Friday, 25 February 2011

A Nasty Surprise, Though Obviously Not To The Office Of National Statistics

Blimey, I can't help feeling that the *ONS know more about our lives than they're letting on. I'm pretty sure I'd score ten out of ten for anxiety today, following the news that Max eventually decides to impart over breakfast this morning.

He's scraping burnt toast while studiously avoiding eye contact, when I decide I can't take it any longer.

"When are you going to start speaking to me again?" I say. "It's bad enough at work with The Boss giving me the silent treatment half the time, without you doing it at home as well."

Max looks at me, then chucks the piece of toast into the bin.

"Mol," he says, rather wearily. "You're the one who isn't speaking to me - ever since last night when you randomly decided that I must have been shagging someone when I was actually at a work meeting. You didn't even look away from the TV when I came in, and you've been scowling like a maniac ever since."

"That's because Question Time was on," I say. "Which effectively means that I was working while I was watching. And what you don't seem to realise is that I saw who dropped you off last night - that bloody annoying Bambi girl. So no wonder I'm scowling. I've got a damned good reason to."

I don't add that I could also smell alcohol on his breath, or that he looked pretty stressed out at the time. As you would, if you'd been cheating on your wife with an airhead whose only topic of conversation seems to be chocolate brownies. And who wears exactly the shade of lipstick that was smeared across his cheek. I am either becoming an absolute model of restraint - or a total coward.

"Correct as far as it goes," says Max. "Seeing as Bambi - bloody hell, I mean Gemma - did give me a lift home. But along with two other staff, who you surely must also have seen if you were spying on me properly."

"I wasn't spying," I say. "I was closing Josh's bedroom curtains, and I didn't even have my glasses on."

"That explains that, then," says Max.

He rolls his eyes, and I'm pretty sure he's counting to ten under his breath. You can always tell when he's concentrating. His breathing goes all funny.

"So why were you all so late, then?" I say. "It must have been a pretty important meeting if you had to work later than I do. Was there a table facing deportation, or a bunk-bed that was about to be evicted or something?"

"Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, Mum," says Josh - who has appeared from nowhere as teenagers often do. "For God's sake, give Dad a chance to tell you what's going on."

There's nothing so frightening as a big build-up, is there? Better late than never, I realise that something serious must have happened, so I abandon the attempt to eat my porridge and raise my eyebrows at Max instead.

My stomach feels a bit jittery, but I try my best to ignore it by recalling Nick Clegg's brilliant faux pas yesterday, which has served to make me laugh every time I've thought about it - until now, when it no longer seems to work at all.

I can feel the anxiety mounting while I wait for Max to tell me whatever it is that is causing his agonised expression. Is he going to tell me he's leaving me for a chocoholic faun? Surely he wouldn't do that - not in front of Josh, anyway? But it must be something bad, because he obviously doesn't know where to begin.

I gesture at him to hurry up, and finally he starts to speak.

"The shop's closing," he says, as my stomach does a rather stunning Lutz, followed by what must be at least a triple toe loop. "They may transfer some of us elsewhere, but if we even want to be considered for that, we all have to re-apply for our jobs."

"Elsewhere?" I say. "Where else?" (In normal circumstances I'd be awfully chuffed with the neatness of that reversal, but these aren't normal circumstances. Not by a very long chalk.)

"Either the store in Meadowbridge, or the one in Hansford," says Max. "Either way, they're a hell of a distance from here. And that's if I get through the interview process in the first place - which, as I'm the oldest member of staff, doesn't seem very bloody likely."

I'm so shocked that I don't know what to say, but I've got a funny feeling the ONS must have seen this coming. Why else would they only want to know how happy I was yesterday?

*ONS - Office for National Statistics, charged with trying to assess the nation's happiness levels, amongst other things.

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