Author Archives: Phil

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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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 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 15

Look on the bright side”, said Tracey, “at least we got one of the bar staff to make the coffee. Freddie’s attempts always taste like boiled shoes and the contents of the vacuum cleaner.”

Gareth swilled his almost empty latte around and watched the foam settle. They had been waiting for quite a while. Lovely as the managerial office was, making small talk with Tracey wasn’t easy and he didn’t know quite how much of her wild night out stories to believe, or indeed, which were suitable listening for a happily married man. She certainly seemed to enjoy a more active social life than he had at her age.

Freddie had been proving elusive recently. It seems that the pantomime was living up to its name. Despite there being another week until the curtain went up on what would be a make-or-break season, the whole place was in chaos. Backstage staff were busy painting giant urns and there were short people everywhere trying on costumes. Gareth had made a bit of a faux pas when asking about midgets, the term not being politically correct any more. “Artists of restricted growth” was apparently the correct phrase, although the bolshie one who explained this in a patronising way nearly found himself labelled “shortarse” in revenge.

Wandering out of the office, the barman was busy nailing a “Casbah Cafe” sign up. A big box of rather tired Christmas decorations awaited his attention. Gareth decided against asking for more drinks and stuck his head into the auditorium to see if there was any sign of the missing manager.

On the stage, he spotted Freddie standing in front of a giant pile of polystyrene that was carefully being crafted to look like the entrance to a cave. Beside him was a very casually dressed Sparks the magician. They seemed to be having a heated discussion.

Back in the office, Gareth said, “I think we might be in for even more waiting I’m afraid.”

Do you think we should go back to KOD?” his colleague enquired, “I mean if he’s not going to turn up again, we’re wasting our time.” She didn’t mention that a quick return would allow her a lunchtime in the House of Fraser sale, and a chance to snap up the Whistles bargain she had her eye on.

Oh, I’m sure it won’t be that much longer”, he replied, although she was already looking wistfully out of the window.

Tracey’s retail dreams were interrupted by the arrival of Freddie, looking harassed. “Sorry I’m late. Look, can I get you a coffee to make up for it?”

No thanks”, Tracey quickly replied pointing at their empty cups, “we’ve already had one.”

I think your people outside are a bit busy anyway.”, added Gareth.

Are you sure? Don’t worry, I was going to make it myself.”, Freddie looked at the pair making slightly exaggerated head shaking gestures.

Tracey leapt in, “You look troubled Freddie. Big night nerves starting to set in?”

Freddie looked downcast. “Not first night nerves I’m afraid. We’ve got a bit of a crisis on our hands.”

Crisis? Surely, it’s all a storm in a, well whatever those giant jars are.”

Oil jars. It’s what the forty thieves hide in. No, we’ve got plenty of those. Bloody thieves coming out of our ears if you’ll pardon my French.”

Really? Sounds expensive. Couldn’t you have picked a panto with a smaller cast? We are on an economy drive you know.”, Tracey chided.

Cast? No. Sorry”, Freddie chuckled, “We only need ten people, and two of them are in the camel.”

Camel?”, inquired Gareth, “You have a camel?”

Not a real one. It’s a couple of the stage hands in a costume. The kids love it.”

Oh. But what about the forty thieves. It’s on the poster you know.”

For a moment, Freddie was confused. “No, no, no. You see we have people doubling up. You never see forty thieves all at once. I mean we did consider getting a local dancing school in to make up the numbers but in the end, they were more trouble than they were worth. You should see the paperwork, and then you have to deal with all the pushy parents…” he tailed off.

Tracey looked at her watch. The chances of getting a shopping trip in were fading away while they discussed camels and thieves. “So, what’s up. Anything we can help with? Our plans are rather replying on this show going well.”

Freddie looked sad again. “There is a bit of a problem. You remember Spark’s assistant Julie?”

The one who was chucking up when we came over a few weeks ago?”

Yes. An unfortunate incident. Anyway, the problem is that she and the great magician have had a really big bust-up and she’s walked out of the show.”

Walked out?”

Yes. Stomped off leaving the act. Left a note in the dressing room saying she was fed up with playing second fiddle to his ego. “

Tracey snorted. “Surely this happens all the time with showbiz types? I saw a couple of midgets…”

You can’t call them midgets”, interrupted Gareth, “Artists of restricted growth is the correct term apparently.”

Freddie groaned, “Did Gary tell you that. He really is a pompous little man. Literally in this case. Dwarf is the correct term, but to be honest I just call them ‘supporting artists’ and ignore the height issue. As long as they fit in the oil jar, then we don’t care what shape they are.”

Doesn’t that cause problems with casting? Do you just say ‘must fit in a jar’? Won’t the PC police be all over you. I mean, I could demand to play the part.”

We are running a production where the leading lady is played by a man in drag, the principle boy is played by an attractive young woman in thigh-high boots and you are worried about labels? Right at this moment, you can try the oil jars for size and I’ll have big Chris from the tech staff sit on the lid to make sure you get inside.”

Dragging the conversation back to the main topic, Tracey broke in, “So what about Julie? How do you know she’s not going to come back?”

It was her note. She addressed it to Barry.”

Barry?” Tracey looked confused.

Sparks’s real name. But he was very picky about being called Sparks. Said that if you didn’t you weren’t being respectful of his artistic status or some such rubbish. I got away with it because he’s never managed to get a bank account in his stage name so if he wanted paying, the money had to go to Barry, but woe betide anyone else using the ‘B’ word.”

