Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 30

Doris rushed into the building to escape the rain. The weather forecasters had been threatening snow but for the moment what fell from the sky was wet rather than fluffy. She shook her coat and stamped her feet on the mat inside the door. It didn’t help much. Even the short run from the car had resulted in her being pretty soggy and that never made for a good start to the day.

Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she noticed that the box office door was ajar. For a moment she cursed whoever had been in the night before. They knew they were supposed to lock it.

Peering in, Doris was surprised to see Tracey sitting at the desk tapping on her laptop. She was concentrating hard and didn’t notice her arrival until she switched on the light.

Tracey leapt in the air with surprise. “Oh Doris, it’s you. You gave me the fright of my life.”

“I’m normally the first in. How come you are here so early?” Doris looked at the clock. She supposed that 10am wasn’t really that early for normal people, but when your business didn’t open until the evening, even the cleaners weren’t really needed before lunch.

Tracey settle back into her seat. “Sorry. I wanted to look at the ticket sales”.

“Again?” Doris raided an eyebrow, “You seem to be in every other day.”

Tracey looked glum. “Well, I’m just, you know…”

“Willing them to go up?”

“Sort of.”

Doris dumped her soggy coat on a hook and headed towards the kettle. “I’m not daft. When you’ve been here as long as I have, you get to remember what the numbers are from year to year.”

“Hmmm.” Tracey looked back at the screen on her laptop.

“I think they are a bit up. You’ve not done badly you know.”

The graph on the screen did look like it was heading in the right direction but that wasn’t the whole story. “They are better, but not good enough. We need to sell loads more if this place is going to hit the target we are supposed to be aiming for.”

Doris switched on the kettle and then looked over Tracey’s shoulder. Without her reading glasses on, she couldn’t make out the numbers properly. “Well, you can’t work miracles.”

“But miracles is what we need. Sorry Doris, I don’t know what more I can do.”

In the background the kettle burbled and then clicked. Doris started to drown a teabag in a mug. “Do you want a brew?” she asked.

Tracey smiled. “That’s the British thing to do isn’t it. Things are going badly, let’s have a cup of tea. “

“Maybe. But I want a cuppa ‘cos it’s pissing down out there and I need to warm up. Anything else can wait.” She smiled at Tracey, who relented and accepted the offer.  For a few minutes, they let the warmth of the mugs seep into their fingers. Eventually Doris felt drier and Tracey’s mood improved a little.

Sipping the hot liquid, Tracey looked back toward the screen. “Seriously Doris. I can’t make it any better. We’ve tried the lot. Radio, local newspapers, Facebook, Twitter.”

“Have you tried dragging them off the street?” chuckled Doris.

“Don’t think I haven’t thought of it. I’m not sure my boss would approve though. She’d just make jokes about me being on the pull.” They both laughed.

“Well what are we going to do then. I mean we are where we are. How bad are the numbers? “

Tracey spun the laptop around, but still without her glasses, Doris didn’t bother looking. “I’m not sure. If I’m honest, working out budgets isn’t one of the things I’m good at. My credit card is always a bit of a mystery to me. I’m sure it goes to the shops on it’s own.”

“Yeah. I reckon mine does the same sometimes. You think, I didn’t buy that, but then it’s in the back of the wardrobe and you hope your husband hasn’t spotted it.”

“Ha. Not that I have a husband, but I know what you mean. My parents were always moaning that I seemed to have more shoes than the shop. The spare bedroom in my flat is full of stuff and I don’t know where it all came from.”

“A girl’s got to have nice things though. I mean you can’t take it with you and if you are going to go out, you better do it in style.”

“Doris, you are speaking my language.”

Doris smiled, “Years of being in showbiz love. You don’t think I always dress like this do you?”

Tracey looked at Doris’s black top and sensible trousers the same colour. Thinking back, she couldn’t remember when the woman hadn’t been wearing something like this.

“You do don’t you! Well, let me tell you young lady, I can dress up with the best of them when I want to. I don’t wear the good stuff for work, you never know when you’re going to be cleaning up some kids sick or trying to make the dodgy plumbing in this place work before a bus-load of pensioners descends and all want to pay a visit.”

Tracey paused. “Sorry. I’d not really thought of it.

