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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about the kids?”

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

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

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

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

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 23

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

Kate

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

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

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

Karen McDaniel

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Partner?” Karen interrupted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can they do that?”

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

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

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

“Andrew sounds like a great guy.”

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

Kate sipped her coffee and nodded.

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

“So where did the forums come from?”

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

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

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

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Kate vs Showbix – Chapter 22

Sitting in the car, Tracey fired up the engine.

Feeling OK?”, asked Sparks.

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

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

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

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

One thing bothers me though.”

Sparks looked curious. “Really?”

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

Kate spluttered, “What I meant was…”

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

I’m sorry, I was just trying to…”

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

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

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

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Choose?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The murmuring got louder.

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

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

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

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

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

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 20

Is it £1.27 Bob?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracey blushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awww. That’s a shame.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You in training to be a WAG then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about you Nat? You fighting fit?”

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

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

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

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

Oh no you haven’t” joked Nat.

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

Ohhh” they both went and laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracey sat open mouthed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 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 14

Dave relaxed with a beer and took in the view.  He’d decided to rent an apartment for his time back in America.  He couldn’t stay with Alicia, that would be too strange after all this time, and he didn’t want to stay in a hotel as there’d be no room for Junior to crash over.

The apartment was over the road from the Pentagon.  Sitting in the lounge area he had a great view of the Capitol building, lit against the night sky, and could look down at a highway snaking its way across a bridge towards the main centre.  It was a short stop on the metro into town but close to open space in case he wanted to take his son out to play.

Ah, Jnr.  Having a son made things so much better but so much worse in his current situation.  He still couldn’t believe how being a father made him feel. He’d fallen in love with this crying bundle when it had arrived seven years ago.  Jnr was a lot different now, still fun but had an answer for things and didn’t always want to do what his Dad wanted.  He missed the days when the two of them had been able to go out and throw a ball around and Jnr enjoyed every moment with his Dad.  Now he had to fight to prise him away from his iPad.  He’d also been surprised how the boy had changed.  He had grown into a strapping young lad already, tall and muscled with blonde hair and blue eyes.  He wouldn’t change it for the world though and wondered, with his separation from Alicia becoming permanent, how they would make the distance work.  He didn’t want to become the absent father, resented by his son, though he knew it couldn’t be perfect unless one or the other of them decided to stay in the same country. 

Taking another slug of his beer he thought about his other quandary.  Kate, beautiful, confusing Kate. He’d fallen for her as soon as she’d arrived, late, to his second-year lecture. She’d slammed through the door of the theatre, stomped down the stairs and fallen in to an end pew.  Even the lecturer had paused, about to give her a mouth full, but her stunning smile had put him right off.  The flash of leg had probably helped too.

All he had seen was dark hair, a slash of red lipstick, tight skirt and heels. But she had captured his attention, particularly when she then started firing questions at the lecturer. By the end of the lesson, he was hooked and wanted to know more.

She marched out the same way she came in, like she owned the room.  He was impressed by her ability to get up the many steps in heels, when most students wore doc martins.  Turning to his friend he whispered, “Who’s the stunner?” “Dunno, mate.” Came the response.

After doing some fishing he found out she’d changed her major after the first year, moving from English to Politics so hadn’t been in any of his first-year classes.

Three weeks later and she rushed into another class, late again.  This time there was only one seat left in the room, next to him.  ‘Bingo’ thought Dave, ‘time to turn on the charm.’  All his bluff and bluster didn’t work though as she cut him down at every point, poo-pooing his ideas.  He liked her even more for that.

Their friendship blossomed as they argued more, debating alternative ideas. Dave could tell that Kate loved the cut and thrust of a good discussion.   As the end of term ball came around he set his sights on taking their relationship to the next level.  Turning up in his best tux he scanned the room for her, finding her striking in a short red dress, glass in hand as she held court with some guys.  Wandering over to see what the discussion was, he was surprised to hear introduce someone as ‘my boyfriend, Felix’.  She’d never mentioned a boyfriend before so he was convinced that it was only a matter of time before he could win her round.  Joining the group, he met his competition, a bearded art student who seemed to be mainly off his head, but doting on her every word.  Later on, he queried their relationship with another member of the group to be informed they’d been together since the first term, with Felix following her like a puppy.

Dave was a bit put out and proceed to snog the face off one of the random sloan girls that always seemed to be around at University, just to make himself feel better.  Returning in January he and Kate were set the challenge of debating against each other, but each arguing for something they would not normally support.  This led to many hours in the library together, helping to research each other’s arguments. Dave probed more about her relationship, finding out they had met in the first week and Felix was a fine art student.  She seemed more dismissive than besotted, but as the months wore on Felix was still around.

Dave finally realised that this was a dead duck.  His casual friendship with Kate had grown into something more concrete but it had also made him realise she was a fragile soul.  Felix was her comfort blanket, someone to keep her safe in the strange surroundings of university.  Through all bluff and bluster on top, she was shy underneath and needed his constant reassurance to help her. Dave couldn’t break that bond without ruining their friendship. He resigned himself to them being great friends.

