Family Matters

The thoughts of a husband, father, brother and son

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

Sometimes they glitter, my people here. Sometimes, they shine.

I’m not sure my children understand the pressure I’m under here.  I want to keep this blog going.  I’m really enjoying writing it.

But I need material, and I rely on them to provide it.

The Very Precious Daughter (VPD), in particular, is supposed to be an endless source of tales of frustration, heart-ache, worry and financial ruin.  And when it turned out that she would be with us for at least two weeks over Christmas – and when those two weeks started with her getting into a horrible situation when drunk, and then (in an unrelated incident) having her phone cut off because she hadn’t paid the bill – it was all looking so promising.

But she’s let me down.  Ever since she arrived home she has been an absolute angel.  She’s been engaging, thoughtful and kind.  She bought everyone a present without a visit to the Bank of Dad.  We’ve watched films together, made cocktails, and we’ve talked.  She’s kept her room tidy, and she’s visibly pulled back more than once when all the signs were that the volcano of her emotions was about to explode.

I’m at my wits end – I really don’t know what I’m going to do if this carries on.

It’s also rubbed off on the others.  We went out for a curry last week and as I walked home behind my children, I felt a sense of pride that made me feel like I was going to burst.

But at least I’m not alone in having to cope with this.  My oldest and dearest friend also has a daughter of about the same age, who has put her parents through much the same kind of grief as the VPD (although I think she’s chosen drugs as her main theme).  I only see my friend at this time of year, because he lives abroad.  But he’s had a similar experience – his daughter has calmed down significantly as well.

One of the most difficult aspects of this being a parent thing is that nobody ever tells you what’s coming next.

P.S.  The title is a (slight mis-) quote from Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson.  One of the very best novels of the last twenty years, in my very humble opinion.   If you want to laugh till you ache, and be moved till you weep, I would thoroughly recommend it.


Some Christians so need to get over themselves on this issue

The Big Boy Wonder (the BBW) is my eldest son.  He is home for the holidays.

He has a friend in the town.  They go way back.  Let’s call her Megan.  Her father is a minister in the Church of England.  He baptised the BBW years ago.

The BBW went to see Megan.  He went with another friend.  Let’s call friend 2 Lucy.

Megan’s father was there.  He said hello to Lucy.  He offered her a drink.

He blanked my son.

The BBW is convinced his very presence was completely disregarded for one reason only.  Because he is gay.  He is very upset and very angry.

Nice one, vicar.

How does that song go?  “What would Jesus do?”

Wonderful Thea Gilmore

I did one of my very favourite Christmas things yesterday when I dusted off my Thea Gilmore Strange Communion CD and whacked it in the car stereo for some serious drive-time listening.

It’s a truly wonderful Christmas album from a truly wonderful artist.  It’s a crime that she’s not a household name.  On the plus side it does mean that you can see her up-close and live in the smallest of venues.  She’s not been gigging much this year but hopefully we’ll see a bit more of her next year.

Anyway, here are a couple of songs from Strange Communion.


Captain Cock-Up’s Contribution to Christmas (Part 2)

Whatever view you might take on the wider implications of what David Cameron did with the veto in Brussels (and I have to say, I keep changing my mind), one thing’s for certain – he didn’t give much thought to the effect it would have on Christmas at our house.

I’ve not yet introduced my mother-in-law to these pages.  I’ve held back out of concern for any visitors of nervous or delicate disposition.   I will save a full treatment for another day, but for these purposes there are one or two relevant points:

  • She is very pro-Europe
  • She likes nothing more than hectoring, bullying and brow-beating anyone in hearing range into forcibly accepting her very lopsided view of the world a nice chat about politics.
  • She can go on for hours and hours and hours, and then some.
  • She cannot resist any opportunity to put the boot into the country where she lived for thirty years, where her children were born and which continues to pay her a pension UK even though she left for foreign climes about twenty years ago.
  • Her unremitting pessimism is an equal and opposite force to my pointless optimism
  • She is coming for Christmas.

Like a photograph dissolving slowly into a Powerpoint slide, these factors will in all likelihood achieve a perfect clarity just after we have fed her on Christmas day.  All round the country families will be settling down to watch a nice film, or pouring another drink and reminiscing on the year that’s been, or gathering round a crackling log fire to play parlour games.

Not here.