Julie really meant it then.”

Oh yes. She’s gone and that gives us a big problem. “

Why? I mean she was great, but surely there must be other assistants out there.”

Freddie laugher nervously, “Of course, but she was playing one of the big parts in this show, Morgiana.”

Sorry old man”, said Gareth, “Who is Morgiana?”

Freddie looked surprised. “You don’t know the Ali Baba story?”

Tracey and Gareth both shook their heads.

OK, let me keep it short. Morgiana is Ali Baba’s slave girl. She kills all the thieves and then stabs Al Racheed, the baddie, to death at the end of the show.”

Tracey looked stunned. “Hold on? She kills forty people and then stabs someone to death? And this is for kids?”

Oh yes. It’s a very traditional panto. I mean there is quite a lot of death in it, but that’s all just part of the fun.”

Still not convinced, she asked again. “Forty-one deaths is what you guys call a good night out for the family? “

Freddie laughed again, “Forty-two actually. Kassim Baba, that’s Ali’s brother, gets killed quite early in the show. The thieves chop him up and put him in the cave as a warning to others.”

Tracey shuddered again. Newspaper headlines screaming “Massacre at the panto” crossed her mind. “Seriously? I mean what do you do for an encore, eat the camel?”

Of course not. No animal is harmed during one of our productions, the audience wouldn’t stand for it.”

But that are happy to see enough people to populate the quarter-finals of the FA cup get the chop?”

They don’t all get the chop. Most are killed by pouring boiling oil on them.” Freddie was enjoying the look of horror on his visitors faces. “As I say, it’s all good family fun.”

The conversation was interrupted suddenly as the great magician burst into the room clutching his mobile phone.

She’s not coming back”, he snarled, “I finally got her on the phone and she said she’s on the train back to London and I can, well, I can do something that isn’t physically possible. “

Freddie stood up and touched Sparks shoulder. “Perhaps when she’s had a chance to cool down a bit. I mean, you know what women are like,” he shot a glance at Tracey, “Present company excepted of course.”

Oh, I don’t know, “ Gareth chuckled, “Young Tracey has quite a tempter on her when roused”. Her look made him wish he’d stayed quiet.

Tracey!”, exclaimed Sparks, “Tracey! You could be our savior.”

Me?”

Yes”, he continued, “You could take the role. I mean you are perhaps a little more, erm, buxom, than Julie, but I’m sure you’d fit the costumes.”

Freddie stepped in, “Hold on. We booked the two of you as professionals. This isn’t am-dram. We’ve a week to go and can’t just drag someone off the street to fill in a major role. I mean, all due respect and everything Tracey, but you aren’t an actress, are you?”

Well, no.”, she stuttered, “I mean, I did a bit in college, but it’s wasn’t serious or anything.”

Perfect!” Sparks shouted in joy, “She’ll do perfectly! I mean there are lines to learn, but you’ve got plenty of time.”

No!”, replied Freddie sternly, “If you can’t get Julie back then either we find another experienced actress to take the part, or we don’t open.”

It was Gareth’s turn to look shocked. “Not open? But you must. I mean if you don’t open, then all our plans to persuade the council fall apart. This is your big earner each year and if it doesn’t happen, then the coffers will be empty.”

Sparks looked at Freddie. “We won’t get another actress at this short notice Freddie old mate. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Freddie looked crestfallen. “I suppose so. I mean it’s not perfect, but I suppose this is better than refunding all those tickets. What do you say Tracey?”

*

She’s doing what?” Kate roared, “Have you gone mad? We’re letting her take a month off to ponce around on stage?”

Gareth stood his ground. “I’m afraid it is the only option. The show really must go on.”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 13

And then she was floating above the stage. It was amazing!”

Tracey regaled the office with the description of the previous nights show. Each telling made it seem even more impressive, but she really had enjoyed the night. Sparks wasn’t as new-wave and exciting as his clothing suggested, but quite unexpectedly, she found herself staying for the whole show. He really could hold an audience. For much of the night, those green eyes seemed to be looked at her, but that was obviously part of the act.

Diwata from accounts yawned. “Oh, when my hubby and I went to Las Vegas last year, we saw that David Copperfield. Now that is a magic show. I bet but your Sparky boy didn’t make an elephant disappear in front of your eyes did he?”

Tracey had to admit that there had been a distinct lack of vanishing zoo animals. “It’s Sparks, and no. But then I don’t agree with animals being used on stage anyway, so I’m glad he didn’t.” she replied haughtily. Brenda was always trying to get one over on her.

At the end of the show, she had taken a trip backstage to congratulate Sparks, but the dressing room door was firmly shut again and the tech staff were doing their best to ignore the raised voices inside. She decided to leave congratulations for a later date, but on the way out couldn’t resist sticking her head into another room and staring at her reflection in the mirror. It was one of those proper theatre types with light bulbs around the outside. OK, half of them didn’t work, but for a moment she was lost in a dream from her childhood. The dream of being on stage in a pretty dress with the audience clapping and cheering. A dream that she never quite got around to chasing once parties and boys came along.

There had been a few idle thoughts about applying for a reality TV show, but if Tracey was going to be stuck in a room with a bunch of deadbeats, she could get this at work. At least this offered the ability to escape sometimes. As for chowing down on a kangaroo’s willy in a jungle, it made her shudder.

