“Oooh, this is exciting! It is so very exciting! Isn’t that so amazing, Augustus, Adolphus, attending a real team meeting? Fancy it; we’re actually part of a team! And would you believe it, Olive said I might even be able to become a co-leader if I’m nice enough to her! What an honour, eh? And you two are extras; a brilliant job!”
So said Frederick Ernest William Whinging, jiggling about in his chair and beaming from ear to ear. He was sitting at Mary Maggott’s kitchen table with Augustus, Adolphus and his son James. Olive was sitting grandly in a large armchair resembling a throne which had been dragged into the kitchen, and a sign labelled ‘leader’ in fancy writing had been pinned above her head. Hetty, Edith and Alice were sitting on three more chairs from around Mary’s house. Albert and Priscilla Rowlings, each in old age looking as high and mighty as they ever had, were sharing a sofa from the living room, which they had inspected with obvious distaste upon arrival at number 12 Greenwood Drive. Mary was bustling anxiously around in the kitchen, making finishing touches to the canapés that she was about to serve for tea.
It was the first official meeting of Olive’s Plan. Everyone had just arrived in their separate cars: Olive, Frederick, Augustus, Adolphus and James in theirs, the Rowlings being driven in their shiny black Rolls Royce and Hetty, Edith and Alice arriving together in Hetty’s car. The members of the Team talked quietly with one another whilst their tea was being prepared, all except Olive, who looked proudly at everyone like a queen surveying her subjects. Mary finally finished arranging the food, which had been placed on the table on her best plates. Olive looked over at the food, recognising many of her own personal favourites, and that of the other members, but also many strange things that she didn’t recognise.
“What’s that, Mary?” Olive asked suspiciously, pointing to an odd-looking bubbly substance like a pile of very small, squidgy marbles.
“Oh, that’s caviar,” said Mary. For some reason, the phrases ‘sheep intestines’ and ‘horse hoofs’ came into her head, but she didn’t know why. “I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it’s supposed to be really posh.”
“Oh, of course, caviar!” said Albert Rowlings, coming over to the table. “How delightful! But Mary, how could you possibly afford such a thing as caviar?”
“Well, they did ask for a lot of money,” Mary said, suddenly looking a bit worried. “And with the monkfish and the expensive chocolate truffles and the lobster and the duck a l’orange and everything, I spent rather a lot.”
“My food money gets taken from the business,” Albert said sagely, referring to the aristocratic laundry business he had inherited from his father. “I have caviar and cucumber sandwiches and cake and finest Earl Grey tea every afternoon at three o’ clock, as does my sister, then every evening the cooks prepare a seven-course meal which I take with very expensive wine, followed by champagne. Oh, it’s the same for lunch, except I think the meal in the middle of the day should be a little lighter, so that’s only six courses, and then for breakfast…”
“Yes, thank you, Albert,” Olive said eventually, clapping her hands regally. “Mary, please serve the canapés and let’s get down to business.”
“Will do,” Mary said cheerfully, putting the final cereal bowl of caviar on the table next to the platter of toast triangles. She moved to the side of the table and stood there, holding a pile of plates. She had been busy creating the meal that now lay before her for so long that she looked utterly worn out: her pink hair was out of shape, the placement of her make-up looked even more erratic than usual and her clothes had a variety of multi-coloured stains decorating them.
“Where’s the map, Mary?” Olive asked airily.
“Oh, I’ll go and fetch it,” said Mary, doing her best to pat her hair back into shape. “Fred, have you get the table?”
“I do indeed,” said Frederick. He stopped jiggling around and sprang to his feet like an excited puppy.
Both Frederick and Mary left the room for a moment. Mary returned in a couple of seconds with the folded-up piece of cardboard, which she unfolded with difficulty as Frederick returned after a few minutes from his and Olive’s car with a massive square table under his arm. Olive had wondered why Frederick had been spending so much time in the garage nailing bits of wood together. When the map was unfolded, everyone could see that the size of it matched the table exactly.
“Perfect!” said Mary, laying down the map so that everyone could see it, before she reached onto the counter for another bag, and in a moment the figures representing everyone involved in the plan had been poured onto the map table. The compliments began from the members of the Team who had not been present at the Barmy Duck the day before.
“These are excellent, Mary!” Augustus said, examining his own figure, which was short and stout like Frederick with short pieces of white wool for hair. Adolphus echoed him, looking at a figure which was an exact replica of Augustus’, only wearing a different-coloured jumper.
