A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture
By Tony Carden
‘PM, how was I to know there’d be errors in the translation?’ You’re an idiot, Ralston.
‘I’m surrounded by incompetents.’ Mary slammed the paper down on her desk and glared at her Brexit Secretary. Why am I working with such clowns? She eyed him. Look what I must deal with.
‘I had no idea…’
‘It’s your job to get it right. Now we’re the laughing stock of the whole world.’ She gazed at Margaret’s portrait above her chair. It wasn’t like this in your day, was it? You had good people around you. That Carrington chap who passed away the other day, a bit of a wet but he knew his stuff. And when to resign. She scowled at Ralston. Yes, cringe. One more mistake like that and you’re fired. Just because I’ve just appointed you, it doesn’t mean I can’t fire you for being incompetent. It’s not as if you’re doing much, is it?
‘Bernard did it to upset us.’ Oh yes, I bet he did. I wouldn’t put it past that slimy froggie. He thinks he can lord it over us.
‘I hope you fired the translator.’ Ralston nodded. Serve the twerp right for not checking their work.
‘Now, PM, about our negotiations…’ He coughed. ‘…I mean the backbenchers are all screaming about The Plan.’
‘Let them. Brexit continues to mean Brexit.’ My Brexit! After this, I’ll be ranked alongside Churchill and Pitt as one of the great Prime Ministers. Instinctively, she caught Thatcher’s eye. As you are, too, of course. The face continued to stare into the mid distance.
‘Of course, PM.’ Slick-slapping poodle. Have the balls to stand up to me. Disagree or at least show some nouse. Go on!
‘Did you make any progress in Brussels when you were over there?’
‘Well, PM, it’s like this…’ Don’t bother to tell me. I already know. It’s been on all the news channels. Twittered to death. They’re looking at it but have reservations. And after all I went through to get the Cabinet to agree on a sensible plan. ‘…there’s still a lot to settle. Northern Ireland. Customs. Services.’
‘Yes. Yes. Yes. I know all that. What I want to know is, can we get a deal?’
Ralston shuddered. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Now listen here, Jeremy, you’re the Brexit Secretary. You should know.’ Dear Mother of God, the man’s worse than useless. ‘Is the brief too much for you? Should the task be given to someone else?’
‘No PM, of course not.’ He tried to smile but it came out more like a rictus. ‘PM, if I may be frank. It’s mission impossible. We’ve only got three months as we need to have the agreement by October for the EU heads of state summit. We need to make more concessions. It’s the only way.’
‘No. It must be the deal the Cabinet agreed to.’
‘But if they won’t? What then?’
‘We insist.’ You don’t seem to realise I can’t just agree any old thing. The party’s up in arms. There’s deep mutterings about a leadership contest. And it isn’t just some rural MP trying to make a name with his constituents. This time it’s personal. I’ve got to show them. She looked up at Thatcher’s picture. It seemed to move. Did you just wink at me? She examined the portrait. I must be going insane.
‘They’re sure to ask for changes.’
‘They must want us to Brexit without a deal then.’ It looks that way, doesn’t it? Can we do it? What are the consequences—for me?
‘Surely not, PM.’ He looked aghast.
‘Bernard’s thinking that if they delay long enough, we’ll blink and change our mind. Have a second referendum or something that changes our stance.’ But it’s not going to happen. No. No. No.
‘No deal would be challenging for the economy.’
‘It’ll hurt them more than us. We export less to Europe than they do to us. They’ll suffer more than we do if there’s no deal. Especially those Germans.’
‘As far as I know, they’re not pushing the Commission to do anything to speed up a deal.’
‘Perhaps we need to shout louder. Look at Trump.’ He’s an oaf, but he knows how to pull a punch. Why I invited him on a state visit, I’ll never know. Calling me out like that. ‘He’s got the EU by the short and curlies because of Europe’s trade surplus. They’re listening to him.’
‘I’ll make it clear it’s our last offer.’
‘You do that.’ That Greek chap, what’s his name? Varoufakis. He warned us how the EU would negotiate. I knew we should have hired him to help us. Perhaps we still should?
‘I’ll tell them it’s time to bring this increasing desperate drivel to an end.’
‘Tell them if we don’t get a deal, I’m damned if they’ll see a penny of the thirty-nine billion divorce bill.’ Perhaps that’ll knock some sense into Brussels; but I’m not going to hold my breath. It’s nine months away, for goodness sake. You’d think they’d see the need to negotiate and settle and not act like a De Gaulle. It’s pure spite that we’re leaving.
