Dan’s Departure

Written By: anonymous - Apr• 02•12


Dan’s departure seems to provoke an out pouring of upset amongst the secretaries. I have never seen so many support staff turn up for a leaving do. And Liz is cast in the role of evil seductress, luring him away from his rightful home.

“I can’t believe he’s marrying her,” Melinda sulks. “She might be intelligent and all that; but she isn’t very glamorous.”

Not enough peroxide or false nails to win Melinda’s approval.

“She is pretty though,” Danielle points out, “In a Home Counties sort of way.”

“She could do with a good make over, if you ask me.  Lighten her hair, slap on some decent make-up and do something about those frumpy dark suits she likes to wear.”

“More pink?”

“More pink,” she nods.

“Ah, but Dan obviously likes that sort of thing, so, perhaps, you should have a make-under: take off some slap and start wearing high necks and sensible shoes!”

She considers this.  “If it would bag me a man like Dan, I might be tempted.”

God help all men like Dan.

Meanwhile Jane is presenting Dan with his parting gifts.  He seems much taken with his “Hot” and “Shot” cufflinks, but is less thrilled about the others.

“’How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’?!”

“I should have bought you that a long time ago,” she smiles. “But at least your new colleagues might benefit from it.”

“Was I that bad, as a room mate?”


“Why? What did I do to annoy you?”

“You want a list? You were perky in the mornings, you wore too much aftershave; you took milk with your tea; you left spare ties behind the door; you ate sausage rolls at your desk; you borrowed my stapler without asking; you said things like “Cracking” and “A1”; you had desk plants, which I had to water when you were away; you cannot speak quietly on the telephone; your files are a disgraceful mess and you had five hundred visitors a day – almost all of them female!”

“Gosh, I had no idea I was so irritating. How on earth did you put up with all that?”

“I took Beta-blockers.

“Well, I apologise for any stress or upset I may have caused you.  I hope your new roommate will be less intrusive.”

“I’m not having another room mate.”

“Oh, er, yes you are. As a matter of fact, she’s going to be joining us later.”


Dan is only saved from physical harm by Malcolm’s arrival.  But Jane grills him, too. “Who is she?” she demands.

“I beg your pardon?”

“My new roommate! Who is she?”

“You’re getting a new roommate?” he exclaims. “Oh, how lovely.  I had no idea. And a girl too; that will make a nice change from Dan’s masculine ways, I bet.”

Jane only scowls back. Then she lets out an enormous huff before storming off to find The Boss.

“Who is she?” I ask Dan.

“Her name is Salina Smith, she’s from Heale & Co]. I haven’t met her. But I’ve heard a lot about her.”

He refuses to say any more; and is swiftly carried off into his adoring crowd.  No one else knows anything; not even Liz who is decides it is a breach of fiancé protocol. “He can’t keep secrets from me if we’re going to be married,” she huffs.

“Are you joking?” Alex scoffs. “That’s the whole point of being married!”

She doesn’t reply but she gives him one of her iciest looks.

The evening flows on; with rivers of admirers pouring in to congratulate/commiserate Dan. By Nine it’s standing room only; with a crush to get to the bar. We all had one to many drinks and Liz has started to cry.

“I’m going to really miss him!” she wails.

“Oh, shut up!” Jane tells her. “You’re marrying him.”

“I know,” she sobs, “But I’ll see less of him as his wife than as his colleague.”

That is true.

Alex agrees. “You’ll only get the tired, smelly, grumpy bits from now on. Well done.”

This sets her off again. I head off to The Ladies to get her some tissues. It’s a struggle to press though the melee; as I pass a darkened corner an icy hand grips my wrist.

“How dare you make an official complaint about me!”  It’s Carlton. And he doesn’t look happy. “You little bitch.”

“I did nothing of the sort; quite the opposite, in fact.” I keep my voice as even as I can. His grip tightens and he pulls me down into a dimly lit booth.

“Personnel have been on my case; they’ve told me I have to cease all contact with you.”


“I had nothing to do with that,” I tell him. “They asked me if I wanted to pursue a grievance, over the termination of my secondment, I said no. Whatever they have done, they have done on their own initiative.”

“I don’t believe you. You must have made me out to be some sort of evil sex-crazed stalker; not to mention a pathological liar.”

Well, if the cap fits….

I try to wriggle free from his grip but he won’t let me. I don’t want to cause a scene, at Dan’s party, so I stop resisting.

