An everyday tale of trust folk, appearing fortnightly

Coffee time has a bitter taste for the number-crunching Miss Fermat.

Now read on...

At the boardroom table sat the hospital sharing team - a gathering of the great and the good. I always found it instructive to view such meetings from a height, and the lampshade was a favourite perch, not least because it contained the last resting place of several family members.

The team had played the game of 'who sits next to who': the unholy trinity of Broomstick, Twix and Cruster were at one end, while Tarantino sat with two empty chairs either side. In the middle were Sterling the wizened bean-counter and his sidekick Miss Fermat, his number-cruncher. Ardent, the seconded American strategy and marketing bod from Yale, beamed at everyone.

Greycoat entered and came straight to the point. Problems, problems, problems. Ardent interjected: it was important to get the cultural language right - these were not problems but insurmountable opportunities and demonstrated the vigour of the management team and the width of the challenge.

Greycoat reasserted himself and reeled off a list of opportunities: amalgamation with St Jude's; the threat posed by community hospitals and healthy living centres; growing waiting lists; winter pressures; nurse recruitment (a brief hrrrmphing noise from Twix); the mortuary PFI scheme; backlog maintenance; keeping the PCGs in line; rising numbers of complaints; financial deficit and last but not least, quality... After this brief sermon he fell back exhausted, and a pall of gloom descended on all but Ardent.

How about a group inspiration session, he ventured. All looked blank except the Terminator, who suggested brainstorming. Greycoat fell on this as a 'helpful contribution as always, Charles'. They were about to start the desperate brownie-point race to say something meaningful when Cruster demanded coffee, and Broomstick said it hadn't been ordered. Tarantino suggested menacingly that some people, perhaps, were not fully supporting the team. Miss Fermat shuddered slightly and volunteered to go and make some. Greycoat gave her his best leer, reserved for delicate young ladies, and off she went.

Little did she know that all comestibles had been withdrawn to the central kitchen store. She ranged widely in her search for instant granules, foolishly trusting the direction signs so that she ended up in A&E.

Back in the boardroom, every question needed a statistical input and could not be resolved in Miss Fermat's absence. But Tarantino looked satisfied. He had found a new target, and I suspect Miss Fermat will look a trifle more delicate when he's finished with her - if she survives.