either.

"Times are hard," he says. "And it's silly to buy something just for the sake of it when we're struggling to pay the bills."

I'm not sure I like his use of "for the sake of it," but I suppose there is a recession on, and we do need to tighten our belts, so I'll just have to see if I can get a refund on the iPod shuffle I bought him from the Apple shop.

Not everyone is being mean about presents, though - as I discover when I arrive at work. As I walk into the lobby, someone grabs me from behind, and puts their hand over my mouth. I panic, and simply can not remember the judo throw Josh taught me, so I resort to kicking backwards instead.

"Hrmph," I say. "Grff!"

"Ssh," says Greg. "And stop wriggling. In here."

Then he pulls me into the loo. The men's loo, for God's sake.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I say, shaking myself free. "And why do men's toilets always smell so bad? It bloody well stinks in here."

"Only place Vicky wouldn't think of snooping," he says. "And the smell is not important. Look at this. I found it behind the sofa in the Oprah Room."

He puts a small box into my hand. It's satin-lined, and the outside is a very pretty shade of turquoise. Although the box is empty, it's the sort of thing that jewellery comes in.

"What is it?" I say. "I've seen something this colour recently, but I can't think where."

"Probably in the restaurant yesterday," says Greg. "It's the box from Vicky's present."

"Oh," I say. "And your point is?"

This reaction is obviously not what Greg was hoping for, as he rummages in my bag for my glasses, opens the case and then shoves them at me.

"For Christ's sake, Molly - put these on, and then look again," he says. "At the writing on the lid."

"Oh," I say again, and then: "Oh, bloody hell, Greg. Tiffany & Co? Andrew bought Vicky's present from Tiffany's?"

"Yeah," says Greg. "Exactly. And I found it behind the sofa, don't forget. So when did it get there? There's no sign of either of them this morning, so they must have come in here last night after we left. When they were so pissed."

"Shit. I think I need a cigarette," I say. "Or even two."

As I stand outside, puffing furiously in defiance of the dirty looks Joan is giving me from the Labour Party office window, a courier van pulls up at the kerb, and then its driver runs out and enters our building. By the time I've finished my second cigarette, he's on his way out again.

"Seems some deliveries are getting through," I say to Greg, when I walk back into the office. "Just seen a courier dropping something off."

"Yes," says Greg. "For you."

He hands me a parcel and then, pointing at the customs declaration, says:

"It would seem it's from Russia. Probably with love."

Oh, my God. It is from Russia. And from Johnny. As I open the padded envelope, a hand-written letter falls out.


For you, to remind you of me. I don't need to be reminded of you, as you're on my mind more than is good for me anyway. It's very annoying.

Happy Christmas, and see you in 2011. Let's make that our year. 

Johnny x

Inside the box is a pendant on a heavy chain. It's deep green, figured like Malachite, and looks exactly like a miniature Faberge egg. Greg stares at it, open-mouthed - which is not a good look when one is in the process of eating a Twix.

"Bloody hell," he says. "That looks expensive. Who's it by?"

"God knows," I say. "What does it say on the customs declaration?"

"Jean Schlumberger."

Greg looks at me as if this name should mean something to me. It doesn't.

"Who's she?" I say. "I've never heard of her. She's probably the Katie Price of Russia. And this'll be from their equivalent of QVC. Diamonique, or whatever that stuff's called."

"Don't be daft," says Greg. "Johnny's an oil baron. He's not likely to do his shopping on QVC, is he?"

I don't know about that. Johnny does spend a lot of time bored out of his brains in hotel rooms, though I suppose it's easier to imagine him watching porn, than the shopping channels. But there's no time to think about that now, as the phone starts ringing.

It's Vicky, saying she feels too fragile to come to work today - so it turns out that I have been forced into the men's toilets totally unnecessarily, as she couldn't have over-heard anything we said from her bloody house. I'm still glaring at Greg when The Boss phones and says that he thinks he will work from home today, unless we're too busy and need him for anything.

When I tell him that we aren't and don't, Andrew says that he has decided to hold a big public meeting about the cuts, and wants a venue booked and invitations sent out to other regional MPs, as well as to a long list of other dignitaries. ASAP.

"I want it to take place during the second week of January," he says. "So the invites need to go out today."

"But, Andrew," I say. "None of these people are going to be in their offices now until the fourth of January at the earliest. They probably won't even be able to RSVP in time, and I doubt any of them will be free at such short notice anyway. Even if I can find a suitable venue today."

"Stop making excuses," is The Boss' considered response, whereas a slow-motion V-sign is mine. It's a good job he was only on the phone, and not in the office, or I might have had to kill him.

The phones don't stop ringing after that and, what with the endless calls and the pointless public meeting, we have to work flat-out until it's almost time to close. I'm printing the invitations and really looking forward to leaving the office when the phone rings again. Greg is washing up in the kitchen, so I have no choice but to answer it.

"Hal-lo, Molly," says a very loud voice. "S Novym Godom!"

"Oh, hello, Igor," I say. "Ah, S Novym Godom to you, too. Or however you're supposed to pronounce it. Russian isn't one of my strengths, sorry."

Greg raises his eyebrows at this, and then slaps himself on the forehead, sits back down at his desk and types something into Google. Then he stares at the screen for a few moments, before gesturing at me to get rid of Igor.

This proves as difficult as usual, and Greg is practically jumping up and down by the time I finally put the receiver down.

"What on earth's the matter with you?" I say. "You look even more manic than Igor usually does. And that's saying something."

"I've found out who Jean Schlumberger is," says Greg. "Come and look at this website."

Aargh. I've been so harassed that I've completely forgotten about my egg necklace until now, even though I've been talking to a mad Russian. I'll have to thank Johnny once I've looked at whatever the hell it is that Greg is so desperate for me to see.

"So who is she?" I say, as I sit down on the edge of Greg's desk.

"Not she," says Greg. "He. Jean as in the French man's name."

And with that, he points to this.

Can you believe it - two of Andrew's staff being given Tiffany-related presents in the last twenty-four hours? And I'm not at all sure I like sharing any similarities with Vicky - not to mention how the hell I'm supposed to explain my necklace to Max.

"Tell him Igor gave it to you," says Greg. "Max won't know it probably cost a fortune. If he's even interested."

That's the point, isn't it? I know there's no pleasing me, but I can't help feeling I'd rather have had an inexpensive gift from my husband, if only for the sake of it.

Happy Christmas to one and all. And S Novym Godom, whatever that means. No doubt I'll be back in the New Year, unless I've been sacked or have gone to Russia.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ho, ho, ho. Happy Christmas!"

He really does look very pleased with himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Chariots Of Fire, And Why Snow, MPs And Alcohol Don't Mix.

God, I'm knackered. I hardly slept a wink last night, because I woke up about an hour after I'd dozed off, and then I just could not get back to sleep. Bloody palpitations.

I think they were probably caused by the nightmare I'd been having just before I awoke. The Boss was driving a chariot through Northwick while dressed in a Roman centurion's outfit, and was making me pull the damn thing - on foot! It wouldn't have been so bad, if he hadn't kept whipping me every time I slowed down to catch my breath.

It definitely wasn't some sort of Freudian reference to my lack of a sex-life, as this was not the kind of whipping that anyone would enjoy, not even those people who apparently like hanging out in dungeons, while dressed in gimp suits. Mentioning no particular professions...

And I wasn't dressed in one of those pervy pony outfits, either, though I did have rather high heels on. It took bloody ages to pull the chariot past the market square, thanks to all the stupid cobbles. Architects never think when they decide on these silly "historic" road surfaces, do they?

After lunch, I realise what the nightmare probably signified: I must have been anticipating the inevitable blow-by-blow account of The Boss's journey back to Northwick after the *House rises for Christmas Recess. He always likes to make it as interactive as possible, and share the joy around.

Andrew's first call sets the scene:

"On my way to the station. Be back before the office closes."

"No need," I say. "There's nothing for you to do. Go straight home when you get off the train."

"Doesn't matter," he says. "I've got lots of stuff to give you to do. See you when I get there."

Greg groans when I recount the conversation, and decides to spend the next hour in the archive cupboard throwing darts at Andrew's photo. Then he returns to his desk, logs on to the Met Office's website and sits staring intently at the screen. For what feels like ages.

"What on earth are you doing?" I say. "You haven't even blinked for the last ten minutes."

 "Taking evasive action. I am willing it to snow as heavily as possible between London and Northwick," he says. "Right now."

I do a sceptical eyebrow raise, but Greg doesn't take any notice:

"Don't just sit there, Mol - help me! Visualise blizzard conditions and concentrate. We need to harness the power of our minds if tomorrow's Christmas lunch isn't to be cancelled because we've got too much work again."

