Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 24

Returning to the table, both women sipped their drinks and Kate was slightly shocked to see some mini muffins were also part of the order.

Taking a bite of her cake, Karen continued, “Where was I? Oh yes, yummy mummies. I think they thought I should be joining their gang. After all, I’d had a decent job, but unlike them, I planned to go back to it. My career wasn’t just something I did until I’d knocked out a sprog for the rich husband I’d landed.”

Kate nearly choked on her muffin. “Sorry” she said as Karen quickly wiped the crumbs from her laptop.

Don’t worry, it’s not the worst thing that’s been thrown at it. Anyway, there was a third group and they were the mums who needed more than childcare and shopping in their lives. Some of them had started small businesses. Nothing earth-shattering, and they generally had to fit around the kids but as I found them, I realised I’d found my tribe as they say. The problem is, that most of them were working on their own and didn’t know how to talk to each other. Finding help can be a bit like getting a good plumber, you can read adverts, but when your mate tells you ‘Dave down the road handles his wrench really well’ then you know you are on to a good thing.”

So you decided to bring them together. That’s a clever move.” Kate was impressed.

Not that clever. I wasn’t the first person to think of it. My USP is that I know these women aspire to do more than just take photos of themselves wearing today’s outfit or write a blog no-one reads. Take Harriet, one of my first recruits. She does bookkeeping. Before children, she worked for a big accountants. Now she can whip your finances into shape and keep on top of them. She does it for several people, including me. She doesn’t want to rival KPMG or anything, but it’s more than just a way to earn pin-money.”

Kate thought back to Ali from her first meeting. They had chatted and swapped business cards. She ran a pet grooming firm. “You mean you lead the horses to water.”

But if they want a drink, it’s up to them.”

But how do you keep it all going? Surely you are out on the road a lot.”

Karen waved her hand over the table. “Welcome to my office. Have laptop will travel.”

But what about the kids?”

Not a problem. Andrew works close enough to home to be able to do the school runs when I’m away. We just have to spend a lot of time synchronising our calendars to make sure at least one of us is around. We get there. Most of the time anyway.”

Kate looked at her plate. The mini muffin had been munched. Perhaps a few lengths of the pool would be a good idea. Tomorrow anyway. But Karen had really given her something to think about. Perhaps these women weren’t CEOs of multinationals, but they did manage to get more out of life than just being a parent. She knew she wanted to make KOD a company she could be proud of, but did she want to be the next Virgin? Certainly having your own private island would be nice, but perhaps it was time to take a long-term view. Did she just want to get the point that she worked and owned a company she enjoyed being at, and helped keep her in Louboutins and Westwood but perhaps Ferraris and multiple houses were a step too far? She honestly didn’t know.

Looking at her watch Karen closed her laptop, “Look I’ve got to get off, it’s dance class tonight so I need to be back by 4.30pm. I’d like to keep in touch, if that’s OK, I think there are things we could do together.”

Secretly pleased, Kate nodded her approval. Standing to shake hands goodbye she got overtaken by a hug and two kisses. Watching Karen walk away, stylish in heels, she thought to herself perhaps she’d finally found someone on her wavelength.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 23

An e-mail was Karen McDaniel wasn’t something Kate had expected to see when she fired up her computer. Still fuming from the previous evening, her finger hovered over the delete key but something made her open it.

Kate

I’m sorry about last night. Shelia was out of order. I’m afraid it happens at some events – the organisers get a bit protective about me. I can assure you I’m perfectly capable to fighting my own battles, as are you.

I think I can see where you are coming from. We make light of the challenges running a business and family, but it isn’t easy. In that respect, I hate to admit it, you do have a bit of a point, even if it didn’t come over very well.

I’m staying in Solihull for a couple of nights to attend a conference at the NEC. Do you fancy catching up for a coffee later? Don’t worry, I’m not going to lecture you about the joys of children, I looked you up on-line and just fancy a chat. We have more in common than you might think.

Karen McDaniel

Kate re-read the message a couple of times. What did she mean by “more in common than you think”? OK, they were both in business, but surely that was as far as it went. A little Googling had brought up an interview where Karen and her apparently perfect family were photographed in a smiling group. Her husband did something in publishing and they lived in a nice house in Lewesham.

On the other hand, a coffee wouldn’t hurt she decided. Kate prided herself in not walking away from a fight, although there seemed to be an olive branch being offered. There was something about Karen that intrigued Kate, and anyway, she told herself, making contacts was her job and you never turn down opportunities when they arise.

*

Karen was already in the coffee shop when Kate arrived. Sitting in a booth with a latte and a laptop, she was obviously perfectly comfortable with working wherever she found herself. Carefully arranged on the table were a slightly chewed Biro, a Moleskin notepad and a mobile phone. She looked up from her keyboard when Kate arrived and declined the offer of an extra drink, but added that she could murder a small muffin as she’d had to skip lunch.

Ordering herself a drink and a couple of muffins, it seemed to politic to join in the eating and a little more time on the cross-trainer would take care of the extra calories, Kate wondered how the conversation was likely to go. She’d considered several different openings, from a matey “How ya doing” to another apology. None seemed to hit the spot so she hoped inspiration would strike when the time came.

As it happened, she needn’t have worried. Karen smiled and opened with, “Kate, thanks for coming along. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see me after yesterday evening.”

Taken aback, Kate replied, “Oh. I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me again either.  Sometimes my mouth overtakes my brain!”

“Forget it. I know what you were trying to say, even if some of the audience didn’t get it.”

“You can say that again. I’m still waiting for an e-mail from Shelia banning me from the group.”

Karen laughed, “Don’t worry about that. I calmed her down after you left. There’s no point in running the groups if we can’t deal with a few disagreements. This IS business after all, not a bloody knitting circle.” She paused and looked at Kate, “Not that there is anything wrong with knitting you understand…”

It was Kate’s turn to laugh, “I don’t know about that. Not my thing at all, isn’t it something you take up when you abandon any interest in fashion?”

“No! It’s quite trendy apparently. I was reading that Julia Roberts does it on set between takes, and Ryan Gosling.”

“Ryan Gosling? I’d happily help him with his needles!” Kate blushed

“Kate Smith! You little minx. I thought you were all about business.”

