Friday, 15 July 2011

To be continued.....

When I know my arse from my elbow. This may take some time.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Fall-Out Of The Political (And Emotional) Kind. And Burning Bridges All Over The Place.

"God, I thought you were never coming back to work," says Greg, when I walk into the office rather late this morning.

"How did you know?" I say, wondering if he can read my mind.

"Know what?" he says, proving that, thankfully, he can't. He doesn't wait for an answer, though. He's far too agitated for that.

"Where did you get to yesterday?" he says."The Boss was going completely mad. He was desperate to talk to you."

I can't imagine why. It's not as if Andrew speaks to me when I'm at work, half the time.

"I was still on holiday," I say. "I booked Monday off as well as last week, don't forget."

"Ah," says Greg, who obviously did, despite the red sticker on the holiday chart. "Well, anyway, you'd better call Andrew straight away. He's got himself in a bit of a mess."

"Haven't we all?" I say, as I pick up the phone and start to dial.

"Where the hell have you been?" says Andrew, apropos a greeting. "Don't they have phones in bloody Dorset?"

I take a deep breath, and wish I was allowed to smoke in the office.

"There's been a bit of a problem," says Andrew. "So you need to get on to it, tout de suite."

It must be bad, if he's speaking French.

Andrew's so frazzled that it takes him ages to explain what the problem actually is, at which point I light up a cigarette anyway. I may as well burn some bridges of my own, seeing as everyone else is at it.

"So," I say. "Let me get this straight: it didn't even occur to you that the local media might object to you saying that all journalists are bound to have been hacking people's phones?"

"Nrmph," says Andrew.

"Or that Northwick Police might take offence at you implying that all policemen are corrupt?"

There's no reply, so I repeat the question. Twice.

"Nrmph," says Andrew, finally.

I don't know if he's eating, or choking, but eventually he recovers enough to counter-attack:

"It's your job to stop me accidentally doing that sort of thing," he says. "And to help me clear up the mess when I do. But you were deliberately ignoring your phone."

"I was on holiday," I say. "Supposedly."

By the time Andrew's quoted the "any other duties that I may deem necessary" part of my contract, along with the section about overtime, I've lost my patience and set light to the bin with my cigarette butt. You wouldn't think campaign postcards would catch light so easily.

"So what are you going to do to minimise the fall-out from this?" he says.

"Nothing," I say, throwing my coffee into the inferno. "Maybe you should sort it out. I've got other priorities at the moment."

I think Greg assumes I'm referring to the fire that's still burning, caffeine-based extinguisher notwithstanding, because he runs to the kitchen, and then returns, carrying a washing-up bowl full of water. He pours it into the bin, then smiles as if the problem's solved.

It isn't. The Boss carries on yelling down the phone at me, adding fuel to the other (metaphorical) fires that have been lit over the last few days.

"Please stop shouting at me, Andrew," I say, in a tone that would have rendered Dubai pretty chilly in no time at all.

Greg recognises this frosty manner immediately, from listening to me dealing with the usual suspects - and he knows what it denotes about how near my temper is to being lost. He's just not used to hearing it when I'm in conversation with The Boss. Neither am I, but today I just don't seem to care.

Greg, however, does.

"No-o-o," he mouths at me, while trying to grab the phone - but I fend him off with a manoeuvre I learned from that self-defence video I bought after Mr Humphries went berserk.

It proves to be a lot more effective than one of Josh's roundhouse kicks, and Greg looks quite shocked as he makes a gesture of submission while getting to his feet.

"Sorry, Greg," I say, "But this time, I'm not backing down."

It would be nice if, for once, The Boss did - seeing as he's  the one who approved Vicky's idiotic press release. But you can't reason with a panic-stricken MP, or not one who's still in the yelling phase, anyway. (Just ask anyone who's ever worked for John Prescott or Gordon Brown.)

"Andrew," I say, interrupting yet another tirade. "Call me back when you've calmed down. I'm not talking to you while you're in this mood."

"In that case, you'd better go home," says Andrew. "Right now. And consider your position while you're there."

Which is exactly what I have been doing, ever since Johnny and I found Max with Jemima in the gazebo. And Johnny asked me to join him in Dubai.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

School Reunions, Virtually Topless Bumping, And The Mosquito From Dubai.