I pretend to co-operate for a couple of seconds, but then I get bored and give up, so it seems that my mind may be rather short on power today. Greg keeps at it, though - and, eventually, it starts to snow again. Rather heavily - so maybe he genuinely possesses some of those telekinetic powers that Max accused me of having.

This is quite a scary thought, but seems to be confirmed when The Boss sends a text saying:

"Mayhem here. Next train cancelled."

Greg cheers loudly at this news, and then nips off to the pub for a celebratory gin. I start to wonder if he's telepathic as well as telekinetic when Andrew's next text makes clear that his thoughts have also turned to alcohol:

"No idea when next train's coming & it's too bloody cold to wait on station. Going for drink in bar."

Oh, dear. This won't end well. The Boss should never be allowed to combine alcohol and train travel but, when I try to phone him to remonstrate, he's turned his bloody mobile off. I don't hear anything more for a good few hours, and we are just about to lock up when the phone starts to ring.

"Leave it," says Greg, who has already put his coat on, and is waiting in the doorway.

"Can't," I say. "It's the bloody private line. Probably his Lordship. You go, and I'll lock up as soon as I've got him off the phone."

Greg waves goodbye, as I pick up the receiver.

"Molly," says Andrew, in a very loud voice. "I'm on the train."

"Ah, right," I say. "Don't shout, though. You sound like Dom Joly."

"I'm not shouting. And who's Don Jorrey?"

Oh, bloody hell. Doesn't Andrew get the simplest cultural reference? And, if that's not shouting, then my name's Igor and I am a singing postman. Which might actually help in situations where you know there's a rant coming, but you can't do anything to prevent it. If I started yodelling about brotherly love, that'd probably stop The Boss in his tracks.

But I don't know any Russian songs - except for this, which probably doesn't count - so I have no option but to sit silently while Andrew yells about the incompetence of Network Rail, the Travel Information Office, and Philip Hammond MP. He doesn't award Mr Hammond his *Rt. Hon, either.

When he finally pauses for breath - or for what sounds rather like a hiccup - I grab my opportunity.

"Andrew, is there anyone else in the compartment with you?" I say.

"Yes," he says. "A load of businessmen who look like bloody bankers and Jon Tiverton from the Northwick Daily Press."

"Well, then, for goodness' sake stop swearing," I say. "And lower your voice! They're probably all journos who are writing down everything you say. Think about what's just happened to Vince Cable."

"Can't hear you," yells Andrew, even louder than before. "But remind me tomorrow never to support this fucking train operator's application for the rail franchise again.

As I sigh and put the phone down, I'm sure I can still hear him shouting: "Bloody wankers."

Well, they say you can take a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Or even pull his own damned chariot, now I come to think of it.

*House - House of Commons, which rises for the Christmas Recess today, to the joy of constituency staff everywhere.
*Irony - see above statement.
*Rt. Hon - Right Honourable. See here for clarification, as I can't be bothered to explain after the day I've had.

Monday, 20 December 2010

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em - The Bennett Family Round Robin 2010

Oh, dear God - as if it wasn't bad enough that Christmas Recess starts again tomorrow, I'd forgotten that it's the time of year when normally-reasonable friends lose their minds - not to mention all sense of decency.

What is the point of round robins? My in-box is rapidly filling up with them and, to make matters worse, the postman hands me five more of the damned things as I pass him on my way into work this morning.

I read them as soon as I sit down at my desk but, by the time I've finished, I wish I hadn't bothered. Why doesn't anyone ever admit to any failures during the preceding year? And don't they know it's bad manners to boast?

Greg spots my expression and asks me what's up.

"Round robins," I say. "I never have a clue what to say in reply, seeing as it's not as if I've I got anything impressive to report. And, as for the kids, it's probably a case of the less said the better - at least where Josh is concerned."

"Well, you could always try doing a truthful version," says Greg. "Treat it like Writing Honest Letters hour."

So, in the absence of any better suggestions, here's the Bennett Family Round Robin for Christmas 2010:

Dear All,

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year to you! Or to those of you who don't flaunt your good fortune in the faces of the rest of us, anyway.

Many unexciting changes have occurred in the Bennett household during 2010. There has been a marked decrease in the level of marital sexual activity, even from the baseline set by last year's record low. This may or may not be due to Max having an affair - either with Ellen, our nymphomaniac neighbour, or with an irritatingly faun-like colleague with a penchant for red wine. 

As revenge, I may or may not be having an affair with Johnny Hunter - an International Director of a Global Oil Company who bears an unnerving resemblance to Vladimir Putin. This has not, however, led to any significant increase in my sexual activity, unless you count the virtual kind. (Which most of the time I don't.)

When not stalking my husband, or typing emails to Johnny, I continue to grow an increasingly-convincing beard, and am still dressed almost entirely by Primark, mainly in their thermal underwear. Both these factors may, I suppose, be contributing to the above-mentioned lack of sex.

With regard to the kids: Connie and Josh remain locked in sibling rivalry, and united only by their sense of having been utterly failed by their parents. Connie is spending this year working as an underpaid and overworked intern; has been dumped by her chilli-fetishist boyfriend, and continues to struggle with the definition of normal behaviour. Not to mention with the concept of flexi-time.

Meanwhile, Josh has managed to fail almost all his A-levels and now has a job that seems entirely without prospects, unless you count the odd free cinema ticket. His skateboarding abilities have not improved at all, and nor have his skills in the martial arts. He continues to visit Accident & Emergency rather more often than we would like, though the orthopaedics department always enjoy hearing how his injuries were caused.

As far as my working life goes, I have had no pay rise, no promotion, and no recognition whatsoever, though I do apparently have the distinction of being possibly the lowest-paid member of staff on the House of Commons payroll. I am fully expecting to be replaced by a younger model as soon as The Boss can think of a good enough excuse to get rid of me. 

Max has no sympathy for those of us working in the public sector, however - having had to take two pay cuts during this year alone. He has also ceased to earn any commission, due to the fact that no-one is actually buying any furniture, though this has not discouraged him from spending more and more time at work. Or, at least, that's where he claims to be spending it.

Mum has broken her wrist; had a nasty fall while unaccountably wearing no pants, and has accumulated at least seven more side tables since last year, while Ted continues to enjoy fishing and to avoid lengthy telephone calls like the plague. 

Dad is currently unmarried, though we do not expect this situation to last much longer. Stepmother Mark IV seems likely to be an inappropriately young woman called Porn-Poon, who apparently finds the physiques of seventy-five year old men irresistible. Dad is sure that this has nothing to do with the size of their pensions, or the attractions of a British passport.

Stepmothers Mark I, II and III remain very glad to have divorced Dad and are trying to avoid taking offence at his claims that all the women in the UK are now "too old" for him. 

Sister Dinah remains committed to smoking, swearing, and not listening to a word I say; whilst idiot brother Robin continues to preach compassion while exercising very little of it in practice. He is currently wrestling with the difficult decision of whether to become a Buddhist monk or a rap artist. 

The Labour Party has had its own problems with siblings during the recent leadership election, and the result remains a subject of considerable ill-natured debate within Northwick *CLP. The general public seem less bothered, probably because the ConDems have, of course, been running the country since the General Election. This has made a nice change, as at least it means that there is someone other than the Labour Party to blame for all the things that constituents complain about.

Talking of constituents, the ratio of sane to insane enquiries has definitely taken a turn for the worse, and it has not yet been possible to work out whether the proposed boundary changes will improve or worsen matters. My colleague, Greg, is confident that the detonation of a nuclear bomb over Easemount would alleviate the problem, but has not yet succeeded in obtaining one. His enthusiasm for the project remains undiminished, however.

Meanwhile, The Boss has become convinced that everyone in the Party is out to get him and, if he continues to allow paranoia to dictate his behaviour, this may well prove to be the case - though there is likely to be heated debate as to who will be allowed to take the first shot. I suspect that his wife may decide to render any such discussion academic, if a certain intern isn't soon given her marching orders.

So, all in all, 2010 has been a year of considerable highs and lows. While the lowest of these may well have been the significant birthday I supposedly celebrated back in May, the greatest highlight was undoubtedly surviving anthrax poisoning, and the usual suspects' attempts at strangulation. 

We do hope that all is going as well for you and yours as it is for us, and look forward to seeing you all in 2011.

Lots of love from
Molly, Max, Connie and Josh (Bennett).

Greg says this should do the trick - if having an improved social life is not one of my New Year resolutions. On the basis of the last two events I've attended, this is a risk I'm more than prepared to take.

*CLP - Constituency Labour Party. A rather motley crew, not known for their combined senses of humour.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Alleged Power Of Prediction, And Tactics In The Marital Blame Game

Gah, and double gah. Bloody men. Before he goes to work this morning, Max pops round to Ellen's to collect the car keys and comes back in a foul mood.

