Chapter Two: Who You Gonna Call?

Livia’s diary: the office of Jim Poole MP

U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the telephone with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin following the 2013 Moore tornado (part of the May 18–20, 2013 tornado outbreak) from the Oval Office in the White House. 20th May 2013. Taken by Pete Souza
U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the telephone with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin following the 2013 Moore tornado (part of the May 18–20, 2013 tornado outbreak) from the Oval Office in the White House. 20th May 2013. Taken by Pete Souza

“Oh my Gawd, what does she look like?”

Thus rang out the disapproving cry down the Dining Room corridor in the House of Commons as I attempted to struggle through a bevy of over-made up young women, most of whom seemed to be wearing evening dresses that resembled those red string bags you buy oranges in. It was fair enough observation – assuming I’d translated adequately – as I looked a right state. My tights were laddered from both knees, running right up to their respective thighs. The arm of my coat was covered in creosote and, although I’d purposefully not looked in the mirror since 10am that morning, I suspected that my makeup had migrated from the places of its original application.

There was obviously a posh dinner party going on in one of the dining rooms. The smell of aftershave mingled with Chanel No. 5 was almost overwhelming, and the trumpeting of posh accents either side of me was oddly disorientating – like being in a very well-spoken war zone. I tried as best I could to edge around the harassed looking waiters offering platters of canapés to throng of hooting youngsters in black tie. My stomach growled.

I rounded the corner into the relative calm that was the passageway leading to the Lords’ Bar. The bar had been modernised a couple of years back from a grimy and dark yet oddly welcoming boozer to a brightly lit wilderness of pale wooden benches. The sight of Paul’s dark head, towering at least four inches above the rest of the clientele at the bar, relaxed me somewhat.

“Liv,” he handed me a drink. “Er, you’re looking sexy. How was Weaselthorpe?”

I was too busy trying to insert my entire head into the pint of lager to answer him for a minute.

“Oh,” I said, eventually surfacing from the amber goodness and preparing to investigate the possibility of some Mini Cheddars. “You know. The usual.”

***

It was with what could only be described as “extremely bad grace” that Dean had eventually turned up on platform 17 at Victoria Station the previous day.

Balancing a pasty and coffee in one hand and a rather battered suitcase in the other, he was already mid-rant by the time he had sighted me at the end of the platform. His burgeoning romance with the long-nosed Annabella had done little for his waist-line of recent weeks, and he had to stop several times to lean on his case for a tactical wheeze. After he had recovered sufficiently, he’d set off again at as brisk a pace as he could manage, chuntering away in my vague direction about the injustices of having to be suited, booted, and en route to the constituency before the Today Programme had finished broadcasting.

Eventually, I got bored of waiting, and got on the train. I was already one body down in the murder mystery I’d been saving for the journey before Dean caught up.

“… all because the Boss wants to do a sodding street surgery to demonstrate to his constituents that he is not, in fact, dead. Doesn’t he know it’s karaoke night in the Sports and Social?” This lament, accompanied by a thud and wail as Dean accidentally walloped a pensioner with his case, announced the arrival of the Senior Researcher in the office of Jim Poole MP on the 08:17 to Weaselthorpe.

An hour and forty minutes later Dean had eventually whinged himself into a standstill, just as we pulled up at Weaselthorpe station. Jim was waiting for us in the taxi rank, his car – which had developed a new dent on the side panel since I had last seen it – thoughtfully parked skew-whiff across several spaces and entirely obscuring the exit. The murderous glares he was getting from the taxi-drivers were doing nothing to improve my mood, especially as the curling election posters he still had pinned in the back windows of his car were helpfully emblazoned with his name and office address. I thought Eileen, his constituency caseworker, was probably going to be in for an interesting afternoon.

“Good, you’re here. Buckle up,” he roared cheerfully, ramming the key into the ignition. The engine gave a howl of pain as Jim accidentally thrust the gearstick into reverse. There was a low whimper from the floor in the back where Dean had been deposited in a crumpled heap, and some distinctly un-Parliamentary language from the taxi driver the Boss had almost flattened.

“Whoops!”

We roared off. Ten minutes later we were sat outside on a rickety trestle table on Weaselthorpe High Street, the wind from the sea – the Baltic Sea by the feel of it – whistling painfully around our Urals.

Weaselthorpe was the jewel in the crown of the south coast tourist industry towards the beginning of the last century. Today, it is a slightly sad seaside town populated by drunken stag dos in the summer, and not much at all in the winter. Crumbling Victorian buildings stare out bleakly onto the ruin of the pier that used to house an exclusive theatre, but now contains a chewing gum bespotted arcade. Advertising slogans for “Mr Johnson’s Butchers” shine palely through whitewashed walls, ghosts from another age.

