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A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture

By Tony Carden

 

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Episode Twenty Seven

 

Anna locked her computer and stood up. She stretched, then picked up her mug before making her way towards the kitchen. Coffee!

As she went, she idly noted her colleagues. Beth and Sharon were having a conversation. She could hear Beth giggle as she undoubtedly told a saucy story about her weekend. Typical!

She did not stop to gossip.

There was no one in the kitchen when she got there. She noted the ever-present coffee jug was nearly empty. Blast.

Etiquette required the last one to finish the jug to make the next one. She picked up the jug and inspected the nearly syrupy contents. Someone’s left just enough to claim that they hadn’t finished it. Who’s the selfish bastard? She tried to remember who she had seen wandering towards the kitchen, but no culprit sprang to mind.

She emptied out the sticky mess, washed out the jug and replaced it. She then got out the coffee, a filter and loaded the percolator. As she did so, she hummed “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry. As a result of a recommendation, she had started listening to it on Spotify. It had turned into an earworm.

There was a noise. She turned to see Morton entering, mug in hand.

‘Hello Anna. Nice to see you making the coffee.’ Her smirked at her. Oh! It’s you. Get that smirk off your face. I know what you’re thinking.

She frowned back. The little shit.

‘Not happy at your little job, then?’ No. Cleaning up someone else’s mess. And I’m not happy I’m in the same room as you.

She held up the empty coffee jug. ‘I bet you left the coffee jug empty.’ I can just see you doing this.

He leered at her suggestively. ‘Not me, darling. I wouldn’t do such a thing.’ Easy to dissemble, isn’t it. ‘But nice to see you taking the woman’s role seriously.’ You little bugger with your snide comments.

‘Why don’t you wait outside until I’ve finished.’ You give me the creeps.

‘Why should I?’ What an arrogant bastard.

‘Because you’re a pervert and I don’t want to have to dump my coffee on you.’ There!

‘Don’t you try. Just because my complaint against that bitch didn’t get anywhere, it doesn’t mean it won’t if you assault me.’ And you know why it didn’t. Everyone knows you go around groping and caressing the female staff. How you’ve escaped being caught, I don’t know. But it’s over Morton. Over. Don’t even think about it. That’s funny! Anna burst out laughing.

‘Why are you laughing at me; it’s rude.’

She began to giggle hysterically. I can’t stop it.

‘Stop it!’ He raised his hand threateningly.

She contained herself. ‘Go wait outside.’

Morton dropped his hand. His expression turned sour. ‘I refuse to. I have just as much right to be here as you do.’

‘You are a sex pest and I wouldn’t trust you to walk me home in broad daylight.’

‘Is that how you see me?’ Me and every other woman here.

‘Yes. And so do all the others you’ve molested. I’m surprised you haven’t been fired.’

‘How dare you!’ He turned on his heals and strode off, banging his mug on the doorframe. It shattered sending shards everywhere. He looked at the handle in his hand before throwing it on the floor and striding away.

‘Hey, what about the mess?’ He gave her a V-sign before disappearing. Yeah, and the same to you, Morton.

Anna looked at the mess on the floor. I’m not touching that. The shit thinks I’ll be the good housewife and clean up his mess. What an arrogant bastard.

Aiden sauntered up.

‘What was all that about?’ He must have seen his gesture.

‘Morton? He gives me the creeps.’ She gestured at the pieces of china on the floor. ‘He broke his mug but refuses to clean up the mess.’

‘What an arrogant bastard.’ He reached down and picked up the largest pieces and dumped them in the bin. ‘There. Not all men are like Morton.’

‘You’re sweet, Adrian.’ She turned to the percolator and flicked the switch to put it on. ‘But don’t clean up his mess. I’ll send an email out saying he left it. See what he thinks of that.’ She gestured at the coffee machine. ‘Just like not making more coffee.’

‘Do you think it wise to make him an enemy?’

‘Make him? You’re joking. He’s already an enemy.’