"What's the matter with you?" I say.

"That was really embarrassing," he says.

As it bloody well should be.

"Well, yes," I say. "I know. I'm not surprised you're ashamed you didn't ask me before lending Ellen the car again. Especially after last time."

"Not that. It was embarrassing having to ask her to come back early. And unnecessary."

I'm so incredulous, that I can't think of an appropriate reply before he leaves for work. I sit and fume for most of the day, and then decide to go into town. It'll do Max a power of good if I'm not at home when he arrives. Let's see how he likes wondering where I am for a change.

I'm wandering around the library when my mobile starts ringing. It's Max, so I decide to ignore it. He never answers his phone when he's late home, after all. This attitude lasts for about ten minutes and then I become a bit unnerved, and decide to go home, just in case. (I'm a bit of an amateur at this "suffer baby" technique.)

When I let myself in, I find the house in darkness. Surely Max can't have gone out again already? I'm already imagining him sitting round at Ellen's muttering about how unreasonable I am being about the car, when I spot a note on the kitchen counter.

"Molly, have taken your Mum to A&E. I think she's broken her wrist. Will call you from the hospital. Max."

Oh, dear God. Isn't that just typical? The first time I ever make myself unavailable, and ignore my phone, and then I miss news of Mum having an accident. Now I am consumed with guilt.

I dither about whether to try to phone Max to find out how Mum is, but decide against it in case I set off a series of explosions amongst the oxygen cylinders in Casualty. (I assume that's why hospitals ask you to turn off your mobile?)

I spend the next hour walking around in circles, staring at the phone and willing it to ring. It doesn't, but then the front door opens and Max walks in.

"How is Mum?" I say. "What happened? Is she okay? Where is she?"

"She's still waiting to be seen," he says. "But Ted's there with her, so he told me to come home and get something to eat. He'll phone me when she's been X-rayed."

It turns out that Mum didn't fall over in the snow as I'd assumed, but instead buggered over the legs of one of those bloody side tables.

"Oh, for goodness' sake," I say. "I kept warning her that those stupid tables were a total hazard and that she needed to be careful. Thank God we had the car back so you could take her to the hospital."

"Humph," says Max. "I don't know about that. But you need to be more careful."

I have no idea what he's talking about, seeing as Mum's the one who had the accident. And surely this has vindicated my insistence that we need full-time access to our car for emergencies?

"Why do I need to be more careful?" I say. "It's not me who's broken my wrist."

"No, but it was your fault," says Max, before walking out of the kitchen as if the subject is closed. It isn't, so I follow him along the hallway.

"How can it be my fault?" I say. "I didn't cause the accident - I wasn't even there!"

"No," he says. "But you definitely talked it up."

I'm not a little tempted to predict something nasty that might happen to a husband who always blames his wife.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Reversals Of Fortune And Of Good Intentions - Largely Ed Miliband's Fault.

Ouch, my head hurts. Why the hell do I drink? And what the hell sort of festive celebration was that? The whole thing was such a bad joke that I don't know where to start.

So much for Greg's and my plan not to get drunk, and to go back to work after the Christmas meal. We seem to have accidentally reversed our intentions, ending up as drunk as lords and not actually returning to the office at all - or not when it was open, anyway.

We were both doing quite well for the first hour - drinking fizzy water and managing to stay neutral on the Human Rights Act. I think we even succeeded in distracting the Party staff from the fact that The Boss was only interested in talking to Vicky.

It was only when everyone else started arguing about Ed Miliband that we gave up and started on the wine. It seemed safer than voicing an opinion on that particular issue.

Things got very heated once someone mentioned the lack of a policy agenda, and the argument about community safety went on for ages, so Greg and I probably did get through rather a lot of wine. Even so, I didn't think I'd drunk that much until I went to the loo, and couldn't seem to work out how to get the cubicle door open again.

Then I panicked a bit, and got all hot and bothered. By the time I realised I was turning the handle in the wrong direction, everything was spinning and a voice in my head was saying, "Get home - now."

Things became a bit blurry after that, but I have a horrible feeling that, when I came out of the loo, I took my coat off the coat-rack and staggered out of the restaurant without saying goodbye to anyone. Then I started walking along the pavement at a very bizarre angle.  I think I may have been relying on leaning in the direction I wanted to go to give me some forward momentum.

I don't know whether being bent double was the problem, but my limbs didn't seem to be working properly, so I decided I'd better phone Max and get him to come and pick me up. That's when everything got really messy.

"Need you to fetch me. Please. Now. Sorry," I said. "Can't walk, no taxis at the rank. Sorry, sorry, sorry."

I may have done some hiccuping as an added bonus.

"Um," said Max.

"Please," I said. "Can't seem to stand up properly. Ed Miliband-induced red wine."

"I haven't got the car."

In retrospect, the clue was in how hesitant Max sounded when he said that, but red wine makes idiots of us all. Or of me, anyway.

"Huh? I haven't got it. Or at least, I don't think I have," I said. "Oh, God, have I lost the car somewhere?"

"No, you haven't."

Max sounded very uncomfortable by now, and did a lot of throat clearing before he explained:

"I lent it to Ellen for the weekend again."

I can't remember much about what happened next, but I know I somehow ended up back in the office, lying on the sofa in the Oprah Room and waiting for a taxi to turn up. Honestly, as if the MP's office isn't the bloody last place you'd ever want to picked up from when you're as pissed as a parrot. I can't bear to read today's local paper in case there are photos of me in it. I bet the driver had a camera phone.

So I'm spending today hiding out in bed, while Max is over-compensating by bringing me endless cups of tea and offering me food that I can't face eating.

"Is there anything else you need?" he says.

"Yes," I say. "I want the car back. With the number of times we end up taking Josh to A&E at night, I'm not happy being without it."

Max agrees that this is sensible, and tries to persuade Ellen to cut her trip short. He's not exactly assertive about it, though - as she still isn't going to return the car until tomorrow morning.

"Hmm, well - you'd better hope that Josh stays out of harm's way this evening, then," I say. "Especially given the temptation to snowboard through Northwick."

I'd normally have more to say on the subject than that, but a) I'm feeling far too fragile and b) it turns out that I've got other things to worry about.

When I check my mobile, I see that I sent Johnny a drunken text last night. Presumably from the Oprah Room after I found out about the car.

It says, "Sod this. Yes to meeting. Lara. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx"

I don't know if I intended to send all those kisses, or if I'd just lost control of my fingers. As well as everything else.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Post-Christmas Lunch Analysis

Drunk. Can't typr

What Makes A Good Citizen, And The Threat of Carnage To Sacred Cows

Bloody hell. I should definitely set up as the Mystic Meg of Northwick. As predicted - following last night's  news reports - most of today's callers want to know why Mohammed Ibrahim has any right to family life, given that he ruined someone else's by killing their child.

"The sooner we get rid of this stupid Human Rights Act, the better," says Mr Beales. (Who is usually a big fan of the Act, at least when it applies to him.)

He's leading the charge today, though - as everyone seems to agree with his views, including Greg, who can't stop ranting about the judges' decision.

"It's pretty bloody rich when you think of some of our cases," he says. "Like Samuel's."

"God, yeah," I say. "Sickening."

Samuel is one of our favourite constituents, who we've fought really hard to support throughout his application for asylum and subsequent appeal. Despite being traumatised by events in his war-torn native country, he has nevertheless been a model citizen (in all but official status) ever since he arrived in the UK. Years ago.

He is such a nice guy who, unlike the usual suspects, is always polite and cheerful. Since obtaining permission to work, he's married Lizzie - a single parent with two children. She had never had a job herself, and was dependent on the state until Samuel's hard work took the whole family out of the benefit system. They're a really happy family, and the children are well-adjusted and beautifully behaved. Unlike mine.

So, even though Greg and I are used to the anomalies of the immigration system, it still came as a bit of a shock when Samuel's appeal was refused, on the basis that he could supposedly return to his still dangerous home country - and take his new family with him. Despite the fact that his wife and step-children children are British citizens and that none of them have ever even been to the war zone where Samuel was born. Nor would they bloody want to - and who can blame them?

There was a lot of very loud swearing in the office when we heard about the decision, and Greg became convinced that Samuel's only being treated like this because he is black. I don't know if that's true or not, but Greg was determined to test the theory. I don't think the Border Agency found his anonymous Ali G impersonation very funny, though.

I cannot understand the reasoning behind turning Samuel down: if he ends up being deported, the children will lose their father figure, their mother will again end up dependent on the tax-payer; and HMRC will no longer get their hands on Samuel's taxes. I guess the children's biological father might have something to say about his rights, too. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous.

"Maybe we should tell Sam to kill someone," says Greg. "Seeing as we seem to value an asylum seeker who leaves a trail of destruction more than one who makes a positive contribution to society."

