Could a day that began badly get any worse? When a mouse flies out of your handbag in the office, there is little chance of it being unnoticed ... 

Have you ever had one of those days? You get up a tad late and miss your usual train. You throw scalding coffee down your mouth and some of it dribbles onto your pristine white blouse necessitating a quick rethink of the outfit of the day. And to cap it all, you are in such a hurry, you forget to check the contents of your handbag. 

This was such a day.

I arrived at the office in London about 30 minutes late to a fuming red-cheeked boss complaining that I was never around when he needed me. It was the first time I had ever been late but I swallowed my natural instinct to ‘tell it like it is’ and made him a coffee to calm him down. 

The day ahead was destined to be manic. Partly because my boss always made a drama out of nothing – I’m sure he was a frustrated thespian because he flounced dramatically in and out of his office like Sir Laurence Olivier on ice skates – and partly because today the BIGWIGS were coming to a very important meeting to be held in his office.

I was in charge of everything – well, it seemed that way to me. I had to ensure that all refreshments were served at the correct times. All necessary paperwork had to be up to date and placed in neat little files alongside each Bigwig’s nametag. Lunch was to be served sharp at 1.00pm and I had to be as discreet as possible while serving and not get in the way. 

Could I manage this, I hear you asking? Of course I could. It would be a breeze – done it thousands of times before. [Ever heard of that saying: ‘Pride comes before a fall’?]

So the morning was progressing fairly smoothly. Well, as smoothly as the Frustrated Thesp would allow. Flounce in. Flounce out. Flounce in. Flounce out. I had to start doing some breathing exercises to keep my temper under control because I wanted to throttle him. Realizing that throttling one’s employer was not a good career move, I thought better of it, so I kept a sweet, serene, ‘I’m in complete control of the situation’ smile pasted to my face.

The first Bigwig arrived a smidgen early – as some Bigwigs are apt to do. The flouncing became more pronounced and earnest as Frustrated Thesp clasped his heaving bosom with one clammy hand and slapped his furrowed brow with the other.

‘It’s all right, don’t worry,’ I mothered him – desperately wanting to put an ‘s’ in front of mother. ‘You go and start chatting about nothing, like you usually do, while I bring in the coffee.’ 

He flounced back into his office. I brought two cups of coffee into the room in time to hear Frustrated Thesp talking about the exorbitant price of toilet paper these days. The glazed look on Bigwig No. 1’s face was momentarily deglazed when he saw the coffee. 

Although I say it myself, I have a reputation for making spanking good coffee and I’m sure the reason why most of the meetings took place in Frustrated Thesp’s office was purely for the visitors to sample my coffee!

I sat down at my desk ready to continue my day’s work leaving Bigwig No.1 and Frustrated Thesp drinking my fantastic coffee, killing time discussing the merits of Double Velvet or ‘With Added Aloe Vera for Your Utmost Comfort’ toilet paper.

I sneezed. Nothing unusual in that as I often sneeze. It’s not an attention seeking thing – just maybe a bit of dust or something annoying getting up my nose. But my nose felt tingly and the sneezing continued, much to the mirth of my colleagues. 

So I reached down into my handbag for a Kleenex. Out flew a mouse. Not a mouse with wings you understand. It had been propelled out when I disturbed it nestling on my wad of tissues.

The truly comedic aspect of this situation was yet to be realized. Just as I hoped that no one had witnessed the launch of Supermouse Frustrated Thesp chose that very moment to flounce out of his office, closely followed by Bigwig No.1.

Both men were tall. In excess of 6’ something and the next few minutes happened so quickly, it was a blur. Both men automatically jumped onto the nearest desk and Frustrated Thesp was busy wrapping elastic bands around his trouser legs. Two other secretaries fainted, and the messenger boy almost passed out as the mouse missed him by inches.

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or commit suicide at this point because at that very second – with Bigwig No.1 and Frustrated Thesp clasping each other with their trouser legs elastic-banded up, two secretaries being fanned back into life by their bosses, and the poor messenger boy receiving the kiss of life from a rather over-excited junior with braces on her teeth and a massive heaving chest tightly confined in a tee-shirt several sizes too small – the rest of the BIGWIGS arrived.

‘Coffee?’ I smiled, hoping to distract their attention. Frustrated Thesp flounced off the desk with such agility that even Nijinski would have applauded. Bigwig No.1, feeling utterly foolish, tried to get off the desk in a more gentlemanly like manner and made a complete ass of himself because he tripped and fell over the messenger boy still being brought back to life by the over exuberant junior.