Looking back at her was maybe a different Tracey. One who had studied drama and the toured the country sleeping in cheap rooms, eating Pot Noodle and wearing clothes from charity shops. Through the wall came the sound of creative differences being argued out. With a shudder, she decided that perhaps her life wasn’t so bad all.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 11

“Jesus, cats what have you been doing?”

Kate stumbled in through the front door picked her way through her lounge looking at a scene of utter destruction. Sitting facing each other, playing it cool, Olly and Horatio were pretending that she wasn’t talking to them.

The date hadn’t gone well. It turned out that since she’d last hooked up with Casper, he’d got himself engaged to someone he met on holiday in Portugal. Worse, he insisted on showing her photos on his phone and talking about weddings.

After half-an-hour she had excused herself to throw up. Whether it was the wine on an empty stomach or the revelation that she was sitting in a bar talking to someone who considered “Angel Pie” to be a lovely nickname for his girlfriend, and was even considering having it tattooed on his manhood.

Getting back to the bar having carefully adjusted her makeup and spritzed some perfume to cover up any smell, she found Casper, or “Pumpkin Puppy” as he apparently liked to be known, talking on his phone. One look at his face told her that it was the love of his life on the other end and that no matter how revealing her outfit was, there would be no action from that direction.

He made his excuses and she decided to hang around by the bar. It was a nice place and you never knew who might rock up.

An hour and two gins later, she decided it was time for a cab. In truth, even if anyone had chatted her up, she doubted she’d be up for anything other than a slurred conversation. If women can suffer from brewers’ droop, she was well in the zone.

The cab ride home hadn’t helped either. Maybe her eyesight wasn’t at its best, but there seemed to be about twenty air fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror. Were they masking smells, the seats had some interesting staining that Kate tried and failed to avoid sitting in, or did they actually make the problem worse? How did you sit in a knackered Toyota all day with that stink wafting near your nose?
Back at the apartment, it took a few seconds for her brain to comprehend the scene.

Olly, a black and white moggy, she’d had since he was a kitten looked up at her. He’d been her sidekick and go to companion during the ups and downs of work over the last few years. Horatio had come back with Kate from KODs last job at Fillern Holm. An unloved island tabby, she’s latched on to her and had jumped ship when they left. Kate had reservations about bringing her back because of Olly, but she couldn’t bear to leave her any more than the cat seemed to want to be left behind.

It seemed that two cats in one penthouse apartment didn’t mix. In the three days they’d been together the made short shrift of Kate’s pristine pad. Rugs had been sprayed, sofa’s mauled and most things knocked off the worksurfaces.

Tonight, was the worst. It wasn’t just the destruction, Kate realised that as her nose recovered from the cab, she could smell cat poo. Walking in to her bedroom found a pile in the middle of the floor.
“Argh, I really don’t need this shit!”

Olly had always been a house cat but Horatio was a wanderer. She’d had the whole of the island to herself and the idea of being contained seemed to be sitting badly with her. She didn’t like the litter tray either.

Feeling her stomach lurch again, Kate slammed the bedroom door and headed for the spare room. Collapsing on the bed, she didn’t bother to get undressed. Passing out, she realised that if she had brought someone home, then this would probably have ended the evening there and then.

*

Waking in the morning, for a few minutes Kate struggled to work out where she was. Through the fog in her mind, the previous evenings activity gradually came back to her and she groaned. Opening the door, the mess hadn’t magically gone away so she grabbed her jeans and a sweatshirt then donned rubber gloves and carpet cleaner. Kate tried to make the best of the mess in her bedroom, vowing to change the carpet soon. Picking the bag of mess up she decided to take it down to the outside bin.

Making her way down the three flights of stairs she didn’t realise she had a shadow accompanying her. In her rush to leave she’d left the door of her apartment ajar and Horatio had made a break for it. Depositing the waste, Kate turned to see a tabby tail high tailing out of the door.

“Horatio!” Kate rushed after the cat, just to see her crossing the road and running off in to the local park. “Damn, just what I don’t need!” Kate muttered to herself.

Retrieving a key and some cat snacks from her apartment, she spent the next half an hour try to locate the elusive tabby, but she was nowhere to be seen. Collar and microchip less, Kate was worried she’d never see her again.

The next day in the office Kate was distracted. Horatio still hadn’t been seen. She’d skipped her morning HIIT class to walk round the park calling the cat. Some of the people there had given her very funny looks as she walked round shouting ‘Horatio’.

She was busily printing off a poster with a picture of the cat to put up around town when Gareth walked in.
“What are you up to?” He tried to peek at what was coming off the printer.

“Nothing, nothing.” Kate quickly folded up the posters and put them in an envelope.

Gareth managed to swipe another as it came off the printer.

“Missing. Tabby named Horatio. Last seen on Wednesday night. If found call 07777 5555555. Oh no, what happened.” Gareth looked genuinely concerned, he liked all animals and remember the cat from their last job.

“She’s been staying with my brother but that didn’t work out. She managed to escape my flat last night and now I can’t find her.” Kate’s voice wobbled slightly at the end of the sentence and she turned away from Gareth.

Gareth turned slightly pink, he’d never seen his colleague get emotional. He patted her on the back.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure she will come back. She’s not stupid that cat.”

