Category Archives: Writing

The Keeper of Stories

KeeperShe can’t recall what started her collection. Maybe it was in a fragment of conversation overheard as she cleaned a sink? Before long (as she dusted a sitting room or defrosted a fridge) she noticed people were telling her their stories. Perhaps they always had done, but now it is different, now the stories are reaching out to her and she gathers them to her…

When Janice starts cleaning for Mrs B – a shrewd and tricksy woman in her nineties – she meets someone who wants to hear her story. But Janice is clear: she is the keeper of stories, she doesn’t have a story to tell. At least, not one she can share.

Mrs B is no fool and knows there is more to Janice than meets the eye. What is she hiding? After all, doesn’t everyone have a story to tell?

A little break from the continuing saga of Kate vs Showbiz to review a book both Candice and I have enjoyed recently.

Janice is “just” a cleaner, and a remarkable individual. Well-regarded by her numerous employers, she is married to a man who can’t hold on to a job and has a few secrets of her own.

Meeting ex-spy Mrs B, the stories Janice has collected from people she works for and occasional snippets heard on the bus, start to come out. Much of this revolves around Mrs B telling her the tale of “Becky”, a courtesan who knew the Prince of Wales (as in Edward and Mrs Simpson) among others. Becky lived a hell of a life but always drove her own future. This helps to galvanise Janice to do the same.

The Keeper of Stories is an enjoyable read. If I’m honest, it starts slow, and only Candice telling me it was good kept me going, but by halfway through, the plot is moving, and I was snatching time to read another chapter – the sign of a good book.

The ending is pretty much how you’d like it to be, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. A couple of plot twists (one of which is after the story has finished) are dropped in at the end, serving to tie up loose ends and allow the reader to believe all will be well for a character that they will have grown to like.

As a character, Mrs B is interesting. When we first meet her, she is cantankerous, but it’s obvious that Janice is going to end up close to her and that without her, there would be no story. You could argue that there are a couple of handy coincidences, without which, the plot could be a lot grimmer, but this is a feel-good book, even though it takes some very serious subjects in its stride.

 

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 39

In the ladies, Tracey stared into the mirror. Tears ran down her face. The make-up that had survived the rain now ran in streaks down her cheeks. She slapped the tiled walls and cried with frustration and anger. How dare Kate have a go at her? She’d always talked about taking risks and thinking outside the box, but now she was getting all prissy about the show. All that work and now her boss was going to kill it all because she was worried about what a few stuck-up people thought.

The door opened and Sandy from accounts started to come in. Looking at Tracey, she quickly decided her bladder could hold on for a few more minutes and swiftly exited again.

Tracey sat on the floor. The cold of the tiles helped soothe her mind and gradually she got herself together. Some dabs of toilet paper along with the handwash restored her make-up so she didn’t look like an understudy for the rock band Kiss. A couple of minutes with the hand drier made her hair a bit drier, even at the cost of extra frizz.

Looking at her reflection again, she took some deep breaths and headed out of the door.

The office was quiet as Tracey walked through, heading back to Kate. Sandy had obviously filled them in and several people looked and then turned away hoping she hadn’t seen them staring. She hadn’t. The only thing she could see was Kate’s door. She marched in without knocking and pushed it shut behind her.

Kate and Gareth looked at her. From their expression, she guessed Gareth had been playing peacemaker, but Kate still looked angry.

Oh, you’re back are you? I thought you’d.”

Tracey cut her off. “Yes I am.”

Well?”

Well, we are going ahead with this.”

Kate crossed her arms. “Oh no you’re not. We do NOT organise porn shows here.”

Tracey drew herself up to her full height and looked Kate straight in the eye. “It’s not a porn show. It’s a good night out for a load of women. Women who are up for a good laugh. Women who like a night out with their mates. If you knew anything about women, you’d recognise a good idea when it came along.”

Kate looked shocked, “What do you mean, ‘if I knew anything about women’?”

I mean normal women. Women who have mates and blokes and like to have a laugh. Come on Kate, you’re not as prim and proper as you like to make out. Surely even you like a bit of eye-candy. Well, even if you don’t, lots of other people do and you know what? They are happy to splash the cash for it, and that’s what this theatre needs. Councillor Dhaliwal says we just have to run one good, big, profitable show, and the place will be saved.”

You mean fill the place with slappers.”

They aren’t slappers. They are normal women who want a good night out. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve done the legwork. I know how much we could make and if I’m right…”

If you are right”, Kate interrupted, “because you are the great financial genius. I’ve heard you moaning you can’t balance your credit card some months. What makes you so sure you can make the numbers add up this time?”