“I actually told them that I did not wish to pursue a complaint; so you should be thanking me, not chastising] me.  I mean, let’s face it; I have more than enough grounds to complain about you!

“Don’t flatter yourself kid; you were never in the adult league. And don’t expect any more favours from me; I don’t have time for silly little girls; who aren’t smart enough to recognise an opportunity when they see one. You will regret what you have done, mark my words.”

And with that he releases me and disappears.  And then it’s my turn to burst into tears.




Extreme Ways of Escape

Written By: anonymous - Mar• 18•12

After four long years, Dan is finally leaving.

“Getting engaged is an extreme way of escaping Jane,” Alex tells him as he packs up his stuff.

“Well,” he laughs, “I’m just exchanging one form of female torture for another. Sharing a room with Jane or sharing a flat with Liz; there’s not much difference; they both mean taking orders and battling for shelf space.”

Looking at all his files stuffed into the tiny corner cabinet, it’s clear who won that war.

“I bet Jane will miss you,” I tell him.

“Like a hole in the head! She’s already told me how she plans to “fumigate” the office and “put the furniture back to normal”.

“That’s just her way of being affectionate.”

“If that’s affection I would hate to see abhorrence].”

In fact Jane is so pleased that he’s leaving, that she has organised the collection. She’s bought a big card with a weasel] on the front and she’s having a whip round to buy him a present.

“What are you going to get?” I ask.

She smiles. “I thought I might send him on a confidence-reducing course.”

“Your next room mate might be worse,” I point out.

“I shall not have another room mate!!”

Ooops, wrong thing to say.

“You might,” I press on, “Since the desk is here.”

She glances at the offending table and then gives it a swift kick. “I shall have it removed!”

And she tries, but, as The Boss has realised that he can cram more lawyers into smaller spaces, he refuses.

“Do you know what the rent is, on this building?” he asks. “It’s astronomical. I can’t afford to let you lot bask in luxury office suites.”

“My room is 11 foot by 11 foot,” she tells him, “It’s hardly a luxury suite. I have to store all my files outside because I don’t have enough storage space.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he waves his hand dismissively, “We’ll all be paperless soon; you won’t have any files.”


“No buts, the desk will remain; and you will have to share with someone else.”

She screws up her face at the thought, “Can I, at least, have a say in who it might be?”

“Absolutely not. I’m not allowing you to veto everyone I suggest. Besides, it works both ways, imagine if I allowed your prospective room mates to refuse? We would never fill that desk!” And chuckling deeply to himself, he strolls off.

She takes out her frustration by picking a fight with Tarquin, which seems to cheer her up. Then she heads off to purchase Dan’s gift and returns with an array of offensive items: an ornate, oversized mirror; a can of super strength hair spray; a subscription to Glamorous Groom magazine; some cufflinks saying “Hot” and “Shot” and a copy of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.”

“Do you think he’ll like them?” she asks.

“Probably not.”

“Well, it’s the thought that counts.”

And there is, certainly, a lot of that in those gifts. But it’s somewhat lost on The Boss, who decides to do his presentation.

“Dan has been with us for a few years now,” he begins, “He was a casualty of the global sackings in the Corporate team and, before that, he was at The Bar, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, now he’s made the worst mistake of his career – by proposing to Liz! Ha ha ha!”

Liz is not laughing. But he carries on anyway.

“Dan is sacrificing his promising career at CWS for love and marriage. How sweet. But I have no doubt that in a few years, when he has three screaming kids and a huge mortgage he be wondering what the bloody hell he’s done! ”

Liz is glaring at him now.

“But, by then, it will be too late, and all he’ll have to show for his efforts are legal bills, alimony payments and bitterness.”

I think she may slap him in a moment.

“But, don’t worry, Dan,” he chuckles. “I know a very good Divorce lawyer and a handy little dating agency in Bangkok, if you need one!  Middle age doesn’t have to be miserable. No! Ha ha ha!”

“Ha ha ha!” Liz’s eyes are full murderous fury.

“But in the meantime,” he clears his throat, “let us celebrate the joyful impending union of Daniel and Elizabeth and wish them all the best for their forthcoming nuptials. I hope Liz is radiant and Dan is sober!”

“I’m betting on the opposite,” Jane whispers.

“To Dan and Liz!” he cries.

“To Dan and Liz!”