"Why do you always wear black when we go somewhere special?" says Max, as I'm getting ready for the school reunion.

"Because it makes me invisible," I say. "You don't want to draw attention to yourself when you're going to be the least successful person in the room."

It certainly achieves that, as no-one takes any notice of me for the first hour after we arrive at the hotel. Including Max.

I'm not sure he wouldn't rather have stayed at Dad's, hopping channels and drinking beer.

"What's the matter with you?" I say. "You've hardly said a word so far."

"Well, I'm not as comfortably invisible as you," says Max. "Not at my height. And I didn't even go to this school, did I? I bet I'm the only person here who's both unemployed and under-educated."

I feel a bit guilty then. How did I forget that Max failed his eleven plus? Not that passing it has done me much good, unless that's the fault of this stupid outfit. Someone's already asked me to take their coat.

I'm about to suggest we do a runner, and go for a drink somewhere else, when I hear a distinctive voice.

"Well, if it isn't little Molly James, playing the wallflower - as usual. Some things never change."

"Hello, Jemima," I say, through gritted teeth. "Nice to see you too. Though, actually, it's Molly Bennett now." I gesture at Max, who's got his back to me and is staring hopefully at the fire exit. "This is my husband."

"Max?" says Jemima, as he turns to face her.

"Jemima," says Max. "Bloody hell."

He looks an awful lot more enthusiastic about reunions now.

"Do you two know each other?" I say.

"I should say so," says Jemima, saying so. "Though not from school, exactly. More like after school - eh, Max?"

I'm pretty sure Max actually laughs when she winks. I've never liked people who wink.

"Can I borrow your husband, Molly?" says Jemima, not waiting for an answer. "Come and dance with me, Max."

"Oh, Max hates danci - " I say, as Max follows her on to the dance floor.

They're still there more than an hour later - and I'm still sitting at the bar by myself, eavesdropping on Phil Mould. He's discussing accountancy with James Oakenfield, (who's a merchant banker - like bloody Jemima - but who isn't any more interesting for that). Neither Phil nor James has the faintest idea who I am.

I'm not sure that I know, either. As if it wasn't bad enough having to say that I work for an MP when anyone asks, now I don't feel like Max's wife. I feel more like mosquito bait. If I get bitten one more time, I'm leaving - with or without Max, though the latter option seems more likely.

In the meantime, I'll have another gin. If Greg were here, he'd tell me to get my own back by having it put on Jemima's bill, but I don't have the nerve - unlike her. I'm sure her bosom fell right out of that dress a minute ago.

I turn my back on the room, and concentrate on fishing the lime out of my gin. What is wrong with a slice of lemon?

"Blah, Sage, Blah, Accounts," says Phil.

"Blah, Hedge Fund, Blah, Bonus," says James.

I've finally lost the will to live, and have just laid my head down on the bar, when I feel something tickle my neck.

"Argh," I say, swatting it away. "Fuck off, you bloody thing."

"Ow," says Johnny, rubbing his cheekbone, where my ring has caught it. "Do you have to injure me whenever we meet?"

I look down at my glass, trying to work out if I have drunk so much that I'm hallucinating, but Johnny's still there when I look back up.

"Surprised?" he says.

"Yes," I say, though surprise doesn't really cover what I'm feeling. Panic might be a better word.

"Why on earth didn't you tell me you were coming?" I say. "My husband's here, you idiot."

"Very funny," says Johnny. "I've been watching you for the last twenty minutes, and you've been on your own the whole time. No sign of any husband at all."

"That's because he's over there," I say, pointing towards Max, who really doesn't need to be slow dancing with Jemima to The Bump.

Johnny looks over at Max, but doesn't say anything. I don't think he knows quite what to say.

I certainly don't, so I finish my gin and order another. God knows how much food money we'll have left for the month if I don't slow down.

"Isn't that Jemima your husband's dancing with?" says Johnny, still staring towards the dance floor.

"Yes," I say. "So he got there before you. All the way from Dubai, and then you end up being stuck with me."

Johnny gives me a funny look, pulls up a bar stool, and sits down.

