With most of her colleagues self-isolating Prune has to step into the breach. Here our heroine learns who she will be taking on her first press trip…
Clemency is looking a bit pale today and she’s been coughing all morning.
‘Go home,’ Helena says.
‘What about the pitch?’ she croaks.
‘I’ll cut and paste something from previous proposals. It’s a small budget and they don’t have a clue. Before you leave though, is there anything Prune should know about the press trip that we haven’t discussed already?’
Clemency has another coughing fit and starts to massage her chest.
‘Thank you, I’d forgotten Bob was going,’ Helena says.
Clemency picks up her bag and leaves.
She looks such a wreck I run after her, and I’m about to give her a hug when a noise like a saw cutting through concrete stops me dead.
Priti Patel has nothing on Helena, the way she screams at me sometimes.
‘You and I are the last ones standing in this office. You are leaving the day after tomorrow on a press trip to the chateau of one of our biggest clients. Do you think it’s a good idea to hug someone who’s riddled with Covid?’
‘Oops, forgot! Don’t worry though, I never catch anything.’
‘Well, you’d better not. Anyway, back to the trip.’
‘Is anybody famous coming?’
‘I’m afraid not. Very few serious wine writers are keen to catch a virus that could obliterate their sense of smell for several months. We’ve had to scrape the bottom of the barrel and we’ve only got four people which isn’t as many as the client wanted.’
‘I could ask my godmother if you want.’
Helena does that thing again where she massages her temples and her eyebrows bob up and down.
‘Last time we took your bloody godmother on a press trip, she vanished on the last morning, and we spent three hours looking for her and missed the tasting organised by the Consorzio.
‘It turned out she had been reacquainting herself with the father of the winemaker who ‘happened’ to be an old flame of hers. Then we missed the flight home because she was sick in the minibus. Do you have any more questions?’
‘Was it Giuseppe? She speaks very fondly of him.’
Meet Mr Stroker
There’s a pause while a vein throbs in Helena’s temple.
‘Let’s move on, shall we?’ she says eventually. ‘You’ll be looking after Fred Marrant, Cynthia Bloom, Becky Able and Bob Stroker.’
‘The last name rings a bell.’
‘It would. Mr Stroker is the chairman of a largely discredited club that has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. Technically we shouldn’t host him at the moment but it’s a question of needs must.’
‘I know! Isn’t it Boob Stroker rather than Bob?’
‘It is indeed his nickname and with good reason. Just make sure you’re always at least three feet away from him. Now Becky. She is a talented writer and a brilliant taster but since she moved to Cumbria, her star has been on the wane. She’s lovely and won’t be any trouble but there’s one thing you need to watch: she’s rather large but seems to be unaware of it. So make sure she doesn’t sit on anything too fragile.’
I write on my pad: ‘Check chairs.’
Updated Status: single
‘Cynthia, the other lady, is American. She moved over here two years ago to follow her boyfriend and has built a large following on Instagram. She’s usually the life and soul of the party and she’ll take lots of pictures and post lots of stories.’
‘Nothing to worry about then?’ I ask.
‘According to Clemency, Cynthia’s boyfriend dumped her last week. Apparently he told her lockdown made him realise they were not such a good match after all. So keep an eye on her – she may not be her usual jolly self.’
‘Who’s the last one? He sounds foreign.’
‘Fred Marrant is a bit of an unknown quantity I’m afraid. He’s French and a Master Sommelier.’
‘I go skiing in France every winter. I’ll speak French to him.’
‘If he lets you. He wouldn’t have touched this trip with a bargepole before Covid but his city boy restaurant has been closed for six months. We were able to persuade him to join us for a reasonable fee. Our client is very keen to get his wines in his restaurants.’
‘Did you pay the others too?’ I ask.
Helena looks like she’s found a thistle in her Nicoise.
‘No, we did not and please do not let on we paid Fred. Now – you’ll be picked up at Bordeaux airport by the client so you just need to make sure that all four turn up on time at Gatwick, with their passports. The flight tickets are in the folder with Clemency’s instructions.’
Helena looks at me with an expression that is either pity or panic.
‘Please tell me honestly. Do you think you’ll be able to cope?’
‘I’ll be absolutely fine,’ I say. ‘Don’t you worry about a thing!’
Sometimes I wonder if Helena trusts me at all…