Councillor Brian Tolver wanted the annual Christmas party to be at Pizza Express, but then Jackie Weaver suggested that that might not reflect very well on Handforth Parish Council in the wake of Prince Andrew’s glowing endorsement of the Italian restaurant chain. Scouser Cynthia Samson chimed in saying she’d murder a curry, but then vice-chair Aled Brewerton ordered her to be quiet, enraged at the prospect of having to eat any food that sounded foreign.
Picking a restaurant that everyone would like was an annual struggle but thankfully Peter Moore—who nobody actually ever invited anywhere, by the way, but who always followed Susan Moore around like a bad smell—suggested a great vegan joint that had recently opened on his road. He’d certainly changed his tune, after spending six months lobbying Cheshire West and Chester council to make the restaurant move their bins because he could see them if he stuck his head out of his bathroom window and it was “ruining the feng shui of the neighbourhood”.
Tempted partly to make the reservation just so that Peter would stop speaking, the right honorable John Smith had booked a table for 7:15pm on Tuesday 15 December (because meeting bang on the hour would be too convenient, obviously, and parish councils are nothing if not particular). Of course Vice-chairman Aled Brewerton arrived an hour late, absolutely bladdered thanks to his genius decision to stop off at The Half Wit en route and sink a few pints of bitter. It was impressive that he had remembered to bring his Secret Santa present at all, really—not that Barry Burkill particularly appreciated being given a moustache comb.
Susan sent her sauvignon spritzer back, insisting she’d ordered a chardonnay instead. When the waitress returned with the exact same glass with the exact same overpriced wine in, Susan had gargled it and said, “Oh yes, that’s much better, thank you.” Alleged problems with the drinks order aside, the meal itself was remarkably jovial. Even Peter wasn’t too irritating—although he did manage to wheel out his anecdote about how when he was on the road with his band in the eighties Elton John had once offered him a Pringle. One might even go as far as to say that it was the most civil Christmas party in all of Jackie’s 25 years of local democracy servitude.
There was one awkward moment with the waitress, who’d clearly been petrified as she worked her first ever shift. She’d stumbled over the daily specials and confused quinoa with quiche. “You don’t need to read the specials, we can all understand them!” shouted Aled, gesticulating wildly as he sloshed his drink over Julie’s dress—she didn’t notice, she’d spent the whole evening glued to her iPad, anyway.
After everyone had eaten, it was time for presents. Jackie had managed a faint smile when she was given a scratched Britney Spears CD that Cynthia had clearly just dug out of her glove box before entering the restaurant. Brian was less than impressed by his copy of Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People, and he made sure everyone knew that. Anyone who had actually read the Secret Santa bylaws would know that books were out of the question—there was no way his gift fell within the strict £2.99-£4.99 price range, and as such Brian ruled the item null and void. Everyone else liked their presents, though: Cynthia received a wine glass that had ‘wine o’clock’ written on it in curlicue font; Ian was given a pair of binoculars for his keen bird-watching habit; Peter got a pair of home-knitted fingerless gloves, and someone had brought Aled a Millwall F.C. mug, despite him never having expressed any allegiance to the club. Curious, that.
At the end of the night, Ian was in charge of splitting the tab, and he took great pride in pointing out that he’d had three fewer mouthfuls of wine than everyone else, and as such, wouldn’t be chipping in for a tip. John Smith sighed, rolling his eyes as he threw an extra tenner into the kitty. “Sorry love,” he said apologetically to the waitress as he headed out of the door into the cold, Cheshire air. “They’re a funny bunch, aren’t they. I promise we’ll go somewhere else next year.”
“Oh don’t worry,” said the waitress. “My Mum’s Esther McVey. This is nothing compared to the stories she tells me about her coworkers.”