"What are you talking about, Molly?" he says. "I'm here to see you, you know that."

"Huh," I say. "You told me you weren't coming, so don't think you're fooling me. I know when I'm not wanted."

"You don't bloody know when you are wanted, though," says Johnny. "You told me you were coming, didn't you? And without your husband - which is why I decided to surprise you."

"Oh," I say.

I can't think of anything to add, though Johnny can.

"I do wish you'd try a bit harder to keep up," he says. "Now let's go outside. There isn't a Science Block in the hotel garden - but there is a rather nice gazebo."

"I can't," I say. "Max is over there - somewhere. And I'm supposed to be his wife, not yours."

"Doesn't seem to be bothering him," says Johnny, as he takes my hand.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Caught In The Fall-Out From The News Of The World Affair. Somehow Or Other.

Thank you so much, Rupert Murdoch. I am trying to enjoy my holiday.

I'm having a lie-in, in an attempt to amass as much beauty sleep as possible before Sunday night's school reunion, when Greg sends me a text, which I don't read.

Instead, I text him back:

"If this is about work, I don't want to know."

"It's an important message from The Boss," he says. "To tell you that he told you so."

Oh, God. Apparently, Andrew's decided that, if all these other people's phones were hacked, then his definitely must have been - as he's been claiming all along.

"He says that, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that the bastards aren't out to get you," says Greg, when I get fed up of texting, and call to speak to him instead.

"Usually, it just means you're mad," I say. "Feel free to tell him so."

I don't know what's got into me. Ever since those few hours Max and I spent on Chesil Beach, work doesn't seem to have the same importance. Or appeal - if appeal is something it ever had.

"Couldn't we just sell everything, buy a camper van, and bugger off?" I ask Max, when he joins me at the table for breakfast.

"And live on what?" he says.

"Well, we're not doing too well at that, anyway," I say. "Not on my salary alone, since you stopped working."

Max gives me such a filthy look that I almost choke on my coffee.

"I didn't stop working," he says. "I was made redundant. Just like the staff at The News Of The World. That's what happens in the private sector. Moaning about pensions is a luxury only public servants can afford."

"It's no fun being a struggling pensioner like me," says Dad, putting aside his latest Thai travel brochure.

I decide the time is ripe to make yet another trip to Tesco. Preferably by myself.

When I get there, I spend ages wandering around the store, looking at the vast range of stuff they sell - and trying not to think about whether there'll be any other shops left for Max to work in if Tesco carry on like this.

By the time I've checked out their stock of stationery, clothes and electrical products, it's almost lunch-time. According to Dad, anyway. Routine becomes very important once you're retired.

I'd better text him to warn him I'm going to be late. That'll be so much easier than phoning him, and letting him give me the third degree.

"In a very long queue. Be about twenty minutes. Don't worry about my lunch. Will cook something when I get back."

I know the queue thing is a lie, but I do work for an MP, don't forget. Sometimes, telling the truth is highly inadvisable.

I drive back to Dad's house as quickly as I can, but it's almost 1:40pm by the time I arrive. And Dad is really not amused.

"Where the hell have you been?" he says. "Your egg on toast is nearly ruined."

He and I obviously do not define the word "nearly" in the same way. I have never eaten anything like that, in my life.

"I told you not to cook me anything," I say, chewing and chewing, but unable to swallow. "In the text I sent you earlier."

"No, you didn't," says Dad. "You just said you were in a queue."

No-one likes to be accused of lying about the thing they weren't lying about. I get out my phone, to show Dad what my message actually said.

He reads it, but doesn't give in.

"I only got the first sentence of that," he says, passing me his phone as evidence. "Look!"

I open the message, and there are all my sentences, as clear as day.

"Huh?" says Dad, when I point them out. "Where did all those come from?"

"I just scrolled down," I say.

"Scrolled down?"

Dad's unimpressed when I can't stop laughing - even after I've explained what scrolling is.

"I don't like using a mobile," he says. "Not to you, anyway."

"Why?" I say.

"Because journalists will be able to read everything I write," he says. "Seeing as you're bound to have been hacked, what with who you work for."

