ATSF's technosoap for the digital millennium in twelve chapplets
Dinner was proving only partially successful. The food was going down well but the conversation was dreadful. Meg and Tom had, duty bound, kept off referring to either girls or trying to include them in the small talk. This had meant trying to grill Peter a bit as the only foil to their chit-chat. However, Peter was adept at giving one word answers or bouncing the shortest open question back to the initiator. This threw Meg and Tom into over-drive trying to fill the silences. Brid kept giving meaningful looks in Meg’s direction but she didn’t have a clue what meaning was intended—apart from her wanting to get out of the room perhaps. Faith seemed to only have syllables and murmurs with different tones agreeing or sympathising with whoever was speaking. She kept her eyes down and looked sideways—at Brid mainly—exchanging intense glances. Meg assumed the glances were conveying tremendous sympathy to Brid for such horrendous parents forcing such a situation on them.
Meg had waited till the last moment to call the girls to the table to minimise the time in the offending company. They’d both changed their clothes, she noted. Brid was ‘dressed up’—black tee-shirt with suitable abstract motif and her tightest pair of jeans. There was something different about her hair too. Perhaps they’d been trying out new hairstyles on each other. Faith had tried to disguise the baggy leggings that Meg had given her because of drenching her white trousers by tying another of Brid’s black tee-shirts around her hips a bit like a butcher’s apron with the long bit in the front. Meg supposed that it was to cover as much bagginess as possible.
The conversation, such as it was, centred on the food and computing. The roasted vegetables went down well served with garlic bread. To fill the gap Meg described in detail how to cut the peppers and courgettes to best effect before roasting. She felt more and more like a teacher. Her efforts at including Peter had gone something like:
“Do you cook, Peter?”
“Oh ... ah ... um ... What sort of food do you like best then?”
“Take-aways of all types.”
“Yes. I suppose cooking can be difficult to fit in to a tight schedule like yours, I’m sure.” eyes appealing to Tom to take over.
“Yes, yes, we’re worked like dogs, eh Peter?”
“... and programming’s one of those activities that stops time if you get in the swing. Do you find that ... Peter?
“What’s your favourite language ... everyone’s usually got one eh, Peter?”
“Horses for courses. Depends on the task.”
“Ummm ... yeeessss. These peppers are better than usual, Meg. Did you marinade them or something?” eyes appealing to Meg.
And so the conversation lurched on through the meal.
It was only when they had finished and agreed to take a break before the dessert that Tom and Meg coincided in the kitchen for a moment carrying out the empty dishes. They looked at each other and raised their eyes to heaven.
“I’m not sure that one Thai meal covers this debt!” Meg proffered in a low voice.
“What am I going to say to him? What do you suggest?”
“Oh no! You’re on your own with that because we can’t leave them alone any longer—Oops! We’ve just contravened the agreement with the girls. They’ll kill us. Quick! I’ll suggest the girls wash up and you and Peter clear off upstairs.”
They rushed back to the dining room and the easy conversation that was in progress fell into hushed silence. Brid positively glowered at them. Meg just caught one word and noticed the animated flush on Faith’s face when the penny dropped.
“Ah! Well, I was going to suggest that the girls wash up while Peter and Tom finish off re-arranging the gadgets upstairs, but I suppose The Crooze win, do they?”
She aimed this at Brid with rounded, knowing eyes.
“Yes, I think they do but Pete wants to look at The Crooze's web site first. He maintains it and Faith has some suggestions. Is that okay, Dad?” Brid’s face relaxed as she realised her mother had finally tuned in to the female vibes.
Tom hadn’t, of course, and screwed his eyes up looking from Meg to Brid unsure of what to say now. ‘Don’t leave them alone—girls wash up’ were the last instructions he seemed to remember from Meg but her facial expression now seemed to be nudging him to do the opposite. What was right?
Meg’s slight nod prompted him.
“Yerr..sss, I suppose it is. So we’re washing up?” he queried from Meg.
She beamed. “Yes and you’re washing!”
Tom was glad he’d seemingly got something right although he really didn’t know how. No wonder he felt constantly bemused with so many apparent contradictions that the women in the household just took in their stride.
“Right!” he said relieved. At least he knew what he would be doing for the next five minutes and washing up was a constant he could handle.
“....... and I couldn’t understand the looks they were both giving me either at first. I thought they were just showing how awful it was to be stuck at the dinner table and that they’d have rather been ANYWHERE else!”
“So the looks meant that they wanted to be brought into the conversation?”
“Yes but only in a way that suited them ... because Faith is attracted to The Terror.” Meg suddenly realised she had to spell it out.
