Staring at his shoes as they scraped petulantly along the floor towards his seat, Ronnie the Rhino tried his best to remember exactly how he got to this point. Wracking his brains to no avail he sat down and whispered to his colleague to help him remember. Whispering back two wonderful words into his ear, Ronnie’s eyes glazed over as he leapt back with gusto to those heady days before he had to tolerate all this nonsense.
Fifteen months previously, after yet another day of meetings, meetings, meetings, a younger and more care free Ronnie the Rhino was in search of a good time as he needed to let his wispy hair down and have some fun. He liked to think he worked harder than most but every now and then he wished he could go back to earlier in his career when he had more time for himself and his ever growing family with much less pressure.
Knowing the frustration of his current work /life balance Ronnie’s friend Tommy Tiger had invited him to the “party to end all parties” and that was exactly what the doctor ordered. The frustrating part was Ronnie only had half an hour to spare and then he had another work engagement so he needed to wring as much magic out of this gathering as possible before getting back to it.
Thankfully Ronnie didn’t have far to go as the party was a short walk on the other side of the building so, flanked by two of his team mates, Olly Otter and Tina Hyena he dashed over to get his horn stuck into the action. The double doors to the event were guarded by two large lions in black suits and sunglasses.
“Have you got an invite?” asked the lion guard on the left. Olly Otter whispered into the lion’s ear and they immediately opened the doors and the party inside erupted down the hallway towards them. It was a vibrant, colourful cocktail of chatter, music, food and fun with more disco lights than you’d find in the 1970s. At one end of the huge room was a DJ and a dance floor filled with the craziest dancing this side of the city zoo and at the other end were crowds of tables full of food and animals of all kinds trying to chat to each other over the noise of the music.
There must have been at least 50 to 100 work colleagues in the party already. Ronnie in his immaculate black suit and tie watched his two colleagues merge into the dancing crowd as he strutted into the noise and was immediately welcomed by his good friend Wesley the Weasel.
“Ron, you made it! This is fantastic!! How long you got?” Wesley knew his friend well, Ronnie rarely stayed long at a party as there was always something else going on that he had to get back to. Sometimes work, sometimes pleasure. He never questioned his friend’s life choices, he just gave Ronnie the friendship he needed regardless.
“Got half an hour, Wes! Hit me with it!”
Wesley signalled over one of the many waiters carrying trays of drinks and food and Ronnie grabbed some nibbles, such as grasshopper and cricket canapés, cramming them into his mouth and then a glass of grass champagne to get started. Oh that felt good!
“Follow me – let’s boogie!”
Ronnie gave Wesley a wink and they made their way to the dance-floor. Starting to bust some major rhino moves Ronnie’s disco inferno was interrupted by a screamed suggestion from Beth Badger.
“Let’s do a dance off!” she declared to the crowd.
In seconds 25 people split in two trying to out do each other with a crazy dance routine to the songs of Lizzo Lizard. It culminated in Ronnie dancing off against Terry Ferret who after some deliberation by the judges just edged the win. Wesley walked up to a sweaty Ronnie afterwards asking, “Where has this Ronnie been hiding?”
“Been too busy to unleash this side of me for a while” said Ronnie keeled over wheezing and out of breath. He hadn’t had this much fun since his first marriage before the birth of one of his many children.
Wesley smiled and nodded giving his friend a big hug. During their embrace the people around them started to cheer and whoop and Ronnie noticed Wesley smiling. Turning around to see what all the fuss was about Ronnie saw Ellie the Elephant carrying the largest present he’d ever seen with the shiniest green wrapping paper.
“What on earth is that?” asked Ronnie looking confused as to why this present caused such a reaction. Wesley led his friend over to where Ellie had placed the present. The music on the dance floor had stopped and everyone was crowded around this mystery gift. Over 20 people had surrounded the present at the other end of the room looking very excited with themselves and each other.
“Stand there, Ron. They’re about to get started.”
Looking around the circle of party goers Ronnie noticed some of the other participants were wearing ponchos. Before he could ask the fox standing next to him about this a snake slid into the centre of the circle and began to address the crowd.
“Welcome one and all to the greatest party game of the year! As is tradition this is Pass the parcel!” The crowd erupted with delight and Sid the Snake wiggled his long hissing tongue as he waited for the cheering to stop.