Mary marched over to her desk and sat down, arms out on the top. There, my commanding pose. ‘I’m sending the Cabinet to meet with heads of government. We’ve got to bypass the Commission.’
‘I wasn’t informed.’ No because I just made it up. ‘They’ll see the sense in our Plan.’
‘And,’ this will get you fired up! ‘I’m taking personal charge of the negotiations.’
‘You heard me. It’s time I took control and used my handbag.’ Roll over, Maggie, Mary’s a cumin’.
* * *
The train rattled across the points. Andrew gazed out of the carriage window at the passing houses, their back gardens butting onto the track. At various points along the track, graffiti had been sprayed on an available flat surface—some of it was of artistic merit, but most was just scrawls. He had no idea what the painters had intended. He had seen similar displays in other European countries. Everywhere was now prey to the aerosol spray can. He turned back to his book.
After an uneventful journey the train pulled into Buxted. As the train juddered to a halt, he made for the door and used the button to open it. Only one other passenger got off and he followed the woman towards the exit.
Jill was waiting for him on the opposite side of the barrier. She spotted him and waved and smiled. He gestured back. He went through and she rushed up to him and kissed him passionately. Caught unawares, he was less than responsive. He felt her tense at his coolness. He hugged her and tried to make up for his faux pas. They parted.
‘You look well.’ She sported a light sleeveless dress patterned with large flowers. She had made no attempt to cover up the scars on her arms.
‘And you too. I take it London in the heat isn’t too draining.’ She gestured around her. ‘You’ll find it isn’t as hot here.’ Jill pulled him towards the road in the opposite direction to the car park.
‘Where’s your mother?’ He tried to spot where she waited to greet him.
‘At home.’ She must have understood his confusion. ‘I came alone.’ She pointed down the road. ‘It’s a short walk.’
‘I don’t mind after being in the train.’
She squeezed his hand. ‘We get a few moments alone this way.’
They left Station Approach and walked along the high street for a while before turning off again. They passed suburban houses with their neatly trimmed hedges and well-tended gardens. It reminded him of home.
‘Mum’s looking forward to meeting you.’
‘Isn’t your father home?’
‘He’s at work. He doesn’t get back until later.’
‘We’ve set up the trampoline in the back garden.’ She did an imitation of a bounce as she walked.
‘I’m not sure…’
‘Don’t be a spoilsport. I told Dad you’d want to have a go on it.’
‘Oh, very well then.’
They turned off the road they were on into a side street. A sign indicated it was a cul de sac. On both sides, slightly set back off the road were detached houses. Jill led the way towards one about two-thirds of the way along. She unlocked the door and went in ahead of him. He followed her.
‘We’re back. Andrew’s here.’
A woman who bore more than a passing resemblance to Jill emerged from a room at the back. She gave a welcoming smile and after quickly wiping her hand on her pinny she held it out for him. She gave him a brief but firm handshake.
‘Pleased to meet you, Andrew. It’s nice of you to come out and see Jill. As you’ve discovered, we’re a bit out of the way. She tells me you are friends from her university days.’
Andrew glanced toward Jill. She shook her head slightly. ‘That’s right.’ He could see Jill visibly relax.
‘Can I get you a drink? Tea? Coffee? Or would you prefer something cold? We’ve got some elderflower in the fridge.’
‘Tea would be nice. Thank you.’
‘Jill, why don’t you take Andrew into the garden while I make the tea?’
She took his hand and led him into the drawing room. It ran from the front to the back of the house. A large French window, its doors open, looked out on a patio. The garden beyond was dominated by the large trampoline set up there.
They established themselves on the patio chairs looking out over the greenery.
‘You haven’t told her?’
‘My parents wouldn’t have allowed me to invite you if they knew.’
‘I hope you didn’t mind.’ She paused. ‘I suppose I should have told you, but I was worried you wouldn’t come.’
‘Here we are.’ Jill’s mother arrived with a large pot of tea, three cups, a jug, a sugar container and a plate of biscuits. She put them on the table. ‘It’s biscuits only, I’m afraid. I would have made a cake, but Jill told me I shouldn’t be making a fuss.’ She glanced at Jill reprovingly.
‘Biscuits will be fine.’
‘Andrew’s agreed to have a go on the trampoline.’
‘Is that so?’ She sat down in a spare seat facing them. ‘How do you like your tea? Milk? Sugar?’