Tracey stood her ground. Gareth looked distinctly uncomfortable, but looking at his colleagues, he decided to try and calm things down. “Look. Ladies. Kate. I know Tracey has done a lot of work on this. I’m sure she can show you what she’s come up with properly. Maybe I didn’t explain it quite right.”

Kate said “Oh, I’m looking forward to a full explanation. I’m sure Tracey has loads to show us. Let’s just hope it amounts to more than just a collection of oily blokes’ torsos.”

Tracey smirked. “Oh yes. I’ve got plenty of those, but Ash, I mean Councillor Dhaliwal has given me the numbers to back all this up. We’re working on a plan to win the culture committee over when they meet next.”

So you’re off to a council meeting to try and persuade them are you? Well, perhaps I better come along too. Someone better be ready to sort out the mess.”

Tracey gulped. “You want to come to the meeting too?”

Well, it is MY business you are dragging into all this.”

Gareth coughed.

Tracey looked defiant. “Fine. I’ll put it in your diary and you can join us on the night. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.“.

With this, she turned on her heels and marched back to her desk, hoping she looked more confident than she felt.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 38

Tracey. My office. Now!” barked Kate as Tracey walked in. She quickly tossed the Whistles bag under her desk and headed toward the open door. Kate had a face like thunder and she wondered what the problem was. Surely a little shopping excursion wasn’t that bad?

Kate firmly shut the door and Tracey looked around. Gareth sat in the corner looking like a naughty schoolboy.

Sorry Kate, what’s up?” she asked.

I think you can guess young lady.” Kate snarled, “Gareth has been filling me in on your activities at the theatre. I must say, even for you I’m shocked. What the hell are you up to?”

Tracey was thrown off balance for a moment. “You mean the panto? You know I was helping out there. And I got out of it as quickly as I could.”

Not the panto. We all knew about that and while I wasn’t happy, I let you go along with it for the good of the job. No. I mean this show you are organising”. She spat the last words out.

Tracy looked at Gareth. He spluttered, “Kate. I think you are being a bit harsh. I mean Tracey has been doing her research…”

Kate interrupted him. “I’m sure she has. In fact, I know she has. I asked Kelvin to pull her internet search history for the last couple of weeks. When she hasn’t been checking out the latest fashion, she’s been doing a lot of ‘research’ into male strippers.”

Tracey protested, “It’s not like that. We need to bring in something big if we are going to save this theatre.”

Something big like ginormous George perhaps? I see you’ve been researching his website quite diligently. Do you actually do any work?”

That was work. We have a plan to save this place. OK, it’s not conventional, but plenty of people think it’s a good idea.”

Kate looked surprised. “Who thinks it’s a good idea? Gareth says the woman who runs the ticket desk. I’ve obviously missed her on Dragons Den.”

Not just Doris, and she knows a lot about theatre, but I’ve been meeting one of the Councillors too. Councillor Dhaliwal is a bit of a financial genius apparently and he thinks it’s a great idea.”

You mean you’ve been trotting this idea around other people? I thought it was just something you two had been cooking up behind my back. Now I find out half the bloody town knows. Have you any idea what this will look like for our business? We are supposed to be professional. We take on big government contracts. We do serious work. Now you want us to be known for pimping out greasy men.”

This was too much for Tracey. Her clothes were still damp and uncomfortable. Her hair was soggy. Even on a good day, she would be unhappy and this wasn’t a good day.

For a moment she stared at her boss, then turned and ran out of the room.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 37

Ash was waiting as Tracey burst in through the coffee shop door. She hadn’t dressed for rain, so found herself trying to tame her hair as she spotted him sitting in a corner, a model of efficiency typing on his laptop. He looked up and smiled at the bedraggled figure heading his way.

Is it still raining out there?” he asked with a smile.

Tracey grimaced, “Yeah. It started just after I left the office. Now I’m bloody soaked.”

Ash swiftly moved the computer to avoid the drips. “That’s a shame. No wonder you look a little, erm, unprepared. But I thought it’s been raining for half an hour, and your office is just around the corner.”

I had a little errand to do before I came here.”

Would that little errand be in the Whistles bag?”

Tracey looked at the bag. Too small to act as an umbrella, she hoped the contents were OK. Even at the sale price, they hadn’t been cheap. “Oh, I was just passing, you know how it is.”

Hmmm. It sounds like you need a good accountant young lady. Someone to keep an eye on your finances. We don’t want those evil fashion retailers bankrupting you do we?”

