Pas du tout

by Richard Gilles

“Okay then, the Zoom’s a half-hour late but let’s be charitable and blame Brexit or Covid.”

“Ah you’re there Steve: I couldn’t figure out the link.”

“Aye Douglas, di ya mean the missing link?”

“Seriously I’m hopeless when it comes to these things.”

“Nice, well let’s move on, can you read out the agenda.”

“The what?”

“As the chair for this meeting you go through the agenda, you know: the list of topics to be discussed, activities etc.”

“I think I’m in over my head.”

“Well, we’ll just hoof it. A Margaret, nice you could join us.”

“Steve, one more crack like that I’ll, I’ll –”

“Margaret I wasn’t being sarcastic, it’s the internet: you lose context.”

“Apologies Steve, I’ve had a hell of a day. The dog has just crapped –”

“Wendy, your sounds on mute; yes, press the mute button.”

“Steve, I was just saying, can you hear me, can you –”

“Yes, I can hear you, but you’ve just pressed the mute again. There’s Jeff. I don’t know if you’re listening, but do you really want us to watch you adjusting your dress.”

“I didn’t know the video was on, and for the record, this is not a dress, it’s a painter’s smock. I’m in my studio.”

“It’s a figure of speech. Now I can only see the top of your head. Is that a Jackson Pollock?”

“What do you think? That’s where I clean my brushes.”

We are just waiting for Louise and Hamish, and then we can start.”

“What’s an agenda?”

“Not now Douglas.”

“The man’s an idiot.”

“Now Jeff let’s not be judgmental.”

“Says the man wearing a dress.”

“Weesht Douglas.”

“It’s not a –”

“Ah, Louise, nice you co – I mean, it’s good to see you. How’s the kids?”

“We Jimmy’s full of beans as always, but Jennifer has come down with a chill we’re hoping it’s not; you know.”

“Margaret here; if she’s not got a temperature, you’re fine.”

“Margaret it’s good to see you, in fact, you’re just the person, I was wondering if –”

“I’m not that kind of doctor.”

“Never mind, oh no, I’ve spilt sanitiser on the keyboard, cross fingers it doesn’t short. Can you understand me through my mask?”

“Stop shaking your head, Howitzer. Loud and clear, Louise. Now if Hamish doesn’t join us soon, we’ll have to start without, ah, him. Do I hear ticking?”

“It’s me Steve.”

“Sorry, Hamish I didn’t see you there.”

“That’s all right. I think the ticking is me. I’ve got some bloody sourdough bread in the oven, so I might have to bloody disappear.”

“Nice bit of colour there from Hamish.”

“Well, you were asking about the ticking.”

“Margaret, would you take the minutes.”

“I think I’ve done my share.”

“I wasn’t implying – anyway does anyone want, anyone, anyone?”

“I’ll do it.”

“Anyone?”

“I said I’ll do it.”

“Sorry Hamish I’m not used to, eh, eh that’s fine. Everyone, Hamish is taking the minutes.”

“Yes Steve, we know, because we’re here.”

“Thanks for that, Margaret. So where shall we begin?”

“Hi Hmmm.”

“Sorry Douglas you’re the chair, so I’ll hand over.”

“Thanks, Steve, I’ve googled agenda so touch wood and let’s begin with a review of the minutes.”

“No apologies then Douglas?”

“I stand corrected by Margaret. I have apologies from Hamish.”

“I’m here.”

“Howitzer.”

“He’s here as well.”

“So, you both are, well, let’s see, now who’s left, bear with me, ah, apologies from Samantha who is doing some yoga retreat thing in Nepal. And of course, Joe who has only two months left of his witness tampering sentence. No doubt he’ll have some interesting tales to tell when he gets back.”

“Douglas: can you speed things up, there’s two or three pieces to be read out.”

“Ill met by moonlight proud Jeff. I’m getting there.”

“What are you on about?”

“Midsummer night’s – forget it, oh the minutes have, eh, disappeared, let me put a hold on these automatic updates, where was I, you know this is all like that quiz show. What was it?”

“Blankety Blank?”

“Thanks Margaret, but it wasn’t that.”

“The Krypton Factor.”

“I was thinking of something with a more split-screen presentation, Hamish.”

“Never mind the …”

“You tailed off there, Wendy, and my lip-reading is … some rude word – you must know, Howitzer.”

“What is this? Some kind of role call? I don’t know. Scrapheap challenge. There: are you happy?”

