Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Battle Of Balaclava, Mafioso-Style.

I know it's pathetic to moan about this, given the terrible things that are happening in Libya and New Zealand, but, bloody hell, shopping's such a hazard when you work for an MP. Poor old Greg looks as if he's seen a ghost when he comes back from lunch.

"Christ," he says, before throwing himself onto the sofa in the Oprah Room and closing his eyes as if he's in pain.

"What on earth's the matter?" I say. "And get off there before The Boss and Vicky come back and decide you've been sleeping on the job."

"I shall just tell them that I have had a relapse of *PTSD," says Greg. "Caused by the trauma of encountering Steve Ellington at the pharmacy counter in Boots. Is it too much to expect constituents to keep their bloody distance when you're on your lunch-break and engaged in a sensitive transaction? "

I know exactly what Greg means. MPs' staff should be like teachers and live anywhere other than the town in which we work. You never know who is going to pop up and start demanding to know what the point of the United Nations is, right at the moment when you're trying to read the instructions on a bottle of Durex Play Gel - not that that's ever happened to me, of course. It's just an example I thought up off the top of my head.

"What were you buying?" I ask. "Anything embarrassing?"

"Imodium," says Greg. "I can't tell you how much fun Steve E had with that, but suffice it to say that it involved lots of increasingly-tedious references to politicians' tendency to verbal diarrhoea. So I've come up with a cunning plan to camouflage ourselves while we shop in future, and I've bought you something to help achieve that aim. Pass me that carrier bag."

I do as I'm told, and then wait while Greg rummages through endless packets of Imodium, two cans of Red Bull and three bags of Haribo Starmix. After what feels like hours, he finally says, "Got it!" and chucks something at me.

I'd be lethal in a riot as I can't help catching anything that anyone throws at me. It's automatic after years of parenting Josh, who went through a rather lengthy and dangerous stage of saying, "Catch!" at the same time as throwing hard objects straight at Connie's head.

So of course I obey Greg's instruction, and then stare in disbelief at the shapeless black thing that's landed in my hand, and which seems to be knitted from thick black wool.

"Um, thanks," I say. "It's very nice. But why are there holes in it, and what is it for?"

"It's a balaclava, you fool," says Greg. "I bought myself one, too. We just put them on whenever we leave the office - and then we can stay incognito wherever we go. Brilliant, eh? Let's try them on, and see how we look."

Which may have been a mistake, in retrospect - judging by how Andrew and Vicky react to the sight of us when they walk back into the office. Vicky starts screaming, and The Boss pulls her in front of him as if she were a riot shield.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" he says.

"Whapf?" says Greg, which is a significant achievement with a mouthful of Haribos. My teeth are so firmly stuck together that I'm incapable of making any sound at all.

The Boss drops his voice and pulls Vicky closer to him, before continuing:

"Are you the Russian Mafia? If so, I'm not the man you're looking for - but I do know where he lives."

"Nompf, youfoof - s'mee," says Greg - twice, before he gives up and removes his balaclava, and gestures at me to do the same.

Some people have no sense of humour at all. Even after Greg's pointed out that terrorists and mafioso don't usually fill the time spent lying in wait for their victims by typing letters, The Boss still can't see the funny side of the whole thing. He doesn't speak to us for the rest of the afternoon, and Vicky doesn't speak to him, either.

"Why's Vicky giving The Boss the silent treatment?" I say to Greg, when we sneak off to the Labour Party office to get away from the chilly atmosphere pervading ours.

"Didn't you hear what she said when he finally released his grip on her?" says Greg.

"No," I say. "I was still trying to pull my balaclava off, so I couldn't hear anything at all. It's a bit tight and I couldn't get it over my ears."

"Yeah, I spotted that," says Greg. "You looked a bit like Colonel Gaddafi crossed with a Meerkat who'd joined the Special Forces. Anyway, Vicky called Andrew a spineless coward for hiding behind her - so maybe she's not as daft as she looks."

Which is a lot more than can be said for  me and Greg when we're wearing our new shopping kit.

*PTSD - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What Greg claims to be suffering from whenever he wants a day off to recover from a hangover.

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