For a moment she wondered if he was hitting on her. Then the wedding ring glinted in the lights and she saw he was chuckling. “You can’t talk. That’s an Ozwald Boateng suit isn’t it? You’re no stranger to a designer outlet yourself Councillor Dhaliwal.”

Nothing wrong with that. Us accountants don’t all wear beige you know. Some of us try to bring a bit of style to our profession.” Tracey nodded her approval. “And I also have a bit of a secret” he continued, leaning forward, “My wife is a personal shopper. She knows what suits me and can usually get a bargain.”

The wife. Now she knew he wasn’t hitting on her. “Oh,” she said, “That sounds like a bit of a dream job – getting paid for shopping.”

Sometimes it is, but she’s also a bit prone to ‘just passing’ a clothes rack. Our wardrobes are testament to that.”

But a girl likes to look good.”

That’s what she tells me. I say you always look good to me, but apparently that isn’t the right answer.”

Tracey squeezed her sleeve out on the floor. “Too right. You men never learn do you? Anyway, do you think they could turn the heating up in here a bit? I need to dry out.”

Ash stood up ad offered to get her a coffee. While he was away, Tracey did her best to restore her normal glamour. Checking her face, she was pleased to see her make-up hadn’t run and her hair could be pulled back so at least it wasn’t stuck to her face. By the time her companion returned, she was feeling almost human.

Placing the cappuccino in front of her, Ash asked, “So. Why are we meeting here? It can’t just be because you wanted an illicit shopping trip, or the chance to enjoy a cold shower.”

Tracy paused and considered her answer for a moment. In the end, she decided to be honest. “It’s my boss. We have an idea for a show to bring in the crowds, but I know she’s not going to approve. I want the plan nailed down before she finds out.”

Bit of a dragon is she?”

A bit. She doesn’t think I’m much use sometimes and I want to prove her wrong this time.”

Ash stirred his coffee. “Sounds fair to me. I’ve been there myself, you want to pull off a big success. What about Gareth? Are you worried he’s going to grab the credit too?”

No chance. She thinks he’s even more useless than me. Besides, when she finds out about the plan, she will know who dreamed it up.”

Ash pulled a pen from his pocket and opened a notepad. “Ah yes, your plan. Go on then, what are you up to?”

Tracey outlined her idea for a male stripper show. She explained the ticket prices, the hoped for bar income and then described a couple of shows she’d been to, making a particular point of explaining how busy they were. By the end of her slightly lurid description, Ash looked a bit stunned.

I’m not quite sure what to say?”

Tracey tried to read his face. “You don’t approve?”

He laughed. “It’s not my sort of show. I’ll not be buying a ticket you understand, but I know how well these sort of things sell. As you say, we could have a bonanza on the bar, as well as shifting a load of tickets. I’m not sure what the rest of the councillors will say though.”

That’s what I’m worried about. Doris had to bully Freddie into it and now I have to go and present something to them next week.”

Hmm. Doris is a force of nature when she wants to be. If you have her on your side, Freddie won’t dare to complain. The fuddy-duddy councillors might be a different challenge though.”

That’s what I thought. I was hoping you might have some ideas. You know them better than me.”

Ash stared into the bottom of his coffee cup. “You know, I think I need a refill while I think about this. Your shout” he said, sliding the cup towards Tracey.

Queuing for drinks, she wondered if she’d gone too far. Coming up with the idea in London had been fine. A few drinks and the atmosphere of the club with Silvio were one thing. Even back at work she’d done her research and thought it was a good plan. The meeting with Freddie had been tougher, but Doris rallying behind her helped a lot. Now faced with someone she had to convince, her confidence wobbled.

Sitting down at the table, Ash still seemed deep in thought. “Well,” she asked nervously, “Any ideas?”

He sipped his drink. “Maybe. It’s not going to be easy, but maybe if we can get them into the showbiz spirit, we can get them to take a punt on it.”

Really?” she beamed. Maybe there was a chance.

Yes. I mean the culture committee is pretty dry most of the time. They might as well be talking about parking regulations or dealing with dog-mess. Perhaps the time is right for them to smell the greasepaint and listen to the crowd.”

Perhaps I should arrange a video of one of the shows?”

He shook his head. “No. I don’t think that will help at all. In fact, I’d be inclined not to make a bit thing of the stripping part. Mention dancing, it’s a bit less scary.”

But the stripping is what brings the crowds in.”

True. But there’s no need to shove it in their faces. Let’s see if we can warm them up first. I know a few people.”

Tracey looked surprised. “Strippers?” she squealed.

