‘They’re at it again, sir?’
‘I do wish you’d call me Dick, old chum.’ I wince; it just doesn’t seem fitting for a prime minister, although often it does. As his press secretary, I spend a lot of time in the prime minister’s company. I am very much in the background, but what I do is essential, especially for this prime minister. I still pinch myself every now and then, to remind me sometimes of my luck and other times to bite my tongue.
‘Mary, can you bring me a knife for the butter, please,’ he shouts to Mary, a former lawyer and now his long-suffering personal assistant. ‘Always hovering around, that one, but never brings me the required utensils to eat these silly little breakfasts that she serves up.’
In front of him is a feast fit for a large family; he likes his food.
Dick came in on a campaign for green and healthy England: more walking, less talking. To think that swayed the electorate. I suppose there wasn’t a great deal of competition after the last lot crashed and burned in a quiver of catastrophic contradictions. It seems everyone just wanted something simple and straight. Dick is simple alright, and we think he is straight. At least, his wife does.
‘Dick, the northern electorate are complaining that the promised infrastructure and development programmes are not being delivered. I’ve had an endless round of journalists requesting an update at today’s press conference.’
We are at the prestigious opening of the UK’s largest solar power station in Kent, another southern project. I’d told him we should time it better, but he needed to cover up the latest husband-swapping scandal involving the Minister for Children and Families and the Minister for Women and Equalities. Personally, I think the latter took it all a bit far, and the former had only been married five minutes and had no idea about children or families. However, they were ‘old chums’ of Dick’s from Oxford.
‘What do you think of this wallpaper, Sally? Jemima is in raptures about them both but can’t decide which. I’ll be buggered if I can see a difference, can you?’
I sometimes wonder if Dick might be colour blind. The press has been lenient on him up until now, describing his dress sense as ‘flamboyant’, but I can understand that Jemima must despair at times.
I pick one of the wallpaper samples to move things along. We are running late for the power station.
‘Definitely this one, sir, um, Dick.’
‘Thanks, Sal. What would I do without you?’ I don’t feel important.
‘Getting back to the complaint from–’
‘The miserable northerners. Yes, yes. Well, what am I supposed to do if it is dull and dreary up there and the sun never shines? It’s a solar power station. That’s it! I’ll announce, at today’s press conference, that if they sort out their weather, they can have their own power station. Ball back in their court. We have to think of the environment, you know.’
I can just see the headlines now: Prime Minister tells north of England to stick their complaints where the sun doesn’t shine. I’ve just recovered from the last pounding from the women’s rights lot, after he tweeted that ‘some things are gender-specific, like mini skirts, you wouldn’t want men’s big, hairy legs peeping out of those, now, would you?’
‘I take your point, Dick. You are the voice of reason. But we do need to keep them happy.’
‘Then let’s build another bridge for a high-speed train. The northerners can come and work down here, get a bit of sun and earn some money before they make their drab way back.’
He seems to have forgotten that I come from up north, although he persuaded me to lay the accent on thick for PR purposes.
‘The last bridge was very expensive, Dick, and we can’t stretch to a high-speed train.’
‘Then they will all have to drive.’ I am about to remind him of the environmental factor, which has slipped his mind again, but he ploughs on, enamoured by his own wisdom. ‘We will have to observe them closely; the universities up there aren’t as good as ours. Not sure what they learn in those neglected institutions.’
I went to one of those neglected institutions.
‘Mary, where is my butter knife?’ he screeches. ‘Honestly, it is a wonder that I can come up with such cracking ideas with this lack of competence from the waiting staff,’ he says in a lower, though not much lower, tone. Mary is in the same room, fussing with something or other in the corner. She leaves quickly. ‘She’s a northerner, you know.’ Mary is also not part of the waiting staff, but they refuse to travel with him after the cream cake incident.
‘Just put something together for me to read out, good girl.’
Mary joins us as we walk through the power station. She lags behind looking frazzled.
The station is quite spectacular and in line with our environmental policy; I breathe a sigh of relief.
‘What’s with the sheep, gents?’
‘They provide natural vegetation control, and they are very cost-effective.’
‘Messy bleeders, though. Look at all this poop. And we need to think of the northerners. We’ll have to get rid of the sheep and replace them with northerners and petrol lawnmowers.’
I die inside. The head engineer leading us around is from my neck of the woods and an environmental expert. He looks livid, and I fear another press leak. My carefully scripted speech for Dick at the upcoming press conference might not cover this one.
‘Mary, I need a snack,’ Dick shouts, without turning. At that moment, my day is saved. The headlines I am dreading never materialise. They are replaced by events I could never have imagined:
Prime Minister stabbed in buttocks with butter knife by PA
Thank you, Mary.
Originally from the UK, Claire Schön now lives in Austria. She studied German and Spanish and is now fluent in the former but useless in the latter. Claire started writing in her mother tongue in 2020 and has short stories, flash and micros published or upcoming in a number of anthologies including Funny Pearls, Fudoki Magazine, Blinkpot, Grindstone Literary and Reflex Fiction. She has been shortlisted and longlisted in various international competitions. Twitter: @SchonClaire.