‘Milk, please. No sugar, thanks.’ She proceeded to pour out some into a cup and put it in front of him. ‘I’ll let you add your own milk.’ She passed over the jug. He added some and watched it mix with the tea.
‘Jill says you work in Downing Street.’
‘That’s right. I’m one of the Prime Minister’s aides.’
‘David will be pleased to meet you.’
‘Well, he will. You know he’s interested in politics. After all, he worked very hard to get Ghani elected.’
‘It’s not fair on Andrew.’
‘Oh, I think it’ll be alright. I’m civil service, not a political appointee. I’m sure he’ll respect the fact I can’t divulge any policy matters.’
‘I thought we’d have a cold buffet for lunch and a main meal later, if that’s all right?’
‘Of course, Mrs. Montgomery.’ She laughed.
‘You mustn’t be so formal. Please call me Susan.’
‘I’m not sure I should impose on you by staying for dinner.’
‘Not at all.’ She looked at her daughter. ‘Jill said you’d be here for the whole day.’
‘Well…if it’s not much trouble.’
‘Of course not.’ She gently stroked Jill’s hand. ‘Shall we eat lunch outside? It’s a beautiful day.’
‘Just as long as we don’t get bothered by flies.’
‘I’m sure we’ll be alright.’ She got up. ‘I’ll leave you two to catch up.’ She went in.
‘Your mum seems nice.’
Jill checked her mum wasn’t within listening distance but nevertheless still dropped her voice to a whisper. ‘She’s worried I’ll make a scene.’
‘Oh? Like what?’ Jill did not reply but simply turned the undersides of her arms towards him. ‘Oh!’ There was an awkward pause. ‘Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea for me to come, then?’
She grabbed his hand and placed it to her cheek. ‘I’ve been longing to see you.’ She put her face close to his. ‘Let’s have sex.’
She giggled. ‘Not on the patio, silly. What would Mum think? We’ll sneak off after lunch. I know a place in the park we can have to ourselves.’
‘But what if someone spots us?’
‘Let them. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the sight.’
‘I’m not sure…I don’t think it’s a good idea, really.’
She gave him a look. ‘It would please me.’ She got up. ‘Let’s have a go on the trampoline.’ She headed down the garden. Andrew followed her. When she got to the contraption, she took off her shoes and climbed on. At first, she hardly went up and down but very quickly she started to really bounce. Her breasts shook, and her dress flew up, revealing her knickers.
She stopped bouncing. ‘Come on. Join me.’ She reached out a hand.
He started to climb on.
‘Shoes off.’ He pulled off his trainers but left on his pop socks. He joined her in the middle. They collided, and she laughed. ‘Do what I do.’ She started to jump. He tried to match her movements but knocked into her. They both fell sprawling on the bed. She took advantage of this to caress his groin.
‘Not here. Your mother might see us!’
‘She’s making lunch.’
But Jill jumped off and the bed bounced alarmingly. ‘Try it on your own.’
He set about copying her movements. He bounced up and down.
‘See, you can do it!’
He nearly fell off. ‘I don’t feel very comfortable.’
‘You’re doing fine. Just keep it regular.’
Andrew bounced a few more times. Then he slipped and did a somersault, hitting the frame before tumbling off onto the grass.
Susan came rushing out of the house. ‘Oh my God!’ She knelt beside him. ‘Are you hurt? Have you broken something?’
Andrew shook his head. ‘Just winded, luckily.’ He slowly got to his feet, clutching the side of the trampoline for support.
Susan rounded on Jill. ‘You shouldn’t have let him!’
‘It wasn’t my fault, Mum!’
Jill stormed off towards the house.
Susan reached out a hand. ‘I’m sorry.’
Andrew limped over to her. ‘It was my fault. I was too enthusiastic. It’s the first time I’ve been on one.’
‘Excuse me.’ She rushed off after Jill.
Andrew slowly made his way back to the patio and resumed the seat he had occupied earlier. The tea things were still there. He helped himself to another cup.
Jill’s mother returned. She looked at what he was doing, ‘Should I make you another one?’
‘I’m fine thanks. Given how hot it is, cool tea is fine.’
Jill emerged from the lounge. She glared at her mother before sitting down next to Andrew.
‘After lunch, Andrew and I plan to go to the park, so we can catch up agreeing on stuff.’
‘Very nice idea.’ Susan disappeared into the house.
‘She doesn’t know what it means.’
To be continued…
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.