No.”, Ash said firmly, “But there is more to showbiz than taking your clothes off.”

Tracey looked curious.

He continued. “Leave it with me for a couple of days.” turning the laptop around, “Now, while you’ve been cavorting, I’ve been working the numbers and I think you’ll like what I’ve found…”

Tracey looked at the spreadsheet but it was difficult to concentrate. What did he mean?

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 36

Gareth looked a little ashamed. Tracey had assured him she had a plan, and he’d been a little preoccupied to go through it with her. She had seemed so confident at the time. Now he was sat in Freddie’s office, while a projection of what his colleague had described as a “cracking bit of hot totty” stared back at him from the wall.

Maybe turning the projector off might make things better. Reaching over to the box, he discovered that it was red hot. “Owww” he cried as his fingers found the heat outlet. Snapping his hand back, he knocked the projector and spun it around. Suddenly, the hunk’s chest was beamed onto Freddie.

“What are you doing?” the manager cried, “Point that thing somewhere else!” He flailed vainly as he tried to wipe the image from his front.

Doris looked at him and chuckled. “You’re looking a bit hunky Freddie. Perhaps we should get you up on stage.

“Don’t you start Doris” replied Freddie, still trying to dodge the projection.

Tracey leaned in and pressed the off button. Mr November disappeared and Freddie’s grubby shirt returned. “Thank you”, he said and slumped back in his seat.

“You know”, Doris said calmly, “Young Tracey has a point.” Tracey looked at her in surprise. “I mean it’s not what we normally do, but then that’s the idea isn’t it?”

Freddie regained his rabbit in the headlights look. “Are you mad? Of course it’s not what we do.”

“And that’s the problem isn’t it. We’ve done what we normally do, and look where it’s got us.”

“Got us?”

“Yes. It’s got this place to the brink of bankruptcy. We’ve an audience who drift in if the weather is wet or there’s nothing on the telly. Yes, we do things to help people out, but what do we get from them? Complaints about the state of the seats or that they can buy cola from Tesco for a fraction of the price they get it from us.”

“But they are our customers.”

“Yes they are and a right pain in the arse a lot of them are too.”

Freddie was shocked. Doris liked a gentle moan but now she was sounding serious. “We can’t call them a pain in the arse. OK, they might be a bit old and perhaps stuck in their ways…”

Doris launched in, “Old. Too right. And don’t we know it. You know our bargain day when we let everyone into the cinema for the concession price? I had a lecture the other day from some miserable git angry that we didn’t let them in even cheaper! Apparently, if you’ve lived a long life, you deserve everything for free and we should be grateful to give it to you.”

“Well, we can’t keep all the people happy all the time.”

“Oh stop talking in proverbs. I know we can’t, but more and more of them just seem to come in to complain about everything. You don’t see it hiding up here in your office.”

Freddie spluttered, “I’m not…”

“Yes you are.” Doris was hitting her stride. Gareth and Tracey looked at each other. “Look Freddie, I know you have a lot to do, but all we get some nights are moans. It’s not our fault, we do our best but I don’t think it would matter what we do. They could have bloody gold-plated seats with velvet cushions and they would complain they didn’t like the colour.”

“But, the customer is always right.” Freddie stuttered, realising he was back to the proverbs.

“No, they aren’t. Sometimes they are a right pain and me and my team would love to chuck them out of the door.”

Gareth laughed nervously, “That wouldn’t do the finances much good.”

Doris shot him an angry look. “A dozen cheap seats in the middle of the day? Plus two or three cups of tea? That’s not going to help us much is it?”

Freddie was annoyed, “So what should we do? Get the oily gigolos in?”

“Yes” Doris exclaimed. “Look Freddie, we need a new audience. Younger people who enjoy a night out. We need a crowd who pay proper money for tickets and drink our bar dry. I might not appreciate young Tracey’s dress sense, but she’s come up with a new idea.”

Tracey looked down at her clothes. She’s picked her soberest suit, a deep maroon number from Office.

Doris continued, “Look, this isn’t what we’ve done before, but I don’t see we have any choice. This stuff brings the crowds in. My granddaughter was telling me about one she and her mates went to see. It was £40 a ticket! That’s half a dozen of them at £40 a ticket – think what money we could make if we filled the place. Half a dozen young women, a hundred years younger than most of the people we get in the door. And they had a good time. A bloody good time.”

“But what about the councillors?” Freddie protested.

“What about them? They want to close us down. Most of them only come in to be seen at something cultural. They don’t buy tickets, we have to give them free drinks, and then they doze off in the second half. That’s if they can be bothered to stay past the interval. Sod’em. If we are going to go down, let’s go down fighting.