He'll never understand the relative unimportance of an opposition back-bencher, no matter how many times I try to explain. He's got even more in common with The Boss than I thought.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A Less Than Premature Arrival At Chesil Bay; Largely Thanks To Dad.

So much for Dad having told us to please ourselves. We've done nothing exciting since we arrived, unless you count eating the meal that he'd already cooked and served while we were still en route. (Taking the first mouthful of that felt like bungee jumping, in terms of the anxiety it provoked.)

Apart from a quick trip to Tesco, we spent yesterday sitting on his new patio furniture, and admiring the fence he's recently built. I don't think I was as effusive about that as Dad would have liked, but it just looked like a fence to me.

"I like the pointy bits along the top," I said, when things got really desperate.

They became even more so in the evening, once Dad turned the TV on. I've never been so confused in my life.

Every time I went to the loo, or to make a cup of tea, I'd come back and spend the next ten minutes trying to work out how I could have missed enough of the programme for it to have become utterly incomprehensible.

When I returned from phoning Josh, to find that yet another guest had mysteriously appeared on Come Dine With Me, I had no choice but to admit that I was having trouble keeping up.

"So who are these guys?" I said. "And why are they all dressed as cowboys? Did the host specify fancy dress?"

"It isn't Come Dine With Me," said Max. "Your Dad got bored with that while you were on the phone, and so he turned over - yet again."

"Great to have so many channels to choose from these days," said Dad, while I wondered whether you can develop ADHD in your seventies. And whether you can buy Ritalin over the counter.

A sneaky call to NHS Direct confirmed that you can't, so Dad spent the rest of the evening channel-hopping, and Max and I were both exhausted by the time we went to bed. Then we didn't sleep a wink.

We might have stood a better chance if Dad hadn't chosen to wake us up at 5:30am this morning, for reasons known only to himself.

"Did you have a good night?" he says, yanking the curtains open, and opening the window.

I make a non-committal noise, while Max asks Dad where he bought the spare bed.

"No idea," says Dad. "It was a wedding present."

For one horrible moment, I think he's married Porn-Poon in secret, and that this is his way of casually dropping it into the conversation. (That's exactly what he did after his wedding to Stepmother Mark III, so he's already set the precedent.)

"What wedding?" says Max, while I'm still hyperventilating.

"The one to Molly's mother," says Dad - as if that was obvious.

Seeing as it must have been forty years ago, it wasn't - but I think it's safe to assume the mattress has had its day. No wonder Max and I are so completely knackered.

We're determined to have a proper day out, though - once I've found the courage to tell Dad we're not taking him with us today.

"That'll be nice," he says, much to my surprise. "You two go off and enjoy yourselves. You don't get enough time alone what with that layabout grandson of mine still living at home."

"Too true," I say.

I know I should stand up for Josh, but now is probably not the time. I want to get ready before Dad changes his mind.

"Just take a look at this sofa for me, before you go, Max," he says. "There's a big saggy bit where I usually sit."

Which probably matches the equally saggy bit in the mattress upon which Max and I were expected to sleep last night, but we're both far too polite to say so. God knows why.

Anyway, mending the sofa takes Max until lunchtime, at which point Dad decides that we may as well have "a snack" before we leave.

"You make a start on the toasted sandwiches, Molly," he says. "I'll have cheese and onion. While you're making it, I just want to show Max the drawer that keeps sticking - and the wardrobe door that's loose."

It's almost 3:00pm - and raining - by the time we get into the car, and then we get lost on the way to Chesil Beach.

It might not seem the most advisable destination for a couple with a less than demanding sex-life - or not according to Ian McEwan, anyway - but when we finally arrive and step out onto the shingle, nowhere could feel more wonderful.

The sun comes out from behind the clouds, and shines directly onto East Cliff, turning it into a terrine of ochre and gold - and there's no sound other than the breaking of waves. Even better, we seem to have no signal on our mobile phones.

"Your face looks totally different," says Max, as he bends to kiss me. "As if it's suddenly softened up."

I don't reply, as I'm far too busy wondering how long we can stay. Forever would be rather nice.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

How Not To Please Yourself, Or Why You Should Always Take Premonitions Very Seriously Indeed

Honestly - men.

