If you take my advice...

4th February 2005 at 00:00
It had to happen. Almost a year and a month since E.R. of blessed memory had departed, I was to be granted the pleasure of an audience with her replacement, "See-Saw" Marjory Dawes.

Marj, you will recall, had taught for at least two whole terms before departing for sunnier climes, sea, sand, and more than a bit of the third one. I knew her from our Notre Dame days. Did she know I knew her?

Do they clone education officers? She looked like E.R. She spoke like E.R.

She dressed like E.R. She even smelt like E.R. - an amazing mix of Chanel and Polo mints with a whiff of gin and cheap aftershave.

"Have we met?" she asked, giving me the top to toe inspection. Her facial expression was a mixture of curiosity and sheer terror.

"I was at college with you."


The curiosity was overtaken by the terror. Ghosts of her past indiscretions sped through her memory banks. Her nickname was well-earned - the Lunch Pack of Notre Dame. She had come to "do" me, as she put it. It was my annual career review interview, part of Marj's patch analysis. I knew the only patch that was relevant to our Marj, and it wasn't her assigned schools group.

I had prepared for the interview by completing the self-assessment sheet designed by the late, but not lamented, Teflon John. Pure unadulterated rubbish would be too kind an assessment. Colouring by numbers is more intellectually challenging. I had originally assessed myself as very good, outstanding and brilliant for most of the sections, but my church upbringing had instilled a sense of modesty, and I settled for good and very good.

Marj's preparation was less than thorough. Her mobile went off, just as she was "setting the climate", according to the prepared schedule. She kept referring to the school as St Paul's, to me as Bernadette and to the depute as Julie, instead of Jenny. Marj's mind, if we can call it such, was obviously elsewhere.

The Swatch watch was constantly examined. A heavy date? A car to be collected? A child to fetch? Hairdresser? She was full of nodding gestures, reassuring glances and open posture. She had read that bit of the manual at least.

"Well, Bernie, things seem to be swimming along nicely," she said in a combination of fawning sycophancy and patronising platitude. She hadn't a clue. I could be running a nuclear power plant as far as she knew She swanned into the staffroom, casting the newly acquired Jaeger shawl over the left shoulder and rushing in where any well-trained angel with half a brain would have feared to tread.

"Ladies," she screeched, completely ignoring the presence of young Brian, the probationer, "I'm Ms Dawes, your new EO. Any little problems - don't hesitate to call me."

The staff looked on in amazement. Who the? What the? They had never seen anything like it. I had a quiet giggle at the reaction. Jennie was the poor soul who had drawn the short straw and had to sit next to her through coffee. Eventually, Marj departed and we all had a good laugh. What a poseur. What a phoney.

I got home about 6pm and found Himself snoring his head off on the settee.

Obviously a late business lunch with "clients". He had invited one of his customers and his wife round for dinner on Saturday. I could have killed him. Weekends were precious to me.

Anyway, Himself introduced me to Paul. Wife not coming? Paul explained that she would be round later, as she was dropping their daughter, Sky, off at her granny's house. "What's your wife's name?" I asked in all innocence.

"Well, we're not really married, you know," he stammered. We both looked sheepish.

"Marjory," he added. Surely not. No, please no.

"And what does she do?" asked Himself.

"She works in local government." No. No. No.

"Oh, which department would that be?" added the idiot I called my beloved.

Ding-dong! Doorbell. Avon calling? If only.

Enter Marjory. Outfit from Next directory page 28. Boots on page 46. Scarf on page 58.

"Bernie, dear. How sweet. I never knew you were Jimmy's wife. We've so much in common," she twittered.

I debated the options open to me. A fainting fit, a migraine or maybe an unexpected touch of malaria.

She followed me into the kitchen. "Bernie, can I help in any way . . . Are we having something nice? . . . Shall I pour the wine . . . The way I always do parsnips is . . . Why don't you try . . . If you want some advice . . ."

I looked at the carving knife. I'd be out after five years if I behaved myself.

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