Tracey, Gareth and Freddie all looked Doris. She stared back at them breathing deeply, as though she’d been in a fight. Which in a way she had been.

Gareth turned to Freddie, “I think Doris might have a point old man. You did ask us to come up with ideas to shake the place up a bit. I’m not saying I’m a fan of this thing Tracey has come up with. Not my cup of tea at all really, but you have to admit it is different.”

“And these things are popular”, added Tracey, “As I said, I know loads of people, people like Doris’s granddaughter, who love a night out like this.” Doris winked at Tracey. “Come on, let’s give it a try. Put up a bit of a fight.”

Freddie stared at the pile of paper on his desk for a few moments. He didn’t know what to think. Finally, he sat up and looked at Tracey. “OK then Tracey. Do you really think you can pull this off?”

Tracey smiled, “It’s not a problem Freddie. I can make this work.”

“Well then, I better work out how I am going to explain this to Councillor Osbourne.”

“I might have an idea on how to do that, why don’t you leave it up to me.” Tracey winked at Doris.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 35

Tracey sat back and looked at her presentation. It was good. A lot of work, but she was really pleased with the results. Even Kate had noticed how industrious she had been, or at least quiet and staring into her laptop in a manner previously reserved for the Selfridges sale. Fortunately, the boss hadn’t seen some of the photos that appeared on the screen. Although they were genuinely work-related, muscly men wearing more baby oil than clothing weren’t the normal sort of images found in the office. Kelvin, normally happy to help her out with IT matters, hadn’t hung around when he saw exactly what she was trying to lay out on the screen.

Closing the computer, Tracey thought about the meeting later that evening. She was going into battle, or at least to present a plan to win the battle of Leighton Oxley’s theatre. For a moment she understood what went through Kate’s mind when she pitched for work. Mind you, she wasn’t usually selling this sort of product.

*

Finishing with a flourish, Tracey turned to the room and waited for her applause. Looking back at her were Freddie, Gareth and Doris. They were silent. For a few seconds, she wondered why Freddie looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He stared at the screen with his mouth slightly open.

This wasn’t the reaction she had expected. All the daydreams had ended with warm congratulations, heart handshakes and possibly even a hug. Turning back to the projected image on the wall, even Mr November seemed to be smirking, although that might have been the missing chunk of wallpaper.

Freddie gathered himself. “No. I mean, no. I mean, we can’t do this sort of thing. Not in Leighton Oxley.” He stuttered, almost lost for words.

Gareth chimed in, “I wonder if this is quite the right thing Tracey. I can see you’ve put a lot of work into this idea and I’m sure that, ahem, male strippers might seem like a good idea, but I’m not sure about the council…”

“Yes, the council. The bloody council”, Freddie interrupted, “They would go absolutely bloody nuts. You know how some of these posh old dears are like. We struggle to get some of the panto jokes past them.”

“But”, spluttered Tracey, “This sort of thing is all the rage.”

“Rage? I’ll give you rage” cried Freddie, “Councillor Osbourne. He’s about as with it as, well, Queen bloody Victoria. Tell him that we’re going to put oily blokes in tiny pants on stage and it would kill him. Right after he brought down the fire, brimstone on us. There’s no question of it. Gareth, what were you thinking?

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 34

What you are looking for is someone with a large cock and shares in baby oil!”

I’ll drink to that.”

Tracey downed her mojito and looked at her companion. ‘Your turn Silvo, same again please.”

Sitting in the bar at Soho House Tracey felt much more at home than she did in Solihull. London was definitely more up her street, the shopping was better and they understood her rather extravagant dress sense better than those in Touchwood shopping centre. When she said I want more pink they ran to help, not for cover.

Silvo returned from the bar with another two large measures. ‘Cheers, my lovely. Where have you been hiding all this time?”

He was an old friend and she loved catching up with him. They’d met at university and bonded over a shared love of pink, feathers and great shoes. Silvo was more of a fashion diva than she was. He’d landed a job at the British Fashion Council and she’d got stuck in some backwater trying to get to grips with a woman whose PMT seemed to last for the whole month, banished there by her father after an unfortunate incident at her first job. He’d managed to wangle her a week hostessing at Ascot, said it would be good for her to mingle with the masses and do some good hard graft. What he hadn’t realized was that hostessing was actually one step up from being an escort and the girls had to deal with being felt, leered and generally taken for prostitutes to get their tips. Tracey gave as good as she got but one City boy took it too far when he cornered her in the ladies. A rather nasty stiletto in the leg and her waitressing days were over. Daddy had been worried about how it would reflect on the family as the man in question was vaguely related to them so she’d been stuck on a train to the Midlands, and found a role in Daddy’s friend Gareth’s company. Two years down the line she thought she would have escaped by now but stepping into second place was something she was actually enjoying.

