Those winter nights were long and quiet while the orchestra toured, and I've been having a recurring nightmare about the events of the past summer...Team JDCMB is back in The Apprentice!
(Flashback: July. Summer skies, sunshine and tweetybirds. Music: Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet gives way to woogly Apprentice sounds. Scene: The House. Phone rings. Jess answers)
Secretary: Sir Alan is assigning your next task, team JDCMB. He'd like you to meet him at the EMI studios on Abbey Road. The car will be here in half an hour.
(Cut to: limo stops by the Beatles' zebra crossing. Sir Alan stands outside the studio, where Elgar stood with Menuhin...)
Tom, Jess: Morning, Sir Alan.
Philippe, Claire: Bonjour, Sir Alain.
Sir Alan: Morning all. We're outside the most famous recording studio in the world. This is where dreams are made, and now, even decades later, you can still hear the results. A recording can be an icon: it can capture the whole mood of its times. Now, team JDCMB's next task is to make the Hungarian Dances CD. Please pack your suitcases - you're going to Holland to record the disc. Tom, you need to be there on 19 July to play the Bartok Duos with Philippe.
Tom: You having a laugh, mate?
Sir Alan: Not at all. Philippe has booked the studio specifically for a day when you're free from the orchestra, and he'd like you to be there at 5pm. Right, Phil?
Philippe: Oui, d'accord.
Tom: But I've never recorded anything before except in the orchestra...
Sir Alan: Now you're going to. Get used to it. Jess, you can go along to make the sandwiches and provide moral support.
Jess: Sir Alan, I have a problem. On 19 July I'm doing a pre-concert talk at the Cheltenham Festival. Ben and I are discussing Hungarian Dances and Hungarian Gypsy music before Taraf de Haidouks plays.
Sir Alan: You can't go?
Jess: Sir Alan, it's great book promotion, and we can mention the CD is being made...
Sir Alan: Don't be cheeky. It's cheeky enough to talk about Hungarian stuff just before a Romanian band plays. Haven't you ever heard of the Treaty of Trianon?... Still, if you've got a prior engagement, I suppose you'll have to honour it. There wasn't much you could have done anyway, other than the sarnies. I seem to remember your violin playing wasn't up to much 25 years ago.
(Cut to: Tom frantically practising Bartok. Cut to: Philippe and Claire on plane heading for Holland. Cut to: very early on a sunny July morning in The House.)
Jess: Good luck, dear, see you tomorrow.
Tom (late and packing): frwzhgrhwrs...
(Cut to: half an hour later. Jess's mobile rings.)
Tom: I missed the train! It was pulling out of the station when I arrived. I'll have to drive to Gatwick.
Jess: Oh no. Don't go too fast.
(Cut to: Tom bowling down the M23 at 99.7mph. Cut to: Jess exploring 18th-century terraces of Cheltenham. Phone rings.)
Tom: I'm in Amsterdam. Hours early! Just having a nap...
(Cut to: Tom slumbering peacefully in hotel room; then waking and looking at schedule.)
(Close-up of schedule: the recording address is not in Amsterdam.)
Tom: Where the f*** is Deventer?
(Tom at station, talking to friendly Dutch stationmaster who directs him to train to Deventer. About to board, Tom slaps hand to head. Cut to: taxi pulls up outside hotel. Tom jumps out of car and runs inside. Emerges holding music of Bartok Duos. Clockface: an hour has passed. At station, Tom boards next train. Cut to: train stalled in field. Heavy rain. Clockface: 4.30pm.)
Announcement in Dutch: Due to an accident on the line, this train will now be returning to Amsterdam.
Tom: Please could someone translate?
(Clockface: 5.30pm. Train pulls in to Amsterdam. Tom's shoes have turned orange.)
Stationmaster: The Amsterdam-Deventer line will be down for the rest of the day.
(Cut to: Jess in Cheltenham, having tea and cream scones with Ben, Katie and Desmond. Mobile rings)
Tom: Jess, I'm stuck! How do I get there without the train?
Jess (mouth full of scone): What did you say it's called?
Ben: Is there a bus?
Desmond: Can you hire a car?
Katie: Have you got a map?
Tom: Help! I'm late! Jess, what shall I do?
Jess: I don't know, dear. Ask a stationmaster?
(Cut to: Philippe in studio under flashing red light, holding violin in one hand and mobile phone in the other)
Philippe (into phone): Don't worry, Tom, just get here when you can.
Sir Alan (off set): Oh lordy...
