I am in Solihull.


Which immediately tells me something’s wrong.


I am working for the Highways Agency, the folk that run motorways, and annoy lots of people by refusing to take responsibility for stuff that’s not their fault. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, but today is a day I’m terrified of.


Today… is an away day.


I’ve been on away days. You spend a ridiculous amount of money hiring a posh room and a posh jug of posh tap water. Then you sit around talking about how you’re not good enough at your job and drawing pictures of aeroplanes on flipcharts.


This day isn’t going to be good. Because this isn’t just my section, this is all of the Agency, including Dauncey. The agency’s Big Bad. He probably gets people to call him Mr. Potentate, drives a red car and knows a man who can make pastries. I have dressed accordingly, and donned my full suit.


Nothing can go wrong when you’re in a suit.


….I hope, as I arrive at the ridiculously posh room. There are posh jugs of water.


And orange juice.


Oh no!


I definitely should have gone with the cufflinks.


“Hi Dan, you’re looking good!”


It’s my gaffer The Stick, and he isn’t wearing a suit. Not even a cravat! I am unimpressed, and look unimpressed.


“I thought this was a full suit thing.”


“Nah, not really.”




“Don’t worry though, you might impress somebody. And you do know that Dauncey’s here….!”


I do. And am sweating.


“To be honest, The Stick, I’m dreading this.”


“Oh, don’t worry Dan. It’ll probably be brilliant!”


A bell is rang, and The Stick smiles at me with a wink.


“Let’s do this.”


I sigh, and take my seat, as we begin the first of the day’s meetings. I am sat with Rita and Sally from my team – the A-Team! We pay invoices from companies beginning with A. Genius. I’m brilliant at coming up with names for stuff. Like Big Boots. Nobody had ever pointed out the average size of his shoes before.


The posh HA folk are using words I’ve only ever seen written down, and I’m concerned that if I use them I might develop a one-word London accent, and such a thing would be bizarre. I’d have to carry on speaking in a London accent just to hide it, even though I’ve not lived there in years. I sigh, as Bobby downs his Orange. No. Nobody would do something that ridiculous. I look across the table, and smile. Because Rita is smiling. Rita’s laughing! Or trying not to! And so is Sally! We are central government! And they’re laughing! Central government does not laugh! Section boss Neil has spotted the sitch, and decides to intervene.


“Are you OK there, Rita?”


She bursts out laughing.


I love our team.


Apparently something funny happened. Something that only our team could have found funny. Our team, the team that spent 5 minutes experimenting how much faster an orange lozenge would dissolve in hot water. Loads faster, it turns out. Rita says something muffled about somebody getting some tea, and Neil continues the boringness with an effortlessly unreadable facial expression. It doesn’t work. And Rita starts laughing again. Until we are asked a question. By one of the Admirals.


“How do we think we could lower staffing numbers without losing productivity?”


Rita goes quiet.


We all go quiet. Because he’s just blatantly said they want to sack us all.


Neil shelters us from the awkwardness of suggesting how to orchestrate our own employment-demise by answering the question, and a break follows soon after.


“I didn’t like that question.” says Rita, while Simon makes tea. There is an air of discomfort, so today’s host has announced the day’s fun competition. A directorate needs renaming, and the challenge is to come up with the winning name.


And I’m brilliant at naming things.


I take my posh orange juice back to the table, and write a suggestion with alliteration and sibilant assonance. Rival gaffer Weller sees.


“What have you gone for, Dan?”


I smile.


“Dauncey’s Diamonds.”


He smiles, but doesn’t think it’ll win. And he’s a grade three.


“I’d better put another one in then. Let’s do one together! Oh, this’ll be fun! You give me a random word, and I’ll try to work it into a name.”


“A random word? …Penguin.”




I get to work. And write something down.



The break is over, and we’ve finished the enforced applauding of Dauncey as he announces the results of the fun-petition.


“Now, we have a few winners!” Dauncey announces, to ventilate hope.


I smile. I’d laugh if I won with Penguin.


“But I’ve got to ask, who wrote… ‘Penguin’?”


Oh no!


Dauncey’s tone isn’t good. I keep quiet as he reads out my loosely-finance-related penguin acronym to a crowd of government lackeys.


“Because you’ve won a prize!”


Oh yes!.. Oh no! Now I have to admit it!


I raise my hand. And Dauncey laughs, and invites me to the front, where he gives me a toy Traffic Officer car. Worth £25 on eBay. I do not call him Potentate, but take my seat, and pull the car out of it’s box. Weller says I can keep his half. I smile, and try to tape it back together.


“And the second prize, is purely for my own ego…”


“Who wrote… Dauncey’s Diamonds?”


Oh no!


I raise my hand.


Dauncey laughs, and doesn’t give me another car, as the room revels in my audacity. I smile, and turn to The Stick.


“This is brilliant.”

I pour myself some posh tap water.


And play with half of the car.


  1. There is a paragraph in here, that I love. It surpasses all other paragraphs in this respect.

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