It will be very different for me and The Beautiful Armenian (who despite her heritage is now English rose through and through).   The mother-in-law will just be getting into her stride, holding us personally responsible not just for Mr Cameron’s actions, but also for the economic melt-down which is bound to follow, for the extreme poverty this will inflict on her (yeah, right), for the fact that you can’t get proper coffee in England, for the English divorce system failing to award her millions of pounds for slightly hurt feelings, for the poor quality of English pub food in the 1970’s, and so on.  Thanks for that, Prime Minister.

We’ve already had a couple of e-mails warming us up on the subject.

Now the golden rule in these monotonous diatribes conversations is never, ever, to get drawn in.  Listen carefully enough to deploy tactical nodding and shaking of the head.  Frown or smile occasionally.  But say nothing.  You can’t win.  It’s taken more than three decades for me to work this out.  Even agreement leads to trouble, or at least to her finding a second wind.  She may think I’m a grinning idiot with nothing between my ears, but I can live with that if it shortens the pain.

The one thing that coud be worth trying is finding a mild and subtle way of provoking these outpourings early doors.  Get them out of the way, and move on.  Perhaps something like, “It’s about time that Sarkozy grew up,” or “They do all know we’ve got nuclear weapons, don’t they?”

But it’s high risk.  We could just end up having to go two rounds.

Captain Cock-Up’s Contribution to Christmas (Part 1)

It’s with great sadness that I report that my Christmas present to my wife (aka The Beautiful Armenian) has gone tits up.  I love the phrase “tits up”, but I use it here with heavy heart.

She is a MASSIVE fan of Strictly. Sorry for the shouty capitals, but it is the only way to describe just what a MASSIVE fan she is. I’m quite happy to go along with this, because for me the show is pure, unadulterated sex. Has a more lust-fuelling creature than Kristina Rihanoff ever graced our living-room screens? I would suggest not.  The verdict of my female colleagues that she is little more than a “Russian tart?” How wrong. How very, very wrong.

Gorgeous, pouting Kristina

And so, in a moment of rare and recent inspiration, I asked myself when considering things festive, “Toby, could there be any better way of showing that wonderful woman who is your wife just how much you love her than to surprise her on Christmas morning with a pair of tickets for Strictly Live in Birmingham in January and a booking for a night in a fancy hotel?” I didn’t have to think for very long before answering with a resounding No.

I feared I may have left things a little late, but all went well. The tickets were booked. A room reserved in the same hotel we stayed at for TBA’s 40th. My parents put on notice to look after the Small Boy Wonder on the night in question. Perfect. Realising that the tickets would be delivered by post, I even had the foresight to instruct The Beautiful Armenian in the following terms: “If anything arrives which is addressed to me, you must promise me  – you must absolutely promise me – that you will not under any circumstances open it.  Do I make myself clear?” I could see that her curiosity was aroused (it’s my finely tuned perception), but the promise was made.

So what could possibly go wrong? Let me tell you what went wrong.

I came home from work one day this week to find TBA in high heels and low-cut top. Before I’d really had chance to reflect on this being unusual – for a weekday at least –  she took me to another room. “I have to tell you this,” she said. “I’ve thought about trying to hide it, but I can’t.”

I really am not joking when I tell you that the look on her face was such that I did think, this is where she tells me that it’s all been a sham, that we’ve been living a lie; she’s been shagging Brendan Cole, and the children aren’t mine.

In fact it was worse.


She’d opened the envelope with the tickets in.

Why? A schoolboy error, I’m afraid. The initials of our first names are the same. The ticket company had just used initial and surname.  No Mr or Mrs.  She thought the letter was addressed to her.

The saddest bit was that it had made her so happy she’d cried. And I wasn’t there to see it.  It would have been such a lovely moment on Christmas day.  The kids and her mother would probably have joined in the weeping as well.

But never mind.  We’ve still got the night itself to look forward to.

And in this house, in case you’re wondering, tomorrow we will be rooting for Chelsee.  Big time.

Come on, Chelsee!


La Vie Parisienne

Your correspondent has had the good fortune to spend part of this week in Paris, pretending to be important by attending a conference.  The subject matter would have bored most people rigid, but in my little world was actually quite interesting.  A few thoughts and observations.

