Chapter One: Trench Warfare

Livia’s Diary: the office of Jim Poole MP

For two years Dean Trench gave W4MP readers the benefit of his wisdom on such topics as how to handle media enquires, managing your boss’ (hopefully short lived) enthusiasm for the internet, and generally imparting unsolicited advice to bag-carriers on the Parliamentary Estate and in the constituencies.

Following an unfortunate incident involving a horse, a “brilliant idea” manifested by his Member of Parliament, a Gary Glitter costume, and a pitchfork wielding mob during the 2010 General Election, Dean was rushed to hospital, presumed dead.

The obituaries were written and there was general mourning in the House of Commons, particularly on the part of the chap who does the accounts for the Sports and Social bar.

However, thanks to the attention of medical professionals and a long convalescence in Amsterdam – and from his reports of that period, the less that is said about that particular sojourn the better – Dean rose, Lazarus-like and returned to the only home he knew: Parliament.

This is the diary of his fellow bag-carrier, Livia, who works with Dean in the Westminster office of Jim Poole, Member of Parliament for Weaselthorpe.

W4MP Ed


CHAPTER ONE – TRENCH WARFARE

Posters. Health and sanitation. Trench foot is dangerous. Otis Historical Archives of “National Museum of Health & Medicine” (OTIS Archive 1)
Posters. Health and sanitation. Trench foot is dangerous. Otis Historical Archives of “National Museum of Health & Medicine” (OTIS Archive 1)

There’s a growing consensus in Portcullis House that the blow to Dean’s head has affected him more than we all previously thought.

I arrived in the paper-strewn squat that passes for our office rather later than usual this morning, to find him regaling Annabella, a well connected staffer within the party, with the story of his miraculous rise from the grave.

“… and after that, the horse stood no chance. I had it where I wanted it, and delivered a sharp blow to its left haunch and then dropped to the ground, pretending to be dead – or at least concussed. Remembered my training.” Dean paused at this point to tap his nose and wink at her. “That fooled it into thinking it had got the better of me, but you have to get up pretty early in the morning to put one over on Dean Trench. Oh yes, Annabella. Reports of Dean’s demise have been grossly over-exaggerated.”

This was the fourth time in as many days that I’d heard him referring to himself in the third person, a verbal tick generally only utilised by footballers and prize arseholes.  Paul and I (we share an office with another MP’s researcher) exchanged a raised eyebrow.

“Oh my Gord,” exclaimed Annabella, who is in possession of one of those cut-glass accents that set off motion sensors. “I’d have, like, just TOTALLY gone to pieces. You brave, brave boy! Listen darling Ihave to dash, I’ve got a meeting. Maybe we should meet for a drink later and you can tell me all about your recovery?”

And, in a swirl of neckscarves and Chanel No.5, she was gone.

Dean leaned back expansively in his chair, treating us all to the sight of ten years worth of Terrace breakfasts straining against the buttons of his rather grimy shirt.

“So, Dean,” began Paul, whose left eyebrow was still located somewhere around his hairline. “Do tell us about this ‘training’ you’ve received specifically to deal with murderous equines?”

“He meant he’s been watching James Herriot repeats again.” I grumpily dumped my bag on the floor. “And my recollection of your would-be last stand differs from yours somewhat.”

“I heard you screamed like a girl and tried to fend it off with your wig,” interjected Paul, apparently keen to clarify matters. “And when that didn’t work, you fainted.”

Dean glared at both of us and went back to reading the political blogs. I was up for pursuing the story of biggest threat to the domestic horse population since Don Corleone toyed with the idea of attending Ascot, when the sight of a tottering pile of correspondence on my chair stopped me in my tracks. There was a note on it:

“Livia, could you take your top off when you can? I like it when it’s cold!”

“Are you okay?” Dean looked up, mildly perturbed at the strangling sounds that were coming from my throat.

I took a deep breath. “I think the Boss is propositioning me.” I peered at the note again.

“Give me that,” he snatched it off me, sighing. “It says, ‘Livia, could you take a look at this when you can. I’m afraid it’s rather old!’ Honestly, I should get paid extra for acting as your Rosetta Stone every time Jim tries to communicate the simplest instruction … wait a minute, how old is that correspondence?”

I quickly leafed through the stack of letters from Ministers and constituents, envelopes with their contents mysteriously absent, a shopping list in his wife’s handwriting and, most concerning, a receipt for a French maid outfit. Most of it was dated April.

“Saucy devil!” exclaimed Dean, looking with interest at the receipt. “Paul, do you think you could Google –“

“Already on it,” replied Paul. “Blimey! The randy sod. Hey, you don’t think it could be for him, do you? His wife’s not a size 20 is she?”

For myself, I was less worried about the Boss’ predilection for ladies dressed as the help than I was by the fact that he’d clearly had one of his periodic roots through the boot of his car. These excavations usually turn up items of post that he’s managed to intercept before they get to us, and tend to be of such an age that the archaeology team at UCL are better placed to deal with them than we are.

I look at the opening line of the letter on the top of the pile. “I was OUTRAGED to read in the Daily Mail this morning …”

I sigh, and turn on my computer.