“Thanks, yes I’m sure it’ll all be fine. I’m just going to pop out and do some postering.” Kate gathered the signs together and some tape.

“Don’t be silly, we’ll all help.” Being his usual boisterous self, Gareth wandered out of the office.

Everyone. Down tools, we are all going over the park for lunch today. Kate’s lost her cat so we are the search party.”

The sounds of ohs and ahs came from the office before bags were picked up and phones collected.

“I’ll even buy everyone an ice cream.”

That got everyone moving a bit faster.

By the time they’d walked to the park the group had a bit of a party atmosphere. Gareth found the ice cream van and Mr Whippy plus flake were dished out.

Handing out posters Kate felt a mixture of relief and confusion. She didn’t like being made a big deal off, but this was a nice touch by her colleague.

Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a tail in the undergrowth. The next thing a tabby stepped out the bushes. It was Horatio.

“There she is!” Kate shouted to her colleagues.

Lulled by the ice cream they took a while to react. The cat had gone again before they got their act together.

“Quick, spread out.”

It was hard to make a team of office workers; in heels, skirts, shirts and ties turn into a crack search team, but they did their best. Split into three teams they did their best hedge bashing and undergrowth exploring trying to find the elusive cat.

An hour later they had to admit defeat. Where ever the cat was she wasn’t showing her face again. The team put posters up around the park and resigned themselves to a fun but unsuccessful lunch break.

“I’m just going to put one of these up in my apartment block. I’ll meet you back at the office.” Kate was disappointed, they hadn’t retrieved the cat but at least she knew she was still alive.

Walking towards her block she thought she saw something by the entrance Sitting quietly by the door was Horatio.

“Oh puss, you have given me the run around.” Kate scooped her up and gave her lots of fuss. Looking no worse off for her trip out Horatio bounded up the stairs to the apartment and proceeded to curl up in a corner after scoffing some food. Olly looked over bemused.

Picking up her phone Kate texted Gareth. ‘She’s back’

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 9

Yo sis, what’s happening in the high-powered world of business change?”

Kate’s brother Jake enveloped her in a bear hug. He mainly did it because he knew she hated it, in fact any kind of touchy feely was a no no with Kate, which was all the more reason her brother liked to wind her up with affection.

She took it for 30 seconds, and then wiggled out of his grasp. Her brother was not a small man, both tall and broad with a middle section running to fat. A successful partner in a law firm, he had a nice life with two kids in Dorridge, a swanky suburb of Solihull. His wife hadn’t worked since she’d had their first child, so the house was immaculate, though she wasn’t always, and could do with the odd trip to the gym herself, Kate though unkindly, looking at her sister in law. Chloe looked harassed with messed up hair and ill-fitting clothes. Kate wondered why she didn’t have more time to make an effort.

Amelia, come here!” Chloe tried to get the attention of her seven-year-old daughter. Amelia was more intent in watching her latest hair tutorial on YouTube and didn’t seem to hear her mother shout. “Amelia, I have to get your brother to rugby practice now, and then we need to go school shoe shopping. Yours are practically falling apart.”

The child appeared in the kitchen door. Her hair was a mess of braids and clips and she had a face like thunder.

Why do I HAVE to go? Auntie Kate is here and so is Dad, why I can’t I say here while you drop HIM off at rugby.” The pout would have made a Khardasian proud.

Because you do. Your Auntie has come around to talk to your Dad and we need to get those shoes before Monday. Just do as you are told, brush your hair and let’s go.” Chloe was scrabbling around collecting rugby boots and kit from the washing pile and grabbing her car keys.

Coffee, Kate?” Jake seemed to be completely ignorant to his wife’s dilemma. Riffling through the packets he began reeling off options like a well-practised barista.

A hand tugged at Kate’s sleeve. “Auntie Kate, can you take me shoe shopping? “Amelia looked up at her Auntie with imploring eyes. Lowering her voice and looking pointedly at her mother, she whispered to Kate. “You always have better taste in shoes that she does.”

The mention of shoes hit Kate’s shopping nerve. It was almost like she felt her credit card twitch. She’d come over to pick Jake’s brains on work and love life situation, but actually wondered if she could deal with a shopping trip with a seven-year-old. Hey, she might get something too while they were out.

I’m sure Kate’s far too busy to take you out.” Chloe threw the rugby bag over her shoulder in a last-ditch attempt to get out of the door on time.

Well…” Kate was torn. Amelia looked at her again, pleading. Perhaps it could be fun to go shoe shopping with another girl? “I don’t mind. I might be quite nice for us to go out together.” As soon as she said it, she wondered if it was the right thing to do. She’s never spent time alone with her niece and wasn’t confident with children. Could they go to the loo on their own? Did she need regular feeding?

With time ticking Chloe acquiesced. “OK fine, no sparkly shoes mind, it’s plain black for school remember. Go to the proper shoe shop and get her feet measured first.” Grabbing her keys and son she rushed out the door shouting “Get the car seat from Jake’s car.”

Jake was flabbergasted. His sister never offered to look after the kids. He’d given up trying to involve her in family activities, even though she only lived down the road, as she only pouted and complained about rounders in the park ruining her shoes or being too loud.

So, we’d better get that seat moved over and you off then. I think Amelia’s got a party later so you’ve not got much time. Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”

Watching Jake’s performance earlier Kate wasn’t sure he’d be any better at this parenting thing than she was.