“Well, a girl has to have some outside interests I suppose. I think I’ll give it a miss though and stick to the gym. That and Olly and Horatio of course. They probably would like some balls of wool around the place.”

Karen cocked her head to one side, “Olly and Horatio?”

“My cats. I’ve had Olly for years, but Horatio kind of adopted me after our last job.”

“I didn’t think they were children. That would have been very weird.”

“I’d certainly have been drummed out of the Brownies if they found out I had kids after last night. What about yours though, Iona and Hamish isn’t it?” Kate sipped her latte and looked at the screen of Karen’s phone. Staring out were two faces she recognised from the interview.

“Well researched”, Karen smiled, Yes, my pair give me plenty of trouble, but I wouldn’t be without them. Iona is just starting secondary school.” Kate did some mental arithmetic. Secondary school started at 12, which would mean Karen was,  “Twenty five.”, she answered to Kate’s unsaid question. “Yes, I was a junior marketing executive for an oil company at the time. Andrew and I had been married for a couple of years and she just appeared. I mean, kids had always been part of the plan, but we hadn’t decided quite when. Then fate, or at least a faulty contraceptive, took a hand.  Once we’d had one, well a second a couple of years later seemed to make sense.”

Kate leaned back, “But what happened to your job?”

“Oh, they were very good about it. I took my maternity leave of course but when I came back I was a bit shocked to discover life had gone on without me. Everyone had a years worth more gossip and another years worth of projects under their belts. I’d stayed in touch by e-mail and Facebook, and dropped into the office a couple of times with the baby, but you miss the day-to-day chat.” She bit into a chunk of muffin. “Mmmm, this is good. Do they make them in-house?”

Kate looked at the counter. She normally grabbed a drink from one of the big chains. This local coffee house wasn’t normally on her radar. Biting into her own muffin, she had to agree that it was rather good. “So you came back to work, and then left again? Weren’t they a bit annoyed by that?”

Karen wiped her mouth. “They couldn’t say anything, but I got the feeling that my boss wasn’t too impressed when I told her I was pregnant again.”

“Her?”

“Yup. Female boss. Alison. Nice enough, but she didn’t really approve of women, or at least I always got the feeling that she preferred working with men.”

Kate realised that Karen was staring directly at her. “Hmmm. Sometimes I think she might have a point. Not sure how keen I’d be about one of my staff nipping off all the time.”

“Hey, I wasn’t nipping off, I was having a baby!” Karen chided.

“Yes, but it means the business has to cover the work, and keep the job open for when they decide to return. And you get the rest of them going all gooey when the kid gets brought it.”

“But there is more to life than business Kate. Don’t you ever feel the need for a break?

Kate stared into the dregs of her drink. “I don’t know. My business means so much to me. No-one cares about it as much as I do.”

“That’s what I thought. But then I had kids and they gave me a bit of perspective. You find that you have to think of other things than work.”

“That’s the problem”, Kate protested, “Someone has to keep the place going or they will all be out of a job.”

“And are you the only person who can do this?”, Karen paused and finished her muffin. “I mean, the people who work for you can’t all be useless. I don’t see you as the sort of boss who employs idiots.”

Gareth’s face crossed Kate’s mind. “No. OK, my partner…”

“Partner?” Karen interrupted

Kate smiled. This wasn’t the first time someone had added one and one to get five. “Business partner. He’s good at having contacts I suppose, but you wouldn’t want to leave him in charge of anything important. Gareth’s a nice guy, but it’s a bit like dealing with an overgrown schoolboy sometimes.

“OK, but you’ve got other people working for you.”, Karen finished her drink, “You’re not the only one who can do some research you know.”

“Yeah. Most of them are OK. One or two are picking up the business really well and I’m hoping we can hang on to them.”

“Right them. You need to get your head around letting them get on with it. The secret of running a business is not trying to do everything yourself. Let others share the load a bit.”

Kate pondered for a moment, “Is that what you’ve done? I don’t see anyone else listed on the website for the network.”

Karen smiled, “No, the Empowerment Forums are all my work. However, I do have help – Andrew has always been happy to share the work with the kids. After Hamish was born, my firm offered me the chance to take a longer break.”

You mean they chucked you out?”, Kate looked shocked.

“Sort of. There was a bit of a re-organisation and a streamlining. They needed less staff and strangely, mine was one of the positions that were no longer required.”

“Can they do that?”

“Their lawyers kept them just on the right side of legal. I’d half expected it. Much as I loved my job in some ways, I wasn’t as disappointed as I’d thought I would be. Part of me felt it was time for a change.”

“So that’s when you started up the forums?”

“Not quite. I got myself a part-time job first. Partly for the money, but also because I needed to get out of the house. That’s where Andrew came in. He wanted time with the kids, so we downsized a bit and both cut our hours. Things weren’t easy, but it was the right thing to do.”

“Andrew sounds like a great guy.”

Karen smiled. “He is. We’re a proper team. I can’t tell it’s been an easy few years.  Parenting and working full-time is not as easy as some of the articles you will read.  We don’t have a nanny and if one of the kids is ill everything goes out the window.  I have to tell you settling Iona into school was one of the hardest three months I’ve ever worked.  Tears every day while I’m trying to run off to meetings. You get good at working on three hours sleep!”

Kate sipped her coffee and nodded.

“But I’m getting into mummy territory.  I love my kids, but I was also a person first, and was for many years before they came along, and I wanted to keep that part of my personality. Andrew understands and between the two of us we have come up with a way of balancing our lives and the kids so there aren’t any compromises, or as little as possible.  We get our ‘me’ time and kid time too.”

“So where did the forums come from?”

“I’d had this idea in the back of my mind for a few years. Once you’ve been to a couple of mother and toddler groups, you find that the mums can be split into three groups: Earth mothers who basically want to sit in child sick all day and wear something easy clean. All they care about is their little darling. Sadly, they are probably raising kids who will turn into serial killers when they hit adolescence.”

They both laughed. Karen continued, “Then there are the yummy mummies. Hubby earns enough to keep them in Boden and the kids in Tootsa MacGinty jumpers while they sit around drinking coffee in freshly laundered gym clothes passively-aggressively competing with all the other mummies.” she looked at the empty cups, “Talking of which, I need a refill. Same again?”

