@Number10gov: third power outage at home this month. let's see if tossers at @britishgas are laughing come budget time. #fml
This has been the worst day of Tim Agnew's life, bar none, and the fact that he's said that about approximately ten days out of the last fifteen is testament to just how depressingly awful his life is at the moment.
"What? What do you want?" Katherine demands, bursting into the office.
"We talked about this, you remember? You're meant to let Sasha handle the official twitter feed."
"That's hardly fair." She slams her briefcase down onto her desk, almost dislodging the framed picture of her children. "I should be allowed to complain about things that get on my nerves, just like the rest of the world."
"You can't swear on the Internet, Prime Minister."
"You do know what eff-em-ell stands for, don't you?"
Katherine gives one of the whole-body wriggles that means she's admitted internally that he may have a point, but she's trying to work out the best way to ignore this fact in favour of insults. She does these wriggles with everyone -- they've been the subject of more than one political cartoon -- and the only way to terminate them and wrangle any sort of apology out of her is, unfortunately, to hold her firmly on the spot and kiss her. Tim only knows this because he's seen the First Gentleman do it; anyone else would probably require emergency plastic surgery after the attempt.
"They deserved it," she says finally. "I had oats for breakfast. Oats. Not porridge. Horrible chewy oats in cold milk."
Food and Katherine don't sit together in Tim's mind. For years he thought she subsisted entirely on rage and work ethic. Occasionally, though, she can be found at her desk savagely spearing pieces of salad and delivering them into her mouth in the pauses between sentences, and Tim has vivid memories from the post-post-election-party party of the newly-elected leader of Her Majesty's Government drinking far more vodka than her size would suggest she could handle, eating eggplant dip out of a bowl with her bare fingers, and then racing around the room on her husband's back. It was one of the only times he'd seen her laugh in public.
"No more tweeting," Tim begs. "If you want to vent, text me. Text Bianca. I don't care. Just please, please don't text the two million people who expect to see updates on policy and official business."
Katherine sniffs. "Has that whining turd of a caterer called back yet?"
"I'm about to try them again."
"And you make sure you tell them what happened to the last caterer who served chicken satay at one of my parties. I am not driving my son to the emergency room because some fucking amateur chef can't read a simple food intolerances order."
"Yes, Prime Minister."
She narrows her eyes at him in a way that makes him think of deep-sea predators. Ever since she saw that stupid television program -- oh, yes, her married life has led her to discover the existence of the telly, sing bloody hallelujah -- she's accused him of mocking her whenever he says that. Which makes things rather difficult, because she accuses him of idiocy (and once, memorably, treason) whenever he disagrees with her, and of disrespect when he doesn't refer to her by some form of title in front of other people. Tim flat-out refuses to use either 'ma'am' or the proper styling of The Right Honourable with someone who's been comparing him to various parts of a donkey's anatomy for as many years as Katherine has, so Prime Minister it is.
"Right," she snaps, and slams the door behind her with such force that it bounces open again.
And Tim's dentist wonders why he's been grinding his teeth at night.
"Hello, Prime Minister's office."
Tim knows that Petruchio knows what his actual bloody name is, but he never uses it.
"Yes," he says, resigned. "That's me."
"I've just received an email from my dearest darling dumpling wife."
"Oh for Christ's -- if it's about the caterers for the party, I called them, they know all about Iain's nut allergy, and they've assured me it won't be an issue."
"Good! But that's not it."
"Did you want me to...guess?" Tim asks.
"Don't be ridiculous, it was a private message between a man and his wife."
Tim sighs. "Then why were you calling?"
"What? Oh. I've forgotten. Do I need a reason? Maybe I just wanted the pleasure of your conversation, Tamara, did you ever think of -- no! Nono! Gussypants, we keep the jelly in the bowl and we don't smear it onto our bodies unless we're old like Mummy and Daddy and we're playing special grown-up games, all right? Goodboy. Inna mouth. Mmmmnumnum."
