Not the Office Party

The Bowls Club party is tonight. In the Church Hall.

‘Yes,’ says Jane, about to be the new secretary, ‘We’re holding it in January this year because everyone’s too busy before Christmas and it brightens up the dull short days of early New Year. And the decorations from the History Society’s do are still up so that’s a saving.’ She gives a winsome smile to Bill the Chair.

The Chair? We can’t agree whether it’s pc to call the club boss Chairman/Chairwoman/Chairperson – latter for transgendered. So Chair it is.

The previous secretary, recently removed from post without warning, mutters, we’ve always held our party the week before Christmas and no one’s ever complained. But bygones are bygones and she comes, like the other members, bearing gifts of food.

Who was it said, beware the Greeks bearing gifts? Not that we expect armed soldiers to leap out of cream and sherry flavoured trifle or coronation chicken, do we? Let us, like Jane, see members as we three kings of orient are, bearing gifts and travelling afar. ‘Not too many fountains, moors and mountains in this part of the UK, ha, ha,’ Bill says.

‘United? You’re joking, Four Legs.’ (Geddit? Chair.) This from Arthur the Club wit, so he thinks. ‘The Scots’ll be gone after May’s election if the Frantic Fish gets in.’

‘Fish?’ That’s old Mrs Jenkins – a little deaf, refuses to wear an aid.

Bill’s wife Marion sighs as she places her tastefully arranged platter of cold meats on the buffet table. ‘Salmond, dear.’

‘Goodie good. I love cold salmon.’ Mrs Jenkins bends over the platter and I’m sorry to say dribbles on the salami. She doesn’t notice.

Marion, who does, hopes no one else has seen. As long as Mrs J isn’t incubating flu all will be well. But the feisty old girl spurned the annual October invitation to receive a flu jab. So we can’t all be as positive as Marion.

Mrs J pops a piece of meat in her mouth – using her fingers.

Arthur laughs, ‘Isn’t time to start, Mrs J. Not till our Bill claps his hands.’

She grimaces. ‘Yuk.’ She learnt this useful word from her great grand-daughter, age two. Removing the salami, she drops it from her arthritic fingers onto the pristine white banqueting roll covering the playgroup’s rickety tables.

 I don’t know when she last held one of the club bowls in that deformed hand. But she’s respected because Mr J. was Chair for nine years before he tragically slipped and fell on the dead toucher he was removing from the ditch. Broke his hip. Died four months later. Great send off in the Woodland Crem. We bought an azalea for him.

Hall lights twinkle on silver, red and green decorations (courtesy of Hist Soc) as they flutter over the heaters in the rising hot air. There’s a Christmas tree on the stage decorated by Cheerful Chicks Nursery children. Wonky stars, misshapen angels. How sweet. And oasis-based holly sprigs, variegated ivy sprays and gold-sprayed teasels on every table. Courtesy of the Vicechair’s garden. Eight people on each table, red paper napkins folded tastefully in wineglasses, bring your own knife, fork, spoon to save on washing up.

Marion’s watching Jane chatting up her husband. Jane has her back to Marion. She bends towards Bill.

You should look at your bum in the mirror, thinks Marion. Practise walking on those spiky high heels so you don’t lean forwards and show acres of thigh under that mini skirt.

Bill is smiling. He hasn’t noticed. Or has he? He puts his playful hand on Jane’s hip, slides it round to her . . . then remembers where he is.

The CD of Christmas songs reaches Oh Holy Night.

Music has charms to soothe the savage breast. (William Congreve, 1670 – 1729, The Mourning Bride. Thank you Wikipedia and here’s my £3 donation). Not all savage breasts, alas. Let us leave Marion to her ruminations.

I hope you’ve bought a raffle ticket from the table by the door. Kenny isn’t as fierce as his left over Movember makes him appear. He twiddles with it every morning, grimacing into the bathroom mirror. His wife jeers, but he thinks, a touch of the Musketeers?

Raffle. Lotions and powders. More chocolates. Biscuits in the shape of Santa Claus. No one’s had the decency to donate wine. Books – the Joy of Bowls and Bowling History. Calendars, diaries – the booby prizes.

No, you do not want to risk winning, but Kenny is twirling his ’tache and there’s a queue behind you and Club funds are down. ‘50p a strip,’ grins Kenny, holding out two. ‘Four strips,’ you say bravely and helplessly.

Here come the twins, Elizabeth and Betty. Born the same day as our Monarch but several years later. You can tell them apart because Elizabeth brings a cheese platter while Betty has been delegated the cream crackers. Otherwise – well, Elizabeth’s coiffured hair is immaculate, Betty’s is wispy. Both chestnut brown, thank you Barmier-Paris. Same jumper with reindeer. Long brown skirts. Neatly heeled red boots. Red? Yes, Christmas Red. Last year’s outfits. And the year before. And before. Like lesser fleas, ad infinitum.