I'm running around packing and writing a series of instructional notes for Josh - in which I threaten him with various painful forms of death should he burn the house down while we're away - when Max decides to tell me he doesn't want to go to Dad's.

"For once, couldn't we just have a holiday that didn't involve visiting your relatives?" he says.

"I wish," I say, trying not to think about what he'd get up to with Ellen if I went without him. "But we can't ever afford a proper one and, anyway, it takes up all my annual leave to fit in the parental figures."

"God," says Max.

Which sums up how I feel about it, too - though I don't say that. What would be the point? I'll have to try to prevent Dad being so annoying instead, which could be easier said than done.

"Have you left yet?" he says, when he phones for the third time this morning.

"No," I say. "As you obviously knew already, seeing as you rang the landline. Now, stop fretting. We'll get there when we get there. You said we could turn up when we liked."

"Did I?" says Dad, who can't remember anything for longer than one second. "But what time will you want to eat?"

"We'll go and buy some food once we arrive."

By far the safest option, given the near-poisoning incident the last time Dad cooked me a meal.

Max is rolling his eyes and clearly losing his patience, so I decide I'd better get off the phone if we're to reach Dorset before midnight.

"What's your Dad on about now?" he says, as he puts the last of the bags into the boot, while I kiss Josh and get into the car. "I thought he said we could please ourselves while we're there?"

"He did," I say. "And that it didn't matter what time we got there. He said he didn't mind at all. So we can take it easy - and arrive feeling relaxed and calm."

"Huh," says Max, who must have had a premonition.

We haven't been on the road for more than half an hour when my mobile starts to ring.

"Have you still not left?" says Dad. "It's already lunchtime."

"I know," I say. "We're on our way. You can hear the engine if you listen."

"Well, tell that husband of yours to drive carefully," says Dad - who is a really fine one to talk.

Almost as soon as I hang up, the car judders and Max says, "Oh, shit." Then he pulls off the road, and stops.

"Lost all power," he says.

By the time we've worked out that a lead has come loose; fixed it; discussed whether it's a portent of doom or not, and finally started driving again, we've already lost well over an hour, and Dad has rung for another update.

By the time we're half-way to Dorset, he's rung twice more; and when we stop for a coffee and a fag, he rings again.

"Where the hell are you?" he says. "Is Max driving at 20 miles an hour or something?"

"No," I say. "We're just taking it nice and easy, like you told us to. We'll get there eventually, so do stop worrying so much."

"Well, I've got your bloody dinner on," says Dad. "And it'll be ruined if you take much longer."

Ruined is a movable feast in this context, seeing as it's arguable whether you can ruin something that is bound to be inedible anyway. Feast probably isn't the most appropriate word, either - but I take a deep breath, and try to rise above the provocation. It's exactly like being back at work.

"But, Dad," I say. "You told me we could please ourselves - and turn up when we liked."

"You can," says Dad. "Just hurry up."

It's a miracle we get there in one piece, given how stressed Max gets by Dad's continuing calls; the seemingly-endless traffic jams, and by Josh - who phones to say he has already managed to lock himself out of the house.

I'm feeling a bit panicky too, by now, and am wondering whether this so-called holiday wasn't one of my stupider ideas. And I really want another cigarette - before the nagging starts.

There'll be more than enough of that over the coming week - no doubt accompanied by a list of all our relatives who've died from smoking, often by extremely indirect means. (Dad even counts Great Aunt Flo, who died en route to the newsagent to buy cigarettes; as well Great Grandpa Bill, who died of cirrhosis of the liver, but who apparently smoked the occasional cigarette while he was drinking everything in sight.)

So, as soon as we turn into Dad's road, I say to Max:

"Quick - pull over under this tree and let's have a fag, before we drive right up to the house and Dad spots us from the window."

"Good idea," says Max. "Let's have two. And a drink. We're obviously going to need one of those."

"Don't be rude," I say, though I do know what he means. "That's my beloved father you're talking about."

"Talk of the devil," says Max, as the car door is suddenly pulled open.

"What the hell are you doing?" says Dad. "Your dinner's on the bloody table. It's been there for the last twenty minutes."

