Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A Lovelorn Intern's Innovative Approach To Population Control, Or Why Special Cases Aren't Always Special.

Blimey, does everyone watch Newsnight these days? It certainly seems like it, if all the constituents who saw last night's programme are anything to go by.

Maybe their interest was caused by the fact that 71% of us now describe ourselves as middle class, if Deborah Mattinson's to be believed. I missed the percentage of those who also consider themselves to be squeezed, but I'd hazard a guess it's 100%.

I'd be a bit better-informed if the former statistic hadn't been the only thing that I managed to pick up while the programme was on - but I couldn't hear a bloody thing. First Max went ballistic when John Denham talked about public sector job cuts, and then Dad started bellowing about why no-one was mentioning pensioners and fixed incomes.

In the end, I got so tired of them both looking at me as if I had all the answers, that I gave up and went to bed with a book. I probably should have replied to some of Johnny's most recent emails instead, but the last thing I wanted was to get into a discussion with him about what constitutes the middle class.

He'd probably have claimed that he fell into that category, too, and then I'd have lost my temper and ruined all chance of romance. Not that I'm feeling very amorous today, anyway - especially not towards an International Director of a Global Oil Company who earns more in a day than I do in a month. Or even a year.

To be honest, I still can't work out at what point the "working poor" segue into the "squeezed middle" - not that the distinction seems to bother any of the usual suspects. As far as each one of them is concerned, they're the only one to suffer.

And, God, don't they go on about it? You'd think they'd feel embarrassed to complain so much in the light of what's happening in Japan, but there's absolutely no sign of that. It's really irritating and, to make matters worse, I'm the only one having to listen to them.

Greg claims he's busy working on something "top secret" for The Boss - which doesn't seem to have anything to do with casework and is probably party political - so I end up answering the phones by myself for most of the day.

Vicky's in the office, too, but she's still in a filthy mood and spends most of her time lying on the sofa in the Oprah Room, texting her friends and reading, "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus."

"If you're looking for guidance on The Boss, I reckon you'll need to go beyond our solar system for that," says Greg. "I'd give Stephen Hawking a call, if I were you."

Vicky turns a page, while pretending she hasn't heard a thing. Which is the same approach she takes to the phone that's ringing on the table right next to where she's sitting.

"For Christ's sake," I say, when I finally manage to end yet another call complaining about the effects of the cuts on the holiday plans of someone earning £40,000 a year. "Couldn't one of you answer the phone for a change? I've had just about enough of this."

"Well, you know what the problem is, Mol," says Greg. "Everyone thinks they're a special case these days."

I nod in recognition of what is undoubtedly a universal truth, and head for the kitchen to make a cup of tea. It's thirsty work listening to constituents complain, but at least my colleagues don't moan as well. Or Greg doesn't, anyway. Interns are a different matter.

"Well, some people are special cases," says Vicky, putting her book down, and clenching her fists as if preparing to square up to anyone unwise enough to disagree. "Those of us who are childless, for a start. I hate bloody people with kids."

"What?" I say, in disbelief. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Good job your parents didn't feel like that," says Greg, who always loves a fight. As long as it doesn't involve anything physical, of course.

Vicky glares at both of us, before launching into a sustained attack on people with children who "get all the perks", and who shouldn't expect society to help them bear the burden of their own "selfish desire to reproduce".

Greg and I listen in silence, which is usually the best tactic with a ranting constituent, and eventually she seems to run out of steam.

I'm not sure if she's worked out that the world wouldn't have lasted very long if everyone felt as she does, or whether she's simply given up trying to provoke. I don't really care, as long as she stops.

"Finished?" I say, as she looks down at her hands, then picks up her handbag and grabs her coat.

"For now," she says. "I've got to pop out. I've just broken a nail."

"Lucky for you someone else gave birth to a manicurist, then," says Greg. "Seeing as you can't fix it yourself."

"She's not a manicurist, you idiot," says Vicky. "She's a fully-qualified nail technician."

I don't know about that, but it's a joiner we'll be needing if Vicky keeps slamming the door so hard.

I go to check if it's still in its frame, while Greg waits for her to re-appear in the street below his window. Then he sticks out his tongue, puts his fingers to his ears and waggles them. He might not complain much, but I didn't say he was mature in every way.

"What the hell's got into her?" I say. "I thought she always wanted kids."

"She did," says Greg. "But maybe Andrew doesn't. He's already got some, if you recall?"

"Yes," I say. "But with his wife. Oh! Now I see what you mean."

Greg gives me an unnecessarily ironic round of applause, which I try my best to ignore by counting to ten. Out loud, or there'd be no point.

When I reach nine, he leans back in his chair and says:

"I knew you'd get there - in the end. As usual, we're not talking special case, we are talking fruit and nut."

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