Episode 4 (of 6)
I walked / sloshed my way to a rocky islet that was cut off at high tide and settled down in the lee of a rock to have a smoke and enjoy the view across the bay without the dragging weight of professional responsibility. I was now free to return to my life of small pleasures and endless free time. As I thought about the extraordinary events of the last couple of months I concluded that I deserved a rest, a little holiday to ease me back into my comfortable life.
I was startled out of my reverie by a rather formidable looking woman in tweeds.
‘Indeed,’ I managed, then rapidly reassembling the thinking machinery ‘Amazing how far the tide goes out here.’
‘Be careful, it can be unpredictable. Can come in much faster than you think. Only a couple of months ago it almost disappeared out across the bay and then came back in a big wave. Quite frightening – not what you expect……’
She turned and was walking away when she completed the end of her sentence – so I didn’t catch it all.
‘Something should be ………….’
As I walked back across the sand to the van I mused that such a comment would have been useful to have included in the report, to provide a bit of balance and all that – but I knew I wouldn’t, the envelope was sealed and waiting to be posted.
I only became aware of the hoo-hah when, two weeks later, I pulled into the close where my house is. I didn’t get very far down the short road as it was crowded with vans with tall antennae and a large group of people who were sitting around in camp chairs on the pavement drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. This crowded, but static scene changed the instant they saw the van pull up in front of them. Suddenly they were a crowd of shouting people jostling for position outside my cab window, through which a number of microphones were thrust.
‘Have you a comment on yesterday’s questions in the House?’
‘How do you respond to being called a public sector scoundrel?’
‘Will you be appearing before the select committee?’
I did my best, but if I’m honest it wasn’t very good. I expressed confusion (understandable) about what was going on and explained that I had just returned from holiday and then froze in horror when three newspapers were thrust under my nose with headlines that brought me somewhat abruptly abreast.
LEAKED REPORT MAKES DEPARTMENT A LAUGHING STOCK
EXPENSIVE REVIEW CONCLUDES TIDE GOES IN AND OUT
TIDY EARNER FOR PUBLIC SECTOR SCOUNDREL
Notwithstanding the unfortunate collision with the camera tripod and my inadvertently driving over someone’s sandwiches I somehow managed to get the van onto the drive and push my way through the throng to my front door. Once inside I became aware that the phone was ringing. Automatically I picked up the receiver
‘Hello, hello this is Derek Jones from The Daily ……’
I slammed the receiver down only for the phone to start ringing again.
‘John Silver from News at Ten here ……’
I took the phone off the hook. I was trapped – didn’t want to go out again and couldn’t even phone for help!
I survived the next couple of days on tins from the store cupboard whilst torturing myself by compulsively watching footage on the TV of my van approaching and of me being ‘interviewed’ and listening to all the news bulletins. The scrum of reporters (it’s always a scrum isn’t it?) remained outside and occasionally there would be a knock on the door or a tap on the windows. The following morning a pile of newspapers were pushed through my letter box. They made for grim reading.
I gradually pieced together the sequence of events:
My draft report had been leaked to The Bum, which had promptly run a scathing ‘EXCLUSIVE’ targeting a civil service ‘OUT OF CONTROL’ and a Government whose focus on regulation and holding the public sector to account through regular inspections and reviews had created a bureaucratic monstrosity that was being ‘FUNDED BY THE TAXPAYER.’ Then the rest of the media had piled in. There were reports of a civil servant being apprehended for loitering and being moved on by the Police, locals reporting that an escaped lunatic had been loose in their midst and the inevitable recriminations between public bodies – the two police forces for a lack of information sharing and the Local Authorities and Central Government for the lack of trust inherent in an ‘undercover inspection.’
There were more headlines – one of which actually made me smile:
TIME AND TIDE WAIT FOR OLD VAN
There had indeed been questions in the House and the PM had endured a torrid time at PMQs. Later that day Downing Street had announced that the circumstances and findings of the report would be subject to Select Committee scrutiny.
I had largely retreated upstairs to a back room and was therefore surprised to come down on the third day to find no one outside my gate and no vans in the close. It had all gone away! I put the radio on and, I don’t mind telling you, listened with some glee to an extensive report about a developing scandal about the Foreign Secretary’s somewhat questionable relationship with the wife of a Russian diplomat.
I tentatively replaced the receiver on the phone ……. silence! It was over – for the time being.
I had tried to contact Sir Reginald for ‘a chat’ in the weeks leading up to the committee hearing but without success. Faisley managed to give me some useful information (like ‘the PM is furious!’ and that Tuppy Smallwood had bet Sir Reginald £50 that he would soon be spending more time working on his handicap) but my first meaningful, if you can call it that, discussion with Sir Reginald had been outside the committee room in the lobby.
‘Don’t worry about it dear boy, just a formality and then we can get back to whatever it was we were doing. Mind you,’ he gave me a stern look, ‘best if you do all the talking, the chair is ….. well rather middle class if you know what I mean, takes umbrage at the likes of me, although for the life of me …..’
‘You’re leaving it to me to dig our way out of this?’
‘Bogol! Never dig when in a hole – just straight bat the questions away, they’ll soon get bored but,’ he added, ‘don’t go on about that Marks and Spencer stuff … oh wait a minute, do I mean Spencer? …. No it’s Spengals, that’s it, Marks and Spengals …..’
I sighed at another re-run of those monthly conversations that had passed for my professional supervision, ‘You mean Marx and Engels Sir Reginald.’
‘Sssh, sssh!’ Sir Reginald looked around in alarm, ‘I see you’re still at it Bogol ….. it’ll get you into more trouble …. Do you remember when they thought you were a spy?’
‘Yes I do.’
‘Well I suppose your name is a bit suspect … whoever gave you it I can’t imagine …. but talking about that Spengals chap didn’t help.’
‘No Sir Reginald.’
‘And who dug you out of that one eh?’
‘You Sir Reginald.’
‘Yes me …… I just told them the idea of you being a foreign intelligence operative was laughable, you were neither foreign or ……. oh never mind.’
‘Yes Sir Reginald.’
‘And now you can jolly well go in there and bat for me ….. I’ll be right behind you.’