It was Doris’s turn to evaluate clothes. Tracey was sombrely dressed by her standards but she recognised the jumper from the Sunday paper as what they described as a Whistles multi-stripe and those maroon trousers probably came from Top Shop, the whole lot probably cost three times the price of her own outfit. Not something to wear when the ice machine behind the bar might want its innards jiggling. She smiled, “Don’t worry. I’m not offended. I wear this stuff for a reason. We’re here to blend in. The punters think we are part of the furniture most of the time.”

“That sounds a bit rubbish. Don’t you ever want to get up on stage?”

“Like you did when you filled in for Julie a few weeks ago? Not a chance. I’m quite happy working behind the scenes. You watch them coming in and out and having a good time. Then we shut the doors and they are out in the rain while we’re in the dry. They might pay be paying the bills, but we’re the ones in charge.”

Mention of bills brought Tracey back to earth with a bump. Her face fell as she looked again at the laptop. “Hmmm. The trouble is, they aren’t paying enough bills. Or at least I don’t think they are.”

Doris rummaged in her back and pulled out some glasses. Pushing them up her nose, she stared into the screen. For a few moments she examined the figures. They were pretty much what she expected, hardly a surprise as she was in charge of the box office.

Tracey finished her tea and swilled the mug out in the sink. Suddenly there was an “Ah ha!” from Doris.

“You’ve found something?”

“Maybe. What happened last Wednesday? I’m sure we had more in than that.” She pulled a notepad out of a desk drawer and leafed through the pages. “Yes we did. You’ve missed the old folks matinee.”

Tracey blushed. “Sorry. I told you numbers weren’t really my thing.”

Doris looked up. “Don’t worry. We sometimes record things a bit weird here. Those tickets were sold differently and don’t go through the computer in the normal way. You need to be here a few more years before you know all the wrinkles.”

“Sounds like I need wrinkles before I know all the wrinkles.”

“Now now young lady. You just get yourself back in front of this computer of yours and we’ll go through all the days and let’s just see if this ancient crone can find a few more ticket sales for you.”

And hour later, every ticket sales had been checked and entered on Tracey’s spreadsheet. Two more cups of tea had been drunk and the stash of mince pies behind the bar raided – Doris said there was always some “wastage” so no-one would notice a couple missing.

Sitting back in the chair, Tracey pressed the button to make the computer draw a graph. It was better, but still didn’t climb as fast as she had hoped. “I’m afraid, things still aren’t great” she said wistfully.

“Hmmm. The trouble is that high-finance isn’t really my thing. Oh, I can check the sales, but I just do day-to-day.”

“Do you think we need to show Freddie? Maybe he can…”

“I don’t think so”, interrupted Doris, “Freddie’s a nice bloke, but we need someone who’s a bit of a whiz with numbers. What about your boss, Gareth.”

Tracey chuckled, “Not a chance. Again, nice bloke, but he’s no financial whiz-kid.”

“And his boss? What’s she called, Kate isn’t it?”

“Well. She’s a bit busy at the moment on erm”, Tracey’s voice tailed off.

“You mean you don’t want to ask her help. I guess she’s a bit of a dragon and you are hoping to make this all work on your own.”

Tracey nodded.

“Well then we need to find ourselves a magician then don’t we.”

“You mean Sparks? How’s that going to help? Is he going to make an audience appear from thin air?”

“No. Not that muppet. What we want is a financial magician. And you know what Tracey? I think I might know just the man for the job.”

“Some hot-shot accountant?”, Tracey beamed.

“You got it. Once of the councillors.”

“Oh.”, her face fell again, “I was hoping to keep it from them until we had some answers.”

Doris shook her head, “Don’t worry. They aren’t all useless. Most of them are, but not all. We need to get Councillor Dhaliwal involved. He’s a lot younger than the rest and seems to know his stuff. He’s asked how we are doing a few times in the past. I get the feeling that he doesn’t think his colleagues are up to much. Maybe if I send him and e-mail, he’ll be happy to drop in and have a look.”

“We could get him to come over to our office if you want to keep it quiet.”