Liz has a few words of her own. “And, thank you, Alistair for playing cupid!” she cries. “Providing potential spouses really takes employee benefits to new heights, doesn’t it?! It’s just a shame that the Fraternisation Policy forces us to part; but we understand: we cannot upset the delicate balance of the team with our domestic arrangements.” She shoots an accusing look at Miranda. “But a sad day for CWS is a happy day for us.  Thanks again for matchmaking us Alistair, long may you continue to be our spiritual leader!”

“Long may you continue to be our spiritual leader!” we all laugh.

Obviously to his enormous faux pas, he beams proudly at us. “Least I could do.  Just remember: if you produce any CWS babies, I shall expect them to be called Alistair!”

“I’m sure my future daughter will be thrilled,” Liz observes.

Dan moves over and silences her with a big, enthusiastic hug. “Yes!” he agrees.  “It would be our pleasure. Thank you so much! We are grateful for your role in helping Liz and I get together and, it would be our pleasure to invite you to the wedding.”

“Delighted!” he exclaims. “And the least you can do in return for depriving me of a perfectly decent Associate.”

Dan smiles. “I’m leaving Liz with you; that is more than compensation for my going.”

The Boss doesn’t seem to agree. “The problem with girls,” he says conspiratorially, “is that they always go off and have babies. I know I shouldn’t say that, but it’s a fact: you and I are never going to give birth.”

“Thank god,” Jane whispers. “The country’s midwives could never stand it.”

“Well,” Dan tries to be tactful, whilst keeping a very firm grip on Liz’s right arm, “If that happens, I’ll pop back and fill in.”

“If you would,” he agrees, “that would be marvellous! And it isn’t too late for you and Liz to swap places.”

“Yes it is,” spits Liz. “If you don’t want a big fat, sexual discrimination claim against you.”

The Boss lets out enormous belly laugh. “Don’t be ridiculous! You won’t resign whilst you’ve accrued all that lovely maternity leave.”

And, with a knowing smile, he stalks off to see Miranda.

Dan rubs her arm. “He’s just upset that he has to recruit again.”

“It’s more than that!” Liz fumes. “He thinks all females are baby breeding machines!”

“So, become one,” Jane laughs. “Have fifteen kids and sting him for as much maternity pay as you can.”

“I’m not sure I even want one!” Liz sniffs. “I have had quite enough of demanding, needy, little people in my day job.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

The Next Level

Written By: anonymous - Mar• 04•12

They are being falsely cheery towards me; Malcolm offers me Mint Imperials, Miranda compliments me on my new shoes and The Boss asks me to help with a new case. Everything is hushed up and they are all trying to pretend it never happened…..

But Margaret has other ideas.

“I told my boss to invite you back after your Corporate replacement has finished,” she tells me. “I’m going to speak to your Personnel people about it.”

Oh, Carlton’s going to love that.

“And I’ve told him to go directly to you, if we have any litigation problems.”

And if that happens he will probably strangle me with his bare hands.

She sees my troubled expression. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just worried that he will try something else.” Especially if he thinks I’m stealing his client.

“Then you have to nip it in the bud,” she advises. “Tackle it head on. Demand an explanation for what happened.”

Jane agrees with her. “They think it’s all forgotten,” she tells me. “But they never even gave you’re an explanation. Speak to Personnel.”

Making a big fuss is not my style (it’s Jane’s) but I feel strangely possessed. A few minutes later, I find myself sitting in front of Simpering Veronica, explaining my dilemma.

“So, you’re upset because you thought you were going to be in trouble, but now you’re not?” She frowns.

Honestly, this woman shouldn’t be allowed to own a dog licence, never mind hold down a job.

I shake my head. “No, that’s not it. I am upset because serious false allegations were made against me which have never been withdrawn or explained.”

“Oh, I see.”  She smiles. She clearly does not see. “So what do you want me to do about it?”

“Investigate; confirm that the allegations have been withdrawn and explain why they were made in the first place.”

“That might be quite tricky,” she smiles apologetically.  “You know what Partners are like.”

“Yes, and I know what employment claims are like…..” I match her simpering smile with a special one of my own.

“Oh, well, I’m sure there is no need…..”

I smile again; more seriously this time, but say nothing.  I am not moving until I get agreement.  I shall stay here, on this chair until she accepts my demands.

After a few moments, she nods, reluctantly. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you.”

Back in the office, Melinda is up to her usual tricks.

