I’m going back. How could I resist? ‘Come in,’ they said. ‘Come in and give a chat to our latest batch of starters. Of newbies. Share with them the joys of public service. Tell them about carving a career out of solid 24 carat gold, in the shape of puppies with rainbows and unicorns and the opportunities to save mankind from itself…’ OK, that last bit might be my editorial on Blossom Mount’s phone call, but when the Department Secretary calls and offers good clean Consultant-standard money to sing a song of sixpence, who’s not going to front up?

    Besides, enforced retirement was beginning to blunt the frontal lobes and it was time to take them out for a bit of a walk.

    Vocation guidance

    But what to say? I recall having endured a number of these welcome chats early in my career, delivered by some earnest haircut who regarded this kind of employ as a ‘calling’ with the possibilities of influencing policy and direction of our singular State only limited by the profundity of our imaginations. And, unsaid of course, the limitations applied by the brakes of the entrenched interest groups, cabals, cliques, factions, coteries, parties, camps, gangs, cells, sects and juntas, who will see to it that the influence they sit astride chugs right up to the pinhead of the hierarchy of needs.

    And then there is the language. The code. To slide down the canyon of non-speak, of jargonised obfuscation takes a kind of sideways, over-the-shoulder squintage not easily learned quickly. There are a few who are instinctively arch, but that is a rare gift. The careful appropriation of distorted linguistics comes to the rest of us from moments of deep public humiliation at the hands of the better-equipped.

    Based on research

    Take me, for example. In 2006, Melbourne was to host the 18th Commonwealth Games. A year earlier, I was asked by my Team Leader to author a report on preparedness, with particular emphasis on the enthusiasm of the good people of the Most Liveable City In The World. This would form the basis of a PR onslaught revealing the generous hearts and minds of Victorians who were already setting tables, making up beds and defrosting lamb roasts to welcome the anticipated tsunami of guests from across the planet.

    My research told me that this was not the case. To be fair, it was a modest sample: my mother was surprised to hear that the Games would be here at all; my bar buddy thought the whole circus would be better sent elsewhere and, fuming about cluttered cafes, choked streets and something about ‘foreigners’, ordered another vat of lager; our village grocer looked at me blankly, and that conversation interloper found at every suburban cash register said she’d heard something was happening, but wasn’t sure what.

    Like a good Servant Of The People, I reported it verbatim, with the addition of the testimony of some fabricated respondents, who helped maintain the tone of disinterest and apathy. I even added in a fictional backpacker from Sweden, for a bit of colour. She was, of course, the only dissenting voice – enthusiastically alive to world events, unlike the parochial, insular, provincial locals. I submitted my report on a Friday with a symbolic washing of the hands, anticipating it would find its way to a bottom drawer and never see the light of day.

    Hold the presses

    How it became the front page lead story of at least one Saturday newspaper, the first drop for every radio news bulletin for the day and the subject of a ‘special investigation’ on two night-time television current affairs programmes will forever remain a mystery. But it did.

    I took to my bed and spent the remainder of the weekend scanning employment opportunities for ‘responsible self-starters’ in countries other than this one.

    On Monday, I returned to the office, the very essence of false bravado. My Department Head’s PA was standing at my desk, waiting.

    ‘Ms [Censored]* will see you now,’ she said, betraying no emotion and brooking no delay.

    The Corner Office with The View was chock-a-block. I recognised my Team Leader next to the Department Head, but the four seriously-suited middle-aged bespectacled men were strangers. I learned later that these were the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These men were so backroom, there was doubt that they existed at all. Nobody got to see these mythic mandarins in one place, unless…

    Nob oblige

    There was one other man there. He was the only one introduced to me. He was a knight, Sir [Censored]*, and represented the Organising Committee of XVIII Commonwealth Games. Putting aside my stumbling into his outstretched hand [I had a sudden panic over whether or not I should bow], I was relieved to see that he was smiling.

    ‘Thank-you, Mandible, [it is Mandible, isn’t it?]** for your insightful and timely interruption, for your flicking of the carpet, the dislodging of stasis and ennui, as it were. Your wise words have set the hares a-running, the slovens are getting off their hands and Things Are Being Done.’

    Through the echo chamber of shock, I believe we chatted on about my career and potential, going forward, to be a Real Contributor. I believe he also made mention of his taste for a certain kind of socially [and legally in some countries] frowned-upon behaviour, and was there any chance I could help with this conundrum, when he was suddenly whisked away by two humourless giants who had heretofore been disguised as wallpaper near the door.

    The Horsemen had already galloped away. Department Head offered a congratulatory handshake, then withdrew it, as if I wasn’t quick enough, smiled wearily and waved me away with the admonition: ‘You have landed on your feet, Mandible**, let’s hope you can remain upright.’

    Back to work, son

    For my part, it was as if I had walked into a room and suddenly realised I was naked – simultaneously exhilarating and horrifying. With a smile of resignation, Team Leader squired me back to my desk, shaking his head in disbelief.

    ‘It’s your shout at lunch, Mandible*,’ he advised me.

    On reflection, none of this was of any use to tin-eared bright-shinies. Their determination to mine fists full of real money and the lashings of superannuation never dared dreamed of behind the rows of suburban Maccas counters, trumped all else. And rightly so. So I think that I will urge them to regard public service as a ’calling’ with very real opportunities To Make A Difference, if they are just willing to Roll Up Their Sleeves and Have A Go.

    *No point in dragging everyone into this.

    *No, it’s not.

    © 2017

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