But Mrs Bendicks hadn't finished.
“But you and your wife will be gone in four days! I don’t see the point of this at all.”
“Mrs Bendicks,” said the Chairperson patiently but firmly. "Let us now continue with the meeting. Let's see how it goes. If you still have concerns at the end, perhaps you would have a quiet word with me then, or, if necessary, bring it up in 'any other business'?"
“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it,” Hugh sang under his breath. The Chairperson turned back, startled. Hugh smiled as at a conspirator. Ah! The Chairperson replied with a smirk - shuffled his papers and pulled out an official looking document.
"We need now to deal with this question of Public Liability Insurance," he said. Then, looking at Hugh, "Is it alright if we pick up from where we left off? You don't need to listen to our debates about items one to three? Or should I give you a summary?" Hugh indicated that it would be fine for the meeting to continue from where it had left off. "I'll catch you up later," promised the Chairperson warmly. "Now, this is about the demarcation between staff-only areas and the areas relatives are allowed to visit. I know from previous discussions that some members of the committee think relatives should be allowed to inspect anything at any time and without notice but Mrs Bendicks has also indicated she doesn't like the idea of strangers wandering around unannounced and getting in the way." Secretly and definitely, Hugh sympathised with Mrs Bendicks and wondered what he would do if he found himself agreeing with everything she said. But Ivy had grown bored.
“Coffee,” she said, loudly. “Real coffee. Coffee that smells like coffee and tastes like coffee; not the muck that comes out of that machine in the Residents’ Lounge.”
“What?” said the Chairperson.
“Don’t you usually have coffee about now? I think so. I’ve seen it being wheeled in to other meetings. And smelled it.” She sighed longingly.
The Chairperson leant forward encouragingly. Over the three years he had been coming to Safehaven, he had found it very difficult to meet residents without Mrs Bendicks hovering nearby. Maybe something would come of this 'consumer involvement'? Truth be told, he was finding the arrival of these three new members more entertaining than Public Liability Insurance.
“Don’t you usually get fresh coffee?” he asked. Ivy cackled eloquently. “I see,” he said. “Well, we’ve come nearly to the end of our agenda and this insurance issue can be discussed next time. It wouldn't harm if it were studied further before we make a decision anyway. So, unless there’s no 'Other Business', I think we should close the meeting and ask Mrs Bendicks to have coffee brought in. Real coffee,” he added in a stage whisper to Ivy. "And I think we should take this opportunity to get to know our new committee members." He raised his eyebrows and looked round for agreement. All seemed to be going very smoothly. Except - Mrs Bendicks had something more to say. The Chairperson sighed. "Can this be dealt with quickly?"
“Oh yes, “ said Mrs Bendicks, combining enthusiasm with a simper. “It's just that I'd like to inform the committee of the new staff uniform I'm introducing. I thought you'd like to see a sample.” She bent down and pulled a long cardboard box from under her chair and placed it on the table.
“One moment, Mrs Bendicks," said an elderly clergyman with the air of someone whose sleep has been disturbed by a burglar. “Didn’t we agree, some time ago, that one of the good things about Safehaven is its informality and that uniforms would be out of place?” Mrs Bendicks flushed.
“Oh, but just wait till you see it!” she said, lifting the lid. The Chairperson sighed theatrically and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t suppose it can harm to take a look in your box, Mrs Bendicks, as long as you can be quick and bear in mind that we have already discussed this matter at length. We don’t want to drag out the meeting unnecessarily. Do we? We want our coffee!”
Mrs Bendicks glared and lifted out a bright nylon overall, decorated with large, yellow clematis flowers on a lime green background. Reverently, she stood, and draped it against her. "What d'you think?"
The Committee collectively opened its eyes and gasped.
Ivy leapt to her feet. “Yellow!” she shrieked.
Camellia folded her arms on the table and lowered her head. “Oh no!” she said miserably.
But Hugh shouted. “Bravo! I misjudged you again, Mrs Bendicks, I do apologise. I hadn’t realised you possessed such a wonderful sense of humour! What an excellent joke.” He gave an appreciative laugh and began to clap, looking round at the bemused committee members as if expecting them to join in. After a few moments - they did.
Mrs Bendicks dropped the overall back into the box, said she would 'see about the coffee’ and left the room abruptly. Tears of cheerfulness were running down Ivy's face. “Wonderful,” she said. "Mr Thorncombe, you really are wonderful." And she took Hugh's elbow with one hand while she fumbled in her pocket for a handkerchief with the other. "A truly welcome addition to Safehaven. Wonderful, you are, Mr Thorncombe. Truly wonderful.”
Mrs Bendicks vanished for the rest of the day.
The coffee Maria wheeled in for them was good.
For the Next Post - Forty-Three
For the Post Before This - Forty-One