Watching Karen join the queue for drinks, Kate pondered the conversation. It wasn’t going the way she had expected, but oddly, this didn’t seem to matter. Karen’s life seemed really chilled, there might have been lots of plates spinning but it all worked because of her relationship with her husband. Surely it couldn’t be that simple?

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Kate vs Showbix – Chapter 22

Sitting in the car, Tracey fired up the engine.

Feeling OK?”, asked Sparks.

Yeah. It was a bit of a shock speaking to the lads again. I must have been pretty drunk when I met them, but I’m pretty sure we just had a dance.”

That’s footballers for you. Always got to big themselves up.”

Tracey laughed, “Yeah. I don’t suppose their striking is as impressive as they like to make out.”

Probably not. I bet the listeners will still be talking about this show for a while though, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

One thing bothers me though.”

Sparks looked curious. “Really?”

Yeah. How did that woman know I was a redhead?

*

As the event started to wind down, Kate decided to face her daemon, or at least try to apologise to Karen. Part of her wanted to slink away quietly and hide, but for the moment, a couple of glasses of wine kept that little voice under control. Several people who had asked questions used them to make points about running businesses and families. By the end, her ego was feeling battered and bruised. No one seemed to be offering any pleasant goodbyes in her direction but quite a few sharp looks were aimed toward her.

Waiting patiently as the last few women shook Karen’s hand and told her how pleased they had been to hear her speak. Shelia hung around as though protecting her star turn and gently ushered them out of the door.

Eventually, Kate was alone with the two of them. The venue staff busied themselves clearing up around the trio.

Rough evening, Kate, isn’t it?” Karen asked, “You put your foot in it a bit earlier.”

Well, it’s your own fault.” Shelia scolded, “You know most of the women here have children but they are all successful entrepreneurs. Of course, you can have a family and a business…”

Kate spluttered, “What I meant was…”

I’m perfectly aware of what you meant young lady”, Shelia interrupted, “You meant that those of us with families were somehow second class citizens. Well, we might not have appeared on daytime television, but maybe that’s because we’re too busy getting on with our jobs. All of them.”

I’m sorry, I was just trying to…”

What you were trying to belittle us. Perhaps our group isn’t big enough for you. I expect I’ll have a few e-mails waiting for me when I get back home suggesting that you not be invited again.”

Kate gave up. With one last defiant look at the organiser, she turned on her heels and started towards the door.

Hold on Kate”, Karen called, but the door was already closing.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 21

The room fell silent. Kate felt everyone staring in her direction. Being the centre of attention was something she was used to but the room didn’t normally look like a lynch mob.

Up to this point, the evening had gone well. There had been the usual scrum to find the allocated seats but her table hadn’t included any “new age bollocks” people. All the pitches had gone well and she’d noted down a couple of women to chat to after the speaker had finished.

Even the main event had been a pleasant surprise. Karen McDaniel walked the group through her journey to set up the Midlands Empowerment Forum. Karen was genuinely impressive. For a start, she looked the part in a well-cut Whistles suit that fitted perfectly. Hair and nails showed the recent attention by professionals and most importantly, she could work a PowerPoint presentation. If there was one thing that wound Kate up, it was a speaker who couldn’t use their equipment. Karen was slick, professional and Kate felt an immediate kinship.

After rapturous applause, the organiser, Sheila, opened the session up to questions. She kicked off with one of her own, mostly consisting of grovelling praise for Karen taking time to present to the group. A couple of women started to get restless, keen to get a bit of attention themselves.

Kate decided to seize the moment and her hand was up faster than a small child desperate for permission to go to the toilet.

“I think we’ll open with our minor celebrity”, Sheila emphasised the word minor a little more than necessary, “Kate Smith. You have a question for Karen.”

“Well, more of a comment really”, Kate said firmly, “You’ve done a superb job getting this organisation off the ground. It’s never easy being a woman in business.”

Karen laughed, “That’s why I started the Forum. Women work differently from men, we are better at collaborating rather than being adversarial.”

“That’s what I mean”, Kate continued, “But it’s a lot easier for those of us without children. I mean, we kid ourselves, no pun intended, that we can have it all, but there is a point where you have to choose don’t you.”

“Choose?”

“Yes. I mean there is success in business, or there is having a family.” Looking around, Kate realised what she was saying and tried to backtrack slightly, “I mean you can do both and be perfectly happy I suppose, but to play in the big league like you and I are doing, demands a different approach.”

She was suddenly very aware of the silence. And the staring.

Karen coughed. “I’m not quite sure what you are trying to say. I guess you don’t have children.” The rest of the audience murmured in agreement.

Kate found herself blushing. “No. I’m not really that way inclined.”

“Oh. Sorry. I don’t think your sexual orientation makes a difference.”

“Sexual orient… No! That’s not what I meant! No, I mean I don’t want children.”

It was Karen’s turn to blush slightly but she quickly got a grip on the conversation again. “Children aren’t poison to a business you know. I’m sure most of the ladies in this room can confirm that.”

The murmuring got louder.

Looking around, Kate realised she was digging a hole and tried to climb out. “That’s not really what I meant. There’s loads of great work going on here, but you can’t reach the top when you’ve always got to think about picking the kids up can you? Some of the people working for me are always nipping off for child-related issues.”

“Hmm. Kate, you do realise”, Karen said slowly, “That I have two children.”

Kate’s jaw dropped. She cursed herself for not doing her research properly. There was nothing on Karen’s LinkedIn profile that mentioned kids. “Sorry, I didn’t realise” she mumbled. It wasn’t a hole she’d dug, but a bloody great big bear trap and right now if it could have swallowed her up whole, this would have been a relief. 

“Don’t worry”, Karen said reassuringly, “You’re not the first to assume that.” The rest of the audience laughed. “I don’t make a fuss about it. No-one wants to be one of those annoying women banging on about trying to do it all as though they deserve a medal for making it around a supermarket and sorting out their VAT.” Several women went quiet instantly. “It is possible to have a family and a successful business. All you need is two things – a partner who really shares the workload and”, she paused, “a great long To-Do list so you don’t forget anything!”

Everyone laughed. Kate sat down and took a gulp of her wine. She pretended that the leaflet on the table had something really interesting on it to prevent the hard stares she was getting from the rest of the room. She’d really put her size nine in it this time.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 20

Is it £1.27 Bob?”