“Usual rules apply – whilst the music plays, pass the parcel around the circle. Once it stops, the person with the present unwraps one layer then leaves the game and we keep going until the winner unwraps the final layer and wins the gift inside.”
Ronnie nodded as he looked around at all the grinning faces when they noticed he was participating in this game. What was so funny about it? He could be as fun as anyone! Little did he know they were grinning at what was about to happen rather than his participation.
“Lets start in 5,4,3,2,1. Start passing the parcel NOW!” hissed Sid as he slid the parcel over to Ronnie with his long scaly tail. The upbeat music kicked in as Ronnie picked up the large present with his short arms and was struggling to not pierce it with his horn. He quickly passed it to his friend Terry Tiger standing next to him who then swiftly passed it to the moose next to them with the surrounding crowd making “Oohs” and “Ahhs” after each exchange. Fifteen seconds later the music stopped abruptly and Mandy the mongoose was holding the present knowing full well what came next.
“Unwrap it! Unwrap it!” chanted the room to Mandy. Shaking slightly she grabbed the tape of the present and began to rip through the first layer.. As soon as she pierced the paper it exploded bright red slime in her direction covering her entire upper body and splattering the surrounding participants
Ronnie couldn’t help burst out laughing as did many of his colleagues. She looked a right old mess, it certainly put the “goo” in mongoose. Mandy ran off to the toilets sobbing as red slime dripped onto the floor like a sad jelly. Suddenly the music kicked back in and the game was on. This continued for several minutes, music on, pass around the ticking slime bomb, music stops, unwrap present and a different member of the animal kingdom got a gunge based protein shake in the face. Somehow Ronnie had made it to the last round with seven other participants. He’d had some close calls in his career but thankfully in this case his jacket had got the brunt of the mess, looking like a rhino trifle.
The music kicked back in one last time and he started to pass the parcel. Rhino to Lion to Gorilla to Lizard to Crocodile to Horse to Sheep and back to Rhino, Ronnie was so nervous he shut his eyes as he passed the parcel like his life depended on it. The present was getting closer and closer and closer until… the music stopped. Ronnie opened his eyes and there in his arms was nothing but thin air. Sally the Sheep was bleating next to him holding the present aloft in the air.
“I won! I won! Yessss!” she cried jumping up and down like a woolly jumper struck by lightning.
Ronnie hated losing but some would say he was an even worse winner. He reluctantly gave the victor a slow hand clap and mouthed “Well done!” although it was clear to everyone he was not impressed.
Sally thanked him and began to unwrap the present to reveal the prize. The crowd all seemed to step backwards knowing something Ronnie didn’t. His brain didn’t reach the rest of his body in time as he stayed fixed to the floor watching the wrapping paper rip in slow motion.
Sally the sheep smiled crazily as the contents of the present revealed itself at last in a bright yellow eruption covering her entire body. Ronnie turned his back to the volcanic eruption but it still splatted hard against the back of his jacket. Fishing the yellow gunk out of his ears he heard the official announcement from Wesley.
“Congrats to Sally on winning the annual tradition of the Pass the Custard Parcel!”
Ronnie licked the yellow goo on his jacket and sure enough it was the tastiest of custards. Wesley walked up to Ronnie and gave him a round of applause.
“Nice one, mate! Ready for the next game?”
Ronnie had no time to think about it as Wesley led him to the other end of the room noticing a custard clean up operation in progress behind him.
Party time was interrupted abruptly when the alarm on Ronnie’s watch started to vibrate. He needed to leave but every fibre of his being wanted to stay. His two team members, who were also having a great time, reluctantly emerged from the crowd and flanked him as before. They noticed the custard dripping from his suit and one of them ran off to get something.
“Leaving so soon?” Wesley asked knowing he asks this same question every time Ronnie left before the end of a social gathering.
“Fraid so, Wes! Super fun old chap! I promise to stay longer next time but y’know what it’s like at the moment.”
Wesley nodded silently. Ronnie leaned in to whisper some advice.
“Remember to keep it down so the folks on the other side of the building don’t hear it as they start arriving soon.”
“Sure thing, Ron. Anything you say!” Wesley signalled the DJ and the sound of the music immediately decreased by half.
Ronnie waved at his buddy before heading out of the double doors and back into the hallway.