“What!” Tom was incredulous. “Who told you that? When?”
“Well, come on Tom. It was obvious when we went back into the room. They were perfectly comfortable with each other and the conversation was animated. You just had to see the way Faith was not really looking at him to know.”
“Oh! Umm, mmm,” was all that Tom could manage staring into the soap suds wondering if he’d walked back into the same dining room at the same time as Meg or into a parallel universe.
Brid joined them in the kitchen with a gleeful smile and some more dirty dishes.
“Really Mum! What’s wrong with your telepathy today? That was almost a disaster!”
“Come off it, Brid. We thought the black looks were protests at being forced to eat with us.”
“But he’s to die for! We’ve both seen him at The Crooze gigs. He knows the guys and now we know that he maintains their web site too. Faith’s been trying to find out who he is for ages. Trust you to sit on such a find, Dad! Who else have you got tucked away at work, then?”
Tom could hardly keep up with all the innuendos in the conversation.
“Now look here young ... maintains who’s web site ... knows who? ... How old is Faith, anyway?... We can’t turn this house into a dating agency ... for goodness sake!”
Meg and Brid smiled at each other and completely ignored Tom’s ranting.
“I suppose you sneaked off on the pretext of helping us ... like the usual good daughter you’re not?” teased Meg.
“They have to have some space and time but not too much, I reckon.” Brid surmised.
“Yes, give them 8-10 minutes and say dessert’s ready.” Meg refined the plan.
Tom had remained half turned away from the sink and the suds were threatening to drip off the end of his elbows.
“This is an unfair conspiracy. I have to stand up for The Terror. What chance does he have?”
Meg nudged him but too late as Brid leapt on the nick-name.
“The Terror? What’s so bad about him? He’s a pussycat! Why the nick name?”
“Just forget it!” moaned Tom. How could his daughter relate to Peter when no one else seemed to be able. He felt old.
“Never mind, Tom. This is all very positive. We now know that Pete has social interests and friends. He’s not a total recluse or a loner. He just doesn’t have a lot in common with the people at work,” Meg said encouragingly.
“Of course he doesn’t ... he ...” Brid took one look at her parents’ faces and changed direction mid-sentence, “I’ll just go and get more dishes.”
The atmosphere during dessert was totally different from dinner. The conversation was easy, Faith relaxed and came out of herself once the topics were on her wavelength. The Terror contributed a few phrases and Meg skilfully took her cue from Brid on what to talk about and wove in contributions from all. Tom was amazed. These were topics he knew nothing about—The Crooze, the secret lives of the band, the most frequently asked questions on the web site, the rise in popularity, inspiration for songs, good gig venues, bad gig venues, rival bands, and so on.
“Coffee or tea for anyone?” Meg offered at a convenient break in the conversation.
“Coffee for me,” Tom replied quickly.
“Black coffee, please,” Peter added
“Tea for me, please,” piped up Brid.
“Nothing, thanks,” Faith said demurely.
“Right. I suggest we all move to the lounge to be more comfortable,” said Meg.
“Can we continue with The Crooze’s web site, dad, pleeeease?” Brid pounced.
“Well, why don’t you girls go on up but Peter and I need to talk for a bit first.” Tom suddenly remembered that he had to tackle the work problem.
“Don’t keep him too long then, Dad. You know how you can go on and on about work!” quipped Bridget.
Tom gave her one of his ‘you’re on thin ground’ warning looks and Brid beamed back at him half-nodding towards Faith reminding him of the emotional undercurrent to the events.
“We’ll be as quick as we can,” was the compromise he offered.
“What about your parents Faith? Shouldn’t I drive you home shortly? Aren’t they expecting you around now?” Meg raised.
“Oh no, don’t worry, Mrs. Fairford. They’re used to me turning up at all times and I did phone so they know I’m here.” Faith reassured her quickly glancing at Brid pleadingly.
“Perhaps I would like a cup of tea if you’re making one,” Faith added to give a legitimate reason for staying.
“Right. Three teas, two coffees—one black,” Meg reminded herself as she headed to the kitchen. The girls went upstairs whispering to each other animatedly. Seran and Dippity jumped off the hall settle excitedly. They’d been watching the proceedings in the dining room but knew better than to enter when food was in there.
They attached themselves to the heels of the men as they moved into the lounge but as soon as Peter sat down on the couch Dipity leapt onto his lap and Seran clambered up the arm onto the back and paraded up and down behind him. By the time Tom had reached his arm chair, turned, sat down and looked over at The Terror, Dipity was purring loudly at the deft stroking he was getting from Peter’s left hand and Seran was licking the outstretched right hand lying across the top of the couch.
