And he strode in - Mrs Thatcher enthusiastically at his heels; Camellia behind, less so.
The night before, Hugh had taken three baths. He'd had to do something to pass the time while Camellia slept. And the water was perfect; unlike at home where it had to travel so far between a boiler and the bathroom it was almost cold by the time it got there. And he'd brought a suit with him too; a smart one because he'd wanted to impress Robert and the girls; and imagining he and Camellia would be spending most of the day with Rosemary, he'd put it on.
He'd been in meetings of one kind or another for most of his life. He'd been on boards of companies. His election to the P.C.C. had been automatic. He'd even thought he might stand as a Conservative M.P. once he retired from The City. And he might have done just that if he hadn't decided to farm at Thorncombe instead. Even now, from time to time, he'd go to London with his briefcase, where he'd blend in instantly with his peers. And so it was now. The men round the table recognised him straight away as one of their own and nodded a greeting - then they went back to studying their papers. Even the Chairperson remained unruffled, thinking Hugh was a new committee member arriving late. So he half stood, looked round for an empty chair and motioned Hugh to take a place. Then he saw two women coming in behind and this puzzled him because they didn't look quite ‘committee types’. Indeed one was clearly so over excited she couldn't walk straight or stand without wriggling. The other, though more formally dressed, was slightly dishevelled and seemed reluctant to enter. "Mrs Bendicks?"
Mrs Bendicks, sitting with her back to the door and engrossed in her papers was hardly aware anyone had come in. The Vicar hadn't arrived yet. If she'd thought about it at all, she'd have thought it was him.
“Mr Thorncombe!” she exclaimed, twisting round in her seat. I’m afraid this meeting isn’t open to residents. It’s The Management Committee for Safehaven."
“Fine, fine,” said Hugh, pulling over some extra chairs and showing Ivy where to sit. Then, “Come on. Come on,” he said encouragingly to Camellia. “You sit here, opposite me.” Reluctantly, Camellia took her place. “We’re so sorry to be late,” said Hugh, addressing the Chair. “The invitations arrived in this morning’s post - but we came as quickly as we could.”
The Chairperson was gripped so thoroughly by Hugh's air of authority that he paid no further attention to the women but Mrs Bendicks looked between the three of them, bewildered.
“Excuse me,” she said. “But what invitations?”
“From the Charity Commissioners,” said Hugh. (He was good at this.) “Apparently, they are keen to hear the voice of consumers in policy making. They want them to have strong representation on all decision making bodies. This will be the first committee at Safehaven to be given the advantage of such input but I understand invitations will be sent to other residents in due course. They will be taking their places on subcommittees and delegated groups over the next few months. It’s a mammoth undertaking, making such changes throughout the whole Voluntary Pirate Sector. Over time, the means for choosing representatives will change and develop. But this was all put through in a bit of a rush." He paused. The committee members grimaced and smiled at each other tolerantly. They were used to this kind of thing - not very well thought out policies sprung on them without notice. "But it’s an important development," Hugh went on. "And we,” he made formal nods towards Ivy and Camellia, “are very honoured to be the first residents chosen to represent Safehaven.”
“But you and Mrs Thorncombe only arrived yesterday,” said Mrs Bendicks, trying not to sound indignant, hoping no-one else had noticed Hugh calling her a 'pirate'.
“Precisely.” Hugh turned earnestly to face her. “We have been selected precisely because we are new and will have the clear and unjaded eyes of the inexperienced. Mrs Thatcher here,” he moved a hand to indicate her presence “will be speaking for the older residents.” He gave her a little, patronising smile. “If she will let me express it that way.” Ivy nodded enthusiastically.
The committee members responded with a polite rustle of laughter at this little joke but Mrs Bendicks grew more agitated.
“Could we have a word outside, Mr Thorncombe?” she said, half rising.
“Later, later, Mrs Bendicks,” said Hugh airily. “I look forward to hearing your views on this project but think we should see how it goes first - and,” he looked apologetically at the Chairperson, as if sharing the thought that Mrs Bendicks was to be humoured but not listened to. "We don’t want to disrupt proceedings any more than we have done already." He turned to the rest of the meeting. Mrs Thorncombe, Mrs Thatcher and I had a short discussion before we arrived, to decide policy, as it were. We decided it would be best simply to be observers at this first meeting - while we feel for our feet. Please let the meeting continue just as if we were not here. I do apologise that we are late.” He looked round at everyone present, craving their indulgence which, with smiles and nods, willingly they did.
The Chairperson thanked Hugh and turned back to his papers.
For the Next Post - Forty-Two
For the post before this - Forty