Monday, 28 February 2011

Playing Dead In A World Gone Madder Than Usual.

Never, ever send Greg a supposedly-amusing video, that's all I can say. The end result just isn't worth it.

"Great clip you emailed me of that dog pretending to die, Mol," he says, when he arrives this morning. "Watch this!"

Then his bones appear to turn to jelly, and he collapses on the spot. Admittedly he doesn't nail the landing, but it's a pretty impressive display, even so.

"Very good," I say. "Have you spent much time practising?"

"Hours," he says. "My blind date stood me up last night, so learning how to play dead seemed a good way to fill the time. Offers endless possibilities in the workplace, too - once I've stopped losing my spatial awareness as I go down, that is."

"Possibilities like what?" I say, before I work it out for myself: excruciatingly boring constituent - emergency collapse of caseworker. Fan-bloody-tastic.

"I'll teach you how to do it," says Greg. "For a fee. Payable in gin and general slavery."

I don't have time to learn the technique, though, as the phones are so busy - presumably because callers have realised that Recess has now finished, and that The Boss won't be answering the phone himself any more. Which would usually mean that they could realistically expect a sensible reply to their queries, but I'm not doing much better than Andrew today. There are some very tricky questions indeed.

First off, Richard Levinson wants to know why the United Nations' interpretation of urgent isn't the same as ordinary people's; and then Pete Carew calls to ask whether Andrew's going to try to make political capital from the freezing of Colonel Gaddafi's assets.

"He bloody well should," he says. "Seeing as we'd have a hard time freezing the Coalition's assets in a revolution, wouldn't we? Half the ministers have their money stashed off-shore."

"Good point," I say. "Though I don't see much sign of the UK revolting at the moment, even though some of its inhabitants undoubtedly are. Revolting, that is."

"Mol-ly," says Pete, in a warning voice that makes me feel about five years old. "Those are Andrew's constituents you're talking about."

Honestly, I have no idea what is wrong with Pete. The concept of black humour entirely escapes him - which suggests that he doesn't meet as many of the people he represents as he should.

No wonder The Boss is always complaining that local councillors pass their most difficult cases straight to us instead of first trying to deal with them themselves. If they had to manage the usual suspects, they'd soon realise it's essential to extract every shred of humour you can get from the experience - if you're to avoid going stark, staring mad yourself.

I don't say any of this to Pete, though, as he hasn't yet forgiven me for suggesting that not every single council worker is indispensable, and still refers to me as a fascist whenever he gets the chance. Or so Greg tells me, anyway - Pete doesn't say it to my face. He's a man after Peter Mandelson's heart.

Bearing this in mind, I decide I'd better adopt the precautionary principle, so I bite my lip and act professional - unlike a certain repeatedly-collapsing colleague that I can see out of the corner of my eye. I should never have sent Greg that bloody clip.

"Anything else I can help you with, Pete?" I say. "If not, I'll ring off, if you don't mind. We're rather busy today, seeing as we couldn't get much done during Recess."

"Andrew there all last week, was he?" says Pete. "You should have told him to go home and do some decorating."

"Trish has just had their whole house done up," I say. "And it looks quite nice to me. What do you think's wrong with it?"

"Well, they should have thought twice before using Osborne and Little wallpaper," he says. "Shouldn't they? Though I bet you bloody Osborne's pleased. Laughing all the way to the bank, he'll be."

Honestly, there's no end to the things that an MP needs to consider, is there? It's a mad world when your choice of wallpaper becomes a political act. (Unless you're Derry Irvine, of course - but the less said about that debacle the better. Even the word "Pugin" causes a collective Labour Party shudder.)

But it's not just wallpaper that's making it feel like a mad world today. What's really insane is that Miss Chambers actually seems to have a genuine complaint - for once.

"It's about the Council," she says, slightly more quietly than usual - though Greg can still hear her from where he's standing in the doorway between our offices. He pulls a face, scribbles something on the back of a Council Planning Committee report, and then throws it at me.

"Read it," he mouths, so I do - while also trying to listen to Miss C, who's becoming more agitated by the second.

Greg's scrawl says,

"Emergency signal. When you can't take it any more, roll your eyes, and I'll collapse. Very noisily, so you can excuse yourself and hang up."

This seems like a very good plan, so I nod at him, while Miss Chambers continues to explain that she's had enough of the Housing Department's Repairs Service.

"What exactly is the problem, then?" I say. "Are they actually refusing to do the repair?"

"No," she says. "But they won't make a bloody appointment to do it. They just turn up and, if you're not in, then they leave a card and bugger off. Then you have to report the repair all over again and wait weeks for their next visit. And they don't make an appointment for that one, either."

This doesn't seem to make any sense at all, so I double-check. This is Miss Chambers I'm talking to, after all.

"So, let me get this straight - you're saying they don't actually make any appointments; that they just turn up and expect tenants to be in, as if by magic?"

"No," says Miss C. "I mean, yes. They say that that's their system."

"Oh, for goodness' sake," I say. "That's not a system, that's a -"

I'm interrupted by a loud crash, which suggests that I am not as conscious of my involuntary facial expressions as I might have expected. Though I'm a lot more conscious than Greg is, after he hit his head on the door-frame.

Let's just say that explaining the concept of playing dead is not as much fun as it sounds. Not in A&E on a busy Monday afternoon. And definitely not when they ask for details of your injured colleague's occupation.

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