“Aaaah, don’t you think e’s lovely?” she is cooing at some picture on her screen..

I assume she’s talking about George Clooney.

“He’s sooooo cute I could eat ‘im up!”

“You wanna make sure he’s been properly neutered,” Lynnette advises. “You don’t want any unwanted little ones.”

This cannot be George Clooney.

“Something interesting?” I ask.

Lynnette rolls her eyes and makes a funny gesture to Miranda.  “She’s buying a kitten.”

“Oh, I see. Although I’m not sure you should be doing that at ten thirty in the morning, when you have typing to do.”

“I know,” she shrugs, “But e’s so cute I wanted to show them.”

She points to a picture on her screen of the meanest, toughest looking cat I have ever seen. Cute he is not. “He’s a Bangle,” she tells me.

“A bangle?”

“It’s a breed of cat.”

“Do you mean a Bengal?”

“That’s what I said.”

I’m not sure the people of Bengal would agree.

“He’s costing a bomb,” Lynnette chips in.

“It’s not that much,” she explains.

“It’s a thousand pounds.”

“A thousand pounds!  For a cat?” I didn’t even pay that for my car.

“I know. it’s mental, isn’t it?” Lynnette agrees “she could nip down Battersea dogs home and pick up a rescue moggy for nothing.”

“If it brings me happiness, what does it matter?” Melinda folds her arms and flashes us a defiant look

“Well, don’t come crying to me when he gets cat-napped.”

“Cat-napped?” She clearly hasn’t thought of this.

“Stolen,” Lynnette explains.

“Why would anyone want to steal a cat?”

“Are you crazy? For a thousand pounds, even I might be tempted to pinch him.”

“Don’t you dare!”

“Oh, I dare. I’ll pop over to Romford with some Whiskers and a fishing net next week. Easy.”

“I’ll keep ‘im indoors,” she says, crossly. “Then he’ll be safe.”

“And you’ll have cat mess all over your house!” Lynnette thinks this is hysterical. “All over your lovely cream carpets!”

I leave them discussing the problems of litter training and head back to my office. How on earth Melinda can afford £1000 for a cat when I can barely afford my mortgage?! I don’t have time to dwell on that, because Veronica telephones me with the good news.

“Your Boss seems happy with your work,” she confirms. “And I’ve spoken to you Secondment Supervisor, who confirmed your version of event so you were right. The next step would be to make a formal complaint against Philip Carlton. Do you want to do that?”

Yes, absolutely!  But then I remember Amelia; standing up to him just got her sacked and spied on; unable to get another job.  I am not as brave as her.  And I haven’t got rich parents.

“No; it’s fine,” I wimp out. ”I just want you to ensure that I never have to work with him again.”

“Are you certain?” she presses. “We can take it to the next level, if you really want to.”

“No, it’s fine, I’m happy with what you have done.” I sigh. “I just want things to be back to normal.”

Although, as it transpires, things are never normal again.






Executive Lies

Written By: anonymous - Feb• 19•12

Carlton has told the firm that the secondment has been cancelled by the client and the client that the secondment has been cancelled by the firm. When I say, cancelled, that’s not strictly true; he said curtailed. Instead of being six months it’s now only four, meaning I only have a couple more weeks to finish my work (and find out what is really going on).

“He said there was a crisis in the Litigation Team; several members of staff were off sick and a big trial was coming up. So, he asked if he could swap you for one of his Corporate minions to free you up.” Margaret advises me.

This is an enormous lie.

“He told the firm that you wanted someone with more of a Corporate edge,” I tell her. “They think your boss has requested this change.”

Her face turns purple with anger. “My boss has done no such thing! He was sorry to hear about all the Litigation difficulties; he was trying to help. He does not want you to leave; he thinks you’re doing a great job.”

Well, at least someone does.

“That’s very nice to hear,” I say, “I’m so sorry that you have been dragged into this.”

“It’s not your fault. Carlton is manipulating all of us; maybe he can get away with it inside the office, but we’re his clients; he should know better than to manipulate us.”

Because they can quite easily stop being his clients. It occurs to me that they could be able to help.

“Do you think your boss would be willing to give me a reference?”

“Of course,” she smiles, “He would be happy to; and, because he’s so busy he will probably ask me to write it.”

Even better!

Thinking fast I ask if she could, “say that the secondment has been good; you are very sorry to see me leave; that you would have liked me to stay all year, but you understand that my skills and abilities are urgently needed in Litigation?”

