Friday, 25 March 2011

The Hunchback Of Northwick Loses The Plot, And The Boss Rides Unexpectedly To The Rescue

"Something for you," says Max, when he sorts through the post this morning. There must be at least five days' worth in the pile.

"Oh, God," I say. "If it's another bill, just chuck it in the bin."

"Don't think it is," he says. "White envelope, not brown."

I take it from him, but haven't got time to open it, because I can't afford to be late for work again. Even if I haven't slept a wink all night.

Max's snoring was so bad, that I relocated to the sofa at about 4:00am, but then I was so busy worrying about how we're going to manage when his pay cheques stop arriving, that I couldn't get to sleep at all.

I'm making up for it this morning, though - seeing as I seem to be sleep-walking on my way to work. I'm probably lucky I don't get run over en route, although I'm not sure that I haven't been, when sirens start going off.

I pinch myself a few times to make sure I'm not dead, before I realise that there's a fire drill taking place. It takes ages before I can gain access to the office and, when I do, I find that Greg has been sitting at his desk throughout.

He's listening to music on his iPod and looks amazed when I pull his headphones off.

"What the hell are you playing at, Greg?" I say. "You'd have been burned to a crisp if it hadn't been a drill. And why are you already here?"

"I'm not playing at anything," he says. "Though I suppose I did have the music turned up a bit too loud. I think I've got a headache coming on. That might be a hangover, though - Pete Carew and I had a bit too much to drink last night, and I ended up sleeping on the couch in the Oprah Room."

Now why on earth didn't I think of doing that? Probably because my brain isn't functioning at the moment, and I can't keep anything in my head for more than thirty seconds at a time. I've even forgotten about the letter that arrived this morning - until Greg asks me if I've got any Paracetamol he can take.

I open my bag to look inside, and then I spot the envelope lying amidst all the other rubbish that I will insist on carrying around with me. It's no wonder I could give the Hunchback of Notre Dame a run for his money. Or a hobble, to be exact.

"What's that?" says Greg, watching me make a neat cut through the flap of the envelope, as well as right through the letter itself. Why can I never get that manoeuvre right?

"I don't know," I say, putting the two halves back together and taping them down. "Hang on. Oh, blimey. It's an interview for a job - that one at Northwick MultiMedia. And - oh, shit! - I've got to confirm if I'll be attending by the end of today."

Greg has just started trying to persuade me not to leave him to the mercy of the usual suspects when The Boss walks in, accompanied by Vicky - who's looking much more cheerful than she has for most of this week. I'd prefer not to think about what could be responsible for that.

"Ssh, Greg," I say. "Walls have ears. And so do interns. You can see them sticking out through her hair if you look. I'll tell you later when I get a chance."

It's such a manic day, though, that God knows when that'll happen. The Boss has so many radio and local TV interviews lined up that the Oprah Room's living up to its name for once, and we've also got a double surgery that's fully-booked.

I spend most of the morning running around like a headless chicken - rather than a monkey, please note - which probably accounts for why I forget to hide my letter from public view until after lunch. If Andrew or Vicky have spotted it, my "career" will soon be toast. Which is more than Mr Osborne can afford to eat.

Despite the similarity in the name, I'm not referring to our beloved Chancellor - though there'd be some justice if I was. Our Mr O has come to see The Boss for help in obtaining vouchers for use at Northwick's new food bank.

"I think you just have to take proof of receipt of benefit with you," I say. "Or a letter from your doctor or social worker, if you're unwell."

"I'm not getting any benefits at the moment," he says, looking down at his feet. "I've been depressed since I lost my job, but I've been turned down for sickness benefit and I'm still waiting for my appeal. My wife's working, though - but we can't manage on her wages, and there's nothing left for food once everything else has been paid."

The food bank. Oh, my God. It'll be Max and I queuing up there next, trying to get tins of soup to feed to Connie. If we can persuade someone to give us a voucher, that is. If not, what the hell are we going to do?

I'm getting a bit tearful now, what with worrying about whether The Boss might have seen my letter and imagining myself in Mr O's situation - but then I recall that I'm supposed to be emulating the Japanese, so I bite my lip and carry on making notes. Which look a bit like doodles, to be completely honest.

Mr Osborne's is the last appointment, thank God, so I go for a cigarette as soon as he leaves. Not that I'll be able to do that for much longer. I shall have to give up smoking as soon as Max is unemployed - and then I'm bound to become an axe-murderer in no time at all, or a constituent-killer, anyway.

I'm standing outside, making the most of the nicotine and sniffling like a very non-Japanese person, when I hear loud footsteps behind me.

"What on earth's the matter, Mol?" says The Boss, in the kindest voice I've heard in a while.

"Nothing," I say. "But thanks for asking. I've just got some ash in my eye."

"Good try," says Andrew, "but you don't fool me. Tell me everything - but hang on, I'll just light my pipe before you start."

You can tell I'm not myself because - for once - I do as he says. After I've finished, he gives me an awkward hug.

"You'll feel better after you've had next week off," he says.

"No, I won't," I say. "I'm on jury service - remember? I'll probably lose it completely and start demanding we bring back hanging and flogging."

Andrew gives me a worried look, and then pats me on the shoulder. Rather too hard, but I don't think it was intentional.

"Back in a minute," he says. "Just nipping to the shops. Hold the fort - and your nerve."

Which I do - until an hour later, when the intercom buzzes, and I'm the one who answers it.

"Delivery for a Mrs M. Bennett," says someone or other in a muffled voice.

Knowing my luck, it'll be a personalised bomb, though there's nothing for it but to go down and collect it anyway. The man says I have to sign for it myself.

"Here you are, Miss," he says, as he passes me a hand-tied posy of flowers. "These are for you."

The card says:

"Molly, thanks for all you do. I might be a miserable old bugger but that doesn't mean I'm an ungrateful one. A."

Now I'm bloody crying again. And I doubt I'll be going to that interview after all.

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