Looking back he wished he hadn’t backed down so easily.  If he had told her how he felt then, perhaps it would have come to nothing, but perhaps he wouldn’t be sitting on his own in an apartment in DC trying to sort out a broken marriage while she was in the UK wondering what was going on.

He knew what the real barrier had been then, and it was still there now.  Kate didn’t want children.  She’d commented over and over again while they were at university how children just got in the way and she didn’t want to put her body through all that.  Every time they saw a baby she would go ‘yuck’.   But Dave had always wanted kids.  Dave Jnr was the hope that his and Alicia’s relationship, already rocky then, would calm down and he could grow up being a Dad to a little brood.  Now it would seem that wouldn’t be the case as his son would be 1000s of miles away and the woman he thought he loved didn’t want to add to the family.  In fact, he wasn’t sure she would want a stepson.  It was a real sticking point, Dave wasn’t sure he was ready to give up on being a dad just yet.

Finishing his beer he walked back to the kitchen and put the empty bottle in the bin.  He contemplated getting another but instead stood leaning against the breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the lounge.  He was tired and all this thinking was just making him feel worse.  Taking one last look at the view he walked into the bedroom and tried to switch off for the night.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 12

“Blechhhhh”

It wasn’t the sound Tracey expected to hear as they entered the dressing room. Nor was the sight of someone’s bottom partially covered with a sequin-covered leotard the first thing they hoped to see.

“Oh God”, moaned the figure hunched over in the tiny toilet cubicle.

Gareth hid outside the door. “Is everything all right?” he enquired.

“Blechhhh”

“Can I go and get anything?”, he stammered unsure what to do. “A cup of tea perhaps?” he added weakly.

Tracey stepped in. She might not be trained in first aid, but helping someone chucking up after a night out was her field. Leaning in, she gently took hold of the woman’s long hair and pulled it back away from her face. It’s bad enough being sick, but chunks of vomit clinging to your split ends made it ten times worse.

“Blimey, you’re having a good clear out”, she joked. Looking at her watch, she added, “Mind you, I normally save this stuff for later in the day.”

A deathly pale face looked up at her. Its owner paused for a few seconds to check that there wasn’t about to be a repeat performance and then slowly stood up.

“Thanks. I’m sorry about that. It’s probably something I ate. Our hotel breakfast looked a bit dodgy this morning.”. Another pause. “I’m Julie. Julie Todmonton. Sparks’ assistant.” She proffered her hand and then took it back quickly. “Can you give me a couple of minutes to clean up?”

Back in the corridor, Tracey found Freddie huddled with Gareth and a terrified looking Kelvin.

“How is she?” Freddie asked.

“I’ve been worse. Says it’s something to do with the hotel. Probably not going to be leaving a glowing review on Trip Adviser.”

“Hmm. Let’s hope so. They are on stage in twenty minutes.”

Tracey had seen the posters up for a magic act. Sparks was emblazoned across the top with a permatanned grinning face in the middle. Cartoon electric bolts shot out around him. She had to admit that if you ignored the orange skin and Photoshop white teeth, he wasn’t bad looking. This and the fact he would be the ‘big’ star in the upcoming pantomime had persuaded her to give up an evening in the name of research.

“Maybe it’s stage fright then.”

Freddie shook his head, “No chance. They are pros. When you’ve been doing your act for a couple of years in every town in the country, it gets pretty banal.”

Tracey wondered if wearing skin-tight glittery costumes and having your head cut off could really be a run of the mill way to earn a living. The clothes are OK, she thought, and I suppose it’s better than getting chewed up by Kate all the time.

As she pondered, the face from the posters appeared beside them. “What’s happening? Where the hell’s Julie?”

Freddie turned, “Ah. Tracey. Please allow me to introduce you to Barry Martin, better known as…”

“Sparks. Just call me Sparks, young lady”, said the magician.

Dressed in a sharp black suit that showed off his figure, he was a million miles from the traditional old school conjurer who would have fitted the age of the venue or its audience. The posters didn’t do him justice. For a start, he wasn’t orange. Maybe the photo was a couple of years old, but the teeth really did light up the room when he smiled and there was an undefinable ‘something’ about him. She felt a little flush looking into his blazing green eyes. “Pleased to meet you”, she stammered.

“Tracey is here to help us relaunch the theatre. She’s a management consultant.”

Sparks looked at her. “Management consultant eh? Perhaps I should consult you myself. I need a bit of bringing in to line sometimes. Isn’t that right Freddie!”

Freddie laughed. Tracey blushed again. Was he hitting on her? “Oh, it sounds more boring than it really is. We go in and shake things up a bit, that’s all.”

“Well, if you fancy giving me a quick jiggle, I’ll be back for the season in a couple of weeks. Perhaps we can discuss a little strategy?”

