Episode 1 (of 6)
You know what it’s like ….. there you are tootling along, minding your own business, doing your best to lead a blameless life (or at least a reasonable approximation to one) with a sun that is more often than not in its heaven when WHAM! You find yourself blindsided by that Plum blighter with the short rubber hose giving you a stiff biff. One minute you are ….
‘Bogol! Dammit man are you there?’
The unmistakable voice of Sir Reginald Pringleby – Pringleby Fawcett, my old boss, was now coming from the hall floor – where my hand had involuntarily flung it in panic – the handset I mean, not actually his voice … obviously. The attached cord had also pulled the telephone itself to the edge of its table – from where it now teetered and fell, with a loud crash.
‘Bogol! what’s that racket? Answer me! Have you forgotten how to speak? You’ve only been retired three years you can’t have lost the power of speech already.’
With a feeling of hopelessness at the sound of my old office nickname (admittedly an improvement on my school one of Lav) I stooped and watched my hand reach out and pick up the receiver.
‘No …. yes ….’ I stammered, already feeling as though I had ceded important ground, ‘Hello Sir Reginald.’
‘Good thing too …… I was wondering if you’d gone all doo-lally like some of those retiree wallahs do.’
‘No Sir Reginald, it was just unexpectedly hearing your voice …’ I blabbed on, aware that I should summon up some enthusiasm for the conversation, ‘how are you?’
‘How am I? what does it matter how I am? I’ve got a job for you.’
‘But I don’t want a job ……… sorry Sir Reginald but I am happy without one.’
‘Nonsense! Everyone must have a job, especially you it seems, it’ll stop your brain going addled.’
‘But when I left I made it clear that I did not want to take on any short term contracts for inspections … why are you asking me? There’s plenty who’d be happy to help.’
‘Ah, that’s the nub of it dear boy.’
I waited for him to continue.
‘Bogol! Bogol! Have you drifted off again ?’
‘No Sir Reginald, I was waiting for you to explain the nub of it.’
‘The nub of it? The …. Oh yes ……. The Department is under attack for letting too many senior inspectors go on this early retirement malarkey – no choice really with all those damn cuts – but any way we are having to demonstrate value for money by employing ex inspectors on short term contracts to undertake specific inspections and all that stuff.’
I remained silent.
‘Bogol! Bogol! Pay attention dammit’
‘Sorry Sir Reginald ….. I don’t see how this applies to me.’
‘I’ll tell you Bogol how it applies to you! Your severance contract states that you will be considered for short term contracts as the department’s workload fluctuates over time. We have considered you and have a piece of work for you.’
‘I am not doing inspections.’
‘Oh dear, Oh dear, you haven’t changed much have you Bogol, in fact I think you’ve got worse without our thoughtful guidance. Never mind ….’
‘Sorry Sir Reginald,’ I interrupted, ‘I’m just not up ……’
‘Never mind,’ Sir Reginald repeated, with a firmness in his voice that brought me up short. I could feel that within a second he would be in amongst me, making even stubborn resistance a lost cause.
‘Never mind ……. We need someone who’s a bit left … er …. playing field for this one and it isn’t an inspection!’ there was a note of triumph in his voice, ‘it’s a Review!’
‘What review?’ and I was on the slippery slope – but I didn’t give up fighting – or as Sir Reginald would see it whining and prevaricating.
‘It’s a review of the tides in the Solway Firth.’
I didn’t know what to say – what could a person of sensibility say to that?
‘Reviewing what about the tides in the Solway Firth’
‘Bogol …… don’t over complicate matters, it’s always been one of your many failings! Review how the tides come in and go out of course, are they on time, do they vary appropriately over a cycle, that sort of stuff for God’s sake!’
‘But tides just go in and come out …. What is there to review?’
‘Ah, that’s better Bogol me boy …. Cut right to the heart of the …. We just need a review that states that the tides in the Solway Firth are coming in and going out exactly as they should.
‘And you want me to write a report stating that?’ I was used (or had been used) to the occasional civil service strangeness, but this struck me as a tad bizarre.
‘Much more than that Bogol, we want you to do some undercover field work, check the animal out in its lair and what not.
‘Eh .. animal?? ……… oh do you mean whales and stuff?’
‘Bogol are you a complete ninny? The Solway Firth is between England and Scotland, nowhere near Wales, didn’t they teach you anything at school? We want you to travel around its shores for a month and directly observe the tides. Do they conform to the tide tables? Are they the right size? And’, he paused for effect, ‘we want you to consult with, what d’you call em? …… punters? … no users! That’s it, users! Ask people what they think, how the tides are going and all that.’
‘Why are we reviewing the tides?’
‘Ah Bogol, you’re warming up nicely now …… we’ve missed your incisive mind …… because we’ve received complaints.’
‘Bogol stop repeating what I say ….. yes complaints!’
‘About what? From who?’
‘From members of the voting classes Bogol , they hint at irregularities.’
I had one shot at wriggling free ‘Sorry Sir Reginald, this sounds crazy I really don’t …’
‘It is crazy Bogol, that’s why we need you to pour the proverbial …… my PA will send you a letter with the brief and supporting documents. There’ll be a contract for you to sign and return. A large one off payment plus generous expenses …. You’ll need a van ….’
‘Yes a van dammit, one of those camping van thingies much loved by the middle classes I’m told. You know … converted from those vans that tradesmen use ……. What are they called? … Thetfords, no wait a minute …. I mean Telfords ? ….. I only know about Bentleys but they must be easy enough to get hold of …better make sure it’s an un marked van we don’t want the Authorities up there to get twitchy.’
‘Well’, I hesitated.
‘Good man Bogol, knew we could rely on you …… remember, we don’t want you finding anything untoward – and keep it short – less is ……’
The phone went dead.
Crikey! What on earth is going on here?
What does Bogol stand for and will he be drawn into this morass of nonsense or can he wriggle free?
To find out what happened next be sure not to miss episode (2), which will be posted on Tuesday 19th November.
Looking forward to the next instalment
Very well writ sir; the air of class entitlement is palpable.