Tim glances at the clock. "Should you be feeding them now? Their birthday party's in a couple of hours, and I really think this caterer will commit suicide if they refuse to eat any of the food on top of everything else."
"We're just finishing lunch," Petruchio says cheerfully. "We took a break! For three hours. And pretended to be pirates."
"Oh, well," Tim says weakly. He has a decent amount of money on the triplets needing industrial-strength therapy by their teens. "That sounds fun."
"See you soon!"
He puts the phone back in its cradle with great care. Frederick the Nervous Intern is at his shoulder with a mug of coffee.
"Er, Julie said you might want this."
Tim takes the mug and uses it to salute Julie across the room before drinking. And bless the woman, she's even slipped in a dash of something stronger; she knows how to help a colleague through a conversation with the boss's husband. Though Tim hasn't quite forgiven her for snapping up Jon the Smiling Intern and leaving him with Frederick, whose eyes wobble alarmingly whenever Katherine so much as breathes near him. Sometimes Tim wonders if Frederick meant to apply for a position at UK Aid and his resume was redirected due to a glitch in the Whitehall mail system.
"All good?" Julie calls.
"The usual," Tim calls back.
Some time ago Katherine threw a bundle of statistics at him and told him to 'shove them online, or something, apparently we have to be transparent now, as if the blithering idiots who populate this country have any idea about the mechanics of effective government', which led firstly to the firing and public humiliation of the staffer stupid enough to try and leak that quote to the press, but secondly to Tim's learning how to effect crude edits on the number10.gov website. Now he opens the Prime Minister's Biography section and scrolls down to the brief section on personal life. Currently it reads:
Katherine and her husband the Earl of Charlebury have three young children, the triplets Paul, Iain and Augustus.
Tim types in his own version:
After many years of systematic alienation of the opposite sex, Kate 'Up Yours' Minola got herself hitched to a mad cross-dressing aristocrat in an attempt to pass herself off as family-oriented. To the great surprise of everyone who's ever met her, the damn thing stuck. She now lives happily with her inappropriate hussy of a husband and their brood of hellspawn.
He stares at it wistfully, letting the catharsis sink into his bones, and then deletes it.
why did I choose these inbred morons for my Cabinet, WHY?
and is there not a single human being on my staff who can put together a simple briefing paper?
if the Member for Birkenhead doesn't shut up soon I will strangle him with his own intestines
Eventually Tim turns his mobile phone onto silent and just glances up every now and again to check on the number of vitriolic texts piling up in his inbox. Things in the office are quiet and he's almost reached the bottom of the stack of documents he's marked NOW NOW NOW OR ELSE with a bright blue Post-It note -- he's not a very good self-motivator -- when a clatter of zoo-like chaos crescendos up the corridor and manifests itself the 16th Earl of Charlebury, complete with heirs. Petruchio's wearing eyeliner and what appear to be high-heeled Doc Martens, but other than that he's dressed like a normal, if slightly manic, father of toddlers.
"I want my woman!" he booms, like he always does. Tim sees Julie calmly put her headphones on and, no doubt, turn up that ghastly German techno music she loves so much. Frederick hasn't been here for long enough to have a clue what's going on; he looks terrified and sidles up to Tim.
"Should we call security?" he whispers. "Is he on drugs?"
"No!" says Tim, and, "What are you still doing here? Go home."
"But -- the Prime Minister said yesterday that if she didn't see every single snivelling weasel of a staff member at her sons' third birthday party, she would tear out the sexual organs of the pathetic sods in question with her teeth and wear them as a hat during Question Time."
She probably did say that. Tim's stopped paying attention to the colourful detail in Katherine's threats; all he hears now is the pitch of her voice, by which he can judge whether or not lives and/or genitalia are actually at stake. By the look of Frederick, he's still at the stage where every foul word burns itself indelibly onto his eardrums.