Nah Tony. Oy’ve been saving up a bit more than that.”, he looked at Tracey, “Tell me Tony, are you married? Only we’ve got a cracking lass in here called Tracey.”

‘fraid to say I am Bob. Thirty years this year. “

Bob looked impressed, “Thirty year eh Tony? You get less for murder! Tell you what though, shall we ask young Tracey here if she can guess what I’ve got in my pocket?”

Go on then Bob. Tell her she can’t put her hand in to rummage around though”

Bob shook the bag again. “Go on then young Tracey, what have I got in my pocket?”

Tracey looked confused, “erm, I don’t know. Fifty quid perhaps?”

Fifty quid! Did you hear that Tony? She thinks I’ve got fifty quid in me pocket!”

Down the line, Tony laughed, “Blimey Bob. If you’d got fifty quid in your pocket, you’d be living in Marbella. I paid less than that for my first car!”

Tracey blushed.

Bob continued, “Too right Tony. Fifty quid! I think I’m going to have to count me pennies again. Thanks for calling.” and with a push of a button, Tony was gone. By now, several lights shone out and Bob picked another caller. “You’re on Bob’s mid-morning show. What’s your name and why are you hanging around listening to me clarting about on the radio?”

Hello Bob, I’m Joyce and I work in a hairdressers. We love listening you you in the salon as we work. “

Good to hear from you Joyce. Perhaps I could get you to come around and give me a quick blow dry”, he patted his bald head, “I could do with a little trim.”

Cheeky”, the caller chuckled, “You’re as bald as a babby. I wouldn’t be cutting your hair, I’d be looking for it!”

You’re right Joyce. It’s a finders fee I’d be paying you.”, he jangled the bag, “Anyway, how much do you think I’ve got in me pocket? Young Tracey here thinks fifty quid, but I’m not that rich.”

Oh, that’s a difficult one Bob. The girls in the salon reckon it’s £3.28.”

Is that how much you charge for a haircut now? I can’t remember, it’s so long since I needed one.”

Nah, you’d need to save up a bit more than that Bob.”

Perhaps I ought to ask this young lass. She’s got really nice hair, and loads of it. Plenty to spare for me and the Genie.”

Don’t think you’d look good as a redhead Bob.”

Bob pulled a face of mock horror, “You don’t think so? Maybe red is my colour. Anyway, I’m afraid to keep putting the pennies by. I’ve not got as much as £3.28.”

Awww. That’s a shame.”

Never mid love. Perhaps you need to get along to the panto. Take all the girls from work too.”

Nah. Don’t fancy it much. I heard your new mate hasn’t actually done this before. Someone told me she nicked the part from some other actress…”. With the practised speed of someone used to cutting off a troublesome caller, Bob took Joyce off the air and replaced her with a record.

While the music played, He turned to the pair. “Sorry about that. We’ll get back to your panto again after this track. Have you got any tricks you could do on-air Sparks?”

Sparks smiled at Tracey. “I think I can come up with something.”*

And we’re back with Tracey and Sparks from the Leighton Oxley panto, which I’m told is Ali Baba this year.”

Tracey paused so Sparks jumped in. “That’s right Bob. Loads of festive fun for all the family. We’ve got a great cast, including my co-star here.”

Ah yes”, Bob smiled, “The beautiful Tracey. How are you finding it our kid?”

Erm”, Tracey hesitated, “Well it’s my first part, but I’m really getting into it. The rest of the cast are brilliant.”

She’s too modest. Tracey is a real star. We’ve got all sorts of magical stuff lined up, it’s a real spectacular this year, the biggest show the Midlands has ever seen.”

Bob pulled a surprised face. “The biggest eh Mr Sparks? I bet the guys in the Hypodrome will want to have something to say about that.”

Let them Bob. This is a top show, you’ll not see better magic this side of Vegas”

Vegas baby!”, Bob cried. “Go on then”, he continued, “show us some of that ol’ black magic”

Not sure it’s black magic Bob, but give your pocket another jingle.

Bob obliged, holding the bag up and giving it a good shake. The sound was flatter than before. “Now take a look inside. I think you’ll find that when Tracey guessed at fifty quid in there, she wasn’t so far out.”. Bob emptied the contents out on the desk. Among them was a casino chip.

Blimey, what’s this?” he asked, surprised.”

Sparks smiled. “I think you’ll find that it’s £2.25 in small change and a chip for, well perhaps my assistant would like to read the number.”

Tracey picked up the chip. “It’s a chip worth fifty pounds! She squealed.

Bob applauded. “I don’t know how he did it listeners, but Sparks here has just made me a wealthy man. Me and the missus can look forward to some stonking fittle for tea tonight. If you can do that, then lad, you are a real miracle worker. Are you sure you can’t get West Brom promoted?”

Tracey suddenly remembered her marketing head and jumped in. “Well, that’s small fry compared to what we do on stage. Everyone better get themselves down to the theatre or on to our website as the tickets are selling fast.

Excellent. Thanks you two. Please stick around as we’ve a couple of big names on the show next, Baggies stars Freddie Morgan and Nathan Donnelly who want to tell us about next Saturday’s big game against Wolves.”

The red light indicating the microphones were live went off and Bob started to fiddle with the control board again. Tracey paused.

Sparks smiled at her and whispered, “So far so good. Do you know anything about football?”

Not much, but those names sound familiar. I met a couple of guys in a club last year who said they were players, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.”

You in training to be a WAG then?”

Tracey laughed, “Well a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I always fancied living the high life in some posh mansion with an endless shopping budget.”

And we’re back on”, Bob shouted across the desk, “That was The Liquidator, which as we all know, can only mean one thing – here come the Baggies!”. Fake cheering rang out. “We’ve got two of the teams biggest stars on now. Striker Freddie Morgan and in mid-field Nathan Donnelly, howya doing lads?”

Bostin’ Bob, really bostin’”, shouted Morgan, “We’re looking forward to seeing off the Wolves on Saturday.”

Yeah”, joined in Donnelly, “They ain’t going to know what hit them. Don’t bother turning off the engine on the club bus, they might as well go home at halftime!”

Bob laughed. “Great stuff lads. Training going well then Freddie?”

Cracking Bob. We’re as fit as we’ve ever been. This is the best team West Brom have put out for years and there ain’t no-one going to stand in our way. Might as well give us the three points now.”

What about you Nat? You fighting fit?”

