Flirting while the rouble plummets

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The Independent Culture
THERE'S A lot to be said for not being Russian at the moment. The news footage of harried Moscow rouble-traders looking as if the best choice they'll be offered all day is between suicide and assassination is a useful reminder of how lucky we are here. With all the markets wobbling like jelly, the punters in our section are staying away in droves, so we have time for lunch and chatting, and sorting out our lives.

One main topic of conversation continues to be Norman's barbecue, which is turning out to be a fertile source of jokes. There's Norm's jumper, for instance, practically a joke in itself: one of those stripy, multicoloured but subdued numbers that makes any man who wears one look like a Romanian chart-topper, especially if he's got a moustache. No designer gear for Normski, obviously.

Then there's the food: immaculately cooked, as I said before, but unsullied by seasoning. Still, at least we didn't get salmonella. No hangovers, either: our host had laid on low-alcohol beer and lots of lemon barley water, because "you've all got to drive home, and I'm sure you don't want to risk getting stopped by the police". Not something that Rory's ever concerned himself with, but then he's never had a party you had to drive to. Oh, how we missed him on Sunday, when we had to stand around making small talk while sober.

Still, there's one thing to be said for our new boss. Apart from the Sunday summons to the rented mansion in Surrey, he shows little interest in seeing us outside work, a feeling best described as mutual. So no being dragged off to seedy pubs with saggy strippers, no chrome-and-glitz late- night drinking-clubs, no swimming-pool-sized Stolly-and-tonics. Norman would rather stay late at the office "getting to grips with things over here" as he puts it, and we'd rather leave early and see our real friends.

As a result, everyone's social life has improved no end. I've managed five dinners in the past week, and I didn't fall asleep during any of them. Just as well, really, since a couple of them were at the sort of trendy eateries with one-word names where the atmosphere's so vibrant you'd be turfed out for yawning, and two were at the houses of friends I haven't seen for months. And the other was a date.

Despite intense questioning, Laura has found out no more about the event than the last time I had dinner with Olivier, who turned out to be disappointingly less of a Lothario than expected, even if it was because my friend Giles, his colleague, had warned him off. "I thought you were worried about not getting free France-England rugby match tickets off him," I told Olivier over pudding. "Pah!" he answered, with, yes, a shrug (and we wonder why we have national stereotypes). "France are football champions now. Rugby is for yesterday. Besides, I couldn't stop thinking about you."

Well, what could I say? After several dates with chaps who plainly couldn't stop thinking about themselves, comments like that were bound to have an effect. I started to feel fuzzy and happy. Not only that; I realised I could, after all, fancy Olivier more than he fancied himself, despite my first impressions at Giles's dinner party all those months ago. So I'm seeing him for a meal tomorrow evening, and I can't wipe the smile off my face.

Now that I look, everyone in the team seems to be beaming. Marco and Freddie have had a good lunch, Marlene has just booked a weekend away... and Norman is happily perusing the filing system.

My heart sinks. From where I'm sitting, I can tell he's about to hit "Obviously Made-Up CVs" and find himself, so to speak. That will wipe the smile off his face.

I hiss at Laura: "You did remove it, didn't you?"