“That’s a good idea. No need to let Freddie know what we are up to for the minute.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 29

Tracey was buzzing. As she walked out of the stage door, her body was pulsating with the adrenalin coursing through her bloodstream. Stepping out into the cold, dark night calmed her a little but she was wider awake than she had ever been. Streetlights seemed brighter, the aroma left by drunks relieving themselves in hidden corners at the back of the building, sharper, and the distant noise of cars passing down the nearby high street seemed calming.

On the far side of the car park, her Nissan glowed under the lights. She always parked where it would be properly illuminated, not for safety but because she liked the way the special yellow metallic paint made it stand out among a sea of silver Audis and mummy carriers. Pressing the button on the keyfob, it made a reassuring beep to say the doors were unlocked.

Just as she gripped the door handle, a voice said, “Hello Tracey. How did the performance go?”

Spinning around Tracey looked to see who had spoken. For a moment, no one could be seen and then a figure emerged from the shadow cast by a people carrier.

Well? Did you have a good time?”

Even in her heightened state, it took Tracey a few seconds to recognise the face. Then the penny dropped. “Julie”.

Yes, it’s me.”

But I thought you’d gone away. Sparks said, well he mentioned, I mean he…” she struggled to remember exactly how he’d described Julie’s disappearance, “There, there was a note. He said you’d just left.”

Julie smiled. “Yes, I left a note. But I don’t suppose he really understood it.”

You left us in the lurch. He was worried.”

About his career. He would be worried how it would look if the great magician couldn’t perform.”

Well, we had a show to put on.”

We? Suddenly you have joined the profession have you daaaahhling” Julie drawled mockingly.

Tracey frowned. “Well someone had to stand in. This show matters if we are going to save the theatre.”

Oh you hero. How good of you to volunteer. I mean, it’s not something you’d ever wanted to do is it? I bet they had to drag you up onto the stage. Tracey the superstar. Tracey’s name in lights.”

No, I didn’t want to do it but everyone said I was the only one.”

Really? There aren’t any proper”, Julie snarled the word, “actresses out there? People who have learnt the craft. People who are desperate to make their mark in the business? None at all? The only person they could find is the girl from the office?”

For a moment, Tracey paused. This wasn’t the first time someone had questioned her right to the job. “Maybe I haven’t spent years at bloody drama school, but I’ve done my level best. It’s been hard work, but you are right about one thing – I am enjoying it. When everything goes right, it’s brilliant. At the end of the show, when we took our bows, I felt on top of the world. And so, miss can’t be bothered to stick around, yes, I loved it.”

Really? And you think you’ll still be loving it on a wet Wednesday when you’ve got a half-empty theatre and only bored pensioners to perform to? You’ve still got to give it your all for that miserable matinee, not just the opening night.”

Another pause. Julie was right, the show was due to run for a month and so far the eight shows each week had just been a number, but as her heart rate dropped, Tracey found herself realising what it meant. Every day she was going to have to turn up and perform. No taking a day off for a hangover or just because she felt like it. There might be harder taskmasters and Kate. She wasn’t going to be beaten though. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do” she replied defiantly.

Are you sure? We learn a lot at drama school and one of the things is stamina. It’s the difference between professionals and am-dram.”

Am-dram?” Tracey looked confused.

Amateur dramatics dear.” Julie laughed. “The difference between people who know what they are doing and people who are just playing.”

Playing? What the bloody hell do you think you do all day missy? Flouncing around in a posh frock isn’t rocket science you know.”

Really? Remembering your lines would be a start.”

What?” Tracey was confused “You mean you…”

Watched the show. Of course. I saw everything. Your fluffed lines, your missed cues, your swim in gunge, everything.”

Again, Tracey paused. Her mind spun. The two of them stared at each other under the light and she realised that she was still gripping the car door handle. Letting go, she looked at her fingers for a second and then a thought struck her. “Hold on. The gunge. How did that get in the stupid pot? It wasn’t in the rehearsal.”

Julie threw her head back and laughed. “You think all that stuff Sparks does is real magic? Do you think he does it all by himself? Any assistant knows how all the tricks are done. We have to do at least half the work, even if Mr Big Star takes all the credit.”

You mean…”

Of course. Making things appear in boxes is something we do all the time. After all, you were bobbing up and down on that stage lift weren’t you? It didn’t take much to fill the jar before you ‘appeared’ in it for the first time.”