Too right I am Bob. Not that we’ll need it. We could let half the lads stay in the dressing room and we’d still win.”

That’s what we like to hear lads. If there’s any listeners out there wearing black and gold, you better book yourself a seat in the pub to drown your sorrows after the match.”

Tracey laughed nervously. The phone lines weren’t great but she was sure she recognised the voices now. Noticing her blushing, Bob decided it was time for an introduction.

Lads, we’ve got a bit of showbiz in the studio today. We were supposed to have that Suzi Perry on but apparently her phone isn’t working properly. Typical Wolves fan, can’t get anything right. Not to worry though as we’ve got Tracey and Sparks from the local panto.”

Oh no you haven’t” joked Nat.

Without thinking, Tracey responded, “Oh yes we have lads.”

Ohhh” they both went and laughed.

Ignoring Tracey’s blushes, Bob added, “Yes lads, she’s a bit of a glamour puss. Once you see her picture, you’ll wish you’d got yourselves into the studio with me.”

That sounds good Bob”, replied Nat, “You gonna be coming to the match then Tracey? You can see some real action on the pitch, plenty of scoring if you know what I mean.”

Sorry lads, I’ve got to rehearse. We don’t get much time off at the moment.”

Pity about that. Maybe we could take you out for a drink afterwards. A girl’s got to let her hair down sometimes and we’ll be celebrating when we win.”

Maybe, but I’m a busy lady at the moment.”

Hold on Nat”, Morgan said, “I think I recognise her voice.”

I was thinking that. Tracey have we met somewhere?”

Now bright red, Tracey stammered, “I don’t think so. I’m not a big footie fan.”

Yes we have. It’s posh Tracey. You remember Nat, we met her in Mussons last year.”

Nat paused and then the penny dropped, “Your right. Wow, posh Tracey. What did you do? You said you ran some sort of consultancy firm, didn’t you? And now you’re an actress? Well done love.”

I’m not really an actress, well I am, but this is all a bit new to me.”

Nat laughed. “If I remember rightly, you put on a pretty good performance all right. Really memorable, I certainly won’t forget it!”

Bob jumped in, “You all know each other. That’s brilliant! So you have been wining and dining our Tracey have you lads?”

Morgan laughed, “Oh yeah. She enjoyed a good spit roast.”

Bob sat back. This was going better than he expected. “She likes a good feed ay lads? I’ll admit I’m a bit partial to a good hog roast and a few bevies myself, nothing like a good bit of pork you know.”

Tracey sat open mouthed.

Not sure you’d like the same porking as Tracey. She prefers hers sausage-shaped and the longer the better.”

Outside the studio, Producer Ben was gesticulating furiously but Bob didn’t seem to see him. “Bit of a fan of the bratwurst Tracey? I love a bit at the old German Christmas market. A bit of spice and some mulled wine goes down a treat.”

She certainly a spicey lady. Gives as good as she gets too”, chuckled Morgan.

Nat added, “If you fancy a return leg Tracey, Bob’s got our number.”

The producer was hammering on the window and making cutting gestures at his throat. Sparks realised that Bob wasn’t going to rescue the situation and decided to take matters into his own hands. From nowhere, he makes a small explosion appear above his open hand. Startled, Bob instinctively presses a button to start a record. By the time the track finished, his producer had cut the lines to the footballers.

Still unsure what has been going on Bob picks up the show, “Well listeners, today has been full of surprises. We’ve had magic and memories with our guests today. Remind the folks at home where they can see you on stage.”

Smiling, Sparks efficiently read out all the panto details including how people could book to see the show. Tracey appeared lost for words.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 19

As the car screeched to a halt, Sparks released his grip on the door handle. Slowly the colour returned to his fingers and he remembered to breath again.

“What’s up?”, enquired Tracy, “You look very pale.”

He gasped, “Where did you learn to drive?”

“Drive? Same as most people I suppose. My dad paid for lessons from a little bloke down the road. Why?”

“Was he a stuntman? How the heck did you pass a driving test?”

She laughed. “Friday afternoon, short skirt, low cut blouse and no bra. Funnily enough, the instructor said that’s all I’d need.”

“He didn’t mention car control?”. Sparks gently levered himself out of the passenger door.

Tracey realised the point he was trying to make. “Look, you said we needed to be at the radio station early. OK, I might have left a bit late, but we’re here now aren’t we.”

Sparks had to agree. They had certainly arrived. The Radio Birmingham sign glowed from its position over the door. It seemed to be moving, but since everything else was, he decided that all would be well when his stomach caught up with them. The last time he was sure it had been with them was just before the canal bridge, which was just after the close call with the dustcart and short session on the wrong side of the road… The memory made his knees feel weak so he tried to concentrate on making it through the door. Tracey bounded on ahead.

Two strong cups of coffee later, they were sat outside the studio chatting to a harassed producer called Ben. Looking through the window, they could see presenter Bob Footman waving a small cloth bag around.

Tracey looked confused. “What’s he doing?”. Bob’s mid-morning show might have been the most popular local radio programme in the West Midlands, but she couldn’t actually remember ever hearing it.

Ben sighed. One day he hoped to find a guest who cared about the show and wasn’t just plugging something. “It’s the guess the ackers spot. Bob pretends he’s jingling the change in his pocket and the listeners ring in to guess how much is in there.”

“Ackers? What’s that?”

“It’s Black Country slang for money.”

“And the callers win something?”

“Yeah. The contents of Bob’s pocket.” Tracey wasn’t really any wiser, but Ben continued, “Look, we’ll shuffle you in during the next record and get your headphones on. After that you take part in the show. Don’t worry, Bob will ask you about the panto but he’s got a couple of other phone-in guests as well so you’ll need to sit it out a bit. Your guy who booked this said you’d be happy to play along for a bit.”

Sparks looked up. “Play along? I thought we were just here for a quick plug, I mean interview.”

Ben sighed again. “Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of airtime. We’d got Suzi Perry lined up for a chat but no-one can get her to answer her phone now so you get her airtime. There are a couple of footballers lined up though and I suspect Bob will go a bit nuts for them but he’ll do you first.”

It was Tracey’s turn to perk up. “Footballers? Anyone we might have heard of?”

“Just remember to say ‘Up the Baggies’ and you’ll be fine love.”