"Righto," he says, taking pity on the lad. "Good."
"BIIIIM," Paul shrieks, and runs headlong at Tim's legs in search of a hug. Inevitable therapy or no inevitable therapy, the Minola triplets are some of the happiest -- if also the loudest -- children that Tim's ever come across.
"Come on, where's my bloody wife?" Petruchio demands of the room.
"The Prime Minister is -- in a meeting," Frederick quavers.
"And who are you?" Petruchio looms over Frederick with an expression that's the big-cat equivalent of Katherine's narrowed eyes. He looks like he's considering playing with his food before eating it, and Tim is weighing up whether it would be more humane to step in now or to let Frederick get used to the mayhem and abuse that is public service, and before anyone can say anything else Katherine appears in the open doorway.
"Well," she says.
"Kate, darling." Petruchio trips over a wastepaper bin and two of his sons on his way across the room. "God, you look ravishing."
"I haven't slept in two days, you blithering fool," Katherine says, but she ducks her chin and looks, just for a millisecond, impossibly pleased. "The party's in less than an hour, you should be getting the kids ready. Wait -- have you lost one of our children? I always knew you would. Where's Paul?"
"He's over here," Tim says, lifting the child in question. Paul gives a pleased giggle. He has the baseline stickiness of all three-year-olds and has already transferred some of it to Tim's hands. Charming.
"Gus is pink," Katherine snaps.
"Is he? Oh, that's mostly jelly. It'll come off if I throw him in a bath. Or a pond."
"Hm." Katherine flicks her eyes around the room. "I'm going to kiss my insufferable husband now. You can all look away. Or not."
"We don't have to stay long, do we?" Elaine says in his ear.
"At least until cake, I'm afraid. But look, Sam's having a good time."
Samantha, wearing her brand-new dress in a shade of pink that's so cloying and Disneyfied that Tim wonders if he should be ashamed of his lack of feminist parenting, is racing at sugar-fuelled speed around the lawn of Number 10 Downing Street. She appears to be trying to stab the Speaker of the House's grandson with a toy lightsaber; Tim feels a glow of partisan pride.
"I'm going to find the booze." Elaine kisses his cheek and heads back into the house.
"Champagne for me," he calls after her.
"Hello, Timmy, my dear boy."
Bianca screws up her gorgeous nose and transfers Iain from one hip to the other. "Come on, Tim, you can call me Bianca by now. It helps me feel young."
"You don't need the help, surely."
She snorts and presses a kiss into her nephew's hair. "I keep telling myself that there's still time, you know. For me to find what Katherine found."
"What, a madman?"
"A madman who'll support her ambition whole-heartedly, and raise the kids without a hint of resentment?" She gives a rueful smile. "Yeah, do you know of any going spare?"
They look across to where Petruchio is standing, his tiny wife in front of him, his arms draped down over her shoulders. Katherine sends the occasional threatening glare in the direction of the caterers -- who have done a fabulous job, Tim will have to send them an effusive thank-you note -- but mostly she seems content to rest her head on her husband's chest and follow the antics of their children with her quick eyes.
"Daddy!" Samantha rushes up to him. "There's going to be fireworks later!"
"Fireworks and the Minola family." Elaine comes up and hands him a flute of champagne, smiling in Bianca's direction. "What could possibly go wrong?"
"Oh, here we go," Bianca says, nodding across the garden.
"-- of all the moronic things to say --" Katherine is growling.
"Come on then, honeycakes! Prove me wrong!"
"Prove it? I'll eviscerate your ancestors, you --"
So much for the idyllic family scene, Tim thinks. Oh, it's obvious to anyone who knows them well that the Prime Minister and her husband are enjoying themselves immensely, but from the outside it must look like a major family row taking place in front of a group of politicians and their small children. The tabloids are going to love it.
Tim sighs, lifts his drink in a silent twitter-worthy toast -- eff his bloody ell indeed -- and drains the whole glass.