Oh my God! I could have drowned you bitch!”

Yeah, right. It wasn’t that full, just enough to give you a surprise. That and ruin the Lady Mayors’ outfit for the evening.”

But why? I mean it’s not like you wanted the job. You left remember?”

Julie’s face became serious. “Of course I wanted the job.”

So why did you leave?”

I left you little idiot, because I didn’t just want the job, I wanted the man that goes with it.”

Shocked, Tracey asked, “You. And Sparks?”

That was the idea.”

But I thought you two were just…”

Just good friends? Just working together? Just a professional couple?”

Yeah. I mean, people hinted, but I thought they were just joking.”

Maybe they think they are. Maybe even he thinks it’s a joke.” Julie snarled.

But what does he think? Didn’t you tell him?”

Oh, he thinks lots. He liked the idea in hotel rooms between shows. Yes, travelling the country with someone is a great way to get to know them and yes, I won’t be the first assistant to fall for the man with the magic wand, but I can see through all the cool bravado. Underneath, he’s a really interesting guy.”

So did you tell him?”

I tried, but he wasn’t really listening. So I left.”

Now it was Tracey’s turn to snort with laughter. “That didn’t seem to work very well did it?”

Julie looked crestfallen. “No. I didn’t realise how quickly I’d be replaced did I?”

Only on stage. I’m not filling in for you in the bedroom.”

Ha. Hasn’t he tried it on with you yet?”

No, actually he hasn’t. I think he’s too worried about the show.”

The old ‘show must go on’ bollocks. I guess his career matters more than anything. He’s got big plans you know.”

I know. And those don’t include me, or at least as far as I know they don’t.”

Julie perked up. “You’re sure?”

Oh come on. As you said, I’m not that good at all this. I mean I love the applause and it’s better than being stuck in the office, but traipsing around the country after some bloke? That’s not my style daaaahhling.”

So you don’t want to do this?”

I wouldn’t say that. I’d like to do a bit more, but you’re right, I’m not cut out for a life on the stage. Perhaps film or TV would be more my thing.”

So I could come back?”

Don’t see why not. The rest of the cast miss you. I’m sure Sparks will get over himself, especially if you tell him the truth.”

Oh”, Julie looked at her feet, “You think it would work?”

Don’t see why not. How about we talk about it tomorrow? I want to get in my car, it’s bloody freezing out here.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing

Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 28

Sitting in her dressing room, Tracey relaxed. The second half had been pretty much incident free. She didn’t have so much to do and her big finale, killing the baddie had gone well. Best of all, when the cast have come on to stage for their final bow, the audience went wild as she walked on. As a main character, she processed down the steps in an amazing gown that looked like it should be in a cake shop. All the applause was for her. It was possibly the most wonderful moment of her life.

All the learning, all the work, it was worthwhile. Would the thrill still be there after a month of performances? It didn’t matter. For the moment there was a bottle of chilled champagne and a dozen roses sat beside the mirror. There wasn’t a name on the card, and she knew they were probably from that soppy old sod Gareth, but it didn’t matter. This was the treatment stars got and she wanted to revel in it.

Freddie stuck his head into the room. “Well done Tracey. You played a blinder. Who’d have thought you’d never done this before.”

A few minutes later, the dame wandered in and said the same. “Darling, you are a trooper. We didn’t think you’d do it, but you only did.” He gulped down a cup of the bubbly, “Listen, a few of us are going for a drink later. Fancy it?”

She paused. Normally a drink after work would be just right, but she was tired. On the other hand, how often is a girl asked out by a man in that much makeup? Not in the sort of bars she frequented of course.

Oh, go on then”, she replied, “Are you going to get changed back into your normal clothes first?”

Darling, you don’t think I’m going out like this do you? Gotta keep the magic in the theatre. It’ll be too exciting for civilians to see me in full regalia.”

She laughed, “Anyway, you might get asked again if you are a transvestite.”

OMG. That little kid earlier. We drag them up on stage for a little time in the limelight, just so the moms and dads can Instagram a picture you know, and the little bugger asks that! He said his auntie had told him to say it too! What a bitch!”

It made the audience laugh though.”