*

30 minutes later and they were pulling into the shopping centre carpark in the middle of Birmingham. Admiring the silver disks on the outside of the prestigious department store, Amelia had a big smile on her face.

Mom never brings me here. Its just to the school shop in the retail park for us.”

Well my girl, we are going for a proper shop.” Kate was actually quite looking forward to this now, they’d chatted about school and some of the styling videos Amelia had watched on You Tube on the way over. Kate realised that she had more to talk about with a seven year old than she thought.

Walking across the bridge from the car park Amelia grabbed Kate’s hand. Kate almost pulled away but realised she quite enjoyed the sensation of a small hand in hers.

Amelia stopped, dumbstruck, when then entered the store. It was all light and colour, with escalators running up and down the central atrium. There were staff spritzing perfume and offering samples everywhere she looked.

Hello little girl, would you like to try this chocolate cookie? I’ll just check with your mom.”

Kate went to correct them, and then decided it was easier not to explain.

Amelia picked the rich chocolate biscuit off the tray and took a bite. It melted in her mouth.

Auntie Kate, this is amazing, you have to try some.” She handed the rest over.

Kate held the morsel. She’d never normally let something so bad cross her lips, but watching the expressions on Amelia’s face made her want to experience the same. She took a bite, it was heaven. She ate the rest before she could stop herself.

The girls toured the store, starting in cosmetics where Kate let Amelia have a small make over while she got hers touched up. They both left with little goodie bags.

Kate showed Amelia all the designer bags, with Amelia being able to identify the ones Kate had, which surprised her. She’d never realised how much attention her niece paid to her wardrobe.

Finally arriving at the kids shoes, Kate and Amelia stood by the rack of school shoes and both felt depressed. The plain black characterless shoes didn’t inspire either of them.

How about these?” Amelia held up a pair of gold sandals from another display. “Or these.” She showed Kate some silver ballet pumps.

They are lovely but your mom did say school shoes.” Kate felt for her, the options really were horrible.

Hi, can I help?” A sales assistant appeared. “Shall I measure your daughter?”

Again, Kate didn’t bother explaining, she was quite enjoying herself, being parent by proxy.

Once Amelia had been sized they asked for all the options for school. The sales assistant wasn’t stupid, she’d seen them looking at the rack of black shoes with a lack of inspiration. She’d also clocked Kate’s Mulberry Bag and stilettos, put two and two together and worked out this wasn’t Mom. One good shop and she’d make her commission for the day.

We’ve got those on show but I’ve got a couple of options out the back that might be more to your taste.”

Amelia sat swinging her legs on the chair. Smiling to herself she was chatting away to Kate and herself about the shop and what they had seen. From Kate’s bag a phone could be heard ringing.

When the shoes were lined up, Amelia went quiet. There were from a different world compared to the standard shoes. They could only loosely be called school shoes as the main bulk of the shoe was black but they came with attachments and accoutrements. One pair had changeable laces with holographic patterns. The next had snap on butterflies and bows that could be added to front of the shoe. The final pair looked plain from the top but when flipped they had a slight heel with diamantes and flashing purple lights set into the heel. As Amelia walked a light would come on under the shoe, creating a glow around her foot.

Auntie Kate, these are amazing.” Amelia sat on the floor surrounded by her shoe options. She looked like a kid in a candy store. In the background Kate’s phone was ringing again.

Seeing a fellow ‘shoeaholic’ in action, Kate helped Amelia pick a pair. They plumped for the pair with lights, but added the snap on butterflies from other shoes for extra flair. Kate found she was really enjoying herself and the enjoyment on her niece’s face.

That’ll be £150 please.” Kate just put out her credit card, ignoring the price. Her bag rang again. Finally picking up her phone she saw Chloe’s name on the screen.

Darling, we’ve had a wonderful time. You are going to love Amelia’s new shoes.” Amelia could be heard screaming in the background.

Kate, where are you?” Chloe sounded stressed.

In town. We were just going to get some lunch.” Kate looked at her nodding niece who was mouthing ‘ice cream’.

Amelia has a party to go to in 10 minutes.” Chloe tried to keep her voice calm.

Ah, Jake did mention something. Does it matter if she’s late?” Kate was too busy enjoying herself.

It’s a princess party, they have entertainment planned so its better if she’s there on time.” On the other end of the phone Chloe was rolling her eyes.

Finally sensing Chloe’s mood, Kate scooped up the shoe bag and her excited niece. “We are on our way.”

Dropping her off 30 minutes late a more stressed Chloe appeared at the door, party dress in hand. She grabbed her daughter and rushed her inside before spotting the shopping bag.

From inside the house Kate could here muffled voices in what sounded like an argument.

She’s bought her shoes from that shop, we can’t afford that, they won’t last for five minutes. You need to talk to her, and about that cat too.”

Revving the engine as Jake appeared at the door Kate spun off with a wave. Jake had a slightly dejected look on his face but seeing the smile on her sister’s face he waved back. It was nice to see her happy for once. The shoes, well he could deal with the fallout from those later.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 7

Standing outside the Theatre, Gareth started to wonder if he’d bitten off more than he could chew. Kate was always the lead when they went to meet new clients, whipping together a PowerPoint presentation, telling everyone what to say and working out what the plan was, often before they got there. This time he’d put on his best check suit, told Tracey to wear something half decent, and even dragged Kelvin from IT along for moral support. The thing he hadn’t brought, was a clue what he’d say and what they would do to help the theatre.

