Tuesday, 21 June 2011

How To Forget Friends And Make An Idiot Of Yourself In The Name Of Refreshment.

Talk about how the other half live. There's Greg, living it up with Jess in Venice, and then there's me, stuck here listening to a one-sided conversation about dog poo.

I don't think Vicky's finding standing in for Greg as easy as she anticipated, or not in terms of setting priorities, anyway. She spends most of the morning in conversation with Miss Harpenden, leaving me to deal with everyone else.

So, when the phone rings again, straight after she gets back from lunch, I wait for her to answer it. It's about time she did some work.

"Oh, hello, Miss Harpenden," she says. "How are you now? Oh, really? You trod in another one? Yes, I know."

I raise my eyebrows, but Vicky doesn't take any notice.

"Oh, I know," she says, again. She sounds exactly like Sybil from Fawlty Towers. "I know just how you feel. It's awful. Some dog owners are so irresponsible."

They may be,  but I do wish Vicky would hurry up and get off the phone. She knows I'm waiting to brief her on what needs to be done this afternoon while I'm away from the office, and I'm going to be late if I don't leave soon.

"I've got to go," I mouth at her, while pointing at my watch. Then I make one of those "wrap it up" gestures, but you'd swear Vicky's suddenly lost her sight. It's probably hysterical blindness, from over-exposure to Miss H. Unless it's Toxocariasis.

In the end, I have to write a note listing everything that needs to be done, prop it on Vicky's desk, and hope for the best. I don't want to make a bad impression by being late for my first meeting of the Northwick Debt Advice Service Steering Group. My outfit will probably achieve that all by itself.

I'm still amazed to have been invited to attend in my own right, and not just to represent The Boss. Maybe the Chairman's had a sneaky look at my bank statements, and wants to use me as a test case. I certainly look like a pauper compared to everyone else who's there.

They're all immaculately dressed: the (rather few) women wearing understated but ferociously chic dresses, and the men in very well-cut suits. As if that wasn't bad enough, they look as if they dress like that all the time, not just because they're attending a meeting at Shearlings' Solicitors.

I've worn my best skirt, and a jacket - but I wish black didn't fade so much. I look like a paint swatch of shades of grey, which isn't half as sophisticated as it sounds. Washed-out would be the best description.

The same thing could be said for the result of my attempt to pour myself a coffee from one of those giant steel flasks. Why don't people label them?

First I succeed in pouring myself half a cup of hot water, much to the amusement of a snooty-looking blonde woman whose name tag reads "Jacintha", and then, when I try to save face by pretending that I like to add water first - to ensure that I keep my caffeine consumption down - the next flask I pick up turns out to contain milk.

I can't even discard the revolting combination I've created and start again, because there aren't any spare cups, and there's nowhere to pour the damn thing away.

I'll just have to drink it, I suppose. Then, once I've emptied the cup, I should finally be able to pour myself an actual coffee, now that I know which flask contains what. As long as no-one moves them just to confuse me, of course. I'd better keep an eye on that Jacintha.

"Molly Bennett," comes a man's voice from directly behind me. "What the hell is that you're drinking?"

"Urgh-urm," I say, trying hard to swallow, but succeeding only in choking. Noisily. Honestly, was I behind the stable door when dignity was being handed out?

"Here, give me that cup," says the man, holding his hand out in a rather bossy fashion.

He looks oddly familiar - as far as I can tell, given that my eyes are watering. I'm not in any position to argue, anyway, not once he starts banging me on the back with his free hand.

"Okay now?" he says, once it seems as if I've stopped coughing at last. I nod, just in case I haven't.

He walks over to the window, opens it, and then tips my cup upside down. He takes no notice of the shout of "Oi!" that comes from below, shuts the window, and walks back to join me at the refreshment table.

"Buggered up the flasks, didn't you?" he says, picking up one of the offending objects and beginning to pour. He doesn't give any sign of relief when coffee comes out. He's obviously used to things doing as they're told.

Then he adds milk, passes me the cup, and looks me up and down.

"You've haven't changed a bit, Mol," he says.

I look confused in lieu of an answer but, luckily, I'm saved by the bell. Or by the snotty blonde woman, anyway. She's tapping her pen against a bottle of water that's standing on the conference table.

"I think we should probably make a start," she says. "If we've all got coffee now?"

She really doesn't need to look straight at me when she says that.

I scowl at her, and then pick a seat at random, praying that the man won't sit next to me while I still can't work out who he is. He doesn't. Instead, he walks to the head of the table, and sits down, looking very much at home.

"Welcome," he says. "Perhaps, before we start, we should all introduce ourselves. My name is Patrick Reeve, and I'm the managing partner here at Shearlings.

Holy shit. Patrick Reeve. When did he become so handsome? I can't believe it. Do all men get better-looking as they age? Life really is unfair.

Mind you, no wonder I didn't recognise him, considering what he looked like the last time I saw him. No-one should ever combine a Phil Oakey haircut with a wardrobe based on Spandau Ballet, or that's what I thought at the time, anyway. Now it seems that it may have been somewhat unwise to judge by appearances - or to assume that party animals will never pass their law degrees.

I'm so busy contemplating Patrick's semi-miraculous transformation, that I can barely take in what's being said around the table and, before I know it, the meeting's winding up - much later than was planned. God knows how Vicky's managed without me for so long.

I'm in such a panic, that I rush past Patrick without even saying, "Goodbye". Now he'll think I'm rude as well as incompetent.

Not as incompetent as Vicky, however. She's still on the phone when I get back to the office.

"I always walk in the middle of the road if I can," she says. "Dogs don't like pooing there."

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