Oh yeah. They love it when stuff goes wrong. Look how they laughed when Ali opened the shop door and the whole front fell backwards.”

Tracey looked puzzled. “I didn’t see that. What happened?”

You were probably doing a costume change. Yeah. Ali Baba opens the shop door and the bloody set only goes and collapses.” The Dame fluttered her hand about to demonstrate.

Aren’t these things tied to something?”

Should be. Looks like one of the crew didn’t do their knots properly. I mean it’s only a canvas painting, but it still looks a bit rubbish.”

And the pyrotechnics almost blew up the camel.”

The Dame laughed. “Poor guys got a dose of exploding stars up the jacksie. Enough to give them the right hump!”

Tracey frowned, “Quite a lot seemed to go wrong then really. I’m glad it wasn’t just me.”

You? Oh no, you were fine. Look luv, we all fluff the odd line. It doesn’t matter so much for me as I can just mess around with the script anyway.”

Doesn’t the director mind?”

That old queen? Nah. Anyway, I’d soon give him a slap. Scripts are just for guidance in panto. We do something different every night.”

Oh, I’ve been learning it by heart.”

And very good you are too. You stick to the writer’s words and leave the ad-libbing to me and the others for the moment. We’re old pros. It takes years of practice, and that’s just for applying the makeup. “

With that, he swept out of the room leaving Tracey to her thoughts. Maybe she was OK. All the cast had been lovely and she had got most of her lines right. Give it another few performances and perhaps she’d feel more confident. One thing she did know, Tracey Dunn-Jones had found something she was good at.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing

Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 27

In the foyer, Freddie was also dealing with someone covered in goo. Stewards flew around waving paper towels to try and wipe the lady mayor down but she batted them away, grabbing the clothes and doing her best to both clean and appear regal.

My clothes are ruined! What the hell are you doing playing a trick like that?” she demanded.

I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. I mean, this isn’t part of the act. At least it wasn’t in rehearsal.”

You don’t know? What sort of place are you running here if you don’t know when you plan to drown an audience member?”

I mean I know it isn’t part of the show. We might throw a little bit of glitter around, but we don’t mess with the audience.”

Well you messed with this audience member, and when I get back to the office, I’m going to suggest that the council messes with you and this place”, she replied, waving a hand around to emphasise the point.

Freddie pleaded, “Please, this isn’t fair. Look how much fun the audience was having. I mean we’re doing so much good work here. You can’t let one little accident ruin things.”

One little accident? Look at the Mayoral chain, it’s solid gold you know. It’s going to have to be professionally cleaned up. That’s council tax payers money you know.” She held the offending item under his nose just to make clear how bad things were. Freddie did start to wonder if it was real gold, as he thought he could see parts peeling off, but thought better of saying something.

Perhaps I can get one of our tech team to have a look. They are really quite competent.”

Really? They don’t seem to be able to nail down a giant pot do they?”

Well, I mean, I’m sure we don’t know how this happened.” He paused and then said triumphantly, “There will be an investigation!”

The mayor didn’t look impressed. “Oh great, an investigation. I’ve worked in local government for 30 years. I know how much use ‘an investigation is. I don’t want things investigated. I want to know who did it and then fire them.”

Fire them, your honour? Surely we should work out what happened first.”

What happened,” the mayor replied angrily, “is that someone tried to drown me with a vat of what tastes like a mix of wallpaper paste and flour. If drowning the civic party isn’t cause for a sacking or two, then I don’t know what is. And, as for the funding for your little theatre, that now needs some serious consideration too. Now get out of my way, I’m going home. I feel a long bath is required.”

You don’t want to stay for the second half?” Freddie found himself saying weakly as the party stormed out of the front doors.

Watching them go, he didn’t notice Gareth appear beside him.

Good news old chap. I’ve managed to sweet talk Tracey into carrying on.”

Still starting at the now closing doors, Freddie replied, “Going on. What do you mean?”

Well, she was pretty shaken up the poor thing.”

Freddie turned around, “Shaken up? She’s shaken up? I’ve just been told we’re all for the sack and I’m supposed to worry about your office girl getting a bit mucky?”