Looking up at the building he got even more worried. To say it needed some TLC was an understatement. Painted peeled off the walls, posters faded in the displays and some of the letters outside didn’t light up. The only colour on the drab front were the posters for the forthcoming panto. Gareth knew this was crucial to the future of the place. They needed bums on seats for the duration of the show to shore up the rest of the year. KOD had around two months to help get the place ship-shape and ticket sales up for this before the Council would pounce with its closure plan. Freddie had explained its current dire position over a few e-mails and calls.

Alright Gaz.” Gareth jumped as a loud voice sounded in his ear. Turning he found a vision in pink standing next to him. Tracey had taken his advice a little too literally and was wearing a suit. However, said suit was skin tight and a bright cerise pink. Throw in the cleavage exposing hole in the middle of the jacket and he wondered if he’d have been better of saying nothing.

Um, hi Tracey. Nice to see you made and effort.”

Well, yes, now you’ve made me second in command I tried to channel some of my inner Kate, but without the boring black.” Tracey gave him a twirl so he’d get the full effect.

Oh, err, second in command, not sure I said that exactly…” Gareth tailed off, deciding that it wasn’t worth the fight. She was right in some ways, Kate had washed her hands of the whole experience.

Hi Gareth.” Kelvin appeared next to his boss. He’d ironed his Minecraft t-shirt and brushed his hair, That was making an effort in his book. Laptop under his arm he still wasn’t sure why he was there, but any chance to spend some time with Tracey was a bonus. Today’s outfit was just adding to the fun.

Gareth took a deep breath. Pushing through the doors to the foyer things didn’t get any better. The carpet stuck to their feet, popcorn and crisp wrappers were strewn around the floor. The whole place smelt of beer.

Freddie had suggested they watch a show before the meeting, to get a feel for the theatre. The team slunk in to the back of the auditorium. On stage a couple dressed in frilly old fashioned clothes were belting out “The Lambeth Walk”. It was a third full. By sitting down, they managed to drop the age of the audiences average age by 40 years, as looking around most were in their 60s or 70s.

Jesus, Gareth, this is depressing. Have they got one of those heart machines outside in case anyone carks it?” Tracey mimed the pads of a defibrillator.

Kelvin sat down and pulled his phone out and started tapping away on the screen. Alerted by the light, some of the nearer clientele turned around to tut at him. “They are called “Cheese and Pickle” and sing old time music hall songs according to the website.”

“Shush” came across the theatre. From the stage Cheese or Pickle was trying to encourage the audience to join in a rendition of “Roll Out The Barrel” without any great success. “Come on everybody, let’s raise the roof” Cheese, or maybe Pickle, appealed in desperation. From the front row, a voice sang out to join in, volume compensating for tunefulness. The performer decided to carry on and gamly struggled to the end of the song. A smattering of applause followed before the curtain came down.

Gaz, I know you said you wanted to help but…” Tracey paused and looked around. A few of the people in the show were making their way to the bar, but most stayed put, taking the chance to break out sandwiches and flasks of tea. She poked the seat in front of them as the padding came out round the sides and kicked some more litter away from their seats. “It’s a shit hole, and I’m being polite. The show was crap and the audience need resuscitating. Maybe it would be better to let it be turned in to apartments?” Tracey already had a vision in her head of relaxing in the penthouse. She’d seen the plaster work on the ceiling in the auditorium and though it would look lovely over her bed, with a mirror in the middle of course. She’d snap up a cracking two bed with some character, perhaps she’d even be able to get a discount if they orchestrated the buyout.

No, Tracey. I am not going to give up at the first hurdle and neither are you. We didn’t come to throw the towel in, we came to make this place the soul of Leighton Oxley again, and we’ll have a damn good go at it.” Gareth stood up, nearly removing his chair in the process as its hinges were a bit loose.

Kelvin, I want you to look at their website and see what we can do with those ticket sales. You must know some tricks to get more people interested. I know this is a matinee, but it is a bit quiet.

The IT expert looked up, “You mean a bit of SEO keyword stuffing?” he asked.

That’s the sort of thing”, Gareth replied, hoping this was the right thing to say, “Tracey, you and I are going to go upstairs and introduce ourselves and be positive. “ He made extra emphasis on this, staring down at her. “And then we are going to put together a plan to get this place going again.”

Tracey rolled her eyes behind his back towards Kelvin, who smirked. But a job was a job so she picked up her bag and followed her boss to the exit. Time to show them what she was made of.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 6

Dave thought it was about time he started doing what he’d promised to come to America to do. He’d had some exploratory meetings with some old colleagues but they had involved more drinking and catching up on old times than actually generating any business. He wasn’t 100% sure the concept of KOD worked in the US, there were too many blockers and legislation to go through, but he wasn’t going to give up.

The time over here was really giving him a chance to think about things outside of work as well as inside, and to be honest he was enjoying it. He’d forgotten how much he’d enjoyed living in America. As a single man he’d taken advantage of everything the capital city had to offer, and travelled the country too. Miami, New Orleans, New York, he’d seen them all. And, as much as people talked about America’s been brash and loud, they at least said what they meant in business and outside of it. He liked their positive approach. He wasn’t sure it was enough to make him come back permanently, there were too make other things he missed; like proper tea.