****

In the studio, Tracey fussed with her headphones as the music finished. The station hadn’t considered the needs of anyone who’s hair had volume when they bought them. The presenter didn’t have a problem and nor did Sparks with his close cropped style.

A red light came on over the desk.

“That was The Steve Millar band and Abra Abra cadabra, which I’m playing in honour of our next guests. All the way from the panto at the Leighton Oxley theatre this year, we have Tracey Dunn-Jones and top magician Sparks!” Canned applause filled the studio for a few seconds then the presenter continued, “According to my researchers, young Tracey is the latest hot thing to hit the stage playing Mor, mor” he stumbled.

“Morgiana” interrupted Tracey.

“That’s it, Morgana”, continued Bob getting it wrong, “And to play the genie, we’ve got a real life magician. Should I get you to rub my magic lamp? Perhaps you could get the Baggies into the premiership?”

Sparks grimaced. He hated doing publicity like this, but knew it came with the territory and any chance to appear in the media might pay off. “I’m a magician Bob, not a miracle worker. Cutting a woman in half, making an elephant disappear, that I can do. Getting West Brom into the top division, that’s going to take more than three wishes!”

Bob pulled a face. “Oh. Are you a Villa supported then cheeky? Sounds like someone is a few cards short of a deck eh listeners?”

In front of Bob, a small light lit up. He pushed a button and bellowed into the microphone, “Line three, who are you and what do you think I should do with our Villa fan?”

“A Villa fan?” cracked the caller, “You need to tell ‘im to get a proper team. Up the Baggies!”

“I’m not a Villa fan”, Sparks tried to protest but Bob just waved a hand for him to shut up.

“Oy reckon he’s a bit embarrassed and so he should be. Anyway, who’s on the line and how much have I got in my pocket.” He jingled the bag.

“Dead right Bob. I’m Tony and oy work in a foundry. Got the day off because me backs playing up so I thought I’d ring in to you.”

“Good to hear from you Tony. Now how much have I got in my pocket?”

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How words get good

We take a break from Kate vs Showbiz, for a quick trip to Stratford Literary Festival.

20220510_084301One of the best things to come out of our writing efforts, is that we’ve taken to visiting literary festivals. I’m still proud that we actually appeared at one (was it really 2016?) but mostly have enjoyed going along and listening to other people.

A busy calendar precluded my literary entertainment for either of us this year, but I did manage to fit in a lunchtime session called “How words get good” by Rebecca Lee.

Based on the book of the same name, the author has worked in publishing at Penguin Press for over 20 years – and this is the distillation of her experiences.

Basically, if you want to know who does what and how in the book world, then it’s an excellent read. Working in publishing, it’s especially interesting to me as the truth is, I fell into my job and don’t know that much about the nuts and bolts other than the bits I look after.

The festival session provided an excellent taster with some fun anecdotes, but mainly served its main purpose, propelling me towards the bookshop!

The book is a bit like a rich chocolate cake – lovely, but I read it in short chunks as I don’t want to gobble too much down in one go.

Along the way, we get to look behind the curtain at how things are done in the book world. For example, did you know that James Patterson doesn’t write his own books? Apparently, he maintains a stable of ghost authors to whom he delivers a detailed plot outline, and then provides feedback as they knock out the words. I guess that in the publishing world, this is well known, but not among the readers.

There’s also an explanation of the various roles in a publishing house showing how each hones the text until it becomes a finished product. The way I describe it sounds very dry, but this is a very readable book, perfect for anyone who likes books in more than just a casual way.

Personally, I was fascinated to reach this entry, spotted in the index:

Parker, Phillip M., and his 200,000 books. 58-59

It seems that Mr Parker (not me, I only have one L, and my middle initial is S) has a computer that writes books for him including the epic Containers of Fromage Frais. Good for the Amazon receipts, but surely lacking soul…

 

 

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 18

The producer looked Tracey up and down. She couldn’t read his face. Normally when men looked at her, their eyes widened slightly. If they were a few shots down in a club, it wasn’t just their face that gave them away. Even though she was more casually dressed in jeans, they were skin-tight, as was her top so she’d expect some reaction. In the back of her mind, her gaydar sounded an alert.

“Well Tracey, love.” he drawled, “How have you been getting on with learning the lines.”

Very badly. Never one for homework, she’d tried to read through the wad of paper but nothing seemed to stick.

“Well, it’s all a bit new to me. I’ve tried my best”. She tried to sound confident but the reality was starting to bite. Chatting to her friends on Facebook and boasting about taking over a lead role on stage had been great, but now it was put up or shut up time. The theatre world didn’t seem so glamorous at nine in the morning in a hired village hall. At least it was slightly less daunting rehearsing in a hall than in the theatre.

It didn’t help that the producer wasn’t happy with her being cast. She’d overheard him chatting on the phone as she came in and caught the words ‘amateur’ and ‘Bloody am-dram’ before he’d spotted her.

“Look, let’s start slowly. You read from the script and I’ll play all the other parts for the moment.”

“Aren’t the other actors here?”

He smiled. “I thought it would be better if we started without them. They’ve been rehearsing this for weeks. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Tracey’s heart sank. “OK. I’ll do my best.”

“I’m sure you will.” He looked down his nose at her.

Tracey gulped. “But, I think I need to nip to the loo first.”

*

An hour later things didn’t look quite so bleak. They had covered the opening scene three times and it was starting to make sense. At first, she’d struggled over the words but each time it made a bit more sense.

“I am Morgina, a poor slave girl. How can I serve you honoured Mr Baba?”

“Very good. I want you to keep an eye on my brother and see where he goes each night.” bellowed the producer in a terrible accent.

“You wish me to spy on your brother, Master?”

“Yes my dear. He is up to something and I want to know.”

“Morgaina exists stage left.”, she blushed, “Sorry, I’m not supposed to read that bit am I.”

The producer groaned. “No, Tracey you aren’t.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t worry dear. Let’s move on to another scene. I’m getting bored of obsequious Morgina anyway.”

“Yeah, she’s a bit of a wimp at the moment.”

He laughed. “Considering what she ends up doing later on, it’s quite a change. Just remember not to rub my lamp.”

For a moment she paused. Had her gaydar been off? Then the plot came back to her.