Steady on Freddie. I mean Tracey has pulled a blinder to get the show on the road. Without her, we’d not even have a show to open. I know this is a bit of a shaker, but I’m sure things will be fine. You know what ladies are like, they will calm down again I’m sure.”

You don’t understand. This is bad. Really bad, but what’s worse is that the ticket sales aren’t as good as they usually are. I don’t think Sparks is as big a draw as we hoped he would be.”

Gareth looked at the busy bar. “Surely not. I mean this place is packed. You must have flogged loads of tickets”.

Hardly any. For the first couple of shows, we give freebies to the council staff and local schools. None of this lot has paid a penny.”

Oh. Why do you do that?”

Well, we like to get a good crowd in for the first shows so there’s some word of mouth. It gives the cast a chance to get used to a full house and when the critics come in, it all looks better. The whole thing’s a sham though. In two nights’ time, we’ll be lucky to have a hundred in.”

Gareth looked shocked. “You didn’t say. I mean that’s terrible.”

That’s showbiz. All smoke and mirrors. Never let them see you cry.” Freddie tried to laugh and then just put his head in his hands.

In the distance, a bell went to announce the second half would be starting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing

Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 26

Tracey managed to lever herself half out of the container. Her body was covered in pale, sticky, goo. Spluttering, she made a final push and the jar fell forward. A tsunami of goo flooded out of it and towards the front of the stage. Too late, the town mayor realised it was heading her way. Unable to get out of the way, she was engulfed in a waterfall of paste that flowed around a now prostate Tracey struggling to stand up.

“Quick, get the curtain down!” bellowed Freddie. The stage hands were ahead of him and the scene was quickly covered and the house lights raised.

“Wow Freddie, that was quite an impressive scene,” laughed Gareth, “I say, Tracey is game isn’t she? I don’t think I’d like to be in the gunge like that.”

“It’s not part of the scene you idiot. Someone has sabotaged the show.”

“Sabotage?”

“Yes. And we’ve nearly drowned the mayor. She’s going to be livid.”

*

Backstage, Tracey was incandescent with rage.

“What the hell happened there?” she bellowed at Sparks, “I did the trick like we rehearsed but that last pot was full of the most disgusting stuff I have ever seen.  It’s going to take me weeks to get it out of my hair, and the humiliation…”

Even Sparks looked shocked. “Nothing to do with me. I don’t know how it got in there.”

“You’re the bloody magic man. Did you think it would be funny?”

“I told you. It was nothing to do with me. I thought it was all going well and then you appear covered in goo.”

The dressing room door flew open and Gareth appeared.

“Tracey, are you OK?” he asked, “Freddie tells me this wasn’t in the act.”

“No, it wasn’t. Someone filled that last pot up with all the crap from the slapstick scene. I’m bloody covered in it!”

She turned to face him and he had to stifle a smile as his colleague stood in her stage finery with lumps of what looked like weak porridge dripping off her.

“I’m sorry. It looked amazing. Are you OK though?

“I’ll live, but getting this crap off is going to take hours.”

Sparks interrupted, “Don’t forget we’re back on stage in 20 minutes.”

She turned to face him. “20 minutes? Bollocks to that. I’m finished with acting.”

Sparks looked horrified. “You can’t say that. We’ve got an audience out there.”

“Sod the audience. I’m covered in this stuff,” she paused and looked down at herself, “And I think it’s setting! The bloody stuff is setting!”

“Don’t be silly Tracey, it’s just the mush they use for the slapstick scene. Half the cast gets covered in it every evening. Twice a day if we have a matinee. They survive.”

Tracey fixed him with a steely gaze. Then a lump of goo dripped onto her nose. “I said”, she growled, “I’m through with this. I only did it to help you lot out and what happens? I end up in some gunge tank. Did you think it was fun to play a joke on the new girl eh, magic man?”

“Look, I said I’m sorry. I don’t know how the gunge got in the pot. And no, we aren’t playing tricks on you. You’ve done really well to learn the role in a week. Everyone is impressed. Even the tech staff and no-one impresses them.”

Gareth added, “Come on Tracey. We need to make this work, at least for tonight. I’m sorry you got a scare, and we will find out how this happened, but we’re relying on you. The whole theatre is relying on you. At least don’t make me go back and tell Kate we’ve failed.

