Joey closed her Blackberry. “Thank Heavens that’s the online shopping finished for another week,” she told Miss Annersley, with whom she had been having coffee. “Now I need to get the trips home for Mittagessen and their afternoon rest.”
She strapped the girls into the triple buggy and handed each of them an I-pad and then realised her youngest daughter was chewing gum.
“Bloody Hell, Margot! Stop that chewing now, it’s most unladylike.”
“Shan’t!” Margot responded, sticking out her tongue. “Sir Alex Ferguson chews all the time on the telly.”
Joey slapped her daughter smartly across the leg, whereupon Margot started to scream. Aware that their mother was in one of her famous bad tempers, Len and Con started wailing in sympathy.
“Really, Joey, there’s no need to hit the child,” Hilda said severely. “You could have just confiscated her I-pad for the rest of the day.”
“Think I’m stupid?” Joey retorted. “The only way I can keep the little bleeders quiet is to stick I-pads in their hands or put them in front of the telly.”
“Language, Joey! How many times have Miss Wilson and I told you not to use expressions like ‘telly’?”
The screaming was now reaching ear-splitting proportions and Hilda serenely wheeled the buggy out into the corridor.
“They won’t disturb anyone out there,” she said, returning to the room. “Everyone’s out falling under avalanches, so we’ve got the place to ourselves. Except for Matey of course but she’s not allowed out of her own quarters at the far end of the building. Now sit down and have another coffee and some more cake and tell me why you’re so tense.”
“It’s Jack,” Joey confessed. “I’ve just discovered he’s gay.” She looked closely at her friend. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“Well I must admit I had my suspicions after you told me he couldn’t get it up any more,” Hilda said, pouring a cup of deliciously fragrant French coffee and handing it to Joey. “After all, he’s a bit young for erectile dysfunction. And last time I was up at the San., he was giving one of the male nurses significant looks across the saline bags, just like on Casualty. Even a dried-up old spinster like me can put two and two together.”
“It’s so unfair,” Joey sniffled. “It’s not just the lack of action in the bedroom. To tell you the truth he was never very great in that department. But it’s knowing I’ll never have any more children.”
Hilda knew that sympathising with Joey would just set her off on a self-pitying episode which could be disastrous for the poor innocent children currently screaming their heads off along the corridor.
“Now, Joey, you need to get a grip on yourself.” Hilda cut another piece of cake and set it down beside the weeping younger woman. “I know you planned to have eleven children and you had decided exactly when you would have them and what sex they would be. But you’re a Chalet Girl and we train our girls to deal with adversity and be resourceful.”
“So what should I do?” Joey asked, drying her eyes and reaching for the cake.
“You need to strut your stuff,” Hilda told her. “Put yourself about a bit. I know you can’t divorce Jack, but there’s nothing to stop you having an affair. And if you get pregnant – well, Jack isn’t exactly in a position to deny paternity, is he?”
“I never get to meet anyone,” Joey said gloomily. “The trips take up all my time.”
“You’ve got the devoted Anna and the Coadjutor,” Hilda pointed out.
“Both left,” Joey said, through a mouthful of cake.
“Both?” Hilda was incredulous. “You’ve lost another Coadjutor? It’s only been a week!”
“She threw the lemon biscuits at me and said I was a wicked, foul-mouthed cow and a control freak.”
Hilda decided not to point out that the woman may have had a point. “Why did she say that?”
“It’s not as if I meant to butt in,” Joey said. “I only pointed out to her that the man who came to visit her looked just like one of the pictures on Crimewatch last week.”
“Well I’m sure you only had her safety in mind,” Hilda said.
“I did!” Joey was indignant. “And she was completely ungrateful. Mind you, the visitor did turn out to be her brother who’s a priest.”
“And Anna? How did you lose her?”
“The Coadjutor was Anna’s niece,” Joey explained. “So naturally she took her part.”
“There’s still a way for you to get out there and meet some male totty,” Hilda told her. “The trips will be 3 next week so we’ll be able to take them as full boarders. But before you start Internet dating, Joey, for God’s sake go and get rid of those bloody earphones and buy some make-up.”
Seeing that Joey’s bottom lip was starting to quiver, Hilda decided to end her lecture. “I’m not throwing you out Joey, but I’ll have to get on. The staff and the girls will be coming back from skiing and at least one of them will have a broken limb or pneumonia. Happens every time we send them out.”
Joey got up reluctantly, cramming the last of the cake into her mouth. “I’d better get home, I suppose.”
“Not at all, Joey. I’m going to hand you and the girls over to Matey. She can give the little ones some Mittagessen and keep them amused while you have a sleep in the San. It always works wonders with the girls when they’re fractious. I’ll text her and tell her you’re on your way up.”
She steered Joey firmly out of the door to collect the buggy, the occupants of which were now chewing the corners of their I-pads with hunger.
“And it might keep the Child Protection Team off her back for a week or two,” Hilda muttered to herself, returning to the office.