Bloody hell. He really was hitting on her. And she quite liked it. “Maybe we can”, she smiled, “But I think you need to check on your assistant first. She’s not feeling too good.”

“Oh god. Yes. I told her to lay off the yoghurt at breakfast. Bloody things all looked out of date to me. Stick to red meat, that’s what I say.” Then with a final flash of his smile, Sparks disappeared into the dressing room, slamming the door behind him.

For a moment, they listened outside. Inside there were the muffled sounds of a discussion that quickly became heated. Freddie gulped and lead Tracey back to the office.

*

Sat with a cup of coffee that would defy any barista’s description, Freddie relaxed. “I think Barry, sorry, Sparks, likes you.”

Tracey looked away. “You think so? I thought you showbiz people were all like that. Air kisses one minute and bitching behind each other’s backs the next.”

“Not me luv”, he chuckled, “but I know what you mean. There are some real bitches in this business – and that’s just the men!”

They both laughed. Then a thought crossed Tracey’s mind. “Sparks and Julie. Are they, you know, a couple?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. She’s been with him for eighteen months or so. Pretty good really. He tends to be, how shall we put it, quite demanding. He’s got a bit of a temper.”

“Really? That doesn’t sound good. It sounded like they were rowing when we left. Will she be all right?”

Freddie laughed again. “Don’t worry. Julie can give as good as she gets. That’s why she’s lasted so long working with him. The trouble is, he wants to be the next big thing. We’re really too small a venue for his ego. Don’t get me wrong, he’s good. Really good, but he wants his name in lights in Leicester Square, not on a provincial theatre.”

“Do you reckon he’ll make it?”, she asked.

“Maybe. I’ve seen some real no-hopers make it big on TV and plenty of huge talents spend their entire careers slogging around the circuit living out of a suitcase in cheap hotels. It’s all about luck and who you know rather than if you are any good.”

“You mean talent doesn’t matter?”

“Oh, it matters. Unless you are young and very pretty”, he looked sideways at Tracey, “then you need to be ‘discovered’ by someone and that means getting your arse out on to the stage every evening.”

“So how come he’s doing the panto?”

“Trains, my dear.”

“Trains?” she asked

“Yes. You see, we are on the line from London. The critics can get out to us and watch the show but still be back in time for last orders at the Groucho club. That way they can pretend to show an interest in the provinces and then scamper back into the comfort of a Zone 1 card on the tube.”

She nodded. “Clever.”

“Patronising bastards most of them. ‘Oh you do so well for a regional theatre’ half of them seem surprised we have seats and running electricity.”, his shaking hand spilt coffee on the table, “But we need the reviews. The councillors always look impressed when the papers from the capital give us a tiny mention, and as you know, we need to keep them on board.”

A bell rang. Freddie looked up. “Showtime I think. Would you like to see Sparks in action?”

Tracey nodded and leaving the undrinkable beverage behind, headed into the auditorium.

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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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Cheers for breakfast

Cheerslogo

Phil: Since I don’t have a small child to get ready for school in the morning, if I’m so minded, I can take my time and linger a bit over my bowl of breakfast cereal. It’s a great time to catch up on some magazine reading, and since I prefer to work later, I don’t see any panic to be sat in front of a computer terribly early.

In the past, this would be accompanied by BBC Breakfast News. I suppose it’s useful to catch up on the various happenings in the world, but if I’m honest, knowing the weather forecast is probably more practical.

But, with Brexit, all this stopped. Yes, I might catch the weather and local news, but the rest of the time the airwaves were filled with people shouting at each other. And just as Brexit leaves the stage, along comes Covid, and the news editors decided our mornings should start with a blast of ratings-gathering doom and gloom.Even as this recedes in interest, we’re treated to more disaster with (currently) empty shelves, price rises, lack of power etc.

Enough!

For a very long while, there has been no TV. Telly snobs will say this is a good thing, but I grew up with the magic box and get just as annoyed with those who boast about not watching it, as I do with those who devote their entire lives, and a complete wall in their lounge, to the screen.

Idly flicking through the channels on a very relaxed morning, I found that I could watch the 1980s American sitcom Cheers with my cereal.

Set in a Boston bar, the show features a pretty static line-up of characters, very few of whom can be described as high-flyers (OK, Fraiser, but the rest). It’s warm. It’s cosy. As the theme song goes:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

And they are right. We all want to find our little community, where we fit in and the rest are pleased to see us.

Of course, the other reason I enjoy watching the show over breakfast is it seems so deliciously naughty to do so. Grown-ups are supposed to want to know what is in the news, even if there is nothing we can do about it. Cheers, and other shows are for the evening.

Side-stepping the expected norm feels a bit like bunking off school, or deliberately taking a longer lunch at work when you know you’ll probably get away with it. Naughty, but in a safe way.

Best of all, the warm and fuzzy accompaniment to y Fruit’n’fibre probably puts me in a better frame of mind to face the day. Or reminds me that I might be happier sat on a bar stool, drinking beer, and watching the world go by.

As the theme goes, “Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot“.

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