"You've only got to look at Mr Meeeurghn for evidence of that," I say, as the phones start ringing again.

They barely stop from then on and, with each call, I find the attempt to sound as if I take a liberal approach to the Human Rights Act increasingly challenging. By the time Richard Levinson's finished with me, I've completely given up.

"How the hell would you woolly-headed civil liberties people feel if that man had run over your child and left her to die - and then screamed about his right to a family life?" he says.

"Like killing him myself," I say. "Very, very slowly."

Greg nods in approval, but Shami Chakrabarti would be so disappointed.

After all that, I'm not exactly looking forward to today's Labour Party Christmas lunch. The subject of Mr Ibrahim will inevitably raise its head again, and then Greg and I are bound to end up looking like Tory moles when we don't take the expected line on it. I'm pretty worried about the prospect, but Greg doesn't care.

"It'd do some of these bloody people good to get a reality check from us," he says. "Then they can feed it in to policy development. Not picking up on the mood of the people is where we've been going wrong. We can't keep refusing to say the unsayable."

"Hmm," I say. "Don't you remember what happened when I complained about that incompetent Council officer in front of Pete Carew?"

"No," says Greg. "What did happen?"

"Pete yelled at me that I was bashing the entire public sector, and then he said I was a traitor to the Party."

I'm still really cross about it, even though I'm trying to avoid accusations of having a memory like an elephant.

"F*ck," says Greg. "I'd forgotten that. Well, we'd better not get drunk then, had we? Not if we need to avoid the whole in vino veritas thing. We might do irretrievable damage to a whole herd of sacred cows. It'd be carnage."

"Yes," I say. "And it's not as if we can't usually rely on The Boss for that."

On which note, I suppose I'd better go and tart myself up before we leave for the restaurant, given that Vicky looks as if she's dressed for a film premiere. Now there's a ruminant I'd be happy to do some damage to.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Issues About Issues, And The Reasons Male Students Buy Guitars.

So much for having a peaceful week at work. The phones go nuts today, and everyone is moaning about something, especially the usual suspects. If I hear the phrase, "I've got issues" one more time, I swear I'm going to become an axe murderer.

Some people have got valid points to make, though. Honestly, I don't think some students are working as hard as they claim to be. Not if all the constituents complaining about them are anything to go by.

"I can't take it any more," says Mrs Watts. "I haven't had a decent night's sleep for months."

She goes on to explain that the students who live in the terraced house next to her are driving her to distraction.

"They're completely nocturnal," she says. "When they're not coming in drunk at 3:00am and putting their stereos on at full volume, or sitting outside smoking and yelling their heads off, they're shooting things on those damned PlayStations. They just don't seem to understand that normal people work during the daytime, or that they are partying next to my bedroom."

"Have you reported them to the university?" I ask.

"Oh, yes," she says. "And to the Anti-Social Behaviour team. Doesn't do any good. The only time the university does anything is when it's another student who's being disturbed."

"Well, what did the ASB* officer say?" I ask.

"What attractive boys they all were. And how nicely-spoken. Of course, she only visited during the day when they were sober."

It isn't the first time that I've heard this from constituents. When the ASB team receive complaints about a bunch of youths on one of the council estates who are making their neighbours' lives a misery, they're only too happy to believe the complaining residents and to take a tough line. As they should.

But it's often a totally different story where students are concerned, especially those who are middle-class or who have cut-glass accents. You'd wouldn't think professionals would be so easily fooled, but drug and drink-fuelled noise and disturbance caused by partying students is often treated as high-jinks. It's as if neighbour nuisance is defined by class and educational attainment, not by actual behaviour.

"I'll write to the university and the council and ask them to take meaningful action as soon as possible," I say. "Mind you, if they put all the lectures on in the mornings, and made attendance compulsory, that'd probably solve the problem."

"Thanks. I wish they would," she says. "Oh, while you're at it, can you please find out why every male student thinks he can play a guitar?"

I must sound a bit non-plussed, because she continues:

"They leave home, rent a room in a shared house next door to a working family, and immediately go out and buy a guitar and amplifier. I wouldn't mind so much if any of them could bloody well play the damn things. It's like Chinese water torture listening to that ELO music."

"I think it's called EMO," I say. "ELO is The Electric Light Orchestra. Probably too outdated for today's students. But I know exactly what you mean about how awful it is."

I boast about my knowledge of "yoof" culture to Josh when I get home, but he is unimpressed. I'm just about to ask him why, when Ellen pops round to borrow the corkscrew. I fetch it as quickly as I can, so that I can keep her on the doorstep instead of being forced to invite her in.

"Drinking again, Ellen?" says Max, who seems to have casually wandered into the hallway at the sound of her voice.

"Own your issues, Max, own your issues - that's what I always say," she says, and blows him a kiss as she walks away.

I kick the door shut behind her, and follow Max and Josh into the living room.

"Own your issues? Own your f*cking issues?" I say. "God, that woman talks crap."

"Get a grip, Mum," says Josh. "Now who's being juvenile? You're worse than a student."

"No, I'm not," I say. "At least I don't torture my neighbours with hideous guitar music and self-pitying lyrics."

"Well, they're unhappy because they've obviously got mean parents like you and Dad," he says. "So they have to grab the opportunity to play music the minute they leave home. If you'd let me buy an amplifier, I'd have been famous by now."

"Infamous," I say, but Josh isn't listening.

"You're supposed to nurture your kids' talents, not stifle them," he says, throwing himself onto the sofa and turning on the TV. "Failing to do so probably counts as deprivation, or neglect."

I look to Max for back-up, but he still seems too depressed to speak, so he's no help at all.

"Well, report me to Child Protection, then," I say. "They'll probably give me a medal for services to humanity."

"I may just do that - via these guys," says Josh, gesturing at the advert for the NSPCC that has just come on. He pays close attention as a young girl explains the terrible experiences she has endured.

"But now I know I'm going to be okay," she says, as the image fades.

"Except you bloody won't be," says Josh. "Will you?"

I stare at him in amazement, and even Max looks a bit surprised.

"What on earth d'you mean?" I say.

"Well, she isn't going to be okay, is she?" says Josh. "She's going to have a shitload of issues."

I really don't know what to say to that.

*ASB - Anti-Social Behaviour. I'm embarrassed to admit it's a virtually meaningless phrase that New Labour thought up.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Never Ask What's Wrong, Or Why Two Mid-Life Crises Are Worse Than One.

Never marry a man the same age as you. I'm not recommending sugar daddies or toy-boys, but I do think an age gap of more than a year is highly-advisable. At least then you could stagger the misery wrought by significant birthdays.

Max has a face like a wet weekend when he comes in from work tonight.

"What's the matter?" I say. "You look terrible."

"I'm fine," he says. In the flattest, most depressed tone imaginable. It's like listening to Marvin the Paranoid Android.

"Well, you don't sound it," I say. "What's up?"

"Nothing," he says, then sighs. Several times. You wouldn't think you could make so much noise just by breathing out.

He doesn't become any chattier after we've eaten, and the monosyllabic replies go on for most of the evening. By News At Ten, I'm pretty fed up with the whole thing, and a bit anxious, too. I've got that horrible feeling in my bowels that I always get when he gives me the silent treatment. I think it's a sense of impending doom.

Max waits for the headlines, and then starts flicking through the TV channels. He works through the whole lot, then sighs again - even louder - before passing the remote to me.

"Nothing on," he says, as if it is the end of the world.

"Max, what is the matter?" I say. "You sound awful."

"I'm just a bit fed up."

He says the words so slowly that it feels as if half an hour passes between each one. I've bitten my lip to pieces by the time he's finished the whole sentence. And I'm knackered, but bed in not an option. Not at the moment, anyway.

Nan always told me never to go to bed on an argument. I know that, technically, Max and I aren't actually arguing, but I'm pretty sure that staying up to identify the cause of dramatic sighing was also recommended. Or would have been, if Nan had ever witnessed it.

I brace myself and enter the fray.

"Fed up about what?" I say.

"Everything," says Max.

Well, that's all right then, isn't it? Every single bloody thing. Which probably translates as "you." I am starting to feel a bit sick, and I'm not at all sure that I want to know any more but, as usual, I can't help myself. I ask the next question, right on cue:

"Like what?"

"Everything. When I look at my life, I wonder what's the bloody point - I never do anything, or go anywhere. Everyone else has a social life and goes travelling, and I don't."

Oh, God. So that's it. The mention of travel is the giveaway, isn't it? Bloody Bambi spent hours going on about her forthcoming Australian trip while we were at the Christmas dinner. Max was advising her on the best places to visit on the basis of the year he spent there a lifetime ago.

"Well, you did all that stuff when you were in your twenties," I say. "And whenever I suggest we go out somewhere, you never want to bother. You prefer to stay in watching TV."