Tracey Dunn-Jones had spent most of her adult career (and a lot of her teenage years) riding on the back of anyone who would help her. She’d scraped through exams and then made it to university by the skin of her teeth, and the family inheritance. Dropping a couple of K here and there definitely helped to oil the wheels. She’d found her feet while studying Business Studies at “London poly turned uni” but was still trying to turn that knowledge into something she could use at KOD. Working for Kate didn’t help, she was a total control freak and couldn’t see past Tracey’s impressive cleavage. In fact, many people couldn’t do that, something she was realizing might be a hindrance rather than a help in life.

The theatre job had really whet her appetite. She’d had a brush with fame and realized it wasn’t all swanning around looking fabulous, and now she had this great idea to get some money in the coffers.

So, you got to be the star of the show then? How come you gave it up after one performance?”

I realized you were more of a drama queen than me!” Tracey laughed at her friend.

But I thought you were all – “I want to be on Big Brother, I want to be famous, Darlings”

I did, but actually those guys work really hard, and talking to Sparks he’s been plugging at it for years and still only breaks even. That wouldn’t fund my shoe and handbag habit.” Tracey waved her most recent purchase under his nose.

So, does this mean you actually want to do some work? What happened to that party girl I knew and loved?” Silvo pretended to look down in the mouth

Oh, she’s still there. I’m expecting you to show me the sights tonight, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a decent night out. But I’ve actually found something I am interested in. I care about this theatre.” Tracey paused, as this was the first time she’d actually put into words how she felt. She did care about the old dump, all ideas of stylish apartments carved from historic buildings had gone.

So I’ve told them we need sex to sell more tickets. I’m not talking Full Monty age performers, I want the real deal.”

And they are up for it?” Silvo looked concerned. Tracey had told him about the average age of the current audience, and he was worried about deaths during the performance.

Well, not exactly, but if I can prove that my idea will sell tickets, then it’s a done deal. I just need to whip up a buying frenzy.”

Well, I know some dancers who are in-between jobs who’d be up for it. I’m sure we could come up with a few ideas and some routines.”

Ok, well you tell them to start polishing their posing pouches and I’ll go and do the hard work. Once I know what I’m up against I’ll let you know if I need a bit more support.”

Darling, there are a few things you have been up against over the years and the only support you have needed is their hand on your….”

Silvo!” Tracey shrieked.

Tracey had been bouncing around an idea in her head since she’d been brought into the theatre discussions. She’d seen the shows and the audience but thought that everyone was thinking too one-dimensionally. Yes it was a local theatre, and yes people came to see something entertaining or something for their kids but there was a whole audience they were missing. What about bored women? There were a lot in the suburbs of Leighton Oxley she was sure, for whom a night in the one or two decent pubs, a trip to the local cinema or pub quiz, wouldn’t satisfy their needs. And she was talking about women of all ages, there must be girls from 18 to 40 in the town? She’d taken a wander round one afternoon between meetings and see yummy mummies and ladies who lunch, plus student types. She knew there was a college nearby. Surely this was a group that needed something the theatre could offer?

Being a little more widely travelled than perhaps those in Leighton she’d seen a few good shows in her time in the West End, and she knew that something with sexy men would go down a storm. She’d even heard about a film coming out about strippers, but the ones with six packs, not unemployed steelworkers. That would get people thinking about the whole idea.

She thought she could pull together a ‘Ladies Night’ which would fill the venue, riding on the back of the wave of the film, but knowing they couldn’t afford a proper stripping troupe had rolled Silvo in. He had a great network of performing types, and if she waved a few hundred quid at some of his ‘resting’ friends they’d been up for pulling something together. Tracey knew a lot of them loved a chance to show off their abs.

She could picture it, low lighting, a smoke machine, six drop-dead gorgeous men stepping out on stage dressed as policemen. The music starts pumping, their groins start pumping and in a flash, the clothes are off, the baby oil on and the screams from the crowd deafening.

Perhaps she’d get pulled up on stage for a one-to-one dance, where a nice dark-haired boy with a great torso would writhe all over her while she imagined something more.

Tracey, oh Tracey, come back. You’ve gone all flush love.” Silvo was peering over at her.

Sorry, I’d gone into a trance daydreaming about the show.” Tracey rolled her eyes and tried to hold on to the image of the impressive bod.