Friday, 1 July 2011

Teachers: A Sensitive Subject, And Not For The Reasons You Might Expect

If anyone mentions teachers to me again today, I think I may be going to scream.

I spend half the morning listening to a group of them who've come in to this week's surgery to lobby The Boss about the Government's reforms to their terms and conditions; and the other half trying to deal with constituents who want to discuss why they should pay for teachers' pensions that are better than their own.

The Boss relies heavily on his tried and tested "Ah" manoeuvre, but I'm not sure that it convinces anyone from either side that he knows what he really thinks.

They're united in looking pretty unimpressed, though - a response which Andrew always finds traumatic. He's desperate for a drink by the time it's over.

So am I, seeing as you can get PTSD just by witnessing a distressing event.

It's lunchtime by then, so I'm about to join Andrew and Greg in an emergency trip to the pub, when Johnny phones. That's the third time he's called me this week - God knows what his phone bills must be like, unless the Global Oil Company pays. I bet I'm tax-deductible.

I start telling him about my morning, but he interrupts me as soon as I mention teachers.

"Ever miss those days?" he says. "When we were at school, I mean."

"Every day," I say. "Whenever I look in a mirror, in fact."

"You're sexier now than you were then," he says. "Which is saying something."

It may be, but I'm not sure what.

Then he mentions next week's school reunion again.

"You decided if you're going to go yet?" he says. "While you're back home visiting your Dad?"

"I might, actually," I say. "Seeing as I'll probably be desperate for a break from listening to him telling me about Porn-Poon's creative sexual techniques by then."

"Shit," says Johnny.

Before I can say, "My feelings exactly", he goes on to explain that he definitely won't be able to go. He has much more important things to do in Dubai. Like lying in the sun drinking cocktails, and making multi-million dollar deals.

I'm so depressed by this thought that I can't help thinking about how miserable Max must be feeling since he lost his job. Not that that involved much luxury - or many deals since VAT went up and everyone stopped buying furniture - but he misses it, even so.

Maybe I should suggest he accompanies me to the reunion? He usually finds that sort of thing incredibly boring, but there'll be free drink, and we could always lie about our occupations, if anybody asks. That would save us both from embarrassment in the face of all my horribly-successful ex-classmates - and their equally-successful spouses.

"I'd love to," he says, when I phone him to ask if he'd like to go. "It'd be nice to do something sociable. And it would get us away from your dad for a bit."

It doesn't take much to make Max happy, does it? I should be grateful for that, especially given what my face looks like. I am going to tell Johnny it's all over - whatever it is - and concentrate on appreciating the good things about my husband. I shall start as soon as I get home.

Which seems like a very good idea, until I arrive, and find an unfamiliar cardigan lying abandoned on the stairs. It's pink, and covered in glittery stuff - so it's definitely not mine; and Connie wouldn't be seen dead in it. Neither of us go in for "girlie" clothes.

"Whose is this?" I say, walking into the sitting room, and brandishing the cardigan.

"Oh," says Max. "Ah. Um."

"None the wiser," I say. "Try again."

It must be something about my tone of voice - or Max's expression - that makes Josh suddenly recall that he has to go out. Immediately.

"Well?" I say, once he's shut the front door behind him.

"It might be Ellen's," says Max. "She popped round after school, with a bottle of wine - to say sorry for yesterday."

"Yesterday?" I say.

The plot is thickening very fast.

"Well, she came round while she was on strike," says Max. "She said she was bored, and wanted some company - and thought I'd be at home with nothing to do since I lost my job.

"Oh," I say. "Did she think you could offer that thing she's always so desperate to find? To alleviate her boredom?"

"I don't know what you mean," says Max, who can't possibly have forgotten that.

I raise my eyebrows much higher than Ellen is capable of doing, so then he makes a last-ditch attempt to throw me off course:

"She wasn't here that long, anyway," he says. "She went on about her pension so much, that we had a bit of an argument."

Which is as nothing to the argument that he and I are about to have.

If I'd known about this yesterday, I'd have held my own one-woman counter demonstration: in support of a certain teacher losing all of her bloody pension. And being made to work eighteen hour days to keep her out of my house while I'm at work - and my husband isn't.

It's not as if I don't know exactly what Ellen means by company, after all.