 

*   *   *

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The intrepid explorer Indy Reff sets out to rescue his father, a medievalist who has vanished while searching for the Holy Grail of Politics. Following clues in the old man’s notebook, Indy arrives in Edinburgh, where he enlists the help of a beautiful academic, but they are not the only ones who are on the trail, and some sinister old enemies soon come out of the woodwork…

 

*   *   *

 

‘It’s dead in the water, Mary.’ It can’t be! He tapped at the copy of The Telegraph on the coffee table. ‘Not only BJ but now you’ve got Christoph telling everyone he’s against the Plan. The Brexiteers are making their move.’

‘You’ve had another letter.’ How many does that make, James?

‘A few.’ Why are you dissembling James? Mary had a sudden realisation. You’re with them! ‘The number is besides the point. The question is what are you going to do now? It’s clear the Plan won’t get through Parliament. There’s no majority for it. You can’t rely on Labour votes like you did last time.’ He cleared his throat. You do that when you’re going to tell me something disagreeable. Ugh. ‘It would be best to retreat and fight another day.’ You’ve got to be kidding me!

‘My opponents are just disgruntled has-beens. It’s all puff.’ Riff-raff and peddlers the lot of them.

‘But what of Bernard’s rejection of the Plan? It’s not as if it will fly with the Commission.’

‘The EU will come on board.’ Yes! You don’t know everything, do you? ‘Merkel’s coming around to our point of view.’

‘You sure?’

‘Well, Ralston, for all his apparent incompetence, seems to be making some headway in Brussels.’ And my little Cabinet offensive over the summer can’t have done any harm. The more the message is sign up or else, the better the prospects of a deal. ‘And Europe is waking up to the consequences.’

‘Bernard hasn’t said he agreed to the Plan.’

‘Of course not. He’s still hoping he can win one over on us.’ She gestured at her desk. ‘It’s all about the money.’

‘But I thought that was agreed?’

‘Not the thirty billion. It’s the budget and how we’re driving a coach and horses through the Commission’s future spending plans by leaving.’

‘What about the four key freedoms? I thought that was the stumbling block?’

‘James, I know you went to the Caribbean for the summer. I chose Europe. Things are changing over there. Riots over immigration, resistance to migrants in Italy. You name it. Have you seen the border controls they’ve reinstated? It makes ours look like a check at the village fete.’

‘So, you think they’ll compromise on freedom of movement and the other issues.’

She smiled. For a politician, James, you can be very stupid at times. ‘If we offer enough. Money talks.’

‘You’re talking about a bribe?’

‘Well, not a bribe. A continuing contribution if they adopt my Plan.’

‘A cunning stratagem, PM.’ And who thought of it?

 

*   *   *

 

Aiden looked at his drink. Gin and tonic, again. He then gazed up at the chalkboard with its specials. Marmalade gin. Ugh. Tea gin. Possibly passable. Strawberry and black pepper. Someone must have been drunk when they invented that one. Mulberry gin. Yes, that could be okay. Hopster gin. Is that gin with beer? Anty gin. Is that what I think it is?

‘Well?’ Just because you go for these weird concoctions.

‘I think I’ve made the right choice.’ There’s still nothing like the traditional G&T.

‘You’re a gin coward, you know that.’ Maybe. But I know what I like.

‘Now listen, Josh, we’ve been through this all before.’ Why is it that you’re desperate to get me to follow your choices? Is it because you’re worried you’ve made the wrong decision?

‘I know. You’d have preferred a beer.’ Yes. ‘You wanted to meet at a pub. But they’re dark and smelly places.’ That’s a crass generalisation.

‘That’s not true.’

‘Well that place you took me to…’ Ah! That one.

‘The Bluecoats?’

‘Yes, that’s it. I mean the smell, the TV on the wall, the noise. If you remember, I got spattered with beer by some guy behind me. It’s not my kind of place.’ Yes, I’ll agree it wasn’t perfect. So much for reviews.

‘Well, it was busier than I expected.’ Adrian gestured around the room. ‘You could say the same about this joint.’

‘This place, may I tell you, is the latest idea in chic. It mimics a speakeasy during the prohibition era.’

‘I suppose that’s why they call it the Nightie Tea House?’

‘I guess so.’

‘Well, here’s to you.’ He picked up his drink, clinked glasses with Josh and took a sip. He put it down again. ‘How are you getting to Declan’s wedding?’ I can’t believe he’s getting married. It’s for old folk. We shouldn’t be thinking of it at our age.