(Cut to: stationmaster talking to Tom, writing down long list of instructions. Clockface: hands whirring round and round. Pan to: three trains in succession as Tom gets on and off them at small stations beside windmills. Clockface: 7.30pm - a bedraggled Tom walks through rain past board marked DEVENTER. Cut to: red light in studio. Tom and Philippe play very fast.)
Philippe: Tom, you sound great.
Tom (fumbling for headache pills): I've been practising it at half that speed!
(Cut to: Cheltenham Town Hall, big audience assembling: Jess shaking hands with Taraf de Haidouks's extremely handsome youngest violinist and talking happily with him in French. Mobile rings.)
Jess: Tomcat, how's it going?
Tom (freaked out): I can't do this, it's impossible.
Jess: Stop worrying, dear. You've had a terrible journey, of course you feel bad.
Tom: But now I have to LISTEN to myself on the tape!
Philippe (distant): Tom! One more take!
Tom: How am I going to get back to Amsterdam if the trains are down?
(Clockface: 10.30pm. Red light switches off. Tom throws violin into case and pulls on raincoat.)
Philippe: Aren't you staying for a beer?
(Cut to: Tom legging it to station through the rain. Cut to: Jess and Ben in Cheltenham Town Hall, dancing and cheering Taraf de Haidouks, which is onstage playing everyone's socks off. Cut to: morning after. Jess, hung over, on train from Cheltenham to London. Mobile rings.)
Tom (forlorn): I'm at Gatwick and now I can't find the car! It's the last staw!! HELP!!!!
Jess: Oh blimey, guv...
(Cut to: The House. All candidates asleep. Phone rings. Everyone is too knackered to take the call.)
Secretary (on answering machine): Sir Alan would like you to meet him in the boardroom in an hour.
(Woogly Apprentice music. Jess, Tom, Philippe and Claire troop into boardroom.)
Sir Alan: Well, well, well. You look as if you've been dragged through a hedge backwards. Tom, what have you got to say for yourself?
Tom: Sir Alan, that was one of the most crap days I've ever had in my whole life (sob).
Sir Alan: Philippe, how did Tom do in this task?
Philippe: He was great. It wasn't his fault the trains broke down.
Tom: Sir Alan, it was one of those days where everything went wrong and (sob sob) none of it was my fault!
Sir Alan: Jessica, where were you through all this?
Jess: Er, as I said, I had to do my talk with Ben in Cheltenham, so I couldn't...
Sir Alan: Yes, yes, you were running away with the real Gypsies, weren't you? "She's gone with the Raggle-Taggle Taraf-oh..."
Jess: It was a contracted engagement, Sir Alan, I couldn't let them down.
Sir Alan: You were having a high old time, bopping away in Cheltenham Town Hall, chatting up that dishy violinist, helping the cimbalom player find cotton to coat his beaters! While your husband was fighting his way against all the elements and all the odds to record seven minutes of music for a CD to go with your book?! And all you could say was: "I don't know, dear, ask a stationmaster?"
Jess: But Sir Alan...
Sir Alan: Claire, you've been a tower of strength. Philippe, you've bust all your guts over this project. Well done, you're both stupendous. You can go back to the House.
Philippe and Claire: Merci, Sir Alain. (exeunt)
Tom: Sir Alan, I know I played absolutely dreadfully and I couldn't bear to listen to myself on the tape, and it really wasn't my fault that it went so horribly wrong and I wish I could feel that I deserve to win this task, but I don't. And it was all Jess's fault because she didn't help me at all!
Sir Alan: Tom, listen. All musicians feel that way when they hear themselves on tape for the first time. You're not the first and you won't be the last. Philippe was pleased with your playing, wasn't he?
Tom: Yes, but...
Sir Alan: You want proof? I got proof. I've got a surprise for you. Look at this.
(Close up of The Independent on Sunday's review of the CD, in bold letters: "Pick of the Album: Bartok's spare, angry 'Sorrow' for two violins").
Sir Alan: See? They picked out one of your duos as the best bit! What do you say to that?
Tom (pink-eared): rflghrrfhgwl...
Sir Alan: Jessica, having a conflicting engagement isn't an excuse. You were no use to your team whatsoever. Indeed you've induced your husband and your friends to go through hell and high water. If it wasn't for that bloody book, none of this would have happened.
Jess: But Sir Alan, the CD is wonderful and Tom's first non-orchestral recording has been picked out by the Indy on Sunday...
Sir Alan: The fact remains, someone has to go, and there is one person in this room who is - completely - bloody - useless. (sarcastic) I wonder who it could possibly be? (points finger): Jessica, you're...
(Cut to: Jess wakes up in a cold sweat. Front door closes.)
Tom: Jess, I'm home from tour!
Jess (recovering): About time too.