Oh, get over yourself. Remember most of my friends are gay so even if you get close, you aren’t their type. However, they do know how to shake their thang.” Silvo mimed wiggling his bum.

But it will be perfect. All those suburbanite ladies will love it! I can see the money rolling in now.”

The only thing Tracey had to do was convince Freddie and the local Council that a strip show was the right way to go. And she had an idea how she could do it at the next council meeting. All she needed to do was keep Kate out of the picture.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 33

Ash continued, “Look. You want to save the theatre and so do I. Not just because I love a live show, but because they do a lot of good work with the community. My mother-in-law will kill me if some of her social groups have to find a new home because the place has closed down.”

Switching on the projector, Tracey’s spreadsheet lit up the wall. “That’s going to be easier said than done. As you say, we are up errr, a creek.”

Ash looked at the numbers for a moment. “Hmmm. The problem isn’t perhaps as bad as you think. Quite a lot of the Councillors don’t want to rock the boat. At the moment, the place is losing enough money that closing it looks like an easy option. You’ve managed to make things a bit better, but we’re not quite there.”

What do you mean?”

Look, we have the oversight committee meeting in a month. Most of those there will be happy to sit on their hands if we can persuade them that things are going in the right direction. Remember, these people don’t like making decisions. We just need to persuade them to leave things alone and let everyone get on with their jobs.”

Gareth spluttered, “You mean bamboozle them?”

Ash smiled again. “A bit. What we need is a few successes and then they can wave next year’s budget through and go home to their families after a few drinks in the bar, safe in the knowledge that they are looking after the best interests of their constituents.”

But what about Councillor Osbourne?” asked Tracey

Geoff is trying to make himself a bit of a name. He fancies being Council leader next year. I think his wife has told him it’s time for some ambition. He sees this as an easy way to show his credentials as a great leader. Be a bit Thatcher if you see what I mean.”

So this is all about him getting a better job?”

Sort of. I think it’s actually about him getting a better seat at the golf club annual dinner, but yes, he doesn’t like the theatre much, so he can’t see why the town needs one.”

Tracey looked at the screen. Was all this really a waste of time? “We just need to persuade one man?”

Possibly. I don’t think you will though. He’s got a bit fixated on this but he can’t do anything on his own. There needs to be a majority on the committee and as I say, most of them are only going along with this to keep him happy. If a few decided to change their minds, or at least develop some ideas of their own, we’d be home and dry.”

Right”, she tried to sound confident but wasn’t really sure what was going on, “So how do we do that?”

Ash turned to face her. “Well, the problem is that Freddie has been relying on the panto each year to save him. The rest of the time, the numbers look poor. It’s time to inject a bit of showbiz razzmatazz into the place. We need to get some bums on seats with something different. I’m sure the figures can be massaged a little and if we can bring out just one big gun, then the committee can get off early that night.”

So we just need one sure-fire hit. Where do we find one of those from?”

Ash laughed. “Ah well. That’s your problem. I’m just an accountant.”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 32

Sat on the reception sofa, Tracey’s visitor could have been any successful businessman looking for KOD’s help. She decided that he certainly didn’t look anything like a Councillor. For a start, his suit was sharp and looked like a Michael Kors number. Slim fit too, and none of the buttons straining.

Holding out a hand, she greeted him and noticed that when he stood up, the jacket was instinctively buttoned up, further emphasising his lack of beer belly. The action also caused his wedding ring to flash in the sunlight, which she realised disappointed her a little.

Leading the Councillor to the meeting room, Tracey could see people in the office looking up to see who she was with and then quickly trying to pretend they weren’t. A slightly circuitous route avoided passing Kate’s door, although she seemed glued to her screen.

With the door safely closed, she carried out the introductions. “Councillor Dhaliwal, this is Gareth Fothrington-Thomas, our senior partner. He and I are working on the theatre project together.

Call me Ash”, beamed the councillor, “I don’t think we need to stand on ceremony.”

Pleased to meet you Councill… I mean Ash” replied Gareth, shaking his hand a little too enthusiastically. “I hope Tracey has looked after you. Erm, can we offer you a drink?”

Water will be fine. You have a very nice office here. The view is excellent.” Ash walked to the window.

Tracey handed him a cup from the water machine. “Yes it’s lovely. You can see Rackhams and House of Fraiser”.

Ash laughed. “I was thinking a little beyond the shopping centre roof. Those hills are where I love to go for a run, although it’s been a little while”. He patted a non-existent belly.

Tracey blushed. She noticed the ring again.