‘I thought I might hire a car and drive up. You in?’

‘Not sure. Can I get back to you?’ I am hoping to bring a date.

‘Well, don’t dawdle.’

‘Umm.’

‘You’re not the only one who might like a ride, you know.’ Are you bluffing me?

‘I suppose not.’

‘How’s work?’ Ah! That.

‘You know. This and that.’

‘That bad, uh.’

‘It’s not been great recently. There’s this guy at Number Ten, see, who likes to offload his work on me.’ He thought of Quinn. And others.

‘That’s bosses for you.’

‘I suppose so. But the irritating thing is that he then claims all the credit for the work.’

‘That’s not so good.’

‘You can say it. I’m pretty pissed off about it really. We’re his slaves.’ He took another sip of his drink. ‘I’m half thinking of quitting.’ Do I tell him I’ve drafted my resignation letter?

‘What?’ Josh leaned forward and grabbed his arm. ‘I thought you wanted to be an MP?’

‘I do. But with the kind of shit I’m having to go through, I wonder.’ The more I rub up against MPs the less I like the idea of standing for Parliament.

‘Hell, Aiden, we’re all in the same boat. Do you think where I am is a bed of roses? Hell no. My boss has no concept of the idea of delivery time. His concept of deadlines is yesterday. You wouldn’t believe the number of late nighters I’ve had to put in. Not to say, working over the weekend.’

‘Yeah, I read somewhere that young workers don’t get their economic value. We’re being exploited.’

‘And we give up any semblance of a decent work—life balance.’ That’s bugging you, isn’t it? I believe you’re thinking of quitting. And the fanfare you made about landing your job. You’ve come down with a huge bump.

‘Well, at least we’re not like John and Edwin in banking. The hours they put in…’ They’re bloody unbelievable.

‘So, should we be starting the revolution?’ I can just see you leading the charge…to the… he looked around …speakeasy.

‘Would it change anything?’ Eh?

‘Probably not. We’d just put a different lot in charge.’ Us?

Adrian picked up his glass. ‘Here. I’ll drink to that.’ They clinked glasses and he took another sip of his drink. Glad I stuck to my G&T.

‘Do you know something? I kind of envy Declan.’

‘What?’ Him getting married? You fancied his girl, is that it? Now she’s off limits. He thought of Quinn and felt a pang.

‘Well, he’s settling down with Valeriya. There’s something comforting in that. Having someone to come home to, to share his life with.’ What’s happened to Josh, the Don Juan?

‘Josh, you’re sounding positively middle aged!’

‘Well, it’s London.’ He swung his hand around to take in the whole city. ‘It’s such an atomistic place. Do you know, I haven’t the faintest clue who our neighbours are?’

‘That’s just part of living in a big city.’

‘But it’s getting me down a bit.’ He stopped and sipped at his cocktail. ‘I feel I want something different. Travel. Go to Australia or South America; or something like that.’

‘You’re serious, aren’t you? And I thought I was the disgruntled one.’ He had a vision of Josh hiking across the Outback in the company of a Sheila. You’d look ridiculous. He smiled at his friend.

But Josh replied with a frown. ‘Things happen, Aiden, that make you think about life.’

‘What’s happened?’

‘It’s my cousin George. He’s been diagnosed with testicular cancer. He’s only thirty-two, for fuck’s sake.’ That’s a bummer.

‘Is he going to be alright?’

‘I don’t know. There’s talk of the cancer having spread. Apparently, it’s an aggressive kind. They’re going to put him on chemotherapy.’ He balled his hand and pounded on the table. ‘He’d just got married and look what’s happened. His life’s possibly over. It’s a scary thought.’ You can say that. Thirty-two—and cancer!

‘I’m sorry for you. And your cousin.’ What can I say about this? ‘Is this what’s upsetting you?’

‘Shit, Aiden, I don’t want to work my balls off for ten years only to discover I’ve got cancer or something equally serious. I want to live my life a bit. Go places. Do things. Have fun.’

‘I’d agree with that.’

 

To be continued…

 

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.