“Absolutely. And a whole lot more. “

She produces the most glowing reference I have ever seen.

Helen Bailey has worked with us for almost a year; initially she was asked to carry out a risk assessment of our business – attending our offices and reviewing our systems etc. We were so impressed with the results of this that we invited her back on secondment to put her recommendations into action. Helen is very bright and intuitive; she implemented some very challenging changes quickly and sensibly. She is liked and respected by all levels of staff. Unfortunately, the secondment was curtailed by powers beyond her control but she would be welcome to come back at any time – in any capacity.

“That is fantastic Margaret, I don’t know what to say.”

“Say nothing. It is the least I could do.”

But it proves to be the most important reference I’ve ever received.  Back at CWS I am summoned to a meeting with Malcolm and The Boss.

“I’m very sorry to have to call this meeting,” he begins. “But we need to discuss what went wrong with your secondment. Philip Carlton has told us that is has been curtailed. He is very unhappy and Personnel has advised us to speak to you.”

“It was curtailed,” I agree, “By Philip Carlton.”

Malcolm gives me a nervous glance. “Sorry, what do you mean?”

“He curtailed it, Carlton, not the client.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. He said that the client is unhappy with your input and that an urgent request had been made to replace you with someone more commercial.”

“That is not true.”

“Then why is he sending one of the Corporate Associates to replace you?”

“Because he wants to; he has decided that I am not the right person to be there, not the client. “

The Boss laughs, “I’m sure Philip could not jeopardise his client relationship like that!”

I say nothing. Malcolm is flicking me nervous little looks, like he wants to believe me but thinks what I am saying is insane.

“Do you have any proof of what you are saying?” he asks.

“As a matter of fact I do; if you wait here I will show you my reference.”


“Yes,” I nod. “They gave me a reference, which, I think should support my story.”

Feeling as if I’ve just been hit by a train I stagger back to my room and locate a copy.

Downstairs again I hand it solemnly to Malcolm without saying a word. He reads it with (obvious) astonishment and then hands it to The Boss with a telling look.

“Well,” he says (eyes narrowed and lips pursed). “This is an interesting document.”

“Indeed,” I agree, “It proves what I have been telling you. I did nothing wrong; in fact, quite the opposite: they think I’m great and want me to stay. So, I think you should be speaking to Philip Carlton and not to me.”

He looks flustered. The Partnership force is strong in him. Years of indoctrination make it hard to accept that one of his own has gone bad and it would break the Partnership code and admit that an Assistant might be right.

“We shall speak to him,” Malcolm agrees.

“But I’m sure it’s all perfectly in order,” The Boss adds, “In the meantime, we should be grateful if you could keep this discussion to yourself.”

I nod, though I hear Jane’s voice saying I should threaten them.

“I shall have to make a record of this,” I say, as I depart. “It is a Personnel matter and should hate to think that Mr Carlton is targeting me in any way.”

The Boss snorts. “It’s just a misunderstanding! That’s all. No need to be dramatic.”

That’s rich, coming from him. A man who makes Elton John seem subdued.

“We shall sort it out,” he assures me. “There’s no need to do anything hasty.”

“Nevertheless,” I smile, “I shall keep a note and if there are any further meetings, I should like a representative present.”

Jane, of course.

“There is really no need for that,” he snaps. “This was just a simple little chat. You don’t need to make a big fuss.”

A big fuss!

“I was accused of ruining a client relationship and being useless at my job,” I point out, “I don’t think that’s overstating things.”

“Yes, well, you’ve produced that reference, so no need to worry!”

“I think there is every need to be concerned if one of the partners is telling lies about me.”

There, I’ve said it! He looks like I’ve just whacked him with a cricket bat.

“Lies!” he splutters. “That’s a very serious accusation to make against one of your employers! You should take care about making statements like that.”

It’s funny, he didn’t care about calling me a crap-client-ruining-lawyer but he get upset when I say Carlton is telling lies.

“It is the only conclusion I can draw,” I tell him. “There doesn’t seem to be any other explanation.”

“I’m sure there is,” Malcolm bites his lip; I can tell he doesn’t think so.

“Yes!” The Boss agrees. “And when we find out what it is, you may wish to retract your accusation.”

I doubt it.


The Phoney War

Written By: anonymous - Feb• 06•12

All is still quiet on the Carlton front.  It feels a bit like the Phoney War; my preparations are made; defences ready, now I’m just waiting for his Messerschmitts to appear and bomb the hell out of me.

