Episode 6 (of 6)
Sir Reginald swapped places with me – at least I was a bit further away from that seething cauldron of disapproval.
‘Firstly Ma’am and committee members, I must stress that I, as head of department, take full responsibility for this unfortunate situation.’
‘Of course, of course Sir Reginald,’ a clearly exasperated chair interjected, ‘I suppose you wrote the brief and hired Mr. Golinski yourself!’
I don’t know if you would agree with me but I detected some slight sarcasm here but as I was hiding behind Sir Reginald at this point I wasn’t in full possesh, visually wise, if you get my drift. Anyway, I have to confess a small feeling of satisfaction that he was getting the full 9 yards rather than me. But Sir Reginald Pringleybury_Pringlebury Fawcett was not head of The Department for Public Sector Accountability for nothing.
‘I did not write the brief Ma’am, it was in standard department format,’ he paused, ‘but I did sign it off ….. I was fully, what’s the … oh yes cogniscent of its contents.’
‘The brief was not fit for purpose.’ The member for Dumfries could not contain herself – and others started to join in… ‘Incompetence’ …… ‘not fit for the job.’
The note taker just managed to snatch the replacement water jug out of the falling trajectory of the gavel as a bout of furious banging first added to the tumult and then, as though through persistence alone, brought the meeting back to order.
‘Contributions will be made through the chair,’ shouted the Chair into a suddenly silent room.
‘May I continue Ma’am?’, Sir Reginald was taking the initiative.
‘Please do Sir Reginald.’
I was sufficiently emboldened to peer around his back – at the far end of the room the chair seemed grateful for his offer – as though she was being helped out!
‘The department has found over many years that briefs are best kept, well ….. brief ….. Ma’am, and not too specific, because it is important that our inspectors have full scope to utilise their highly developed forensic and analytic skills when considering an issue.’
‘That didn’t work here, did it!’ laughed a man with a ferocious moustache. I took cover again as mayhem broke out again – just like the previous interlude of anarchy, except this time the note taker’s reactions were not quick enough ………………
A spate of banging gradually brought order again.
‘I must remind you again,’ there was definitely crossness in the Chair’s voice now, ‘that all contributions will be made through the chair or, ‘she stared defiantly round the room, ‘or not at all.’
‘Please continue Sir Reginald.’
‘Thank you Ma’am, It was most unfortunate ….. Mr Golinski’s first draft of the report was leaked before I had chance to give it the once over don’t you know.’
The Chair returned to her default position – irritable annoyance, ‘We’ve been through that, Mr Golinski has acknowledged that moderation would have made no difference to the core findings.’
‘Indeed not Ma’am, the draft would not have been moderated at all,’ he paused (I think to make sure that he had got everyone’s full attention), ‘its value was in pointing up that a different approach was required.’
‘I’ll say!’ laughed ferocious moustache, before being silenced by a glare from the Chair.
Sir Reginald continued, ‘It is clear to me that given the, shall we say public disquiet ? the Department needed to undertake a review and has indeed done so. On reflection it is our intention that we should address and engage with the concerns being raised through a Public Information Programme.’
The Member for Dumfries managed to get the Chair’s attention. ‘A Public Information Programme Sir Reginald? How is that going to deal with tidal irregularities?’
‘I am proposing, and seeking the support of this committee, for a programme that educates and reassures the public about how our tides work around our island nation, their regularities and ….. well, their irregularities – for which (here he looked directly at the Member for Dumfries) there are perfectly adequate scientific explanations.’
This proposal was met with many nodding heads around the table. It was as though the mayhem had come to an end and the committee was preparing to resume its functioning as a public scrutiny body and to agree to a pragmatic and sensible way forward. I was beginning to relax and was already planning how I would negotiate the 9 paces I estimated that would allow my escape through the door to my right … but it’s not over, as they say, until the well-proportioned …
‘Chair! If I may?’ The Member for Dumfries, who had gone into her shell a bit perked up.
The chair nodded wearily, she was already late for her next meeting, ‘But let’s keep this short.’
The member for Dumfries smiled, the sort of smile that skewers one to the doorjamb. ‘So it took you, or your Department, three months, an idiotic report and an inordinate amount of tax payer’s money to come to this conclusion?’
‘It has been most regrettable Ma’am.’
‘I don’t think regrettable does justice to such an abject failure of process and judgment do you Sir Reginald? I think the committee deserves a fuller explanation.’
‘It’s difficult Ma’am ……. A touch sensitive don’t you know.’
Even I, still hiding behind him, could sense his projection of regret, discomfort and reluctance to continue.
The Chair re-engaged at this point, ‘The committee is entitled to an explanation Sir Reginald, no matter how difficult that is.’
‘Indeed Ma’am, the Department is fully committed to openness and trans …. transparency.’ He paused, took a deep breath as though readying himself for an unpleasant task and then continued, ‘It is important to recognise that Bo … err ….. Boryslav Golinski worked for the Department for the best part of … oh 30 years, undertaking difficult inspections with …. flair and …… tenacity. He was one of our most reliable and effective inspectors.’