"Well, now I don't," he says. "I should be having some fun at my age. And I'm not."

"Do you think you're having a mid-life crisis?" I say.

Hopefully, he'll deny it, and pull himself together. Then he'll laugh at the idea - and everything will be normal again. Thank God.

Max looks down at his hands, and starts turning his wedding ring around on his finger.

"Maybe I am," he says. As if that's all there is to say.

I hope it is, as I certainly don't want to ask any more questions. I have a horrible feeling I won't like the answers and, anyway, I think I might need to be sick.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Secret Mission. Which Has Nothing To Do With Russia.

I've been trying to catch up on all the WikiLeaks stuff. No wonder Johnny's so reluctant to say the M-word, given what the cables say about life in Russia! Maybe Igor isn't as mad as he seems, either. I shall be nicer to him next time he drops in to the office.

In fact, I shall make that one of my New Year resolutions. Along with saving my marriage and having more sex. Hopefully I can kill both those birds with one stone, but if I can't, I shall have to have a re-think.

Johnny says he's still more than happy to step in to fill the breach - as it were - so I can only assume he's got over his anxiety about what Max's height might signify.

"I just miss romance," I say. "You know, someone who has eyes for no-one else, and who really, really loves you. Like Dr Zhivago loved Lara."

"Well, that film wasn't set in Russia by accident," he says. "It's a lot more romantic than the UK. That's why I'm a better bet if grand gestures are what you're after. I've been here so long, I've practically gone native."

"Well, actually, I think that's where Pasternak set the book," I say. "And, anyway, given that you say you miss romance too, I can't see that there can be much of it in Russia either."

"That's because my Lara is in bloody Northwick," he says. "And won't even travel to Heathrow to reach me, let alone over the Urals in the snow."

Me? Johnny's Lara? Has he been on the vodka? His eyesight must be worse than I thought. I'm a bit dizzy after that, so I pretend I have an important meeting to attend and can't spend any more time talking to him today.

"Email me tomorrow, then," he says. "And think about when we're going to get together for real. If you want to, I might be able to get away for a day or so between Christmas and New Year. As long as flights into the UK aren't grounded by an inch of snow again."

Oh, hell. Now I'm really stressed. If I get in any deeper with Johnny, not only will I probably end up getting deported as a Russian spy, and then being murdered by the Mafia for my connection to Igor, but I don't want to cheat on Max if he isn't cheating on me.

So I seriously need to find out if he is. Trouble is, there's no shortage of candidates since last week's Christmas meal. It's been bad enough trying to work out what's going on with Annoying Ellen, but now there's Bloody Bambi to contend with as well. Who to focus on first?

I can't reach a decision even though I have plenty of time to think about it, given that I spend half of the afternoon sticking stamps on to all the envelopes containing The Boss's Christmas cards, and the other half standing in a queue in the Post Office waiting to buy some more.

If so many of the cards didn't need Airmail stamps, I could have just bought a few books of first-class in Superdrug or somewhere. Not for the first time, I curse Andrew's fondness for overseas jollies. I hate the Post Office - it always smells funny, the lights are permanently set to flicker, and its acoustics are a nightmare.

By the time I escape, it is almost closing time and I have completely gone off - in no particular order - young women with screaming babies; initially-cute toddlers who never seem to tire of knocking over the barriers onto other people's feet; and white youths who speak as if they were black. Not to mention everyone who sells anything via eBay, and eccentric old people trying to remember where they put their shopping lists.

Watching a pensioner searching irritably through her handbag, I suddenly realise how much nicer it is to be thought of as Lara rather than as an grumpy old woman, which seems to be how Max sees me. If he sees me at all.

Just as the thought occurs to me, I spot Max walking past the entrance to the Post Office, and assume that he's on his way home, until I see that he is being accompanied by Bambi. Neither of them have noticed me - no change there, then - so I watch for a moment, dithering, before I take out my mobile and phone Greg.

"Can you lock up tonight?" I say. "I've only just got out of the Post Office and now I'm on an urgent mission."

I wonder if tiptoeing makes you more conspicuous than walking normally when you're stalking someone? It certainly makes you more likely to fall over on icy patches.

God knows when I'll next get a chance to follow Max and see what he's up to, though I must admit that those boys were very kind - even if they did insist on calling each other "bro" and "my man" while helping me to my feet.

Monday, 13 December 2010

PMT, Predictability And Some Unwanted Colour Theory.

I've got a funny feeling I may have PMT today, though I'd rather die than admit that to Max and Josh. Either that, or I'm suffering from quiet-day-at-the-office-itis.

I spend all day bursting into tears at inopportune moments, not that there ever is an opportune time to wail like a baby. Unless you're an X-Factor winner.

Greg thinks I've gone off my rocker, and starts The Campaign to Cheer Molly Up. He even donates one of his Twixes to the cause. It doesn't work, and just makes me weepier instead. Unexpected kindness always does that.

"What on earth's the matter?" he says, when I hand him the bar back. "It must be awful if even a Twix won't fix it."

"Nothing," I say. "I'm fine."

Big fat tears roll down my face at the same time, though luckily the crying isn't of the noisy hiccuping and choking kind. That would be even more embarrassing.

"Well, unless you've got some bizarre eye infection, I think there is. You look a mess. And move that invitation from the Mayor out of the way - it's getting soaked."

Greg passes me a tissue from one of those little travel packs his mum gives him. I'm sure she thinks he's still a Boy Scout.

"It's probably just because no-one's told me about anything terrible today," I say, trying to wipe off all the supposedly-waterproof mascara that seems to be everywhere except on my eyelashes.

"And that would be logical because?"

"Well, when there aren't any calls from constituents whose problems are worse than mine, having a wallow doesn't seem as self-indulgent as it usually would."

"Hmm,"  says Greg.

He doesn't sound convinced, though I'm sure I'm right. This always happens at this time of year. The phones get progressively less busy, and the volume of letters tails off to a comparative trickle.

You'd think the opposite would be the case, seeing as it's commonly thought that rates of depression and suicide rise in December, but we don't usually see much sign of that in our office. It's as if everyone - even the usual suspects - is too busy to be depressed until they've at least finished eating Christmas dinner.

If you were new to casework, you'd probably breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the relative peace and quiet, but old hands like me know better. To us, this unusual calm speaks volumes - because we know it just presages the furious storm that always hits in January.

"Maybe I'm miserable because I know what's coming?" I say.

"Probably," says Greg. "You do keep going on about your life being predictable."

This wasn't what I meant, but I suppose he might have a point. I decide to consider what changes I could make to my life while I'm on my lunch-break - whilst simultaneously buying all the Christmas presents I was supposed to have bought during yesterday's shopping trip.

I wander around the mall, trying to ignore the bloody music. I can't believe that they still insist on playing Merry Christmas Everybody. I bet even Noddy Holder's sick of the sound of it, though thinking about glam rock does give me an idea.

Perhaps I should buy something new to wear? In a bright colour, for once. Max is always moaning about my penchant for black, and it is a bit draining on the complexion. At my age, as he'd no doubt feel compelled to add.

By the time I get back to work, I'm feeling much more cheerful, even if I have spent more than I can afford.

"That's better," says Greg. "First smile you've cracked all day."

"I bought a gorgeous new knitted dress," I say. "To wear to the Party Christmas meal. What do you think?"

I pull it out of the bag and hold it up against myself. I even do a couple of twirls. It's a real Anthea Redfern moment.

Greg opens his mouth to speak, but Vicky beats him to it:

"You do know purple is the colour of sexual frustration?" she says.

The phone rings before I can think of a cutting reply, so I answer that instead of her.

"Hello, dear,"  says Mum. "How are you? How's your Christmas shopping going?"

"Well, I got a bit distracted," I say. "And bought myself a purple dress. But I'm not at all sure about it now."

I glare at Vicky while I say this, but she's got her back to me, so the effort is wasted.

"Oh, I love purple," says Mum. "It always reminds me of that wonderful poem by Jenny Joseph. What's it called - Warning?"

Christ, I'd forgotten about that. As if wearing something that screams, "No sex life" wouldn't be quite bad enough, now it seems I'd also be signalling that I'm on the way to becoming an eccentric old woman. I might as well have gone the whole hog and bought a bloody red hat as well.

I'm going to get a refund on my way home. There's no point in advertising that you're desperate, is there?   

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Missing: One Wife, Some Photos And That Thing Commonly Known As A Sex-Life

Thank God Connie's coming home for Christmas. At least that'll mean that Max won't be able to keep on sleeping in her room whenever he's in a mood with me. He did it again last night, after I referred to Bambi in a tone he didn't like.

When he gets up this morning, he cooks a full English breakfast - but only for him and Josh. I'm left with crumpets, which I can only assume is Max's way of telling me something. Irony's always been his thing.