1.  I kept to the straight and narrow

One of the many blessings of my life is that I am responsible for a small team of extremely dedicated and hard-working people.  When I say people, I mostly mean women, each one gorgeous in her own way.   I really have tried to be less discriminating towards men, but every time we recruit, the stand-out candidate is a woman.    So it is my very good fortune to have to go to work each day to be surrounded by these wonderful creatures.  And here’s the really good bit – they have to be nice to me, and seek my approval.  It’s not like being at home, where I have to earn it.  Yes, I am the world’s shallowest man.   But, let me tell you, that man is very happy in his work.

I’m also something of a world expert on managing multiple maternity leaves in a small and under-resourced team.  This pregnancy thing has turned out to be the one flaw in my single-sex staffing strategy.  You may think it’s obvious, but I didn’t see it coming.  A word of advice though, the married ones seem especially prone to the baby event.  But I have to say that the headaches and hassle of managing without them melt away to nothing when they bring their new off-spring in for show and tell.  It’s not that I’m soppy about babies – I’m not.  It’s the way each one of them has walked beaming towards me ignoring all their other friends and colleagues until they have presented to me for my approval the fruits of their labour.   I don’t know why they do it, but it’s very touching.

This week I travelled with one of these lovelies.  As you can imagine, The Beautiful Armenian was less than entirely impressed.  Her killer point when we discuss anything like this (and I have learned long ago not to try to win the debate) is that I wouldn’t like it if it were the other way round.  She’s also very sweet in that she seems to think that I am totally irresistible to any one in female form.  Before you get any idea that I may be George Clooney in disguise, you need to know that this is the woman whose ideal man would be a cross between Michael Palin and Alan Titchmarsh.

But she really needn’t worry.  Not these days.  Let’s leave aside the fact that my travelling companion is a very happily married young mother who I am sure has no interest whatever in inappropriate behaviour with a man nearly twenty years her senior.  Let’s also disregard the fact that my sexual and romantic ambitions begin and end with The Beautiful Armenian.  I just have this feeling that if ever I were to get into any sort of compromising situation with a young and modern woman, I wouldn’t know what to do.  Some of them intimidate the hell out me.  I would be like my parents with something new and electrical – frightened I might break it, phoning my kids to ask for instructions, and bemoaning the fact that nothing comes with an instruction manual these days.

2.  A tale of two cities

It’s been some time since I’ve been in Paris.  It really is a beautiful city.  We were lucky enough to be near the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees.  Gorgeous at street level.  But underground in the Metro it is as if you are suddenly somewhere else – dirty, shabby, dingy, edgy.  So unpleasant that I found myself in wistful reminiscence about the tranquillity and aesthetic beauty of the London underground.

3.  Man (or woman) cannot live on canapes alone.

For two days I ate nothing but freakin’ finger food.  I had every manner of tiny delicacy brought to me on silver trays.  Lunch at the conference would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so stressful.  Hundreds of hungry delegates descending on a room in which there were a very limited number of exquisite prawn concoctions in tiny bowls and beautifully made, but miniscule, sandwiches.  Such was the competition for this very limited sustenance that the UN were on standby with a peace-keeping force.   But once the fighting had subsided the waiters reappeared with a selection of equally microscopic sweets (minced pineapple, for goodness sake).  And then, just as everyone had given up and was heading back to the breakout sessions, they wheel in a cheeseboard.

In the evening there was more of the same.  We were invited to “dinner” by a company who want our business.  Now I really do not want to sound ungrateful.  This was in an extremely upmarket hotel in one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the world (if my overcoat had seen the look the doorman gave it when I handed it over on arrival, it would have been entirely within its rights immediately to have joined the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative party).  I had a fond idea that I would save myself for the meal and go easy on the canapes, but there was something rather suspicious about the way the waiters pressed the larks-tongue profiteroles (or whatever they were) on us – these guys were simply not taking non pour un reponse.  When “dinner” arrived it became clear why – it was wonderfully cooked and presented, it was a sublime combination of textures and flavours, it was entirely befitting for the establishment and the city in which it was served.  But it was gone in two mouthfuls.  I swear it was smaller than the some of the goujons of smoked stickleback we’d had earlier.

You can eat your body-weight in this sort of food and still feel hungry.  Believe me, I’ve tried.

4.  People in glass houses

Our flight back was clearly the Disneyland special.  Completely full, and mainly of large family groups with children.  Some of these “little” ones were obviously of school age, and I’m not aware of any local authorities who have half term in December.  They were also, how shall we say, of a certain social type.  They’d “Clearly Had A Very” good time – they were “Coming Home At Velocity.”  I felt the snob within me rise.