Now I was really panicking – I’d never heard Sir Reginald talk about me in those terms before.
‘You were right Ma’am I did personally hire Mr Golinski , I thought that his particular skills would be, how do you say? ….. ideal to investigate what was, to be frank, a rather rum set of complaints. I had faith that he would be able to uncover what lay behind these if you get my meaning (he looked briefly at the member for Dumfries before turning his gaze back to the Chair) … but….’
Again that hesitation.
‘What went wrong Sir Reginald?’
The Chair and indeed the whole committee were now waiting with a keen sense of anticipation to find out how, despite the best efforts of a well-oiled departmental machine, it had all gone so very badly wrong. I sensed a change in the room, the baying of the mob had been replaced by genuine interest and even the beginnings of sympathy for this hard worked upholder of the need for accountability in public life. It was at this point that Sir Reginald chose to re-introduce the concept of culpability.
‘This is very difficult,’ he paused again, as though struggling with himself.’
‘The committee seeks and expects the truth Sir Reginald.’ The Chair spoke quietly.
I watched the back of Sir Reginald’s head slowly nod a few times as he conveyed his reluctant acceptance of the position he found himself in. I couldn’t tell you about the expression on his face, but he must have been conveying a more direct message as I found members’ eyes once again focussed on me – some even had to crane their necks to look round him.
‘Sadly Mr Golinski’s skills had suffered from a lack of use since he retired and …….. I have subsequently become aware that …… well not to put too fine a point on it ….. he should have been compulsorily retired on health grounds a number of years previously.’
‘Health grounds Sir Reginald … of what nature might I ask?’
There was silence in the room.
Sir Reginald let his shoulders slump and he sighed audibly.
‘To be blunt Ma’am it seems that he experiences periods of … err … well …. psychological ….. err … frailty, if you get the gist … and he just couldn’t cope with the stress of such an important and complex task’.
‘Evidently so Sir Reginald.’
I don’t remember much about the rest of the meeting, although I could describe in detail the weave of cloth that made up the back of his jacket. As we made our way out, along the corridor into the evening dusk, I was vaguely aware of reporters, the same reporters who had been shouting at me outside my house during those few awful days, backing away from me, avoiding my glance.
Sir Reginald, with a light touch on my elbow guided me the short distance through the streets to his club ‘for a little enhancer.’ Ensconced in deep armchairs before a large fire he smiled at me.
‘Well I thought that went pretty well don’t you?’
I gawped at him. It seemed a long time since I had said anything and lack of practice seemed to be a bit of a hindrance, but I did my best.
‘Pretty well? …… Pretty well? ……. Pretty well?!!’. That was it: two words repeated three times with increasing hysteria.
‘Bogol! … must I tell you again about your annoying habit of repeating what I say!’
‘Pretty well? … how can you say that? …… you hung me out,’ suddenly, once started it seemed difficult to turn the old gusher off, ‘you badgered me into doing a ridiculous review, told me it would be easy, intimated that the department needed helping out ….. and then, when the wheels start rolling away in front of us you tell the world that I wasn’t up to doing the job – that I should have been retired on health grounds and that those grounds were related to psychological frailty!!’
‘Oh come Bogol, you were always such a pessimist! I’ve shut the matter down so we can get on with the real work.’
‘What about me – why should I be optimistic? I’m a laughing stock!’
‘Having a mental problem is not a matter for levity Bogol, it’s not your fault.’
‘Not my fault! …… Not my fault! …. I’ll say it’s not my fault – it’s your fault!
‘My fault?’ Sir Reginald looked completely taken aback … ‘My fault?’
‘I don’t , or didn’t, have a mental problem as you put it Sir Reginald or suffer from psychological frailty – you just made that up!’
‘Ah ……………………………..’ He looked solemn for a moment before rediscovering his grin, ‘ But there are positives Bogol.’
‘You are never going to be hassled to undertake any more inspections are you!’ he was triumphant, ‘And ………there’s the not inconsiderable matter of the supplement to your pension to be awarded on health grounds ……..’ he paused, seemingly taken aback by the expression on my face … ‘Oh for God’s sake stop boggling at me Bog …. oh ……’
‘You can’t do that Sir Reginald’ I blurted out.
‘No? …. Oh I suppose you’re right dear boy …. would require those wallahs in white coats and what not ….’
‘You can’t do that because it’s wrong!’ I took a large slug from my glass on the table between us and clumsily got to my feet, I’d finally had enough of this.
Sir Reginald grabbed the table to steady it but couldn’t prevent his still very full glass sliding into his lap. I was aware of faces turned towards me and a steward hovering nervously nearbye.
Sir Reginald looked momentarily aghast before quickly regaining his composure and a slightly uncertain grin, ‘You will keep the van though I hope?’