Monday, 21 March 2011

A Hard Sell, In More Ways Than One.

Where did the weekend go - apart from travelling to and from Dorset, and fending off the paternal poison merchant? I'm so knackered when I wake up that I feel as if I haven't had any time off at all.

"Christ," says Greg, when I walk into the office. "You look like Night of the Living Dead."

"I know," I say. "Though there's no need to rub it in, just because you look so bright and bushy-tailed. What on earth is wrong with you?"

"I'm in love," he says. "And off the booze. Need all my wits about me when I'm with Jess if I'm to remember not to swear."

Greg's reformation is obviously part-time at best - seeing as he spends the whole morning swearing like a trooper. I can't say I blame him, as the usual suspects are out in force, accompanied by every single member of the difficult question brigade.

The phones just will not stop ringing, and by mid-afternoon both Greg and I are losing the plot - one of us slightly more than the other. Being teetotal might be lowering Greg's blood-alcohol levels, but it's doing the opposite in terms of his tolerance for being put on the spot.

"No, I'm afraid I don't know why the government is intervening in Libya while ignoring events in Yemen and Bahrain," he says, while wrapping the telephone cord several times around his neck, and then sliding dramatically on to the floor. "Nor why we've left Robert Mugabe in charge of Zimbabwe."

I'm facing a similarly tricky set of questions myself, except that Mrs Cookson - the constituent that I'm speaking to - adds a further ingredient to the mix.

"We stood by and allowed a genocide to take place in Rwanda," she says. "Our bloody foreign policy has everything to do with money and oil, and nothing whatsoever to do with what is right. No wonder Britain's reputation is being destroyed."

I have no idea what to say to any of this, given that my own musings on the subject seem to give rise to increasingly cynical answers, so I make an indeterminate noise in reply - which doesn't impress Mrs Cookson at all.

"Do you know how many day centres could be saved for the cost of a Tomahawk missile?" she says. God knows why, seeing as she obviously knows the answer already - unlike me, I'm embarrassed to say.

There's nothing for it but to let her answer her own question - which satisfies constituents more often than you'd expect. Then she rings off, having first been promised that I'll make all her views known to Liam Fox - which I plan to do in mind-numbingly microscopic detail.

It's about time Ministers had a taste of how tiring it is to be asked tricky questions, especially when you're not sure what your responses should be.

"Stop yawning, Molly," says Greg, unwrapping a Twix. "You'll set me off as well, if you're not careful. I'm bloody knackered after all that."

I say nothing, as I've got my hand over my mouth. At least I'm trying to comply.

Greg gives me a suspicious look, and then he continues:

"Honestly, sometimes I wonder if constituents realise that we aren't even in power now. I feel I'm being expected to defend Coalition policies today - don't you?"

"Yes," I say. "Though I suppose there is some pleasure to be had from the fact that we're both making such a bloody awful job of doing so."

"Hmm," he says, taking a large bite of chocolate, and then staring up at the ceiling while chewing thoughtfully. "There is always that."

Sometimes it's easy to forget that there is an upside to being in opposition, in that we're no longer responsible for Government policy. In theory, we could get away with providing no more than a sympathetic ear to complaints. Which seems to be all that Max wants from me, when I finally get home from work.

He's sitting at the dining room table, holding a piece of paper in his hand, and looking almost as tired as I do. This is really saying something.

"What's that?" I say. "Is it a letter from work?"

"Yes, he says. "Confirming in writing that I didn't get the job - my job."

He rubs his eyes, and then pinches the bridge of his nose, while he waits for me to read the HR Director's justification for the decision to choose someone else for the post.

The phrases: "more appropriate experience" and "transferable skills" are repeated several times, and "necessary" is mis-spelled more than once. "Sincerely" seems to have posed the greatest challenge.

"Bloody hell." I say. "Even The Boss can write a more literate letter than that. So do you know the person who actually got your job?"

Max nods, but that's his only response. Honestly, talk about getting blood out of a stone.

"Well, who is it, then?" I say. "And was he or she really a better candidate than you?"

"He's a young guy, called Stuart," says Max. "Though you'll never guess what his supposedly-relevant experience is in."

I shouldn't think I will - given that I could write what I know about high-end furniture, or family-run department stores, on the back of my hand. Probably with some space to spare. Max is the expert, after all. Or was, until he lost his job.

"No idea," I say. "Was he a furniture-maker, like you used to be?"

"No," says Max."He wasn't. He did three months at Leather Village or whatever it used to be called, and then he got sacked. And, before that, he spent five years selling used cars."

"Cars?" I say. "What the hell have cars got to do with furniture?"

"About as much as Leather Village has, I should think." Max's expression almost says it all. "My company's obviously decided to make a quick buck at all costs, and sod the long-term consequences to their reputation. Mary Portas would have a fit."

"She's not the only one," I say. "Constituents have been complaining about much the same thing to me all day, though admittedly they were referring to Britain and oil."

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