However, I had to have a very quick and sharp word with myself.  Whatever I might think, these families had at least managed to do one thing that had very nearly defeated yours truly and his highly educated travelling companion.  They had managed to get on the flight.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, but with an over-whelming desire to banish memories of  buffet food and eat a proper meal.  This being France, we did of course have to go through the full rigmarole of all those things we tend to consider unnecessary in the UK in these situations – waitress service, studying the wine list, having the food prepared properly.  But still we had time.  So some shopping took place.  Then we approached the security clearance, with a sign saying very prominently and proudly that the waiting time was 3 minutes.

As they say, they must have missed off un zero.  And then some.  We inched forwards. Sorry, we were in France – we millimetred forwards.  We were still putting laptops and belts in plastic trays when they announced our names over the tannoy for the second time.  The conveyor belt stopped working.  I set the alarm off and had to wait whilst two completely unoccupied guys with magic searchy things decided which one could be bothered to move three steps forward and wave it vaguely in my general direction.  Then I was running through the terminal, clutching bag and jacket and coat and computer, trying to make sure my trousers didn’t fall down (no time to put the belt back on), spurred on only by the thought that if I didn’t get to the gate it could mean another 12 hours of finger food.  There was a problem with my boarding pass.  Then my colleague caught me up with her duty-free bag very visible.

Now this made the day of the woman from the airline.  She must come to work each morning desperately hoping for moments like this.  She looked at the bag and then with highly practised and supremely Gallic disdain, tossed back her head and sneered, no spat out, one word:  “Shopping!”

But despite all these schoolboy errors we made it.  Yes, we were surrounded by some of England’s finest.  But they had managed to get on the plane with slightly less drama.  And, as somebody I know has so memorably put it this week, there’s a little bit of chav in all of us.

5.  Patience is a virtue

Well before the problems with security, the journey back had had its little ups and downs.  We couldn’t find the Metro.  We had ticketing issues.  The trains were too full to get on.  My colleague got caught the wrong side of a broken exit barrier.

But we didn’t let any of this ruffle us at all.  There wasn’t a single sharp word.  I pointed out to my companion that this would have been rather different if we had been married.  There is no way that we would have been presented with these various minor challenges without one of us blaming the other for something, or getting rather too dramatic about a tiny little problem, or putting on our best martyred face as a response to insignificant irritation.  This is so very odd.  We behave  worse when we are with the ones we love.  I really am going to try to remember this, and try to do something about it, when next we are travelling en famille.

Anyway, back in Blighty now.  I have colleagues who spend half their time away on business.  Believe me, that’s not the life for me.  But the occasional jaunt is undeniably a very pleasant distraction.

Our First Visit to Accident and Emergency

As I’ve started to learn about the world of blogging, I’ve spent a lot of time surfing blogs with a parenting theme.  There’s a lot of material about our first step, our first wee in the toilet, our first day at big school.  I haven’t found anything about our first recovery from an alcoholic stupor in hospital.  So here goes.

This happened a few years ago, and began when one of the Very Precious Daughter’s friends had the presence of mind to call us.  I think that was quite a big thing for him, because he probably had some part in things getting out of hand.  But he called us, and told us that the VPD was in a bit of a state and that we should probably come and collect her.

The first of many issues that night was the fact that it was 10.30 p.m. on Friday, our daughter was at a house party 15 miles away and I’d had too many glasses of wine to be able to jump in the car.  There are no taxi firms near where we live so we had to call one from about 10 miles away.  When it arrived, I took great care to explain that the whole purpose of the trip was to fetch back an inebriated 16 year old.  I took some plastic bags with me, because at that point I thought that the worst that could happen was that she might vomit on the way home.

When we found the house, her friends were waiting for us.  They wouldn’t let me go in to the party, but said they would bring her out.  A couple of minutes later two of them appeared, supporting the VPD between them.  At first she didn’t seem to be in too bad a state, but when her friends passed her over to me to get her into the taxi, she was a dead weight.  We finally got into the back of the car, the VPD slumped against me, unable to communicate in any way.  I was still some considerable way from realising just how serious things were.  The taxi driver, however, was going through a rapid loss of enthusiasm.  I have to be honest here, and acknowledge that (not for the last time that night) I was feeling more concerned for how I looked as a rubbish parent, responsible for the ills of a generation, than I was for the crisis.  Not because of a lack of concern.  Because of sheer, bloody ignorance.

