“In short, Ian was not easily given to losing his cool. Had he been, he wouldn’t have survived there for so long.”
Ian had made a career out of being unruffled and presenting a detached, even distant front, however testing the circumstances. Since university, he’d worked in the Internal reporting team at Smash-It plc, the well-known, occasionally infamous discount retailer run by its maverick owner James Wallace. In that time, he’d navigated his way through countless missed deadlines for various weekly, periodic, quarterly and even annual reports. He’d seen chicanery and subterfuge employed by almost every other department with something to hide, Director-level arguments that threatened to descend into fist-fights when figures were poor and outright deception to massage the numbers if the truth was deemed to be unsuitable for the City. He’d lost count of the number of all-nighters he’d been asked to participate in, in order to put the figures out on time after yet another late inter-departmental submission and he’d borne the status as the figurehead of the company’s Least Popular Department for most of his twelve-year tenure. In short, Ian was not easily given to losing his cool. Had he been, he wouldn’t have survived there for so long. Now, in his unfamiliar chair he found himself in the unfamiliar position of struggling to contain his mounting anger.
“she naturally seemed to exude a comforting, matronly calm that instantly becalmed those to whom it was directed that they were with someone who was at once empathetic and in control”
Mary was one of the first women to be ordained into the Anglican communion, back in the early 1990s. At the time, she’d been regarded as something of a firebrand, possibly just the sort of mould-breaking radical had been required at the time for such a development to have occurred.
As time passed and her ardour was diminished by the fact she’d been allowed to find her vocation, she’d gradually settled into the more sedate, mundane pleasures of parish priesthood, gratefully swapping Sunday mornings at the pulpit for her prior exertions in the more militant parts of the sub-clergy.
She’d also grown into her role: now in her early sixties, she naturally seemed to exude a comforting, matronly calm that instantly becalmed those to whom it was directed that they were with someone who was at once empathetic and in control. Honed by the many years of tending to her flock, her self-assuredness seemed to permeate her very being: it was impossible to see her flustered, even, as is usually the case, in the most trivial of awkward situations. Keys which remained stubbornly lost were met only with a matter-of-fact…
“most of her childhood weekends were punctuated with some form of progressive activism; a demonstration here or a festival there”
Heather, like the inspiration for her name, was wild, beautiful and deceptively tough. Principled and determined, she preferred to channel her considerable intelligence into projects that reflected and reinforced her firmly-held beliefs, as she had done throughout her meteoric acting career.
In truth, the hue of her political affiliation had hardly been in doubt, almost from birth. She came from a family of old-fashioned socialist intellectuals. The Morning Star was the only reading matter available at the breakfast table in her school days and most of her childhood weekends were punctuated with some form of progressive activism; a demonstration here or a festival there. Firmly eschewing such trivia as mainstream television programmes and current popular music, her parents raised her on a rich cultural diet of left-wing texts and classical music.
As a younger child, she’d found this lifestyle of itinerant visitors and like-minded community gatherings a rather intoxicating cocktail of possibility and independence. As she progressed towards adolescence, she realised her life was unlike anyone else’s among her circle of school friends and, like most teenagers, she came to crave the sense of belonging and conformity within her peer group. Unsurprisingly, she found herself becoming increasingly rebellious towards her parents’ lifestyle as it was increasingly liable to result in her as being branded different…unusual…weird.
In order to achieve her metamorphosis, she found she could successfully adopt the guise of the rest of the girls whose acceptance she sought by studiously and clandestinely researching the topics that obsessed them: music, certain TV programmes, celebrity culture and fashion. Predictably, her new interests would not be well-regarded at home. As much as Heather could take pains to hide her growing collection of celebrity magazines and costume jewellery, other aspects of her Pygmalion-like transformation had proven more difficult to conceal. In particular, it had become impossible for her to falsify her affinity to certain TV shows without actually watching them. In a household where there was only one television, inevitably, her cover was soon blown. What happened next would shape her life thereafter.
“Charming and libidinous, he was no stranger to the pursuit of a bar-room conquest”
Dermot’s greatest attribute, though he had many, was his utter self-belief. Few people carry the confidence necessary to refer to themselves in the third person – and even fewer so unselfconsciously. Crucially, he was able to layer it upon copious levels of charisma and personal magnetism. To many people, he was great company – although they may concede he was someone best served in smaller portions. To others, he represented the perfect embodiment of a grade ‘A’ bullshitter but the truth always lay somewhere in between. It was generally the observer’s character – rather than Dermot’s own – that was more easily highlighted by either of these viewpoints. Dermot could be engaging and irritating in equal measure, an enigma of high-spiritedness that was impossible to contain entirely with any single definition.
Perhaps this distinction for indistinctness was most in evidence when it came to his often complex interactions with women. Charming and libidinous, he was no stranger to the pursuit of a bar-room conquest. He didn’t care that he polarised opinion; in his view that gave him a fifty per cent chance of success, which admittedly are better odds than most men can sustain. Far from restraining his patter when he felt his charms were repelling rather than attracting, he would actively intensify his idiosyncrasies in order to push her away sooner, clearing a path for someone of a friendlier polarity.
As is the wont of many in the professional age, he would earnestly attribute his success to “a process”, a methodology he claimed to be all his own, despite declining to specify of what it consisted. ‘Dermot-ology’, he proudly named it, untroubled by the connotation that, semantically, it’s a branch of science concerned chiefly with issues of the skin-deep variety. The ‘other’ fifty percent of those who heard this term were most likely to respond with the internally-voiced riposte “more like ’Dermot-itis’”