Patting his friend on the back Ronnie marched down the hall to his next meeting. Olly the Otter ran down the hall behind Ronnie to greet him with a new jacket. It was a swift pit stop, as all of them were used to this type of thing happening before big meetings or family gatherings. Dirty jacket off, spotless jacket on and no one would know. He had a great team around him to ensure he never really had to remember anything. What a charmed life!
Marching down the hall behind Olly and Tina, Ronnie started to think about his career and what had led him to this moment. Throughout his life he’d had people criticise him personally and professionally but through his family contacts and knowing the right people at the right time, he’d weathered the storm and got through it. Every job that went well or inevitably wrong he always believed his ambition and drive would get him through any hurdles that came his way. The last year or so had been bumpy but the people around him at home and at work continued to provide the support he needed to get through it. Ronnie knew it wouldn’t last forever but at the moment he felt invincible. Almost untouchable.
After a long walk to the other side of the building, Olly the otter put in the code to the security door. Tina passed Ronnie some notes. He cleared his throat and looked down at the first line written on them.
“Let me start by saying thank you to everyone out there who are continuing to obey the rules and staying indoors during this latest lockdown. Your sacrifice at this festive time, not seeing loved ones and having fun at that cheeky Christmas party, will ensure a swift exit out of this horrible situation and a return to normal very soon.”
Ronnie looked up from his notes smirking to himself noticing a small amount of custard still on his trousers which he wiped off and ate. If only they knew what he’d been doing the last half hour, he thought, knowing Olly and Tina would make sure none of that information would ever see the light of day. Putting on his face mask Ronnie straightened his tie, messed up his wispy hair into his favourite style, wiped his horn clean of any final yellow flecks and strolled into the latest pandemic press conference.
Travelling back to the present with imaginary custard dripping out of his ears and sore feet from his funky dance moves, Ronnie sprung to life with the booming voice from the Speaker of the House, “I call on the Prime Minister who has a statement to make regarding the alleged parties.”
Ronnie’s front bench applauded their leader as he stood up and took two tiny rhino steps towards the despatch box to begin his speech. The opposition in all directions booed him for two straight minutes until his legs began to ache. Ronnie wasn't used to standing for long periods these days. The Speaker of the house eventually told everyone to “Shut it!” and after a throat clearance that felt chunky, Ronnie began his carefully prepared notes.
“Mr Speaker, as everyone will have seen I have been fined by the police for a number of parties that allegedly took place during lockdown. Earlier today I decided to pay all of those fines in full and I will tell you all why. During lockdown when all of us were making sacrifices, so was I! Day after day I was working 20 hour days... if I was lucky! Making sure all of you in this house and across the UK were safe from the virus in all ways possible. Well, after the first month I’d had enough and thought WHY NOT! I’m the bloody prime minister, I don’t need to follow these blasted rules so did I go to all of the parties I’ve been fined for? YOU BET I DID! I also arranged most of them. And I loved every flipping minute of it! In fact you will never know how many parties there were but believe me there were lots.
“Now I appreciate this contradicts what I have said previously in this House and in response to many questions in the past but so what? I’m a politician, I lie all the bloody time! It’s what I do! Don’t like it? Don’t vote for me next time but until then I have no intention of listening to your drivel or regretting my actions of the past and changing them in the future. Like it or lump it because I wouldn’t change a single thing.
“And I know what the leader of the opposition will say, how can you stay in your position if you were doing this when the public couldn’t be with their dying relatives because they were following the rules I created? In response to that, quite frankly, I was having too much fun to care! In the end I kept most of the public safe and to be honest, most of the time I had a killer hangover to boot. I know once the dust settles the public will forgive me and the majority of them already think I’m a bit of a legend! I will not be making any further comments on this matter at this time and will get back to focusing on my day job.”
Ronnie stepped back from the despatch box expecting a deafening round of applause. Instead the sound he received was a minute’s silence from everyone in the House to indicate a dead man walking, with one member of the opposition front bench slowly and quietly waving him goodbye. The leader of the opposition stood up from his seat, slowly crossed the House, walked up to the Prime Minister and slapped Ronnie hard across his despicable lying face before leaving the building to a rapturous round of applause from everyone in the room except for a red faced, soon to be unemployed rhino.