In economic circles, Professor Eric Harrington and his stalwart assistant Shona Lewis are quite a partnership. Having managed to predict every downturn, upswing and double-dipped bounceback of the recent maelstrom, Eric has unexpectedly found himself “man of the moment”. The banking community hangs on his every word, Downing Street won’t sneeze without checking with Eric first and Robert Peston’s got him on speed-dial. Shona, meanwhile, takes cares of everything from the diary to the dry-cleaning. And, since “work pressures” took their toll on Eric’s 30-year marriage, Shona has bravely stepped up to the mark after hours, too.
But after six months of liaisons in dingy wine bars and after-dark cuddles on lonely park benches, Shona has declared it’s time they went public and showed the world what a power couple they really are. Her heart is set on the Federation’s annual Christmas dinner dance as just the place to strut their stuff. Unfortunately, while Eric can cut quite a deal, he has no idea how to cut a rug. So if they’re to put on a decent show, they’re going to need a bit of help.
Fortunately, Shona’s gym, Banters of Bishopsgate, offers a Friday-night class specially tailored for couples preparing to make shapes together for the first time in public. A few nuevo latino moves are a great way to wind down from the week, get the pulses racing and learn a new skill. Plus, Eric has a window on Friday nights – Shona’s made sure of that.
In readiness, Eric dons his patent leather formals, Shona slips into her best LK Bennetts and together they tiptoe into the aerobics studio like a pair of timid deer easing onto a frozen lake. Dance coach Carmella, who looks as if she’s just sailed in from Havana (though actually she’s stepped off a coach from Coventry), immediately grabs Eric to help demonstrate the basic forward step, 1-2-3, and back 5-6-7. “Shake jour heeps…” she barks, clapping aggressively in Eric’s face. It’ll never work. Eric’s more of a foxtrot kind of guy, he doesn’t take to being clapped at, plus his hips, like himself, aren’t far off retirement. They’ll need serious lubrication (not to mention embrocation) if they’re ever going to loosen up.
Shona, on the other hand, reveals hot sauce in her soul. While Eric shuffles aimlessly, she takes the lead, shaking her hair in time to the music as if a swarm of wasps have taken up residence, and sashaying around like an on-heat cat working the neighbourhood. Eric can’t help but respond. It could be the heady mix of Mum Sport and Eau Sauvage, or maybe it’s the syncopated rhythms from the music, but something’s going at 160bpm, quick quick slow, quick quick slow, and Eric’s pretty sure it isn’t the music.
Shona revels in the moment. It’s Friday night and they’re together, so this Christmas there’ll be plenty to celebrate. She’s got the dress, the shoes, the man and… Oh, what the hell. She had planned to wait, but something tells her now is the perfect time to reveal Eric’s Christmas bonus.
As she takes the lead for a clumsily executed right turn, she leans in and reminds Eric of a heat-of-the-moment they shared three months ago at a Federation conference in Harrogate. Eric needed relaxing before delivering his keynote speech and there was no time to put emergency measures in place. Turns out, Shona confesses, 1,2,3 there’s been something of a… bounce-back, 5,6,7. It’s a nifty move on her part, but Eric’s nowhere near up to speed, and it takes him several beats before he realises that as far as Shona’s figure is concerned, rapid inflation is to be expected in the next quarter.
Eric stamps his feet and stomps out of the studio. “Bravo, Eric! Show me the passion!” applauds Carmella, revising her view that the English are a frosty race. It’s not strictly ballroom, but it’s not strictly boardroom either.
Having kicked Shona several times in his routine, he now has to kick himself. All the indicators were there – how could he not have seen this coming? With vines in Tuscany to tend and a stiff divorce settlement still to sign, Eric hadn’t bargained on paying for the next generation, too. Luckily, Shona is on hand to nurse his bruised shins and blistered ego. She knows that the short-term shock will pass and they can look forward to a period of slow but steady growth. From late-night feeds to school fees, Shona assures Eric he needn’t worry about a thing. The next 18 years are taken care of. In fact, it’s already in the diary.