“I don’t think you’re quite getting into the spirit of this.”

“The Krypton Factor.”

“You’ve already said that Hamish.”

“University Challenge.”

“Getting warmer, Steve.”

“Hip Hop Squares.”

“I haven’t heard of that one Louise, but it’s like that.”

“It was on MTV.”

“Oh, make this end. The Brady Bunch.”

“Jeff, we didn’t get that here and besides, that’s not a quiz.”

“You get clips on YouTube, grandad.”

“Do you get ageism on YouTube too? Louise was closest, now that I remember, it was Celebrity Squares. Okay, the minutes are back, all those present were me, Steven – well you know who you are. Changes to the constitution.”

“Boring.”

“For heaven’s sake, Jeff put a sock in it.”

“Here, here, Margaret.”

“Seconded. Anyway, for the sake of Jeff, we’ll move on.”

“Douglas don’t be cowed.”

“Thanks, Steve, but I’m quite capable of looking after myself. Perhaps we can talk about the proposition to increase in contributions. Is there a second to this motion? Steve, you have your hand up.”

“I second the two pound a month increase.”

“You can’t hide money.”

“Who said that?”

“It was Hamish.”

“Louise I would thank you to butt out. It was Jeff.”

“It was not.”

“Margaret?”

“Well don’t look at me Steve.”

“Maybe we should read our work while there’s still time.”

“If I could stop you there, Douglas. Are there any comments about the piece I sent last week?”

“Ok folks, any comments about Howitzer’s ‘piece’?”

“What’s with the air quotes.”

“Sorry Howitzer: bad joke. I was doing peace signs. Margaret, you have the floor.”

“Well Douglas, I found Howitzer’s ‘Stalingrad: a soldier’s tale’ to be very violent.”

“Louise?”

“Gruesome.”

“Louise says gruesome.”

“Again Steve, we heard. If you’re asking me, though entertaining, I also found it gruesome.”

“Just jump in there Jeff. One violent and two gruesomes. Steve; any thoughts?”

“I found the beheadings unnecessary. It was too Sven Hassel for my taste and a trifle derivative. Oh, Howitzer’s gone.”

“Now you’ve done it. You know Howitzer’s a bit thin-skinned.”

“What utter twaddle, he was in the SAS.”

“And I’m Jackson Pollock, Mister Moneybags.”

“Jeff, it was you! I’m sorry Douglas, but I can’t stay here and be insulted; goodnight.”

“Steve, you don’t have to apologise to me, just stay. He’s gone. That’s a pity. Well, anyway, who wants to read their piece. I see Wendy waving. You’re still muted.”

“Can you hear me now?”

“Yes, fine: go ahead.”

“Thanks, Douglas. My story begins in a small township in the Caucasus. ‘It was a dark night in …”

“Wendy’s gone completely now. Until she returns – what is it, Hamish?”

“If you want a record of all this, talk slower: I can’t keep up.”

“Jeff says I’m too slow you say I’m too fast. By the way, what’s that smoke behind you?”

“Oh shit: the sourdough. I’ll have to go.”

“You don’t, and Hamish has gone as well. So much for taking care of the minutes. Louise, I believe you have a poem.”

“. . . as they walked along the Khada Valley they looked up to see the mountain tops bedecked with slender towers of …”

“Sorry to interrupt Wendy, but we lost you a while back, you’ll have to start again.”

“It was a dark night in –”

“What is going on tonight? Louise back to you.”

“Yes, Douglas I wrote a Villanelle about the lavender harvest in Provence.”

“Sounds intriguing, do continue.”

“Can I play devil’s advocate here?”

“No, you can’t, Jeff. Louise: go on.”

“I don’t think poetry is strictly what we are about here.”

“Actually Jeff, it says in the constitution that all forms are – now look what you’ve done: Louise has left.”

“Good for you, Margaret. Thank goodness someone’s au fait with the – Jeff you are out of order – and if that’s the V for victory sign, it’s the wrong way round.”

“Jeff’s gone, Douglas.”

“So it seems, Margaret.”

“It’s just we two.”

“Indeed.”

“the two of us.”

“Nous Deux.”

“You speak French?”

“Not really, I’m just trying to impress. You?”

“Un peu.”

“do you have piece?”

“Mais non. Et tu?

“No.”

“Let’s call time then shall we?”

“If you like. Wendy, you’re back! Nope, she’s gone.”

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