James began to stare at his figure; his figure was medium-sized and skinny. Mary had even remembered James’s distinct imp-like ears. Frederick had been made to look slightly different from Augustus and Adolphus, as Mary was well-aware that Augustus and Adolphus would be performing mostly different tasks in the Team as extras, whilst Frederick had his duties as a soon-to-be co-leader; something she remembered with a scowl. Albert may have looked a little like Frederick, as he too was plump now that he was much older, only he wore very posh clothes; he had a real little waistcoat that Mary had found on one of her childhood dolls-house dolls. Priscilla, in contrast, was very skinny, with very long, straight pieces of wool for hair, and a painted droopy cardigan and skirt.
“So, we are all in here,” Mary said, interrupting the inspection of the figures. She took each of the caricatures representing the members of the Team and placed them in the room labelled ‘Mary’s kitchen’ in the ‘Mary’s house’ set of rooms. “And, if my predictions are correct, the three children in the Household of Objection are in their rooms. Ethel is in the bathroom. Raymond is at the computer. Now, I have called a meeting here…”
“Mary! I think you’ll find that I called the meeting here today,” Olive snapped, leaning forward from her throne threateningly. “I am the leader of the Team, you know. Nothing can happen without my approval, so technically, it’s my meeting.”
“Yes, Olive called the meeting here today,” Mary said tiredly. “Anyway, the meeting has been called because Olive wants to make a plan-of-action in our quest to eliminate Ethel and secure a place in Raymond’s heart for our very own Olive. Does everyone understand?”
There were several nods from around the room, all except from Albert and Priscilla, who over the years had been far too busy to pay much attention to the every-day life of Olive Whinging. “Not this fellow Raymond again,” Albert groaned as Priscilla rolled her eyes. “Olive, you were going on and on about him the last time I saw you. And if you don’t count the times we saw each other through the window of my Rolls Royce, the last time we met was…what, ten years ago? How old is this chap, anyway?”
“Thirty-five!” Olive said excitedly.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Albert declared, with the kind of tone a person would use to a baby that has defecated itself for the tenth time in a day. “That’s a forty-year age difference! He can’t possibly have agreed. What is it with you people?”
“I’m well aware of the mathematics, Albert,” Olive said smartly. She had tuned out Albert’s last snobbish remark, which the Team had come to think of as an unending, slightly irritating aspects of the background, like dead flies on a window sill or a blocked toilet. But then her grin momentarily faded. “He hasn’t exactly agreed yet. But he will. Soon. I know what sort of person he is. He just needs to realise where his loyalties reallylie. Not to mention the fact that he hasn’t noticed that Ethel is a terrible person.”
“Ethel? Isn’t that your daughter?” Priscilla asked suddenly. At the sound of Ethel’s name, she had stopped shaking her head exasperatedly at Olive’s taste in men. “The person you’re after is married to your daughter? You can’t be serious?”
“Of course I’m serious!” Olive snapped irritably. “Weren’t you listening on the phone? I explained everything when I asked if you wanted to join the Team.”
Priscilla decided not to answer this last question, but she and Albert both wrinkled their noses in disgust. Olive was outraged at their extremely insensitive reaction. “Just for that, I’m giving you extra homework,” she said.
“Homework?” shouted everyone in the room except Olive.
“Yes, homework!” she muttered crossly. How stupid would these people get? “We can’t have a successful secret organisation like this is everyone isn’t prepared at least make some effort outside Team meetings! Anyway, as I was saying, for homework…”
“Homework?” shouted Edith, just returning from Mary’s bathroom.
“Oh, extra credit, then!” Olive said. Everyone sighed with relief. “For extra credit, I want everyone to come up with at least one idea; one constructive way to achieve our goal.”
“Your goal,” Mary corrected.
“My goal,” said Olive. “Right. Mary, are we still up for that sleepover we were talking about on the phone?”
Olive had abruptly turned to Mary as most of the other Team members sensed that the meeting had ended and begin to file out of the room.
“Well, I suppose,” Mary mumbled. “I have a sleeping bag up in the loft…”
“That’s good; I only filled up the car with enough petrol to get here,” said Frederick. “Fuel costs so much nowadays.”
“Yes, I know,” Olive muttered. “That’s why you didn’t even fill the car up enough to even get us here, and we had to push the car all the way up the hill! What would Raymond have thought of us, if he’d have seen?”
Frederick went red. “But, Olive, I thought we were saving up money? You know, for funding The Team’s plans and everything.”
Olive had no answer to this. She didn’t even bother to shout anymore at Frederick when Augustus suddenly wondered out loud, “I say, how are we supposed to get home?”