Sitting in the reception of a large office building just outside DC, he’d been thinking, over many beers and lonely nights in his apartment about what else KOD could do, made some calls to test out his idea with some of his business contacts, and they’d suggested this company. The reception was spacious, and he’d been offered a proper coffee while he was waiting, something else the Yanks were better at than the British.

Checking his watch again, he wondered what the hold-up was. The whole thing was making him a bit nervous, although some of those nerves came from not telling Kate what he was up to. He wasn’t sure she would approve. In fact at the moment he wasn’t sure she would approve of anything he did. They had had a few terse conversations in the office when he called in for his weekly update. Outside of work their social chat seemed to be non-existant. Yet again, they had got close to getting intimate and they it had fallen spectacularly apart. The whole thing with them being on different sides with the last project hadn’t helped, gawd Kate could be so bull-headed sometimes. Added to this was her utter confusion with Ross, where she spectacularly failed to work out he was gay. Dave had a chuckle to himself, she was so naïve, everyone had been able to see it a mile off.

Everything OK, Mr Thomas?” A tall man in a dark suit was leaning over Dave, who’d been lost in his own world.

Jumping up, Dave quickly made something up to cover his smirk. “Oh yes, just remembering something my son said the other day.” Smiling he shook hands with the business man.

Ah yes, children, they do keep us amused. Do you have many?” The man began walking towards to lifts.

Just the one, he’s nearly seven.” Dave smiled again, glad that he had managed to brush over his moment of madness to something more sensible. It wouldn’t do to make them think he was crackers.

I’ve three of the blighters myself, though luckily they are all teenagers, in fact one is just off to college.”

Stepping in to the lift the two men continued their polite chat.

Here goes nothing, thought Dave, as the doors closed.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 5

One of the advantages of your own business is that you can hide in your office without having to explain to anyone. The farming party had been on Saturday night, it was Monday and Gareth still felt like a herd of cattle were stampeding between his temples.

What concerned him the most, as he downed his second cappuccino thankfully brought in by Clare in accounts, who had seen him looking pale, was not that he was down to his last two paracetamol, but was he was sure he’d agreed to something on Saturday. Something that Kate wouldn’t like.

He wasn’t exactly scared of his business partner, but his preferred to stay on the right side of her. He’d seen the way she’d gone for Dave and some of the more junior members of the team when they’d done things more minor that he thought he had signed up for, so he dreaded to think how she’d react. The words ‘working for free’ were floating around his brain, and all the pain killers in the world couldn’t stop that bringing him out in a cold sweat.

Through the door he watched his partner stride across the office. Doubtless she had already been to the gym, an activity he found completely unfathomable. Maybe he was showing a little middle-aged spread, but that was the sign of a life well lived wasn’t it? Any of his friends suddenly becoming skinny tended to indicate some sort of crisis that would soon be accompanied by a trophy wife, sports car, divorce lawyer bills large enough to build a house and worst of all, the desire to wear fluorescent Lycra. The very thought of being clad in the stuff was enough to dull the hangover pain for a few seconds. What did they call it – MAMIL – middle aged men in Lycra, Gareth shook his head to remove the image that popped in to his brain.

No, you wouldn’t catch Gareth Forthrington-Thomas panting away in some sweaty room on a machine that belonged in a medieval torture chamber. Good, clean country living with the odd bracing walk should do the job. Almost as an act of rebellion, he considered heading down to the local cafe for a proper fry-up, then decided that a little more rest would be a better bet. Getting up to look out of his window he checked on what the noise was. Either the council were mending the road outside, or someone was hammering in his head.

Through the door, Kate spotted Gareth looking grey round the gills. Briefly she considered going in and wishing him a hearty good morning just to see the pained look but then decided against it. Her cross-trainer session had been particularly strenuous that morning and what she really wanted to do was take the edge off with the strong coffee in her hand and the bacon bap concealed in her bag.

*

Eventually Gareth felt a little more human and decided that he ought to put in an appearance in the main office. First though, he switched on his computer. More than once a company-wide e-mail from Kate had caught him unawares so he’d learnt to check before chatting to the staff.

Today brought no missives, but at the top of the list was a name he didn’t know for a few seconds. Freddie Coward? With a groan, the weekend’s events came flooding back, along with the stampeding herd. Time for another coffee.

Slumping back in his chair, fresh brew in hand, Gareth opened the message.

Good Morning Gareth

What an excellent evening Saturday was. I usually find these dos a bit dull, but chatting with you was a pleasant diversion from gruesome veterinary talk about calving. I’m feeling quite invigorated and keen to press on with matters.

Gareth groaned. “Invigorated”? Unless that was code for death warmed up, then Freddie Coward was one of those annoying morning people. To be fair, one who could handle his drink. The two had matched each other pint for pint as far as Gareth’s hazy memory could recall.

I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch so quick. I know I said I’d ring later in the week, but strike while the iron is hot and all that.

The clock is ticking and my new nemesis, the Councillor for arts and recreation has decided that we need to up our game or they’ll sell the site to one of these retirement apartment developers. Apparently the area needs the money more than artistic stimulation.

So, I am faced with needing to justify our funds for the first time in years. I’ve been told that if we don’t come up with a business plan that shows us making some money by March then its curtains, no pun intended. No more musicals for the old folk, no more panto for the kids.