“Well, ummm ...” Tom was fazed by the sight. Peter seemed more at home than himself.
“Traitors!” he thought towards the cats.
“Just say if they’re too much,” he nodded at the cats, “they can get out of control pretty easily, especially Dipity ...”
And on cue Dipity started pummelling Peter’s knee with the ‘half scratch special’ indicating he was in cat ecstasy and very far from matching the verbal description floating in the air.
“... Ummm now, well, I suppose I’d better get to the point,” Tom waffled hating the whole situation and finding the spectacle of Peter and the two adoring cats more than a little undermining.
“So, umm, basically your work is very good—well I saw that for myself today,...”
Start with something positive, isn’t that the formula? Tom thought inwardly,
“... and, hur ... umm,” he spluttered clearing his throat, getting more distracted by the cats’ desertion since Seran was now stretching out along the back of the couch having her tummy tickled,
“... there’s the matter of teamwork,” he blurted out in a flurry of inspiration.
Peter half looked at him and returned to servicing the cats.
“Yes, teamwork. You see that communication across a team ...” Tom struggled to complete the elusive concept floating just out of reach,
“Makes or breaks a project.”
Brilliant! He patted himself on the back as the concept took a tangible shape.
“And well, you seem, umm,...appear...to the others, you know,...in your team, umm ... well ... to be ... to be ... apart... that is of course, apart from them ... er ... ahh ... as opposed to a part of them. Sorry ... that wasn’t really a good choice of words.”
Tom sighed as he took a large intake of breath. He loathed conversations of this nature and this was a monologue to a performing menagerie!
“Look, Peter, I suppose you recognise the poor atmosphere towards you from the others in your team, don’t you?”
“I don’t find it important,” Peter replied without looking up.
“Ah! ... Ummm ... well!” Tom was completely fazed now.
“I see ...” he said unconvincingly.
“But ... it is important ...” He began the sentence not knowing how he was going to finish it.
“To them ...” This was a sudden revelation to Tom and a few pieces of the human puzzle fell into place in his head.
"... at the points where they need to exchange information with you, or you with them,” he rushed out as inspiration moved him.
“Look, you don’t have to pretend to get on with them but the problem seems to be compounded by the hours you keep.”
“I work better in my own environment. I’m far more productive,” said Peter quietly.
“Yes, I can certainly appreciate that,” Tom said almost wistfully. “So does that mean you can’t work in the office?”
“I can’t focus properly,” Peter asserted.
“But can you see how your not being around can hold the others up sometimes?” Tom probed gently.
A flicker of a grimace passed across Peter’s face but there was no response.
“The others feel the project is in jeopardy and won’t make the deadline. What do you think?”
“.... and they’re saying that I’m holding it up?” Peter almost spat.
“Look, no one’s actually saying anything specific. There’s just this feeling that the deadline’s becoming critical and communication between ALL members of the team might improve the situation.” Tom suddenly wished he knew a lot more about the project in question.
Peter took a large intake of breath.
Conversation stopped as the cats simultaneously leapt off the couch and ran towards Meg as she entered with the coffee and tea on a tray.
“Now, you two, just stop it,” she said, and neither the cats nor the men knew who she was addressing.
Meg handed out the coffee sizing up the tense situation.
“Would you just take the teas up to the girls, Peter?”
“Yes, of course.” He leapt at the chance and the cats bounded out of the room following him.
Meg raised an eyebrow at Tom who was groaning.
“I was just getting to the point, Meg, and we have to sort something out by tomorrow. It’s so difficult. I’m no good at this sort of thing.”
“How far did you get?” she asked sympathetically.
“Well, he doesn’t care that the others have a problem with him and he is more productive at home in his own environment. Now because of what I’ve said he believes the rest of the team are complaining about him and he’s furious. I think that summarises it.”
“Umm! Needs defusing a bit then. What’s his take on it?” she asked.
“You’ve seen what he’s like. It’s hard to get anything out of him!” Tom shook his head woefully.
“Reminds me of Lulu from the sixth form two years ago.” Meg said.
“So did anything work with her?” Tom enquired.
“Not completely, you can hardly change human characteristics with a wave of the hand! They’re not digital ... yet!” Meg smiled at him with her head on the side rather like Seran, he thought.
“What am I going to do then?” Tom sounded completely fed up.
“Leave it for the moment. Go on up and just help out with whatever’s going on up there.” Meg started to head for the door.
“Oh! ... and take interest in The Crooze’s web site since that’s a positive topic for them all. But keep an eye on the time.”
Life Bytes is written by Santa Fe and Sanity Claus