“She’d be delighted. In fact she probably put the goo in the pot.”

“That’s not fair. She wouldn’t sabotage our project, no matter how much she disapproves. Anyway, can you see her pouring gallons of that stuff anywhere? It wouldn’t do her posh suits any good would it?”

Tracey stood and dripped. And thought. She had to admit that a mental picture of Kate manhandling a vat of stage gunge while in her sharp work clothes was funny. For a moment she let the thought float in her mind, and smiled.

“Tracey?” asked Gareth and Sparks in unison.

“Oh go on then. Sod off and let me clean up. The shower in this changing room better have some warm water and Molton Brown shower gel in it.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing

Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 25

Quick Morgiana”, shouted the genie, “Al Racheed will be here any minute.” Morgiana looked suitably frightened at the thought of the ‘bad guy’ catching her. Casting his eye round the stage the genie spotted three giant oil jars. “Ah, that would be perfect, quick hide in one of the pots!”

In the audience, Freddie mutter to Gareth, “This is the big magic number to end the first half. Sparks gets to earn his money.”

Gareth looked at the stage. So far, Tracey seemed to have been doing OK. There had been a few fluffs on her lines, but the other members of the cast had covered those up. “How are the Councillors looking?”he asked.

Freddie peered into the darkness. The front row was full of smartly dressed old people, several wearing mayoral regalia. They didn’t seem to be smiling much and he doubted they would be joining in with the singing later. “It’s difficult to tell. They don’t smile much at the best of times.”

Did they laugh at the ‘Don’t polish my lamp’ lines?”

Don’t think so. Good job everyone else got the joke. I’ll give Tracey this, she can pull off a smutty line really well.”

On stage, Tracey lowered herself into a jar and pulled the lid down on herself.

Boo, Hiss” cried the audience as Al Racheed stomped on to the stage waving his wooden scimitar.

Where is that pesky slave girl?“ he bellowed, “I will find the wench and cleave her head from her body”. To demonstrate he meant it he swooshed the scimitar around.

There was a chorus of ‘ohs’ and ‘boos’ from the audience.

Tracey popped her head up from the jar, wearing the lid as a hat. “Help me genie. Don’t let the evil Al Racheed find me.” She dropped back down as Sparks appeared in a puff of smoke high up on the balcony of a wooden building.

Don’t worry Morgaina, that evil man will never find you.”

The audience cheered and then booed as Al Racheed snarled at them.

Be quiet you lot,” he shouted, “I’ll find her and when I do…” he waved the weapon.

She’s behind you!” called a lone voice from the audience. Freddie groaned.

Playing to the crowd, Al Racheed replied, “Is she really?” and turned to look at the pots. “I bet she is in one of these!”

Boooo!” called the audience.

With a flourish, he pulled the first pot forward and lifted off the lid. “She’s not in here!” he cried, “She must be in one of the other ones. Putting the jar back on its stand he moved along the row and repeated the examination. “She’s not in this one either!”

Again, the jar went back on its stand and he looked at the final one. “I have you now!” he cried and pulled it forward grabbing the lid. The audience gasped. Inside there was nothing to be seen, yet only moments before, they had seen Morgiana climb inside.

At the other end of the row, Tracey popped her head up out of the first pot. The audience cheered.

Have you seen her?” bellowed the baddie, “Where is she?”

Running back to the first jar, he grabbed it and looked inside. As he moved, the genie waved his hands and sprinkled some glitter on the stage. There was nothing in the pot. Tracey appeared briefly in the middle jar. The audience cheered.

Again, the genie sprinkled glitter and Al Racheed looked in the pot. Nothing. He tried the end of the row and again, nothing. This time Tracey appeared in the first jar.

Time and again, they repeated the game. Once, the baddie slipped on the growing pile of glitter. Each time, the audience clapped and cheers. Sparks beamed from under his genie turban.

Suddenly there was a scream from inside a jar. Tracey appeared out of the top but her face was covered in goo. Coughing and spluttering she tried to climb out.

What on earth…” gasped Freddie, “what the hell is she doing?” Grabbing a radio, he spluttered, “Get the curtain ready. Something’s gone wrong!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kate vs Showbiz, Writing