Sit down Ash”, Gareth said. “It’s good of you to take the time to join us. Let young Tracey fill you in on where we are with the project.”

Ash sat down. “To be honest, Tracey gave me a few details in her e-mail and I’ve been doing a bit of checking up myself.” He winked at Tracey, “Doris is very helpful.”

Ah. So you understand the position” Gareth added.

Tracey opened up her laptop. “Perhaps if I give you all the figures.”

As I say, I have been doing a little digging, and to be blunt, you are up shit creek. The question is, do you have a paddle?”

Tracey’s face fell. She looked at Gareth who seemed at a loss for anything to say. “I’m not quite sure. I mean, it’s not looking good. The panto has brought in some money, but we are still not where we need to be.”

Ash smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m on your side. You’ve been doing some good work. Saving the day by getting on stage for the panto was amazing for a start, although maybe next year you’ll see if you can find me a part. I know how much publicity has been generated too.”

You saw me on stage?”

Of course. Councillors are privileged, free tickets to the show. My wife and kids loved it.”

Her face flushed again. “Thanks. I’m glad that Julie came back though. Not sure I’m cut out for a life on the stage.”

Never say never. I’ve done a little acting myself you know.”

Oh, I know, I looked you up.”

Ask grinned. “You have been doing your research, have you? Should I give up a career in accountancy for the film world?”

Maybe. I’d not seen a Bollywood film before, but it was pretty good. I couldn’t understand what was being said but the dancing and costumes were amazing.”

Don’t worry. The plots aren’t usually that complex. It’s all about the spectacle most of the time. That and churning them out as fast as possible.”

Gareth looked confused. “You are an actor?”

Not really. I managed to wangle myself a little role in a film when I was visiting family in India a few years ago. My uncle knows the director, and someone had gone off sick.” He turned to Tracey, “You see, we’ve both filled in in showbiz.”

At least you didn’t end up in a jar full of gunge.” Everyone laughed.

That’s true. You didn’t look too impressed. Mind you, neither did the Mayor when the stuff splattered her.”

She was really upset about that. I think I ruined her clothes.”

Oh, the suit will have gone on expenses. It was more the indignity. Some of my colleagues don’t understand that pantomime can involve a bit of audience participation shall we say? They like to be seen, but don’t want to take part in the fun.”

Tracey looked shocked. “You mean…”

Some of them can be, how shall we say, old-fashioned. I shouldn’t say this, but they have been doing these jobs for years and like things done a certain way. Being respected by the right sort of people in the town matters more to some of them than actually doing the job they are elected to do.”

Tracey and Gareth looked at each other.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 31

Gareth looked around the meeting room. He wasn’t entirely comfortable. “Who is this chap again Tracey?” he asked.

Tracey sighed. She knew he wasn’t really happy about bringing someone else in on the theatre project because Kate wouldn’t approve, or at least he thought she wouldn’t, not having bothered to ask her about it.

Councillor Ashok Dhaliwal. Doris recommended we get him involved. I’ve checked him out, he’s about a hundred years younger than the rest of them and apparently good with the finances. I’ve only invited him along for a chat.”

It was true that she had checked him out. A couple of hours on the web and the Councillor’s background had been thoroughly researched. It didn’t hurt that he was only a couple of years older than her and she had to admit, pretty easy on the eye.

The big surprise was an entry on IMDB thanks to a bit-part in a Bollywood film a few years ago. Watching the film, in the aid of research and with headphones on, she thought she worked out who he was, but it didn’t matter, he was a bit of a mover judging by the dance sequences. It was all she could do to keep still at her desk. The music was really catchy.

But, are you sure it is a good idea? We don’t want to give the Council the impression that we can’t do this. Freddie is relying on us”

Tracey sighed. “We can’t do this. Not on our own. This ship is sinking fast and right now, neither of us can see how we fix everything. What we need now is some ideas how we can persuade the Council that this isn’t a hopeless project in a month’s time. Most of them are dead against keeping the theatre open, but it looks like we might have found someone on our side for once.”

But what did Freddie say?”

Nothing.”

Gareth looked surprised. “Nothing?”

Yes. Because I haven’t told him.”

Tracey. We’re supposed to be helping out, not sneaking around behind his back.”

We’re not sneaking around, we’re trying to help. For the minute, I don’t think we should promise anything we can’t deliver. For all I know, Councillor Dhaliwal will be no more use than the rest of them.”

In the corner of the room, a telephone rang. Picking it up, Gareth said, “Well, we are going to find out. Apparently, he’s in reception.”

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