“Yeah. OK, no polishing your shiny bits!”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 17

Round tables were marked with large names and then there were smaller card by each of the chairs. A few women were sat at Kate’s table. She found her name and nodded politely to them, noting that there was a mixture of business clothes and casual, at least not everyone had come from the playpen, she thought. The clothes were more M&S than designer, but it could have been worse.

A trip to the bar later, Kate settled herself into her seat and looked at the time on her phone. “You’ve got to turn that off” hissed her neighbour.

Sorry?”

You’ve got to turn your phone off” she said again pointing at the device in case Kate didn’t know what she was talking about, “It’s the rules of the forum.”

Hold on, what if someone needs to get hold of me?”

It’s the rules. Something to do with showing respect for the speakers.” she paused, “I’m Ally by the way.”

Kate. Pleased to meet you.” they shook hands.

If I’m honest, it’s so all the yummy mummys have to take a break from the kids for an evening.” Ally whispered, “If they’ve got their phones on, they spend all the time issuing instructions to their other halves by text.”

Kate switched her phone to silent and tucked it in her bag. Looking around the room, the seats were filling up. “Looks like we are nearly ready to go. I wondered if they would start on time.”

Oh, don’t worry about that. Sheila, the woman who runs all this is a stickler for punctuality. It’s a bit like herding cats sometimes, but once you get the hang of it, it makes sense. Don’t over-run with your pitch either or she’ll cut you dead.”

Kate looked surprised. “My pitch? We have to do a pitch?”

Ally smiled, “You really didn’t read the instructions did you? We all have 30 seconds to say who we are and what we do. They call it a pitch, but it’s really just an introduction. Then you jot down the details of anyone you’d like to talk to later and find them once we break.”

Ahh. I get it, so I’m Kate Smith and I run a management consultancy, that sort of thing. “

I thought you’d get it. That suit says you’ve done this sort of thing before.”

Kate nodded. “Once or twice. Not usually as part of a production line though.”

True. It’s a bit overwhelming for some people. I reckon there’s about sixty here today so more than normal.” Ally paused. “Hang on a minute, Kate Smith, you are from that KOD company aren’t you? I’ve seen you on TV.”

A few more head turned at the table. Due the prominence of the two big contracts KOD had done over the last few years, Kate and Gareth had both been on the radio and TV talking about the company. Kate preened slightly at been recognised.

You put that Nolan woman in her place on Loose Women, didn’t you.” Ally’s eyes sparkled and a few of the table members tutted.

Chink”

Before Kate could prepare her response, a woman stood up and fiddled with a microphone.

Good evening ladies. I’m Sheila and welcome to the Midlands Empowerment Forum. I hope the evening is both fun and profitable for all of us.” She looked slowly around the room. “I see we have a few new faces so perhaps I’ll run through the ground rules for our sessions. First, phones off please. We don’t want any amusing ring tones interrupting the speakers.” Several woman hastily grabbed their mobiles from the table tops and fiddled with the buttons as if they didn’t know where the off switch was located. Grudgingly, the phones were then tucked into handbags under Sheila’s stern gaze.

She continued, “We’ll kick off with our pitches in a moment, but first some exciting news. Next month we have a very special speaker, Karen McDaniel, the founder of the national chain of Empowerment Forums. She’ll be explaining how these events grew from a tiny back room in a Camden pub to these glorious premises”, she waved her hand as though pointing out the décor for anyone who hadn’t spotted it, “I’m sure you’ll all be excited by that. It’s quite an honour for Karen to visit us and I for one am keen to know how you grow a business as fast. I’m sure we’d all like a dose of that sort of success.” Everyone in the room chuckled.

After explaining where the toilets and emergency exits were, Sheila handed over to the rest of the room for their pitches. A smartly dressed woman stood up at a table next to the stage and announced, “Hi everyone, I’m Joanne,” some of the audience tried to say, “Hi Joanne”, but were silenced by the glares of their neighbours. “I run a small marketing company. We do flyers and posters which I design myself. If you’d like some samples, I have them in my bag”. After a polite round of applause she sat down.

Next up was Andrea who ran a pottery painting shop followed by Sarah who did some book keeping. Around the tables, each woman stood up, said her piece and quickly sat down. Kate noted that Sheila was timing everyone like a hawk and gave them a harsh stare when they were close to running over.

As the long round of presentations went on Kate began to wonder if this had been a waste of time. Each of the presenters seemed wetter than the rest: with their gardening, home décor, massage pitches. Where were the juicy prospects and how the hell was she going to work out who was married to the cash cow?

At least her table colleague Ally seemed to be having fine, passing aside about certain presenters that she knew and Kate might want to talk to, and seeming to be still shell shocked at being sat next to a minor celeb.

As it came to Kate’s pitch she was starting to lose the will to live.“Hi everyone, my name is Kate Smith, and I run management consultancy KOD, based here in Solihull.”

There was a sharp intake of breath across the room. Kate wasn’t sure what that mean but she ploughed on.“I’m looking to connect with anyone who….”

Oh my god it’s you. Sheila, why didn’t you tell us she was coming.” A woman from across the room interrupted Kate’s pitch.

Sheila looked up from her stop watch, “Five seconds, Kate.”

But Sheila, don’t you know who she is. She’s been on telly and everything. Oh my god, I loved you on Loose Women, it was hysterical.”

The rest of the room started to mutter as those in the know explained to those who weren’t who Kate was.

Times up.” Sheila seemed to be totally oblivious to anything that broke her strictly timed routine. Kate sat down, wondering what that was all about.

You are quite a celeb in our group, well will those of us who like women with balls. You did upset a few people with your comments about working mums, but don’t worry about them, they are just jealous.”

Kate tried to think back to the interview. She been asked on the programme to talk about the closure of HIA, a vegetable research station that was the job that put KOD on the map, wrangling with marauding locals and a lost heir had made it national news. Her being a female leader had added to the news worthiness. What she hadn’t realised with that TV show was you had to play along with whatever top of conversation was happening that day. One of the presenters was talking about how she was knackered today after spending all her time looking after her kids, Kate had made a remark about not having any might help which hadn’t gone down well. She’d found you just don’t get on the wrong side of a Loose Woman.

At the end of the networking session Kate found herself surrounded by a group of acolytes. There was a definite split in the room, with those flocking to see the local celeb and those who looked at her with distain.