I’ve never written a business plan in my life. Old Tubby Williams, our last Councillor, never wanted one. Sadly, he suffered a heart attack last year which is why we have this new woman. So, I wonder if you can help? As I said, I don’t have much in the way of funds, but I’m hoping I can persuade you to do this pro bono as a bit of community service. I’d happily stick your company name up around the place. In fact if this all come off, we could rename the bar in your honour. Just tell me what KOD stands for and I’ll have my man with the paintbrush emblazon it over the top.

Thanks

Freddie Coward

Gareth read the e-mail twice. As the alcohol-fueled bravado had faded, he wondered what to do next. It was obvious that this job wasn’t going to bring in any money. Kate wouldn’t be impressed by that, and neither would Freddie be too keen to paint the words “Kiss Of Death” over the top any bar. Kate might have thought it amusing when she named the company after the effect she’d felt had on previous employers, but the good people of the West Midlands might not see the funny side.

On the other hand, it would be good to do something for the local community. Theatre was important. Arts mattered. Where would Britain be without Shakespeare? More to the point, this was the sort of enterprise that attracted a certain type of patron. Gareth imagined himself sipping a G&T with the great and good locally during the interval in a fine art deco theatre bar. Perhaps this could be what Kate called a “networking opportunity”. If you thought of it like that, it might be worth a punt.

Whatever else, Gareth was a man of his word, even when he couldn’t be sure that he’d actually given it. KOD would take the job on and make it a success. Sitting up straight in his chair, the last dregs of hangover were momentarily dissipated. The herds settled down to some peaceful grazing and even the council seemed to have stopped drilling.

What are you grinning at?” demanded Kate as she walked into his office.

Gareth jumped. Then he gulped. The cattle in his head started to move again. “Sorry. You startled me.”

Obviously. You look terrible. Big weekend?”

Nothing of the sort. I’ll admit that Saturday night was a bit lively, but you know how cattle people are.”

Kate snorted. “No, not really. You’re the country boy, I like my beef cooked and on a plate.”

Smiling, Gareth decided to play his trump card. “Well, I was at one of my wife’s dos and I think I might have schmoozed my way into some interesting business”

Kate looked surprised. Gareth didn’t bring in business. Most of the time he took the term “sleeping partner” literally, just the way she liked it. “Really? Something farm related I assume.”

Not at all. A little work in the theatre.”

The theatre? Seriously? What on earth can we do for them? Are they looking for a jester? Perhaps we could send them Tracey. I’m sure she’d love to prance around on stage in fancy costumes. It’s pretty much all she does around here half the time anyway. Do you know I had to remind her she wasn’t to have on-line shopping delivered to the office again? I wouldn’t mind, but when the latest parcel turns up, she buggers off to try it on and then everyone has to stop work for a fashion show.”

Tracey’s outfits had always been one of the more entertaining parts of office life for Gareth and even though she was just about young enough to be his daughter, some of the more risqué efforts still stuck in his mind. Stifling a smile at the memory, he broke into Kates rant. “Oh, it’s not a major job, not like the ones you work on, but I thought it would be good to do something for the community. In fact I wondered about giving young Tracey the chance to help me out. Perhaps the girl just needs a bit of a chance to show us what she can do.”

You might remember that she’s done that in the past. There’s at least one seaman who’s a little less able after her ministrations a few months ago.”

I’m sure she has it in her, we just need to find something she can get her teeth into.”

Kate pulled a face.

Anyway, I think it would be a nice idea if she and I worked on this one. I’ll let you know what we get up to of course and I’m sure you’ll want to give us plenty of advice.”

Kate suddenly remembered something. “Hold on. You said ‘doing something for the community’. What do you mean? Aren’t we getting paid?”

Blood rushed to Gareth’s cheeks. “Well. Um. Well, I don’t think they have any money as such, but there are I’m sure lots of other ways we can get a, erm, benefit.” He decided against mentioning renaming the bar.”

For a moment, Kate paused. Working for free wasn’t a concept that she really understood or approved of. Charity was lobbing a coin in a bucket shaken in the high street when you couldn’t get away. Why do people expect something for nothing? She’d dragged herself up by the straps on her designer shoes.

On the other hand, she had enough on her plate keeping tabs on what Dave was doing in America, plus a few side projects that were ticking over. If Gareth had a project, it would keep him out of her hair for a while. If it also gave Tracey something to keep her out of trouble, that might be a good thing too.

OK”, she said, “Go for it. Let’s do our bit for the community. Just remember that if I need either of you to work on something that pays, the actors get dropped.”

Gareth was surprised. He’d expect much more fuss. “Thank you. I’m sure we’ll get along fine. You never know, perhaps we’ll pull it off and you’ll be back talking to those Lost Women again on TV.”

Loose Women. And I’ll not be doing that again. We need gravitas, not gossip about cellulite.”

With that she turned and strode out into the office. “Tracey, I think Gareth has some work you might be able to get your teeth in to.”

Startled Tracey looked up from the chocolate muffin she was devouring, leaving her with a brown coloured moustache of icing. The accounts team giggled, before a hard stare in their direction silenced the laugher. Picking up a pad, she marched in to Gareth’s office, ignoring the gestures from the team who tried to tell her to wipe her top lip, though they didn’t try too hard.

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