Didn’t wake till six. Watched “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” last night – very uplifting. Now I have not a single thought in my head. So here – I’m going to give you a taste of a story I’m writing at the mo – because I can’t think of anything else to say.
She should have anticipated it: but on that Monday morning Kate Mitchell had no idea that the simple act of opening her front door would change her life forever. If she’d peeped out of the window first; if she’d given it time, made a few calls, the damage might have been limited. But instead she turned the knob – and her world splintered in a babel of yelling voices and a thousand flashes of light. So there it was: reputation ruined, career in tatters, marriage threatened. End of story, end of story, end of story.
All the journalists knew Kate’s story. Born of an Italian mother and an English father, she had a head-start in both looks and languages, and after university started at Babel, when it was still a translation service. Along with her mother’s glossy hair and olive skin, she carried her father’s idealism and started at Babel with the idea of spreading global good-will. She soon learnt, though, that hostility could be translated just as well: the translation – and translator – merely tools of the speaker. In spite of this, Kate enjoyed the work, did well at it; got promoted. Babel was a progressive company: it hadn’t hurt that her office nickname was “the one who put the Babe in Babel”.
In 1984 when the firm was taken over by Salt, she was one of the few to survive. Babel Software became the – no, The – Number One Translation Software Company. Want to know how to greet your host in Croatia? Babel it. Order a vegetarian meal in Shanghai? Babel it. Compliment a diplomat in Dubai? Play blackjack in Guadalajara? Trade with Bedouin in Morocco? Babel it, babel it; babel it. Babel’s unique software had won awards, and was often credited with stemming the ubiquity of English.
Kate’s idealism had taken a further hit since Salt took over: though she had never met the man, his character and “values” bounced all over the office, so she was glad when work took her away. Her latest project had brought her to Japan, a market for which she was a natural: quiet, diplomatic, a good listener. While Japanese men could be inscrutable, the women were another matter: with her, they unbuttoned completely, told her their dreams and ambitions, their concerns about sleaze and “sex encounter” establishments. Japanese women were ready to seize political power: fired by their conversation, Kate saw herself doing the same back home. Lap-dancing was on the rise in Britain: here was somewhere she might do some good, make a difference.
Making a difference – that was why people went into politics, wasn’t it? But where to start? She weighed the options as she waited, back in London, for Leo.
Leo. What would he say to the idea? He would support her, of course – but would he approve? He was cynical about politicians – all the more reason, she would tell him, to recruit people of integrity. He arrived; they ordered food– and the conversation began just as she had played it in her head.
“I’m considering a change of career,” she said.
“Oh?” He looked up from his salad.
“I’m thinking of going into politics.”
He stopped with his fork in the air. “Politics! But politicians are tossers – power-crazy – egomaniacs! Why would want to be one of them?” Leo didn’t mince his words: it was that which had first attracted her to him.
“Not all of them! Anyway, all the more reason to have someone up there with integrity,” she retorted.
“Up there? What do you mean, up there?”
“I just meant…” Kate tailed off. The conversation was veering away from her vision: all she’d meant was that politicians were entrusted with responsibilities. Legislation, for example…
“It doesn’t matter,” Leo was saying. “You start off with principles – they all do. Even Blair did!”
Kate snorted in disbelief.
“It’s true! He was different in the early days: he believed in things. A self-styled socialist, supported nuclear disarmament – look how he ended up!”
“Maybe – but Blair was ambitious, and I’m not. I don’t see myself at Number 10 – I just want to do some good out there. You know – change things for the better: help people.” She paused, sipped her wine, looked him in the eye. “Especially women.”
He softened. “I know. But what might happen to you on the way? That’s what bothers me.” He took her hand across the table. “I’m worried Kate. To be honest, the idea scares me. You don’t know what might happen to you – to us.”
“We’ll handle it,” she said, drinking her wine, not quite meeting his eyes.
After that she started to become active in the local party. Attending meetings made her popular; not many people turned out on winter evenings to listen to debates. She kept a low profile, got to know people; learnt the language: Kate was good at languages. Gradually plans formed in her mind; ideas for getting the message across: Speaking the language of the people. She produced a proposal under that name for the local party: members began to take notice. She started to read the papers – all the heavyweights, plus some of the tabloids – just to get a feel of how she might be viewed if she got up there. Up there – the phrase kept coming – and with it, a picture. A picture of herself and Leo outside Number 10…
The picture vanished as her mobile sounded.
“You’re late!” Leo’s voice accused her.
“Am I? What time is it?”
“Ten to nine!”
“Darling, I’m so sorry. I’ll be there in – “
“Don’t bother! I’m on my way home!” He slammed the phone shut, and she was left talking to the air. She called him when she got home; got voicemail – sometimes Leo could be like that. They’d have to talk, though – she might end up being late a lot more often, the way things were going. In fact, the way things were going, it made no sense for them to be living apart…
She got her first real break in the spring: stood as a local councillor, got elected without a fight. Leo took the news grimly at first; then seemed to make up his mind to something.
“Let’s go out and celebrate!” he said.
“Really.” He took her hand. “I know how important this is to you,” he smiled.
It was the turning-point she’d wanted.
At the end of the meal they caught each other’s gaze: Kate felt this was a defining moment. Neither of them knew quite what to say, were silent for a minute, then both talked at once, falling over each other, falling over themselves, laughing.
“You say it,” said Leo.
Kate took off her ring and put it in her glass; they took turns to drink, right to the bottom. Then Leo put the ring back on her finger and looked at her, smiling.
“Yes,” said Kate. “Yes. We will.”
Looking back, those were the happiest days, when her new job and the wedding plans left no time for reflection. The date was booked for the end of May, the trees in full blossom as they set out for the register office. One or two constituency friends came, but essentially it was a small affair – family, friends and all their children. (There were a lot of children.) Kate wore green silk and made a speech, a small voice at the back of her mind telling her it was good practice.
In the taxi to their holiday hotel, she sat back in comfort, watched the palm trees passing. So that was that; her future was set now.
They saw the headlines on their return. Naked Des in Love-Rat Betrayal jeered the tabloids; Picture on Page Three. Government Minister Caught Nude in Bordello, stated the broadsheets: a picture taken outside his house; his wife forcing a smile. She tried to feel sorry for him, wondered what it must be like to open your door and be confronted by a hundred blinding flashes and a babel of voices – but after all, the man was an idiot: he deserved what he got. She, Kate, wouldn’t be such a fool. An electric shock seemed to go through her then, as she thought: There’s space up there for me. She couldn’t justify the thought – she was hardly going to make cabinet minister in a week – but there it was: she saw herself up there.
It didn’t happen in a week, or anything like it; but a year is a long time in politics. The sex scandal proved to have links to other, deeper scandals – the local MP was implicated – and, before she knew it, Kate had thrown her hat into the ring as the Opposition candidate. She was married, had a good work record: standing on an anti-sleaze ticket seemed like just the thing. Leo even allowed himself to be interviewed, assuring the journalist that he was “only too happy” to support his wife’s career.
No-one found it necessary to mention the name of Thatcher.
There you are! Don’t say you don’t get value for money on this blog!