Things don't get any better when he decides to upload the photos he took at the Christmas meal.

"Can I use your laptop?" he says. "I promised the girls I'd get the pictures onto Facebook today. They can't wait to see them."

"Neither can I," I say. Max isn't the only one who can do irony.

When he's finished, I sneak a look at his Facebook page. Bambi's got there before me and has already clicked "like" on all the photos in which she appears - which is most of them. She doesn't look half as cute wearing the fake moustache she got in the cracker as she thinks she does.

Shirley Bassey's there too, and the cuckoo, and even Max's boss has been captured, along with his boyfriend. In fact, everyone has made the cut - except me. There are no photos of me at all. Maybe I really was as invisible as I felt?

Sometimes, there's no substitute for an ill-considered revenge attack. As soon as Max goes off to Sainsburys, I look up his password, then sign back in to his Facebook page and delete all the photos of Bambi. Take that!

I feel great for all of thirty seconds before I start to panic about what Max is going to say when he finds out what I've done. Probably something about me being supposed to be a grown-up. Unlike bloody Bambi.

It might be an idea to make myself scarce before he returns, so I go into town to try to do some Christmas shopping. I can't put it off any longer, though I'd really like to. I'm becoming more bah, humbug by the day.

This is mainly due to that infuriating new thing on Facebook showing how many "sleeps" there are until Christmas. All the friends I'd previously thought of as adults are posting these damned updates every five minutes, while I'm getting increasingly tempted to go and murder them in their bloody sleep.

How come they've all got enough money to be looking forward to Christmas? So many people haven't, that you'd think those who have would show some bloody restraint. I'm expecting a rush of suicidal phone calls from constituents if all these "perfect Christmas" programmes and adverts keep on much longer.

As for me, I haven't a clue what to buy anyone, and barely any money either - which rules out all the things that Max and Josh might want. What is it with men and expensive gadgets?

I wish everyone was as easy to buy for as Connie, who still gets almost as excited by the process of unwrapping as by the gift inside it but, instead, the over-extended extended family are even more of a nightmare than Max and Josh.

Dad sends me an email saying that he doesn't want anything other than his "lovely" Porn-Poon, so that's really bloody helpful. When she phones this evening, Dinah's no more impressed than I am.

"So, everything else is Dad's life is disposable, then," she says. "Apart from the Thai bride."

"Ah," I say. "So he told you that she was all he wanted for Christmas, did he?"

"Yes," she says. "And if he thinks I'm going to contribute to that, he's got another think coming."

"What do you mean, Dinah?"

Now I'm confused. I thought Dad was just doing the over-sentimental thing he always does when he gets a new woman.

Dinah huffs as if I am an idiot, then says,

"F*cksake, Molly, don't you know anything? Dad has to pay the bar Porn-Poon works at by the hour or day or whatever to be able to 'live' with her while he's in Thailand. It probably costs more than he gets from his pension, given how long he's been out there this time."

"Oh," I say. "Ah. Well - I'm not paying for that, either, then."

Why should I buy sex for my father when I'm not even getting any myself?

After Dinah rings off, it occurs to me that, not only is my marriage a sex-free zone, but so is my supposed affair. Two men on the go - and no sex with either of them, unless you count the odd hastily-typed virtual encounter with Johnny. Which I don't.

This is a hell of an achievement. No wonder Max is feeding me crumpets in an ironic fashion: I am quite patently hot stuff.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The (Crappy) Morning After The Night Before

Next time my instincts tell me not to go to a social event, I'm going to bloody well listen to them. Last night was hideous, and I haven't even got a hangover to show for it. Mainly because that would have required obtaining a supply of alcohol.

And since when has a gold lame dress come under the heading of "smart-casual" unless you're Shirley Bloody Bassey? I can't believe my eyes when we arrive at the restaurant. Late, due to the argument we have when I refuse to tell Max what to wear.

I'm nearly blinded by the amount of bling at the table, not to mention the cleavage and the sparkly eye-shadow. It looks like a Barry M convention - and for those of you unfamiliar with the lack of subtlety of that make-up range - I am not referring to Mr Manilow, although he'd have felt right at home. Talk about The Copacabana.

As soon as Max and I sit down, one of the girls he works with - who can't be much older than Connie - leans right across me as if I was invisible and says to him,

"Are you drinking red wine, Max?"

"Yes," he says, basking in the Spaniel-like adoration oozing from her non-presbyopic eyes.

"I'll share a bottle with you, then," says Miss Bambi. (I know I've just switched her from dog to faun, but the effect's the same: really f*cking annoying.)

"Why?" says her gold lame clad friend. "You always have white."

"But Max prefers red, don't you Max?" says Bambi.

This is true. Max does prefer red - which I'd have happily shared with him, had anyone bothered to ask me.

Bambi orders the wine and makes great play of pouring it slowly into Max's glass while staring at him at the same time. Then they both take big gulps of the stuff and sigh contentedly.

As a non-employee, I'm not in a position to order anything as, although Max's boss has just announced that the company is paying for the drinks, he has made it plain that the staff are expected to do the ordering to ensure that they stay within the budget.

So I have no choice but to sit there like a starched fart until Max remembers he actually arrived with a wife in tow.

"Oh - what are you drinking, darling?" he says. "Gin and tonic?"

"Looks that way, in the absence of anyone to share a bottle of wine with," I say.

He doesn't reply, but orders me a gin - a single - and then informs me that the restaurant has run out of lemon. I consider mentioning that I'm starting to feel like one of those myself but, instead, I try very hard to follow idiot brother Robin's advice about feeling compassion for anyone who annoys me.

Like most of Robin's suggestions, this one proves pretty useless: I get progressively grumpier as Bambi and Max continue to converse across me. I can't join in because I have absolutely no idea who or what they are talking about, though it sounds as boring as hell.

They order a second bottle and drink that too, while I resort to repeatedly asking Max to pass me the water jug in the hope that he will notice that I have finished my one gin. More than an hour ago. He complies each time without comment but, when he has re-filled my glass with water for the fifth time, he pauses and looks concerned. At last.

Then he says, "Bambi, have you got enough wine?"

I don't hear her reply for the sound of the blood rushing in my ears. I lean in towards Max and say, in what can only be described as a hiss,

"It'd be nice if you gave a shit about whether your wife had a f*cking drink."

Then I excuse myself and go outside for a cigarette. It starts to snow and I wish I'd put my coat on, and brought my handbag with me. Then I could just go home instead of having to return to the others for more of the same.

Except that it's not the same. It's worse. By the time I get back to the table, another young woman has taken my seat. So now I have a faun and a cuckoo to contend with. It's like Tim Burton does Disney.

I am left with the choice of sitting on a separate table with people I don't know at all, or standing at the end of the table I am supposed to be sitting at. I try both but neither are much fun and I drink the second gin in double quick time.

It's the last one I get, though, as I don't see Max again until we leave the restaurant. He hangs around in the doorway, probably waiting for the inevitable kissing-fest, while I stomp off down the steps, desperate to get home.

"What on earth's the matter with you?" he says, sotto voce.

"Where to start?" I say.

I breathe in, ready to let rip, as the rest of the party make their way outside. As I move aside to let them pass, I feel my feet start to move. I didn't know you could slip sideways on ice.

I slide towards the  busy road, wobbling as furiously as Josh does on his skateboard. It seems to take forever before I manage to stop, but it turns out that I've only travelled a couple of feet so, for a few over-optimistic seconds, I think perhaps no-one will have noticed.

Fat chance: when I straighten up, I see that everyone is staring at me, and trying not to laugh. I don't know whether I stiffen in horror, but something makes me begin to slip again.

My mouth open in gormless incredulity, I repeat the slide - wobble - stop process three more times, with the sound of mass laughter ringing in my ears. By the time I crash into the traffic barrier and come to a halt, it's positively deafening.

I challenge anyone to pull off a dignified exit after that.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Stress-Related Dyspraxia And A New-Found Empathy For Camilla.

God, I'm knackered, and I look like shit. I got so distracted by Question Time and then by reports of the attack on Charles and Camilla's car last night, that I forgot I'd left the entire contents of my wardrobe strewn all over the bed earlier in the evening.

At bedtime, Max took one look at the state of our room, and decided to sleep in Connie's. Again. Even after I'd stopped worrying about what that signified, I couldn't go to bed until I'd tried everything on, and put it away again, and I still didn't find anything I didn't look bloody awful in anyway.

Things don't get any better this morning when I oversleep as, by the time I get to work, The Boss is already there.

This is really bad news, as I like to prepare myself for our Friday encounters with plenty of coffee and some deep breathing, so I'm already feeling quite agitated as I tiptoe towards the Oprah Room, where he's sitting on the sofa and talking to someone on the phone.

