Tag Archives: MAFF

Happy Bank Holiday Tuesday

Waste paper binsPhil: I know what you are thinking, “Tuesday isn’t a bank holiday you idiot.” but I’m afraid I’m not quite a stupid as I look…

Many years ago, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. In the office you understand, during my 5 years I only ended up on the farm half a dozen times. Partly this was because they insisted I wear a luminous green boiler suit for two of those, and there’s little the farmers laugh at more than some Ministry office ned dressed in brand new overalls.

Anyway, aside from all the cow killing I wished to arrange, one of the benefits was that most bank holidays included a Tuesday. The reasons for this were lost in the mists of time but since the pay was terrible, we weren’t going to argue.

Even better we had a day off for the Queen’s birthday and I spent a lot of time wishing she would have such a good time at the party she’d pop her clogs. Then I was sure we would get a day off for the funeral, another for the coronation and if Charlie had his official birthday late in the year, another day off for this. That concept was nearly as exciting as the chance to use the official black-edged mourning stationery I’d slid through in a large order because I was curious about it.

Anyway, fast forward a few years and I work for the County Council. There we only received the standard bank holidays and no royal birthdays. Weirdly though, the cleaning staff still got the Tuesday off.

It seems that years before, there had been a plan to ditch the Tuesday and add the extra days to our leave allowance. The cleaners union had objected so they stayed with the old system, meaning they had to take the Tuesday whether they liked it or not while the rest of us could use those days when we felt like it. OK, so the bins didn’t get emptied but our office wasn’t messy anyway.

You could argue that this was a bit daft. The freely available days could have been used to take the Tuesdays if the person preferred, but that’s the way of the Civil Service and the lunacy of some Unions.

Of course, all those rules are good news for writers who set parts of their books in the world of government and like a bit of idiocy to prove some laughs…

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Mr Kelly

Fish TieAndrew looked at the faces of the crowd before him. Everyone was a mixture of misery and defeat. Hardly surprising as he had just announced that the Horticultural Investigation Agency, the vegetable research centre where they all worked, was to close.

Phil: Last week, Candice explained how much of our book is a mix, albeit an exaggerated one, of experiences we have had working in various places. The same applies to the characters who will bear some relation to real people. Not partially close relationship most of the time (I should say that for legal reasons this applies especially to the bad ones), but creating a person out of thin area is impossible. You are bound to use elements of real people.

Andrew Livingstone is a good example. In the story he is head of the Horticulture Investigation Agency and as it opens, he is charged with telling everyone the government is going to close them down.

The scene is inspired by being stood in the crowd watching someone explain how our quango was to be closed down. The man doing the talking wasn’t the man we saw. It was Mr Kelly. Sort of.

Back in the dim and distant past, in an era before the Interweb was invented, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I was the lowest of the low – you spoke to me about having your cows tested for TB or Brucellosis. Eventually, after a combination of hard work and being in the right place at the right time, I was the man you spoke to if your cow was a bit wobbly and you thought it might have BSE. I was truly a friend to the sons of the soil. (I didn’t just do cows, if you found a bat you called me as well but I just rang one of my contacts to get it taken away.)

Mr Kelly was the Divisional Veterinary Officer for our little office. He was a really lovely bloke. The sort of person you want to do your best for because he would appreciate it rather than because he would yell at you if you didn’t. Never obviously ambitious, he had ascended to the lofty heights of being in charge of our little office after a career in honest government service. With only a couple of years to go to retirement he had seen it all and spoken to most it too. If we had a difficult customer, he would deal with them and calm the situation. We didn’t need this skill very often but you never knew when it might be handy – an earlier occupant of the post had managed to leave a circus with a broken nose after getting off on the wrong foot. I suspect Mr Kelly would have sorted things out and probably been offered free tickets.

In my head, when I wrote Andrews parts, I pictured Mr Kelly. He would have been very upset to have to deliver the news and yet everyone would have felt for him even as he was telling them they were heading for the scrap-heap. It wasn’t his fault.

A character who is completely nice doesn’t make for interesting reading, so Andrew is also wily when required, just like his real life counterpart. He isn’t taking things lying down and has in a mind a way to fight back. As the plot progresses, his plan is revealed – although I won’t tell you if it is succesful, you’ll have to wait until we get published for that ! (Why not write to you MP demanding this ?). He also has to deal with a bit of transgression by the staff and instead of getting upset, takes the situation and uses it to his best advantage.

This last part caused a bit of discussion between us. Without giving too much away, something is found that shouldn’t be there. Candice assumed Andrew would have known about it and thus would be unhappy about its discovery. I knew that Mr Kelly would have been surprised and disappointed about it but since he wasn’t a control freak he would just put it down to young people doing what they do. However he would then have turned a potential disaster into a triumph. This would have been done very calmly and pragmatically.

So that is what happened.

What’s this got to do with the fish picture ? Well, as I say, it was a long time ago. Required to wear a tie in the office, I developed a taste for more unusual decoration. Mr Kelly saw this the first time I wore it and quietly asked that I brought it out again on his last day when we were due to have a retirement party. I wasn’t sure about this but did as requested. During his speech he ran through everyone in the office making some polite and complimentary comments about them. Getting to me he mentioned my lurid neckwear and something along the lines “…and judging from his latest tie, he appears to be joining the Fisheries division.”


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