Bill the Chair welcomes them. He’s one of the few who can tell them apart. ‘Hello, hello. Or should I say hi, hi? Ha ha. How’s the old lady?’

‘Mother is well.’

‘So pleased to hear it, Betty.’

‘Elizabeth,’ says Elizabeth. Her voice we may describe as stony.


‘We mustn’t leave her for too long.’

‘Of course not. But we’re all very pleased to see you. Both.’ That’s safe.

The CD rocks around the Christmas tree. Young Jackie wriggles her hips and starts to dance. She’s home from uni, wearing her onesie ornamented with hearts and mistletoe. Delegated by Dad to chauffeur Gran, who said, ‘What’s that thing you’re wearing? Hmph. Called them siren suits when I was a kid. ’Cos we wore them during the blitz, if you’re interested, which you probably aren’t.’

‘Course I am, Gran.’ Jackie wonders, did Gran get it unzipped, like I did? (Karaoke and Disco, Uni Bar every Thursday, Start the Weekend Early at Aberystwyth-Mon-Amour.)  She searches round the members. Who’s she looking for?

The door bangs open letting in a blast of icy air and young Tobias.

Jackie smiles. Her ‘you can’t resist me’ smile.

Poor hooked stickleback. He swims over to her. ‘Heard you were coming.’

‘I brought Gran, Tobe. Otherwise – omigod!’ She rolls her large blue eyes as the CD asks her to start dreaming of a white Christmas.

But he misses her irony. He likes all these guys. He’s a favourite, youngest member, saw off Mundeston’s team for the first time in six years, what would we do without him? He’s been two years with the Bowls Club now, in memory of his Dad, heart attack in the office, missed by all who knew him. RIP.

But now we’re socking it to Santa. That’s more like it, Bob Seger.

Jackie and Tobias giggle their dancing way round the festive buffet tables. The members smile as they make way for them. Only young once. Thank heavens.

‘Please be seated,’ shouts Bill the Chair, tapping his spoon against his wine glass. He’s lost the Chair’s gavel again.

We scramble to our seats. Now for the boring bit. AGM. Little slips of paper adorn each place. Agenda. Treasurer’s audited accounts. We scan them thoughtfully, pursing lips, nodding or shaking heads. We doze. Bill says to the deposed secretary, ‘Thank you for twenty years faithful service, you’ll always be remembered,’ thinking, at last we’re rid of the old trout. We don’t notice her gritted teeth or even listen as she wishes her replacement well. Get on with it, Bill. We came for the food. And wine. (Car drivers orange juice only, please).

Jane simpers at Bill. She is sitting next to him.

‘That’s it! Now to the feast!’ Bill cries, grabbing a paper plate.

Marion remains seated. She is on the next table by Mrs Jenkins who, being old, has seen it all. Though poor in physical sight and hearing, she hears and sees with her heart. ‘He doesn’t mean it,’ she says.

‘That hussy!’ Marion sniffs. Disdain or tears?

Mrs J senses the latter. ‘Just party high spirits. No need to be cross with him.’ A bit daring, Mrs J? Never give advice! So all counsellors advise.

But Marion says, ‘Thanks.’ And she sounds really grateful. ‘Can I get you some food?’

‘Not the salmon.’

Jackie toys with the fresh fruit salad and says to her Gran, ‘I’ve had enough.’ Food or company? Do not ask.

‘That’s fine, dear. Arthur will take me home, won’t you?’

Arthur is sitting opposite. No escape. But he likes the old dear. Not so old, Arthur, only two years more than you. We hear so much these days about widow/widower romances. Remember Judy Dench/Dustin Hoffman with tortoises? Watch out, Arthur! Gran has a sparkle in her eye. As every year. Will she win through this time?

Jackie is too young to notice. Gran’s sorted, so she and Tobe sidle out of the door, grab coats and brave the frost. Off home? Wherever.

Bill raises a final toast to those who set up tables (and a special thanks to Vicechair for her decorations), brought food, and even now are clearing up.

Washers up are busy in the kitchen. Club members with black refuse sacks scoop up dirty paper dishes, agendas, holly and ivy and teasels, crumpled serviettes, club accounts and finally the stained banqueting roll sellotaped to the tables, including Mrs. J’s chewed salami. Yuk.

Hey, hold on, that’s my spoon and fork you’re rubbishing.

The raffle. Kenny twiddles his ’tache. Smiles, says, ‘A great big thank you to all those bighearted members who’ve donated this wonderfully generous selection of prizes.’ He dips his hand in the plastic container for the first ticket.

And who will be Lucky Last? Members clap as you go up to claim the final prize – a calendar of – Shire horse foals. Damn, you can’t even recycle it at Hist Soc’s raffle because their next meeting’s in March.


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