Andrew's back is turned, and he doesn't seem to have heard me come in, so I stand in the doorway, waiting for him to finish.

"Well, I just think it would be easier to handle if you weren't here," he says. "I reckon she'll drop in again today."

Then he glances up at the window, spots my reflection in it, and almost drops the receiver. It's not very flattering, as he looks absolutely horrified to see me - though it is pretty much the same reaction as I get when I look in a mirror.

"Got to go," he says, to whoever he's talking to. "I'll call you later."

Then he hangs up, turns round, and glares at me.

"Problem?" I say. "Do you need me?"

"No," he says. "Haven't you got any work to be getting on with, instead of sneaking up on people?"

I pretend not to have heard him, and then stay out of his way for the rest of the morning. Greg doesn't follow my lead, but wishes he had when he takes Andrew a cup of coffee and gets no thanks for it.

"Ungrateful sod," he says. "Hope he burns his tongue. He's sulking because bloody Vicky's working from home, I suppose."

"Oh, so that's where she is," I say. "I did wonder. Every cloud has a silver lining, then."

Mind you, Vicky couldn't have been any less helpful than Greg is, when I ask him what he thinks I should wear to Max's works "do" this evening.

"You always look okay, Mol," he says. "And, anyway, the restaurant won't be brightly-lit. Just hide in the shadows and then you won't put people off their food."

"Very funny," I say, though I don't mean it.

God knows what has happened to me. I used to look forward to social occasions, but now they make me so anxious that I'm a mess for days beforehand. Today, I can't concentrate at all, and seem to have completely lost my ability to open the mail without shredding it with the letter-opener.

The incompetence doesn't end there and, by late afternoon, I'm covered in paper cuts, have managed to jam the printer three times, and shut my fingers in the filing cabinet. I'm still swearing about that when Trish comes into the office.

"Hi, Molly. Oh, and hello Greg," she says. "Isn't Victoria here?" I notice that her hands are clenched into fists.

I shake my head, but there's no time to explain as, at the sound of Trish's distinctive voice, Andrew comes hurtling out of the Oprah Room, and does a very exaggerated double-take at the sight of his wife.

"Trish!" he says."What a lovely surprise. Wasn't expecting to see you here."

Honestly, if there was an Oscar for hamming it up, he'd win hands down. Trish looks almost as unconvinced by it as I do, but neither of us says anything.

She perches on my desk while she waits for Andrew to get ready to leave.

"You okay, Molly?" she says. "You look awfully pale."

"Yes," I say. "It's just that I've got to go to Max's work Christmas dinner this evening, and I haven't got a clue what to wear."

Greg rolls his eyes in disgust, but Trish gets it straight away.

"Oh, God," she says, sympathetically. "I know exactly how you feel. Max works with almost as many young women as Andrew, doesn't he?"

"Yes," I say. " More. Though I've never thought about it like that before."

I'm still trying to stop thinking about the similarities when I get home from work, and now I've got less than half an hour to shower and get ready. Aargh. Can it be normal to be dreading a night out as much as this?

At the risk of sounding like Camilla before she quit, I think I need a quick gin and a cigarette. Especially as Max has just asked me what I think he should wear.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

How Middle-Aged Men Can Put You Off Young People For Good

I know I should probably be writing about the tuition fees vote but I'm a bit distracted by other stuff and, anyway, I'm fed up with young people today - for reasons which will become apparent.

Trish phones first thing, and asks to speak to me off the record. That always makes me nervous.

"What exactly is Victoria working on?" she says. "Have you found out yet?"

"Um, no," I say. "I've had Greg looking into it too, but we're still not sure. Vicky says it's very important, though."

"I bet she does," says Trish.

I don't know what to say to that, but Trish doesn't seem to notice. She just carries on, regardless:

"Well, I've spoken to Andrew, and he says there'll shortly be a vacancy that he'll need her to fill. Do you know what he means? Is anyone thinking of leaving?"

"Not as far as I'm aware," I say. "But I'll check, if you like?"

"Please do, Molly," says Trish. "As let me know as soon as possible."

Oh, bloody, bloody hell. Now what is going on? And how am I supposed to find out if anyone's leaving without causing wholesale panic? Marie-Louise still hasn't got over her last undeserved verbal warning, and Carlotta's already convinced that all non-British researchers are going to get the boot since the whole Mike Hancock incident.

I can barely concentrate all afternoon, as I'm so worried about what The Boss could have meant. And who he could have been referring to. I'm sure no-one's thinking of resigning in this economic climate, so I hope it's not my job he's talking about.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that I am the one that Andrew is planning to put out to grass. I don't have Slavic cheekbones and am probably not decorative enough to work for an MP any more. I'm positively geriatric compared to Mike Hancock's researcher.

My self-image doesn't improve when I get home. Honestly, if there's one thing more difficult than finding out who Andrew is planning to get rid of, it's establishing the dress code for any event linked to Max's job. Which is all the more vital because all bar one of Max's colleagues is female.

The only male - Max's boss, Colin - is gay, so I probably should have asked him what to wear to the Christmas dinner, as Max is about as helpful as a hole in the head when it comes to sartorial matters.

Tonight is no exception. When I ask him what he thinks I should wear tomorrow evening, he says it doesn't matter, because I always look fine. This is obviously rubbish, so I try again.

"What will the other women be wearing?" I ask.

This seems a perfectly reasonable question to me, but Max sighs heavily before saying that he doesn't know. It's like getting blood out of a particularly reluctant stone.

"Well, will they be dressing up or down?"I say. "It's not a very posh restaurant, and 6:00pm is a funny time to start, so I haven't got a clue what's appropriate."

"I already told you - I don't know," he says again. "I suppose they'll probably wear a skirt and a top, or trousers and a top, or a dress. Does it really matter?"

"Yes," I say. "It does bloody well matter. As I would have thought you'd remember from the last time we had to go out with your colleagues. When you told me that no-one would be dressing up."

"They did all wear jeans," he says. "Just like I told you they would."

"Yes, but you missed out that they'd all have their tits hanging out from miniscule sequinned tops, would have slapped on more make-up than Jordan, and would be wearing enough jewellery to open a branch of Warren James with. Not to mention skyscraper heels."

Max glares at me, and I'm sure he whispers something about elephants never forgetting under his breath. I glare back, so that he knows the subject is not yet closed.

"You looked all right. You were just in a mood for some reason," he says.

"I was wearing a thick, woolly jumper and my snow boots," I say. "On the basis of your advice to dress up warm. I have never felt such an idiot in my life."

Now would be a very good time for my husband to smooth the situation over, give me some reassurance and generally show some sensitivity.

"Well, seeing as all the other women are only in their twenties, I can't see how it's relevant what they'll be wearing anyway," he says.

I manage to lock myself in the bathroom before I burst into tears. 

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

James Blunt, Christmas Meals, and Teenage Sensitivity - Not To Mention The Call Of Duty.

I wish they'd do away with works Christmas meals. At least those you have to pay for yourself. At this rate, Max and I will be broke by the time it gets to the middle of December.

Even though The Boss will probably pay for our Constituency Office lunch - if he doesn't cancel it at the last minute again - I've still got to pay for the Labour Party one, and now Max says that I'm expected to go to his works "do" with him. And pay for the privilege of being bored out of my brains.

"Do I have to come?" I say. "I'd rather save the money and go out for dinner by ourselves. Or take the kids with us."

"There's no bloody pleasing you," says Max. "Last year you went nuts when I told you you couldn't come."

"Well, that was different. You told me no spouses were invited, and then I found out I was the only one who wasn't. After the event."

He changes the subject after that, which is a good job as I am not listening anyway. I am staring in horror at the advert for the new James Blunt album instead. Bloody brilliant. Now I'm going to have to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas being tortured by seeing a brunette version of Ellen on the TV every five minutes.

To make matters worse, the album is called In Some Kind Of Trouble and the two songs named in the  advert are: Stay The Night and I'm So Far Gone. It'd be funny, if I wasn't sure that Mr Blunt wasn't somehow related to the woman I'm almost sure is sleeping with my husband. He's just mocking the afflicted, as far as I'm concerned.

"I don't see why you hate James Blunt so much," says Max. "Most women seem to love him."

"Well, you wouldn't understand why I can't stand him, would you?" I say. "Seeing as you're such a fan of the blonde female version."

Max just huffs at that, and then there follows one of those uncomfortable silences. Josh decides to try to break it by taking an interest in politics.

"What do you think of this Daylight Savings Bill, Mum?" he says.

"I'm against it," I say. "The less daylight I have to look at myself in, the better. How about you?"

"I'm against it too."

Josh sounds as if he's actually given this some thought. I am very impressed and settle myself for a long discussion. A mother and son bonding session coming up.

