Monday, 31 January 2011

Mad MPs, Saintly Constituents, And The All-Too Brief Career Of Professor Molly Bennett.

Ouf, I'm sure the number of constituents contacting us has already doubled since the cuts started. People are terrified of the effect the changes are having on every aspect of their lives, from health to jobs.

Talking of which, the latest spate of redundancies in Northwick doesn't augur too well for my plan to find myself a new career. Which seems even more urgent today, because The Boss has stopped speaking to me again.

This doesn't usually matter when he's in Westminster as, when he's in a sulk, he doesn't normally count conversations where he can't see my face as talking - but today he's not even willing to speak to me on the phone. Every time he calls and I answer, he hangs up on me. It's hard not to take offence after it happens for about the fifth time in the last ten minutes.

Greg looks at the phone when it next rings, then raises his eyebrows and says,

"Private line again, Mol. Want me to try answering it this time?"

"Yes, please," I say. "Maybe you can tell if it's a fault on the line and not just Andrew being an idiot."

Greg picks up the receiver, listens for a second and then says,

"Oh, yes - hi, Andrew. I'm glad it's you - we thought there was something wrong with this line. It keeps ringing and then no-one speaks."

There's another pause, and then he says, "It's the first time you've called? Well, okay - yes, I'll fax it now. Ring me back when you get it."

Greg says that the mystery hang-ups must have been due to a problem at the exchange, as Andrew sounded "fairly convincingly innocent."

So I calm down and stop swearing about passive aggression, until there's yet another call on the private line and I pick up the phone. To be met with silence, except for Marie-Louise's voice in the background saying, "Andrew, what about this?" quickly followed by the dialling tone.

"So much for blaming BT," I say to Greg. "For once, it's definitely not their fault. Andrew's just playing silly buggers again."

Greg pulls a face and sends me a link to Trovit Jobs as an admission of defeat. I register my details on the site, though I have absolutely no idea what sort of work I'm seeking. It's the same problem as with my CV - there's no neat way of summarising all the disparate stuff I do at work. Or not without sounding as if I am a psychiatric nurse, anyway.

Eventually, I just select anything and everything that could possibly be relevant, and then tick the box to confirm that I want to receive regular emails advising me of all the vacancies that might suit my (admittedly-peculiar) skill-set.

"You're learning the pointless jargon already," says Greg. "If you don't watch out, you'll soon be sounding as if you work for Northwick Council, and not for a bad-tempered MP with an unpredictable nature."

This prospect worries me so much that I decide I'd better distract myself by doing some proper work, so I phone Sheila Renshaw, to check how things are going with her.

The call quickly puts my problems into stark perspective. Sheila sounds terrible: exhausted and uncharacteristically tearful; and her usual optimism to seems to have gone completely AWOL.

"I don't think I can cope much longer," she says. "I can't bear to watch him suffer like this, and I really think he needs to be in hospital too."

Sheila's husband, Fred, is much older than she is, but there's no doubting it was - and still is - a love match. She adores him, even though she says that Alzheimers has reduced him to a shell of his former self.

"How many hours of help are you getting now?" I ask, but I can't hear Sheila's answer at all. It's obliterated by a loud, drawn-out sound. I've never heard anything like it, but it makes my stomach feel really funny.

"What on earth was that?" I say. "Did you get a dog for Christmas, or something?"

"No," says Sheila. "That's Fred. He started doing it about a month ago and - "

The rest of that sentence is also rendered impossible to hear by another of Fred's seemingly-random noises, which sound like a very protracted, "Urrrrrr."

"Does he do that all day?" I say.

"Yes," says Sheila. "And all night - the poor, poor man."

Honestly, the woman is a saint. Having to listen to that agonised sound would drive me insane with helplessness within an hour, and yet - as usual - Sheila's only thought is for her husband's pain. I have no idea how I'd cope if Max ever developed such an horrible illness, and I can't even bear to think about how long he'd be able to put up with me if I was the one affected.

Carers have been having a terrible time for years, and yet it seems that things may be about to get even worse, if the Riven Vincent case is just the tip of the iceberg, as I bet it bloody well is. What scares me the most is how the cuts are going to affect all the children caring for sick or disabled parents. They're the most frequently overlooked - and the least likely to know how or where to seek help. If there's any help left, that is - once the cuts have done their work.

It's a horrible thought and, by the time I get home from work, I'm starting to see why Josh says he hates change so much. It is a bit unnerving - and the global picture doesn't help. Events seem to be spiralling out of control everywhere, so I'm expecting Josh to object when I switch on the TV in time for Channel 4 News.

He doesn't. For once, he's viewing change as a force for good.

"Go, Egypt, go," he says, as soon as some footage of Cairo appears. Max doesn't reply, but gives me a funny look, which I return in kind.

"What are you two up to?" says Josh, who never misses anything. "The Egyptians are bringing a repressive regime to an end, and you should be cheering them on. Why are you both pulling such freaked-out faces? What is wrong with people your age? Holly's parents were acting just like you two the other night when the riots started."

"Well, we can't help thinking about the Shah of Iran," says Max, at the same time as I say,

"Ayatollah Khomeini."

Josh is quite obviously none the wiser, so then I end up giving a political lecture about the Iranian Revolution and the kind of people who can step in to fill a vacuum. I think I keep it pretty snappy  - as at least he is still awake by the time I get to the creation of the Islamic Republic, even if his father isn't.

But I don't care about Max's snoring, for once, because Josh has accidentally solved my career problem: I shall apply for a job teaching at a university, and become an esteemed expert in Recent Political History.

I spend the next half an hour signing my name on the back of an old Select Committee Report as Professor Molly Bennett  - until Josh tells me that he's checked online and that all the posts in Politics departments have already been snapped up by MPs who lost their seats.

Probably ones like The Boss, who have never even heard of Gilmour or Tawney despite the fact that both were required reading if you wanted to get a degree in Politics in the olden days. Ignorance continues to be its own reward.

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