We set off, but hadn’t got very far before she started to be sick.  No great volume of vomit, but (quite understandably) the taxi driver was starting to get a bit jumpy about another half an hour of this.  We stopped, I managed to haul the VPD out of the car and sat her on a kerb on a side street.  She still hadn’t managed to communicate.  I think the taxi driver might have suggested that perhaps hospital would be a good idea, but I then realised (accepting that we weren’t going to get home in any great hurry) that we were only a mile or so from an old friend’s house.  I was loath to disturb him (it was getting on for midnight by now and he has more than enough on his plate without this kind of rubbish) but it appeared to be my only option.

So that’s where we went.  I was already getting quite tired with all the lifting, but we managed to get my daughter out of the taxi and into the house.  I negotiated with the cab driver about the cost of everything, paid him and tried to regroup.

My friend was great – really supportive and helpful.  I then set about spending the next hour making a serious situation much worse.

Mistake one: assume that if we just wait a while she’ll come round.  She didn’t.

Mistake two: take at face value the statement of a drunk friend of the VPD that she hadn’t had anything other than vodka.  As it happens, this was true.  But I should have questioned it much more strongly.  If it hadn’t been true, heaven only knows what would have happened.

Mistake three: deploy blind optimism as your main strategy and conclude that your very sensible wife is over-reacting when she repeatedly expresses the view from the other end of a phone line that medical help is required.

Mistake four: imagine that a bit of black coffee might help.  Although the VPD was in no fit state to cooperate with anything we were trying to do, what we should have done was to get as much water down her as possible.

Mistake five: the really big one.  When the other mistaken strategies are having little effect, try giving her a little bit of fresh air.  Disaster.  With the help of my friend’s wife, I removed the VPD’s trousers as they were vomit-stained and then sat her out in the garden for a while in the middle of a fresh autumn night.  By doing this, I nearly bloody killed her.  What I should have done was to make her as warm as possible – because of the state she was in she was losing body heat all the time.

Mistake six:  allow your shame at having a child in this state, and your belief that the emergency services have got far better things to do with their time late at night on a Friday than to look after privileged kids who have over-indulged, to delay further calling for medical help.

I don’t remember exactly how it all happened but when we did finally call an ambulance we had my daughter in the house lying (still almost completely unconscious) on a mattress in the back room.  They were very concerned when I spoke to them and described the state she was in.  And they came very quickly.   Once they had started to put right some of my mistakes, mainly by trying to make her warm, they put most of their effort into trying to find out whether her state was due only to alcohol or whether there had been drugs as well.  There were two paramedics – the male one was quite surly and aggressive (knock some sense into them type approach).  The girl was lovely.  They did some medical stuff (I really have no capacity for remembering such things).  And after about twenty minutes I was thanking my friend and climbing into the back of the ambulance.  The paramedics were not giving any indication that they regarded this as purely routine.

And so to hospital.  Having done my best to persuade tragedy to pay us a visit when clearly she’d been thinking of giving us a second chance, I now became fleetingly distracted by falling hopelessly in love with the female paramedic.  It may only have been a casual encounter.  But believe me it was packed with meaning.   She really was a total sweetheart.  Blonde, local, and truly wonderful.  I get like this with young women occasionally.   OK, I get like this with young women frequently. It’s nothing to do with anything dodgy.  It’s to do with admiration, optimism and sheer unadulterated soppiness.  I imagined that if I were the dad of this young girl, I would be so very, very proud, and hoped that her dad was.

There must be limits to my optimism about medical matters, but they’ve not yet been discovered.  The paramedics were clearly still concerned, but I don’t think I ever thought it was going to end really badly.  I still had it in my head that at some point we were going to be made to wait a very long time, just to emphasise to us how there were many far more deserving people waiting for help that night.  But it didn’t happen.  The VPD was taken straight through the reception of Accident and Emergency into a bay on her own.   Again the same questions – “You’re sure it’s only been alcohol?”  She was still unconscious, and they quickly put her on a drip – just saline I believe to rehydrate her.