"I was only joking," I say. "I'm in favour, and I thought you'd think it was a good idea, too. Why don't you?"

"I don't like change," says Josh.

He looks meaningfully at Max and me. I squirm, while Max says, "Why not?"

"Because change brings pain," says Josh.

Then he goes upstairs to kill a whole nation of people in Call of Duty. Teenage sensitivity only goes so far, after all.

Max and I look at each other, but neither of us speaks for ages. Then, just as Max finally opens his mouth to say something, James Blunt makes a bloody reappearance, standing at the edge of a cliff.

What I wouldn't give to push him off it. Along with the lookalike who's causing all the trouble.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Don't Call Me Stupid.

Blimey, I still can't get used to having so many young people phoning us up and wanting to talk about student funding. It's as if they've just discovered politics for the first time. I mention it to The Boss when he calls me at lunchtime.

"It's very good news," he says. "Perhaps we can stop worrying so much about youth disengagement now."

"About tuition fees, anyway," I say. "Though I'm not so sure that they're all interested in politics in general."

"Hmm," he says. "At least I hope they've learned where being politically naive gets them: LibDems promising the earth and then discovering they can't deliver it. If so many students hadn't fallen for the buggers' pledges, we might not be in this mess now."

This is all very well, but I do wish Ed Miliband would be a bit more careful when he talks about the changes to tuition fees affecting social mobility. It's not as if we've got a glowing record on that ourselves - as one of the older constituents who phones today is at pains to point out.

"Your lot presided over a worsening in the situation," says Mr Fincham. "And as for that ludicrous 50% university target, well that's the elephant in the room, isn't it?"

I hate to say it, but he's got a point. No-one wants to talk about that when the subject of tuition fees comes up. They stay well away from how on earth such a high target could possibly be publicly-funded.

And, as for whether graduates with poor degrees from less-desirable universities stand any chance of getting well-paid jobs, or whether they've been burdening themselves with debt for no good reason, not even the "bold and brave" Nick Clegg will touch that one with a bargepole, will he?

It's very unnerving when you find yourself agreeing with a Tory on anything, but David Davis seems to be one of the few prepared to think the unthinkable. Mr Fincham must be his biggest fan.

"Davis is the only one talking any sense," he says. "You guys should pay attention to him, instead of arguing about a graduate tax and fighting amongst yourselves."

"Ah," I say. Sometimes I can see why The Boss relies on saying that so often.

"Is that all you've got to say?" (I didn't claim it always works.)

"Well, I agree with him about tuition fees hitting those students who come from the tier just above the poorest the hardest," I say. "They do, as with many other means-tested things that involve a cut-off point."

I'm hoping this will satisfy Mr Fincham, but he hasn't finished yet:

"Bloody right. And Davis has got the solution to the whole problem, hasn't he?"

"What's that, then?"

"Send fewer people to university," he says. "Not that the Labour Party will ever have the bollocks to face up to that. Obsessed with degrees at all costs, and couldn't give a monkey's about whether the courses these young 'uns take are even worth doing."

I know what Mr Fincham means. The Boss is completely hung up on degrees for all - not that he seems to think mine is worth much.

When the Labour Government first brought in tuition fees, I kept asking Andrew why, if a university education was such a passport to success, I was so badly-paid in comparison to my non-graduate friends, but he always wriggled out of it.

"Gave you the confidence to argue your case, though - didn't it, Molly?" he said.

"But seemingly not to win it," I said.

I'd ask him again now, and use Johnny as an example of what non-graduates can earn, if I wasn't still worrying about MI5 and drawing attention to my Russian connection. Johnny thinks I'm being ridiculous when I ask him not to email me at work any more, though.

"You'd need to work for someone much more important than your boss for the Russians to be interested in you," he says. "He's a backbench MP - and in opposition, for God's sake. I shouldn't think they've even heard of him in the Kremlin."

"Given his supposedly-Marxist views, they may know him better than you think," I say. "Not that he ever applies them to my pay. But, anyway, I can't take the risk. I don't know what you might try to get me to reveal in an unguarded moment."

"The only thing I'm interested in getting you to reveal is what you look and feel like naked."

"Well, I've only got your word for that," I say. "I'll set up a Hotmail account and get back to you when I've done it. Don't email me until then."

"Now you're just being stupid," he says. He doesn't even moderate the insult with a smily face, or any kisses.

I somehow refrain from pointing out that only 6% of the population made it to university when I went, and Johnny didn't. But the knowledge makes me feel a whole lot better, as long as I don't think about what he earns.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Under Suspicion - Spies, MPs, And Russians, Not To Mention MPs' Staff

Bloody hell - and I thought The Boss was a liability! At least he doesn't have a researcher who's been picked up by MI5.

Honestly, though - wouldn't you think it would have occurred to Mike Hancock MP that employing a Russian research assistant was slightly inadvisable, especially when he sits on the Defence Select Committee? Has he never heard of the Cold War, or read any John Le Carre?

And, although Andrew can do some pretty stupid things, even he wouldn't be daft enough to (allegedly) take young female constituents out to dinner and text them to "cheer them up." Or, at least, I really hope he wouldn't.

"Thank God we don't work for Mike Hancock," I say. "Things could actually be worse."

"Don't count your chickens," says Greg. "I've got a very bad feeling about Vicky."

So have I, but I don't think she's that sort of spy. Greg decides to investigate, anyway, though. He picks up a new notebook, opens it to the first page and then turns to face Vicky, his pen poised at the ready.

"Got any Russian relatives?" he says. Subtlety has never been his forte.

"Don't be ridiculous," she says. "Why?"

"Just something Slavic about your cheekbones. And you look like a woman who'd know how to make a man tell you anything."

"Thanks," says Vicky, as if it were a compliment.

She obviously hasn't a clue what Greg is talking about, probably because she thinks keeping abreast of current affairs means revealing as much Wonderbra-enhanced cleavage as possible. I keep hoping she'll catch pneumonia like my Nan always warned me would happen if you walked around with your bosoms hanging out all over the place.

"And no Russian friends?" says Greg. "Close friends? Take your time before you answer."

"I don't need to. I don't know any Russians." Vicky rolls her eyes."Now do you mind if I get on with what I'm doing?"

Greg makes a great show of writing down her answers in his notebook, but she doesn't seem to notice, as she's too busy concentrating on trying to mend one of her fake nails. When she decides that the task is beyond her, she phones for an "emergency appointment" at the nail bar, and buggers off to lunch.

I breathe a sigh of relief, but then Greg starts on me while I'm making coffee.

"Of course, we already know that we have someone with Russian connections working in the office, don't we, Molly?" he says.

He gives me one of those horrible meaningful looks he usually reserves for when The Boss makes one of his wilder claims to the media.

"Oh, for God's sake," I say. "I hardly think one disastrous date with a UK citizen who just happens to work in Russia counts as exposing myself to bribery and corruption. And, anyway, Johnny takes absolutely no interest in my job whatsoever. He's as unimpressed with it as I am. More, probably."

"Ah, yes - but you have always wondered what a man as rich and successful as he is could possibly see in you, haven't you?" says Greg. Somewhat insensitively, if you ask me.

"Thanks," I say, though not at all in the same tone as Vicky used earlier.

"Just food for thought," he says.

I glare at him, before passing him his coffee and spilling some on the letter he's just printed out. Accidentally on purpose. Hopefully that'll shut him up for the rest of the day.

Famous last words. Just after it gets dark, Greg comes into my office and walks to the window. He peers out, before diving to the floor.

"Get down! They're out there, Mol," he says, in a very loud whisper. "Waiting for you."

"Who?" I say. "Not Mr X and his cronies?"

I slide under my desk, banging my head in the process. Greg laughs.

"MI5" he says. "Look - dark car, and a man in a dark suit, speaking into his sleeve."

When I've managed to disentangle myself from the printer lead, I stand up and approach the window. Very carefully.

"For Christ's sake, Greg," I say. "That's Phil Ashbury, the Unison guy. He's got a meeting with Joan at 5:00pm. And he's just putting his gloves on."

"Or so he'd like you to think," says Greg, who isn't half as funny as he thinks he is.

I'm a bit unnerved now, though. I mean, what if MI5 are following everyone with a Russian connection? And how embarrassing would it be if they read my emails? They'd probably nominate me and Johnny for one of those bad sex awards after last week's woeful virtual performance.

I want to talk to Johnny about it, but I daren't. What if he's only softening me up before trying to find out everything I know? I bet it'll only be a matter of time before he starts asking me all about The Boss' position on cycle helmets.

I knew someone successful fancying me was too good to be true. Or anyone fancying me, for that matter. It's a shame no-one wants to take me out to dinner to cheer me up. Even an MP would do, the way I'm feeling, and it doesn't get much more desperate than that.