“Frederick, could you and Augustus and Adolphus share the spare room?” Mary said nervously. “I can get the old camp bed out of the attic. It’s not too dusty, I don’t think. Right, in my room I’ll get the sleeping bag; there’s only the one bed, and that’s mine…”
“I’m having the bed!” Olive shouted.
“Well, all right,” said Mary uncertainly. “I’ll have the sleeping bag, then. And James….hmmm. How do you feel about sleeping in the bath?”
James sighed. “Fabulous,” he said.
Olive and Mary had been getting ready for their sleepover for the past two-and-a-half hours. Most of the time had been spent upstairs in Mary’s bedroom. Olive, wanting a ‘proper’ sleepover, had forced Mary to spend a great deal of time wrestling her forty-year-old tent down from the attic and then putting it up in the bedroom. The tent was fairly big, and the top of it scraped on the ceiling, but Olive apparently did not care about Mary’s paintwork. Olive had also demanded that half of Mary’s double bed be squeezed into tent, whilst Mary had to practically crawl under the bed with her sleeping bag in order to be able to fit in the tent.
But Olive and Mary weren’t going to go to bed right then, of course; the whole thing was far too exciting. Their first idea was to have a disco with Frederick, Augustus, Adolphus and James, and at first it was successful, but the age of five out of six of the participants meant that they were unable to continue dancing about wildly on Mary’s tabletop for more than a few minutes, so after a while Frederick and his brothers retired to the spare room, where the two twin beds and a camp bed were, to work on Augustus’ thick stamp book. James decided to go straight to sleep, so climbed into his own ‘bed’: the bathtub, which Mary had kindly filled with blankets and would even have been comfortable had it not been for the leaky cold tap dripping on his forehead all night long. The two best friends, however, had different ideas. Olive did, anyway. Mary wanted to inspect her private lingerie storage space whilst Olive was up to her own activities, but Olive had insisted that she needed Mary first as a witness, and secondly to write notes. Mary had no idea what Olive was getting up to, but it wasn’t long until she found out.
“Oh my Goodness, he’s shaving off his stubble!” Olive squealed ten minutes later.
She and Mary were crouching in their nightgowns by the open window in Mary’s bedroom; the one which faced the neighbours’ house. Olive was armed with a pair of binoculars and was concealing herself as much as she was able beneath the windowsill whilst still peering out and not tearing her eyes away from the miraculous sight in front of her. Mary was sitting in a position which meant that she could look out of the window if she wished, but her duties lay with hurriedly writing notes as Olive dictated to her.
“Mary, quickly look at the clock!” Olive hissed. “Write it down.”
Mary sighed, and then wrote in her notebook: ’10:13pm, Raymond shaves off his stubble in the bathroom of his own house’. “Olive, I thought we were starting our plans?” she whined. “How is this helpful to the Team’s efforts? We’re not going to form a plan based in Raymond shaving off his stubble!”
“Oh, we will, we will! We’ll get round to it!” Olive assured her, staring through the binoculars again. “In a minute….”
During the next few minutes, Mary wrote down ‘10:19pm, Raymond brushes his teeth’, ’10:34pm, Raymond has an argument with Ethel about his failure to tape ‘American Idol’’ and ’10:59pm, Raymond is kicked out of the bedroom and goes to sleep on the kitchen table’. By this time, Mary, was getting really rather impatient.
“Olive!” she whined. “I thought you wanted to do the plans tonight! There’s no point in all this stuff!”
“Well, it’s fine, now, anyway, because he’s gone to sleep,” Olive muttered, writing the event down herself in the notebook. Then she yawned. “Actually, Mary, I’m quite tired now. What’s this thing you wanted to do?”
“The plans!” Mary said in anguish. “You said we could discuss them.”
“No, I didn’t,” Olive mumbled in a confused way.
“Yes, you did!”
“Well…look, Mary, can’t we do it in the morning? That way it’s an official meeting day.”
“But you said you wanted to go to Raymond’s house tomorrow. You know, you said you wanted to look around so that you could get an idea of what we’re up against. How are we going to discuss our plans in the morning?”
“Oh, I don’t know!” Olive snapped. “Just improvise, Mary! We can’t simply be bothered with your silly little plans all the time! Why don’t you do something useful, like research, or organising stuff for the Team, or whatever? I’m very, very busy at the moment. Now, be quiet and let me get to sleep!”
Mary groaned quietly, because she knew she wasn’t going to win. Olive climbed sleepily into the ‘tent’, and she was soon snoring, leaving Mary to crawl uncomfortably under the bed.