Episode 5 (of 6)
So in we went to a large room with tables set out in a long rectangle. Crammed down the sides were faces that, to be perfectly frank, didn’t look that encouraging. At the far end sat her chairship, one look and I knew we were in deep shit. As I took the lonely seat at the near end of the table she spoke.
‘Not fielding this one Sir Reginald?’
‘No Ma’am,’ came his voice from the seat behind me, ‘I thought you would prefer to get the posish, so to speak, from the man on the ground, the expert, the one with the first hand …’
‘Thank you Sir Reginald, how thoughtful. At least we won’t have to listen to your blather.’
She turned her attention to me. ‘Thank you for attending Mr. Golinski, I am glad that you are neither still on holiday nor in an asylum.’
It’s a standard, often used trick of a little light-heartedness to set a meeting off and there was predictable laughter around the table from smiling, relaxed faces – which gave the impression of a group of people who got on well and would work respectfully together, despite their differences, to consider a complex and difficult issue – whilst under the tables they were simultaneously sharpening their knives in readiness for the blood on the carpet that was about to follow.
I tried to laugh (best to fit in if one can) but found that the necessary mechanism seemed to have suffered a serious malfunction. All I could manage was a rather loud strangled yelp which I tried to cover by coughing – which turned into an uncontrollable coughing fit. I got redder and redder in the face as I tried, without success to bring the convulsions to a stop. It got so bad that the nearest member to my right had to break from his underhand honing to hand me a glass of water – which I promptly knocked into my lap.
If I wasn’t feeling downhearted by this point I was certainly getting there. I mopped myself down and tried to compose myself. I knew how to prepare for a select committee grilling – you work out all the likely angles of attack based on your analysis of the weaknesses in your position and then decide on your responses – where to concede, where to obfuscate and where to rebut. You do this with your manager. I somewhat suspected that a brief re-run of a long running misunderstanding about the authors of the Communist Manifesto was not going to be sufficient in the current situation.
Once the questioning started I tried to lift morale by reminding myself that I had the advantage of not blathering like Sir Reginald, although I soon squandered that.
I stressed that I had followed departmental guidelines and that the document that had been leaked had been my very first draft – it hadn’t yet been moderated by the Department. The Chair asked me ‘whether ‘moderation’ would have changed the core findings of the report – that the tide went in and out on a daily basis and in accordance with the official tide tables.’ I had to concede that moderation would probably not have changed this key finding.
A woman on my right, rather formidable and slightly familiar looking, raised her hand and the Chair responded, ‘The Member for Dumfries would like to ask you a question.’
I gave an uneasy smile; I had a vague recollection of …
‘Ah Mr Golinski, you will remember our meeting?’
‘Our meeting? …. I’m sorry.’
‘On that rocky island, well island at high tide any way, on the edge of Fleet and Wigtown bays.’
I couldn’t stop myself from nodding.
‘And you will remember our conversation?’
I did – only too well, but managed to shake my head this time, an old trick, let’s see what she’s going to throw at you, ‘Sorry, would you be so kind as to refresh my memory.’
She snorted. ‘You mentioned the tide and how far it goes out on a spring.’
I nodded, ‘Just doing my job.’
‘And I told you about that time only 6 weeks previously when the water had been drawn right out of the bay and then had returned with a rush.’
I said nothing.
‘Do you remember that Mr. Golinski? And that I said it was most irregular and potentially dangerous and that something should be done about it?’
I stared at her.
‘Where was that in your report Mr Golinski? Where was it?’
While the clouds had been gathering around me I had done my best to work out a credible response. As we know I had already completed the draft and this was the first negative comment I’d heard about the tides in a month of painstaking field work. I had, as you might say, ‘moved on from the task’, although that had not stopped me talking about those damn tides – out of habit I suppose. I fancied that honesty here was not my best option – but it seems I managed to pick an even worse one.
‘As an experienced Inspector Ma’am I took the view that this was the exception that proved the rule.’
Things got a little out of hand for a while, with some members of the committee literally doubled up with laughter whilst others seemed somewhat outraged by my contribution. There were cries of ‘Shame!’ and ‘Gross incompetence!’ and ‘Making fools of us all!’
The Chair had been fumbling around at the far end and eventually laid her hand on her gavel with which she banged vigorously on the table, knocking over a water jug, and shouting ‘Order! …… Order!’
Once paper napkins had been fetched and general mopping up effected, the Chair turned her attention back to me.
‘I haven’t heard anything that suggests your, very expensive, three page report has added anything to our understanding of the current situation in the Solway Firth.’
‘It states what I found, Ma’am, set out as per departmental guidelines.’
‘OK, apart from confirming that the tide comes in and goes out on a daily basis as set out by departmental guidelines, can you suggest anything that your report adds to our general understanding?’
I hesitated, this was it, the place where there is nowhere to go.
There was a long silence. Everyone in the room knew there was no way back from this.
‘You are a disgrace Mr Golinski.’
‘A waster of tax payers’ money!’
As you can imagine I wasn’t enjoying the most pleasant of times, but I had been here before (well maybe not in quite such deep doo doo it’s true) and knew that it was nearly over – a few more disparaging remarks from the politicians for the benefit of the parliamentary reporters and I would be able to leg it.
But it wasn’t nearly over. Behind me Sir Reginald got to his feet and cleared his throat, ‘If I may, Ma’am, perhaps I could assist the committee in this matter?
The Chair scowled and then said ‘If you must Sir Reginald.’