Meanwhile, the mouse lay where it had landed. No one dared to pick it up. I went over to it and recognized Biggles’ paw work. I picked it up and put it back into my handbag. Frustrated Thesp passed clean out into the arms of Bigwig No.1 who luckily, was on hand to catch him. 

Hastily showing the BIGWIGS to their seats in the office and with the promise of fresh coffee within a few minutes, I hurried out. Bigwig No.1 still had Frustrated Thesp in his arms and I smiled sympathetically. ‘Stick his head between his knees.’ I suggested. Bigwig No.1 tried his best but Frustrated Thesp was a gangly sort of chap, all arms and legs and not much in the middle.

Eventually order and calm were restored and the meeting went ahead successfully, probably more in part due to the soothing powers of my fantastic coffee and winsome smile as anything Frustrated Thesp had to say.

I decided to make a phone call. I knew that the owner was not at home but that the answer phone would pick up the message. It was one of those answering machines that say the message out loud so that you can monitor your calls if you want to. So I began to leave a message. 

‘Biggles! Biggles! This is Mummy! I know you can hear me! You got me into a lot of trouble today because of your old ‘mouse in the handbag’ routine. I’ll see you when I get home.’

I was just putting the receiver down when Frustrated Thesp flounced out of his office and stood behind me. ‘Who were you speaking to?’ he asked.

'Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm, the cat,’ I replied desperately wishing I could lie without blushing and giving the game away.

‘The CAT!’ He enunciated each word elaborately. ‘You were ringing THE CAT!

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I was telling it off for leaving its mouse in my handbag.’

‘Are you a complete idiot?’ he asked, his face turning puce like his Marks and Spencer suit.

I wanted to say that I still had a few more tests to pass before becoming a complete idiot, but thought better of it. Instead, I remained very quiet.

‘You have completely ruined the meeting,’ his purpley puce face spat. ‘They all think you are deranged. I will be the laughing stock of the company because I have had the misfortune to be cursed with a manic secretary like you. Oh why couldn’t the agency send me someone with real talent and aptitude for secretarial duties.’ At the ‘oh why’ the hand clasped his brow and he looked as if he might faint.

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. Unknown to either of us, one by one, the BIGWIGS had come out of his office and heard what he said. One by one, they each offered me a job in their respective departments and companies. A great resounding round of applause began somewhere in the department and the BIGWIGS joined in.

Frustrated Thesp went white. Actually, he would be very good in a Natural World type documentary, the way he changed colours was quite an art that I had rarely witnessed before. There was only one thing I felt I should do. I made a round of coffee for everyone. Frustrated Thesp flounced out of the office and everyone laughed.

The story doesn’t end there of course. When I arrived back home, Biggles was quaking with fear that he had made me angry. He was hiding under the sofa bed in the back bedroom. I knew where to look and I went upstairs to encourage him to come down and have some dinner.

At first, he refused. ‘C’mon Bigs,’ I said, ‘it’s okay. Mummy loves you very much.’

‘You sure?’ he whispered.

‘Yes, of course, I’m sure.’ I soothed.

‘You angry with me, though?’

‘No, Bigs, I’m not angry with you.’

‘But, but, your phone call...’ His voice tailed away.

‘I didn’t say I was angry with you, did I?’ I said. ‘I told you I would see you when I got back home. And I am, seeing you, that is.’

Biggles scratched his head. As hard as he tried, he could never fathom out the Human race.

‘Err, did you get into trouble then?’ he asked.

‘Well, yes, sort of.’ I answered. Then I started to laugh and I carried Biggles downstairs to his dinner. After he, Garfield and Charlie had eaten their dinner, I told them all about the day’s events.

‘I didn’t mean to get you into trouble,’ Biggles said after I had finished telling them the story. ‘I just thought as you had seemed a bit anxious this morning when you got up, that I would give you Mickey, my favourite mouse, to keep you company and cheer you up.’

‘Well, Biggles,’ I replied, ‘it was a lovely thought, and I was most certainly cheered up. But promise me one thing please.’

‘Ye-es,’ Biggles replied, a little uncertainly.

‘Promise that you won’t put any more of your toys in my handbag from now on.’

‘Oh alright then.’ Biggles said reluctantly. ‘If you really don’t want any more surprises.’

‘Well, it’s not so much that I don’t want the surprises,’ I began, ‘it’s just that the rest of the office can’t cope with them.’

I gave them all some catnip on their patch of upturned carpet and they all had a thoroughly good roll in it. Biggles had the longest amount of time in it because he had been stressed out with worry, he said. Garfield and Charlie let him enjoy himself and then they all settled down for a well-earned nap. 

© Pauline Dewberry 2004


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