* * * * *

The next evening – Friday – and I’m celebrating it in the traditional manner: couple of pints of bitter in the excellent Sports and Social bar, which is buried deep within the bowels of the Parliamentary estate. Paul has decided to tag along with me. Not, I suspect, because he’s planning to admire my devastating good looks and ready wit (if only!) as we lean close together, conspiratorially, over the table. Paul is very tall, pleasantly self-deprecating and into art and film, which is unusual in a building where the usual cry is, “I read political biography and philosophy, actually,” to any enquiry as to hobbies. Most importantly, he doesn’t require the ladies to apply the Parliamentary goggles in order to see his aesthetic merits. That is to say, he’d be more than passably attractive beyond the Commons’ walls – even though he would be competing with the norms instead of the spotty pamphlet geeks, honking aspirants with rich parents, and that chap who always tries to sniff me when I go to get served. These comprise the usual clientele of most Commons establishments.

No, Paul is here to witness the “date” between Annabella and Dean.

Annabella is sat perched on the edge of a bar stool, her long blonde hair curling delicately around her perfect ears. She crosses and uncrosses her legs, and gazes into Dean’s rather bloodshot eyes as he recounts his recent encounter with “The Leader.”  At the predictable punchline to the story, throws her head back, lets out a beautifully tinkly laugh, and touches his arm gently. I have a fleeting vision of my life, had I been born rich and connected. I could be sitting there wearing a lipgloss that costs more than my entire wardrobe and working for someone more far more salubrious than Jim Poole, Member of Parliament for Weaselthorpe, accidental scourge of the whips, horse botherer, and eternal resident of the backbenches.

“You should laugh like that,” Paul poked me rather painfully in the ribs as he got up to get another round in. “Yours sounds like the mass execution of a bunch of tone-deaf banshees. Bitter?”

“Yes,” I say, I hope enigmatically. He misses it and heads towards the bar.

My mind drifts to the day’s story of the Minister who was pictured dumping constituents’ mail in bins around St James Park. Would that my correspondence problems could be solved so easily, but Jim had made it abundantly clear on the phone earlier that he would not accept that this was a viable solution to any of “our” backlog problems.

“Look, Livia. The correspondence is our key priority. Swift turnaround, that’s what we should be working on. Remember: speed kills!” he had roared. Then, suddenly: “Bugger!”

There was a sound of screeching tyres.

“Sorry Liv, some IDIOT has just cut me up!” He sounded muffled.

The boss is a famously bad driver and – in spite of me and Dean constantly trying to impress upon him that driving around the patch with a couple of constituents wrapped around the front bumper is not a great vote-winner – he will persist.

“Jim, are you on your mobile? In the car? Which is illegal?”

Pause.

“No.”

Pause.

“Jim?”

Pause.

“Okay, okay I lost my Bluetooth. Think I put it in the boot and – yeah? SAME TO YOU, MATE! – sorry Liv, there are some absolute nutters on the road today. It’s in the boot somewhere, I think. Listen I’m lost. Where am I?”

I stared blankly at the receiver, at the other end of which was a Member of Parliament lost in his own constituency some seventy miles away. Outside the seagulls wailed mournfully over the Thames, and Big Ben began to toll 3pm.

“I don’t know, Jim,” I tried to reply evenly, whilst attempting to prop up the pile of elderly correspondence that was still threatening to topple over and engulf me. “What can you see?”

There was a thoughtful silence. “A winding road. With trees. And a pheasant.”

A thump, as if the car had hit something.

“A dead pheasant. Look, can’t you find out where I am on the Twitter or YouTube or Facebook or whatever the internet’s called these days?”

“A euro for your thoughts,” quipped Paul, slopping half the pint over the table and awakening me from the trauma of the afternoon. “Don’t worry, you get the bit on the beer mat for free. How’s Casanova doing?”

We both looked over to where Dean was standing, his hand rather awkwardly on Annabella’s shoulder.

“ … well, I said to the boss, it was a three line whip after all. Yeah, I speak the lingo these days, you know. Oh yes. Er, another Pimms, Annabella? My round?” He grinned  greasily at her.

“Oh Gord! Yah, why not?”

Paul smiled – his smile extended up to his eyes – and turned to look at me. “Hey, what were you thinking just now? You looked a thousand miles away when I was at the bar.”

I found it hard to believe he was paying that close attention, but I answered honestly.

“I was thinking that if anybody – in or inside the Government – wants to dispose of correspondence then there is a far safer answer than the bins in a public park.”

“Oh yes?”

“Oh yes. Just stick them in the car boot of Jim Poole MP. In thousands of years, I’m sure, alien life forms will find the Holy Grail, the lost city of Atlantis, and the answers to all the questions of the world to be chaotically buried within.”

“We’ve already got the answer,” said Paul, after a moment’s silence.

“Yes?”

“Booze. We work for MPs, and if it isn’t the answer, I don’t want to know the question.”

We grin at each other.

Enjoyed that?  Livia’s not alone in spilling the parliamentary beans.  Read Sally’s new tale from theWest Twittering and Chode constituency office of Rt Hon Gerrard Appleby MP.


Added: 12 January 2009

Update: 16 November 2011