‘Quite why I said I’d cook dinner I don’t know. Especially as we’ve just moved in. I’m not saying I’m the best cook in the world but I’m not bad, and anyway, even Nigella Lawson would’ve had a nervous breakdown. I had to use that rubbishy old cooker and dishwasher they left us – well, fly-tipped would be nearer the truth. Half-electric and half-gas and none of it working properly.’
Angie, one of the receptionists, talks as she inputs, the pop-up screens opening and falling away in front of her on the screen like zombies shot down in a computer game. She taps the return key one last time and spins round on her chair with a bundle of papers and straightens them up on her knee.
‘So obviously it was a complete disaster.’
The reception staff have been doing the job for so long, subject to such intense pressures of work, they’ve developed extra-sensory coping skills, quite capable of answering calls, handing out pens and forms, inputting client data, fixing the photocopier, finishing off the tea and chatting about the latest scandal. If they had four arms apiece they’d be no quicker.
‘I kept it simple,’ she says, filing the papers and drawing out another stack. ‘I did baked potatoes with chilli con carne and ice-cream for dessert. But the oven was cooler than I thought, so the potatoes took forever and turned out like rocks with a soft potato centre. And then because the potatoes needed about a year the chilli was cooked to a crust. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I’d cleaned the desert plates in the dishwasher because they’d been in the packing crates a while. When I served the ice cream Sarah took a spoonful then screwed up her face and said Urgh! God! What flavour’s this, Mum – rinse aid? And it turns out the dishwasher had stopped half-way through the cycle.’
‘Ange?’ says Lola, leaning over her to take my patient forms. ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but you can cancel my booking on the fifth.’