Meanwhile, on a (supposedly) happier note Liz is planning her Hen Do. The only problem is: she’s asked us to organise it.

“If you are going to have a Hen Do (and, personally, I would rather pickle my head in vinegar) you have to have a proper one,” Jane tells her, “None of this airy fairy spa nonsense: a good, old fashioned riot; that’s what it should be.”

“I am  not having strippers!”

“No one said anything about strippers.” She lies (Alex has been busy sourcing them; and taking far too much delight in doing so, if you ask me). “We just want you to let your hair down a little.”

“I want it to be dignified.”

Ha! No chance.

“If you want us to arrange it, you have to trust us.”

“I don’t want you to arrange it; you’re only doing it because Natasha (chief bridesmaid) is in Bukina Faso.”

Unlike us, Natasha has a worthy career, working for an international development organisation. But, though she may be able to improve the lives of thousands of people, she has no idea what a decent Hen Do should involve.

“If she was here you would be a weekend of dry stone walling or coracle making!”

Natasha’s suggestions (fortunately, she can’t book them from Ouagodougou).

“Dry stone walling might be fun……” Even Liz cannot seriously believe this.

“If you have no social skills and you want your friends to hate you for the rest of your life!”

“What about coracle making then?”

“Are we making an episode of Time Watch?”

“Oh! I give up. Anyone would think this was your Hen Do, not mine.”

“Do you want to go coracle making?”

“No, but –“

“Then leave it so us. We spend seventy per cent of our lives with you; we know you better than some crusty old school friend , trust us.”

I wouldn’t trust Jane with my lunch order, never mind my Hen Do. So it’s a good thing that I’m there to rein her in.

“You have to do something nice,” I tell her. “Something that Liz will enjoy.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she scoffs, “She’ll enjoy it.”

If it kills her.

“What have you got on the short list?” I ask, trying to be proactive.

“A trip to the London Dungeon; tickets to The Woman in Black; a Jack the Ripper tour or a night at a Transvestite club.”

“That sounds a lot like the sort of Hen Do you would plan for yourself.”

“I shall never have a Hen Do.”

Probably since no one in their right mind would propose to her.

“But, if I did, you’re right: it sounds like a fabulous weekend!”

If you’re a Goth.

But whilst Jane is planning her Hammer Horror Hen Do, Alex has been swept up with the more salacious plans of his own.

“Pole dancing lessons?” he suggests.

“Are you insane?”

“No! Think of all the fun that could be had with a few feather boas and a bit of elastic.”

It’s difficult.

“There is no way I am going pole dancing,” Jane tells him, “I was not put on earth to pander to cheap male fantasies. It goes against all my feminist principles.”

He purses his lips. “I guess Burlesque is out then?”

“I am not taking my clothes off for anyone.”

Oh, thank god for that.

“Can’t you think of something a little more sophisticated?” she demands.

“No!” he laughs, “I’ve seen Bridesmaids, I know what you girls get up to when you’re on your own.”

“I can assure you that our weekend will be nothing like some sily film! And, frankly, you’re lucky to have been invited at all.”

As the only gay man to be friends with both the bride and groom he had a choice: Stag do or Hen do; he chose the latter on the basis that it would be, ‘less well behaved’.

In the end it is left to me to come up with a Hen Do befitting of our friend.

“I’ve booked a party boat, in Windsor, for the day,” I tell them. “We can have a picnic, tell funny stories and make Liz do dares, all in the privacy of her own deck. Then, in the evening, I’ve booked a restaurant followed by a VIP area in the local 80s club. The following day, we all have breakfast and spa treatments.”

They glare at me for a moment, although they know it’s the perfect plan.

“Can we bring the stripper?” Alex asks.

“If you like.”

“And can we still dress up?”

“If you like.”  Thankfully no one will see us in the middle of the Thames. “I thought you and Jane could choose the theme.”

They choose the film: Moulin Rouge (just enough gothic misery for Jane, enough showbiz sparkle off for Alex)  It seems to keep them both happy.

Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I begin to make the arrangements. I have just finished my e-mails when a panicky Margaret calls.

“Helen! I’m so sorry!”

“Sorry for what?”

“Oh  my goodness,” she gasps. “You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?”

“Your secondment,” she shrieks, “It’s been cancelled!”

And then I hear the Messerschmitts flying away.