“Right. Impromptu street surgery,” Jim announced, settling himself comfortably at the table and bringing out a thermos (“I knew it was a mistake to let him go to the Speaker’s lecture on Tony Benn,” muttered Dean). “Bring me the voters. Bring me their problems. And I will advise.”

The shoppers trudged disconsolately by, occasionally stopping to eye Jim with a mixture of curiosity and hostility. Eventually I managed to source him one with what seemed she had a genuine complaint, and brought her before King Jim Solomon who smiled upon his subject benignly, through the steam of a hot mug of tea.

“What can I help you with?”

“It’s my neighbours.”

“Right …?” Jim smiled encouragingly.

“They’re black.”

We hadn’t exactly got off to an excellent start. However, to Jim’s credit he stuck with it, and by the end of a very cold two hours, we had met a couple who had a kid with a debilitating illness who were having no luck getting Weaselthorpe Council taking their pleas for a disabled adaptation to her property seriously, a woman who hadn’t received a CSA payment off her ex in five years and was struggling to make ends meet, and a man who had been summarily dismissed from the company he worked for in what sounded like the most inappropriate circumstances.

We also had a chap whose cress-plants were being secretly poisoned by MI6 whilst he was at the pub, and a drunken anarchist who took up residence behind Jim in order to sing an inventive – if somewhat blue – version of “Land of Hope and Glory” and expose himself to me periodically.

It was my observation that it was a very cold afternoon clinched it: Jim snorted so hard that he inhaled a nose-full of tea and, through some strangled coughing announced that it was time for the constituency office Christmas party – the four words most feared by those who know what they mean, and right up there with “we need to talk.”

***

It was only an hour and a half later when I was halfway through my fourth sherry and my digestive tract had been clogged up by a collection of peanuts and value mince pies that I realised that Dean was absent.

“Oh yes, Liv, I forgot to tell you,” slurred Jim, almost falling over a pile of correspondence marked ‘Campaign on the beak-trimming of laying hens’, “He had to go back to London.”

“For why?”

“Had a call. From a senior staffer in the Party. It’s something only he could handle, apparently.”

I had a vision of Annabella perched on the edge of a bar stool, gazing adoringly into Dean’s eyes. Meanwhile, Shouty Bob – the constituency Party secretary – was making his way over to us. He had been declaiming loudly and at considerable length about some change to an obscure standing order in the rule book, and clearly wanted to bring me and the Boss up to speed.

“Ah, Bob,” Jim grinned at him, grabbing onto the wilted Christmas tree as balance. “Livia said that you wanted a chat? Can I leave you with her? I need a word with Eileen about this afternoon’s surgery.”

And he was gone.

Bob crammed a pastry into his mouth and inhaled. Ten minutes later, I was covered in mince pie, and in desperate need of my bed.

***

“… and then he made me door knock-all morning. I haven’t had a shower since 6am yesterday and I had to sleep on Jim’s sofa because he didn’t want to “waste money” on a B&B. Have you seen his house? The man’s a beast.”

Paul had listened to my tale in amused silence.

“Seriously, I had to sleep on the sofa, and I am sure that it has fleas. And as for the shower – no bloody chance. It’s not right for a shower to be green, is it?”

“Height of fashion in the eighties,” observed Paul, taking a slurp of rosé.

“It was moving, Paul. Can you even get cockroaches on the south coast?”

“Ah.”

A faint whiff of an expensive perfume, and a muffled snigger made me spin round. Dean glanced towards the floor, blushing slightly, but Annabella retained eye-contact.

“Livia,” she beamed. “Darling. Do you mind if I don’t kiss you? It’s just …” Her eyes flicked swiftly, but perceptibly, up and down me. “Did you have fun in, um, you know. Your constituency?”

“It was tremendous,” I replied sarcastically, looking at Dean who was looking everywhere apart from in my direction. “The part where I accidentally attached myself to a drying fence was particularly hilarious, as was the fact that I should have been back by midday but because the leafleting was designed with two in mind, it took me twice as long.”

She smiled. The lack of food and the second beer was beginning to make me dangerously loquacious.

“But still, who am I to be churlish when Parliament’s chief strategist is needed back urgently?” I felt Paul’s hand squeeze a warning at my waist, and busied myself in downing the last of my beer.

“I told Dean you’d understand,” she beamed and turned to my fair-weather comrade. “Come on, darling, let’s do dinner. I’ve got someone I’m dying for you to meet.”

I’m swiftly coming to the conclusion that I should have never abandoned my childhood dream. I wonder if the Ghostbusters are still accepting applications.

Missed Chapter One? It’s here.


Added by Livia 15 December 2011