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oday we had our first Bella Vista team meeting of 2021. It took place on Zoom, of course, because we’re all WFH, and in the afternoon rather than in the morning because Bella is still in St Barts.

“For the foreseeable,” she sighed, making it almost believable that she’s devastated to be stuck in the sunshine by yet another worldwide travel ban that everyone except her saw coming. “It is a nightmare. Heaven knows when we’ll be able to get a flight. At least Zack’s not missing school though home-schooling on a beach…?” She rolled her eyes.  So did the rest of us. Inwardly.

Bella did not mention whether Zack was missing his hamster. Which was a relief, because I haven’t seen Minky since New Year’s Eve. Though I think I have heard her. She seems to get especially active during Bridgerton. Anyway, I’ve been leaving food out for her on the kitchen floor each evening and it’s gone by the following morning.

“So,” Bella continued. “Best start as we mean to go on. Let’s go round the group and tell each other what we’re doing. Trudy, you can begin.”

I knew that would happen. Luckily, right before Christmas I pulled in a new client. #Yne (pronounced “wine”. The hashtag is silent) is an alcohol-free beverage made from root vegetables which tastes as good as you would expect of something made from juiced potatoes that didn’t reach their destiny as vodka. It tastes OK mixed with prosecco.

“We’ve had a good week,” I say. “We’ve been mentioned in several columns on Dry January and Veganuary. Saskia is very pleased.”

Saskia, inventor of #Yne, appeared in three episodes of Made In Chelsea before she decided to become an entrepreneur, starting in “environmental ambience” (pronounced “scented candles”). “She’s already talking about giving us the contract for her new range of potato-based fragrance,” I add.

Bella nods sagely. One of the disadvantages of a Zoom call is that it’s impossible to share the old sideways glance with your favourite colleague. My favourite colleague is George. In the olden days, George would be sitting beside me and when Bella’s sage nod caused me to raise my eyebrows at him, he would have ground my foot beneath his under the table.

Instead he sends a DM, “You are taking the piss? Potato-based candles?”

“She’s starting with candles… the scents are based on popular flavours of Kettle Chips,” I tell the whole meeting. “Following in the footsteps of that woman who made a fortune selling candles smelling of Lenor and Febreeze.”

“Febreeze?” Bella makes a note to buy some.

“Thank you, team.” Bella presses her hands together in front of her heart chakra as the meeting ends. “Until Wednesday, then. In the meantime, I suggest you all listen to the Archewell podcast on Spotify for a real boost of positivity.”

George DMs me. “I may be boiling my head.”

Bella ends the meeting for all of us, before we have time to pull faces. Is there such a thing as “toxic positivity”, I wonder. A quick Google reveals that of course there is.

Moments after the meeting ended, the doorbell rang. It was Glenn, the postman. He didn’t need to ring the door. He was bearing just one belated Christmas card.

“Made any resolutions?” he asked.

“I don’t think this is the moment to give up smoking or drinking, do you?”

“I’ve been thinking of taking it up, so I have an excuse to take my mask off when wearing them in the street becomes compulsory.”

On 23 December, I’d stuck a twenty in an envelope and addressed it, “To my heroic postie! From Trudy at No 13.” I’ll admit I’d never thought about giving the postman a Christmas bonus before but the street WhatsApp group had been full of virtue signalling on the subject that morning and it seemed that all my neighbours did. Or said they did.

The post arrived at half seven that evening. I jumped up, grabbed the envelope and made for the door, hoping to catch Glenn before he got so far down the street that I needed to change out of my bunny slippers. I was already waving the envelope towards him when he turned and I saw a stranger’s face beneath the orange hood. Not my postie.

“Here,” I said. “Merry Christmas.”

He looked at the envelope as though I had handed him a used tissue.

I considered for a moment asking Glenn whether my envelope had made it back to the sorting office but the fact that he didn’t mention it suggested that it hadn’t and then I was faced with the awful prospect that if I did mention it, I could get the other postie into trouble for pocketing what should have gone into the pot. Instead I said, “Wait here a sec” and went into the kitchen to put another twenty in another envelope. “I meant to give you this before Christmas,” I said.

“Oh,’ said Glenn, pulling the bank note out. “But you already gave us something.”

Arse. But I could hardly ask for it back.

“You are a sweetheart,” Glenn told me. It was the nicest thing anyone had said to me for a long time.

I kissed Glenn once. It was an accident. I was outside the Blackbird cafe with Liz, saying goodbye after a coffee catch-up when Glenn came loping up the street towards us. He smiled his lovely smile and because he was out of his uniform and we were both out of context, for a moment I forgot who we were to each other and I kissed him on both cheeks, media-style as I would have a Bella Vista client.

He reared back in horror. “Er, hi,” he said. “Good to see you.”

“Who is that?” Liz asked as Glenn walked away.

“The postman,” I whispered.

“Blimey,” she said. “He can ring me twice anytime.”

Her terrible joke at least meant that all the embarrassment in the street was briefly transferred to Liz’s shoulders.

The next time I saw Glenn, he said, “I’ve got a bit of a cold,” as if to ward me off. And then, of course, coronavirus came and no one had to worry about accidental kissing any more.

Standing on the doorstep talking to Glenn meant I was fully exposed to Brenda when she trundled up the street with her shopping trolley.

“Brenda,” Glenn touched an imaginary hat. “How are you?”

“Not so bad. But it’s such a worry, isn’t it? The news. I made sure I stocked up on lettuce,” she said. “I saw it on Facebook that it’s going to run out.”

At least I think that’s what she said. Brenda was double-masking. But it was what she had said. She opened the top of her shopping trolley to show us. She’d bought three heads of iceberg and three of butterhead.

“Someone likes salad,” said Glenn.

“Oh, I don’t like salad,” said Brenda, as if the very idea were insane.

Glenn and I shared a brief glance over the top of Brenda’s head.

“Here,” she said. “Have one each.”

She handed us both an iceberg.

“I couldn’t possibly,” I said.

“Just think of me when you use it.”

I was reminded of the day back in March when she’d pressed a toilet roll into my hand and said exactly the same thing. Brenda still had plenty of toilet rolls. Glancing through her open front door, I’d seen them lining her hallway.

I made my excuses. As I sat back down at the kitchen table to draft an exciting new press release for #Yne, I was sure that from the corner of my eye I saw a small fluffy grey thing dash from beneath the sink to under the fridge.

I spent the next half hour sitting on the floor next to the fridge with one of Brenda’s lettuce leaves, trying to coax Minky out. She wasn’t having any of it.



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