Ally did introductions. Kate found the split interesting, there were some who were early entrepreneurs who worked on their own but had decided to split from the corporate worlds for lots of reasons, not just kids. Those who did have children gave Kate a slap on the back and joked about never a truer word. They loved their kids but any time away was a bonus. Kate took this in with surprise, she always thought mums just wanted to be mums and work got in the way, but these ladies were swigging their wines and talking about a night out before the next social event.

Don’t worry about them,” Ally pointed at the break out group on the other side of the room. “Sometimes it can be like school here, who’s popular, who’s got the best toys, etc etc. They’ll come round, of if they don’t I wouldn’t worry. We’re a good bunch and we’d love to learn more about your company.

Sheila, Sheila.” Ally grabbed the leaders arm as she walked across the room. “Don’t you think we should get Kate to give us a talk. She’s the best woman’s entrepreneur here, she’s got… how many staff have you got Kate?”

Kate looked up from her conversation. “Twelve”

Twelve staff, a national success story, a woman who’s dragged herself up by the boot straps, I think it’s a story for us all.”

OK Ally, OK, I get the idea. I’ll need to speak to some other members but it sounds like it might be an idea.” Sheila brushed her off and carried on.

Not feeling it then?” Kate watched Sheila walked away.

She’ll be fine. She likes things done her way, and she likes to be centre of attention and you are stealing some of her limelight.”

By the end of the evening Kate was glowing slightly. She’d never had her ego bolstered by so many women at one time. In fact she couldn’t remember that time she’d had a conversation with a group of women that hadn’t turned into something competitive. The women had been desperate to know all about the workings of her business, amazed at what they had done, the fact that someone was now looking for work in America, how they’d expanded. Kate practically bounced back to her flat, as much as her three inch heels would let her. No one had really mention kids, or why wasn’t she married, or any of the usual stumbling blocks she came across at social occasions. These women might only have spare room businesses but they had appetite, an appetite that surprised her.

Settling down on the sofa with a final glass of wine she curled her legs underneath her and though about how much she is was looking forward to next month, and a chance to see some of her new friends.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 16

“Ping” sang the computer. Kate looked at the alert on her screen.

“Midlands Empowerment Forum”, the message read, “19:00 Cranmill Hotel”

Her hand hovered over the cancel button for a few moments. The Midlands Empowerment Forum was one of the networking groups for women that she had always avoided. Why women couldn’t network with men was a mystery and she suspected that it would be a mothers meeting full of small business types who ran their own little play firms to fill empty days while the kids were at school and hubby played golf or did a proper job.

Kate was firmly of the opinion that women could beat men at their own game. Business was serious and not just something you did to avoid watching daytime telly.

She and Gareth had had a few verbal jousts over the last few weeks over the KOD coffers.  Kate was well aware that the next big contract wasn’t exactly knocking down their door.  With Gareth doing pro-bono work for the theatre and Dave trying to suckle on the American teat at the moment the wave they had ridden over the last few months was looking more like a trickle.  This was the point where Gareth normally jumped in, went and had dinner with some old school buddies and ‘wham’ in came the next contract.  But he was so busy with his head up some pantomime cow he wasn’t concentrating on the cash, or rather lack of cash, on the books.  She’d tried a few times to get him interested but it was like trying to talk with someone on drugs.  Every time she mentioned money he starting going on about what a good job Tracey was doing at the Theatre, or how they’d done this with so and so councillor.  She just wanted to shake him.

Dave, on the other hand, was being quite cagey with what he was up to.  Joining the weekly briefings but mentioning a few things he had in the pipeline, but not really expanding.  He had at least grasped that they needed some money to operate and had pulled in a few pieces of consultancy work to help with cashflow, but they were only sticking plasters.  If they didn’t get some big work soon she’d have to start looking at redundancies, and that wasn’t a job she relished.  Having been through that mill a few times herself she knew it wasn’t fun from either side.

One thing Gareth had mentioned was these local networking groups.  Kate wasn’t sure if there was anyone there who would have anything for KOD, yummy mummies didn’t normally need business consultancy or change management.  But their husband’s might… and this could be her routine in to talking to the partner who worked in big business. She’d decided to brazen it out, deal with the mummy chat and play nicely; on the off chance she might find a route in to some business.  And who knows what else she might find there, sometimes there were mentions of jewellery and clothing being sold too.

She shut down the computer. There was time to stroll to the venue and the evening sunshine looked pleasant enough. Checking her appearance, she’d chosen a Hobbs suit. Not too high end, certainly not Armani, but sharp enough to mark her out as a player and not just a bit-part. The invite said there would be food, and she hoped a little wine. Something to soften the dullness she expected from the conversation.

The Cranmill was an old fashioned hotel that had been bought by an anonymous chain and given a thorough and sympathetic update. The facade looked largely as it always had, they didn’t want to mess with the Georgian architecture or face the wrath of the local planners who were particularly protective one of the few remaining historic parts of town. The sign outside was discreet, but then they aimed for a clientele who arrived by taxi, chauffeur or at least satnav in a quality company car. Tourists and sales reps could stay in the rather more gaudy chain down the road.

Inside, everything was tasteful and painted magnolia. Fresh flowers added colour along with a few modern art paintings that looked like swooshes of paint and meant absolutely nothing. The smartly attired receptionist directed Kate to the Monkspath suite where the meeting was being held.

Arriving at the door, the first impression was of a confused huddle of middle-aged women. They seemed to be surrounding plan on an easel by the double doors into the room. Most seemed to be wearing slightly dated suits that were straining at the waist as thought the owners had bought them some time, and many slap-up meal, ago. One or two women wafted around in floaty Laura Ashley smocks, Kate took an immediate dislike to them. Free spirits usually talked in mumbo-jumbo inspirational phrases and did nothing that made any sense to a normal person.

“Do you know where you are sitting?” asked one of the ladies scanning the board. Kate realised that she was looking at a wedding style seating plan with everyone carefully allocated space at one of the tables. She squinted at the tiny text searching for her name.

“Hmmm. This is my first time”, she replied, “Do we have to sit where we are told?”

“Oh yes. It’s all part of the fun. You never know who you’ll be sat next too. I was chatting to a lady who runs a new age health retreat in a pig farm last month!”

Kate groaned inwardly. This was going to be as bad as she feared. Gently easing her way to the plan, she found her name and headed for the room.

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