Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A Certain Phrase It Would Behove A So-Called Socialist Not To Use, And Why Economists Never Take Any Notice Of Me

"You saw that we voted for our own pay-freeze last night, I assume?" says The Boss, when he phones first thing.

"I should think so, too," I say. "Seeing as we're all supposedly in this together."

"Well, there was some muttering behind the scenes," he says. "About how, if you pay peanuts, you're bound to get monkeys."

There are so many answers just begging to be given to this stupid remark - all of them sarcastic - that I hardly know where to begin.

It's probably safer not say anything at all so, as a precaution, I hang up on Andrew, though I make it look like an accident, of course. Thus disproving the peanuts/monkeys analogy rather neatly, as far as I'm concerned.

The private line rings again straight away, so I signal to Greg that it's his turn to answer it this time. I am otherwise occupied, climbing on to the top of my desk.

"What, Andrew?" says Greg. "Oh, yes - Molly said that you'd been cut off. What can I do for you, anyway?"

He turns his back on me for the rest of the conversation, though I can't for the life of me think why. All I'm doing is jumping up and down while scratching my armpits, after all. Though why does Vicky always arrive at the worst possible moment?

"Molly?" she says, taking a step backwards and raising her eyebrows at me. Which is the look she usually reserves for constituents she hasn't met before, while she waits for me or Greg to whisper, "sane" or "barking" in her ear.

"Sane," I say. "Just underpaid - which apparently automatically renders me rather more closely related to gorillas than even Dian Fossey believed."

"I see," says Vicky, who quite clearly doesn't. Which you wouldn't expect her to, when Mummy and Daddy pay her such a generous allowance.

Oh, yes - allowances. That's where I was meant to be going with this from the start: talking about the bloody, bloody, buggery Budget.

Excuse the language, but half this morning's calls are from constituents worried about what the changes will mean for them. I haven't a clue, as I dozed off when they were giving examples of the Budget's likely effects on the news last night.

Not through boredom, just exhaustion - though why do pundits never mention families with grown-up children who have failed to launch, when they show you what the Budget changes will do to the incomes of different groups? Max and I can't possibly be the only ones in this position. Or I bloody well hope we're not. Where on earth did we go wrong with Josh?

"Bloody hell, Mol," says Greg. "I wonder how many sole traders we're going to have left in this country by the time the recession is over."

"What d'you mean?" I say. "Oh, that late payment thing? Or whether they can pass their increased costs on to their customers without losing them to bigger competitors who can afford to absorb the losses themselves?"

"Both of those, of course," he says. "But I'd also forgotten about the penalties for filing your tax returns late. That last caller said that he can't afford to employ an accountant any longer, and he's really worried about doing it himself."

So would I be, if I were him. It's bad enough dealing with Andrew's expenses, let alone handling tax returns. I really hope Max will decide to reconsider the plan he thought up last night, which was to go self-employed.

I'm about to mention this very bad idea to Greg when the phone rings yet again, and he answers it.

"Who?" he says. "Oh, Connie - sorry, I didn't recognise your voice. Do you want to speak to your Mum?"

Cue instantaneous panic - which I had rather hoped I would have grown out of by now. Do you ever stop worrying about your kids? (I've got a horrible feeling the answer is "no.")

Greg's about to put the call through to my phone, but there's no need. I'm already half-way across the room, so I grab the receiver from his hand.

"What's the matter, Con?" I say. "Why are you calling me at work?"

"Mum," she says, though croaks might be a better word. "You know this bad throat I've had? And how I've been feeling really tired?"

"Yes," I say, wishing she didn't always have to make everything into a question. "Hurry up, Con! Just tell me what on earth is wrong. What did the doctor say? Has he got the blood tests back?"

"Yes," she says. "You were right. It is Glandular Fever, just like you thought. The doctor said he was surprised you'd realised what it was so fast."

Never underestimate the power of the internet, that's all I can say. Even though I try my level best to stop anyone else using it to self-diagnose, I am a researcher, not a hypochondriac, so I have a perfectly legitimate reason to do so - or that's what I say to Greg when he accuses me of hypocrisy, anyway.

"All right, then," he says. "If you reckon you can't be a hypochondriac because you only looked up what might be wrong with someone other than you, check out Munchausen Syndrome by proxy instead."

"I haven't got time," I say. "I have to hurry and finish work - seeing as I've got to go and pick Connie up after that. She's coming home while she's so unwell."

And I am seriously going to have words with the TV economists when I get back. I want to see exactly how much worse off I am going to be with two adult kids back at home, a redundant husband and an employer who thinks I can live on bananas. While paying me legumes.

Of course, if I had any kind of business brain, I'd take the hint my life is giving me and grasp the opportunity offered by the NHS reforms: to set up a money-making convalescent home.

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