I truly hope that no-one reading this ever has to watch their child come round from an alcoholic stupor in hospital.  If you can avoid it, you should.  But having said that, it’s quite something.  And it’s also quite funny.  When the drip starts to work, it’s very dramatic, like fast-forwarding a DVD of somebody moving through several stages of sobering up.  The VPD went from being dangerously comatose, to nothing more than ridiculously drunk, in what seemed like a few minutes.  As she came round she started to get very concerned about the blood she could see in the tube leading into her arm, and began pulling at it.  A nurse appeared, and stopped her.  Like the little sweetheart earlier, this matronly rough diamond was exactly the kind of person I would have wished for at this point.  She was very, very firm with the VPD.  And with a fairly comic and pouting resentment, the VPD listened.

We were left alone again.  Despite the dramatic transformation, the VPD was still very drunk, drifting in and out of coherence.  There was a tannoy of some sorts in her bay, and at one stage an Asian-sounding voice said something over it.  She sat up, and looked at me as if to suggest that I must be thinking exactly the same as her.  Then she eyed the tannoy suspiciously and shouted: “Fucking Poles!”

To this day she has no idea at all where that came from.  I think she’s always found it far more embarrassing than anything else that happened that night.

When at her best, my daughter is one of the most engaging people you could ever meet.  And happily this is what came through as she began to sober up properly.  After a couple more minor spats with the nurse, they soon established an equilibrium, and used that to move rapidly towards becoming best-friends-for-ever over the next half hour.  The VPD told her how much she loved her, what a disgrace she was, and how she would be coming back to make her rich when she made her fortune.  The nurse tried to give the appearance of being unmoved by this, but failed.

Following a brief moment of panic when the VPD insisted on locking herself in a toilet and then falling asleep, it was becoming apparent that the crisis stage was over, and although the medical staff remained thoroughly professional and helpful, it did now become clear that they needed to move on to more pressing issues.

We went through to the public reception and I sat the VPD down whilst I sorted out another taxi.  I only had to leave her on her own for about 30 seconds.  Despite being wrapped in a vomit-stained hospital blanket, she managed to use that time to approach two of the meanest, roughest looking boys I’ve ever seen with a view to becoming friends on Facebook or something similar.  I intervened, guided her to the taxi and off we went.  After about 5 minutes of random rambling, she fell fast asleep.  She stayed that way for the next 10 hours.

Evil VODKA - every little counts

The next day, the VPD was sheepish and embarrassed. But not as completely riven by shame as I might have expected or wanted. This concerns me, and we’ve since found out that going through this hospital experience is something of a badge of honour amongst some teenagers. We established that the root causes of what happened were a failure to eat properly, and VODKA. Apparently she and two friends had got hold of a bottle, and she had become concerned that she wasn’t getting her fair share. She decided to remedy this by pouring as much down her neck as she could as quickly as she could.

The Beautiful Armenian and I fully acknowledge our responsibility as parents, and that our daughter’s behaviour is in part, in substantial part, a reflection on us. We make no attempt to hide from this. But the way we organise our society doesn’t make it easy for parents. I’ve posted before about the price and availability of strong alcohol, and I note the story this week about an alarming rise in alcoholic liver disease amongst relatively young people in the north-east of England.  The Royal College of Physicians have identified the price of alcohol and its promotion to young people as the cause.  The drinks industry, of course, takes a different view.  I know that it’s not straightforward – nothing ever is – but my experience as a parent tells me that on this one the doctors have got a very good point.

A very brief moment of happiness

I was at home by myself this evening when the phone rang.  It was a very happy sounding VPD (Very Precious Daughter).

The reason for her good cheer?  She’s just finished an assessed piece of work and is getting rave reviews from everyone who’s seen it.

And then it got better.  “Being poor has really helped me with this.  It’s made me so much more creative.  I’ve had to make my own sequins and everything.”

If it’s poverty you want, my dear child, then I can assure you there’s plenty more where that came from.  Remember that she is currently operating under the austerity measures of the recently agreed bail-out plan.

We chatted very nicely for a bit, and then she had to go.

Five minutes later (I swear, no more than five minutes) the phone rang again.  The VPD once more.  This time a very different tone of voice.  Lower, much more serious.  “I can’t believe it, I’ve just checked my bank balance, and the money for my phone bill has gone out today, and I’m up to my overdraft limit, and I really need to get some stuff for my project, and I don’t know how this has happened, and if I don’t etc…etc…etc…etc.  So I was just wondering, is there any chance you could do me a favour and put £20 into my account?”

Bless her heart, she’s adamant she’s going to pay me back.

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