Post War Britain
Courage has her doubts. Her office is a trench shored up by battered filing cabinets and grey temporary wall dividers. They’re always on the move, dented by political attacks from all sides. Public outcry has left her ears ringing. Years wading through clawing mud have slowed her down. She’s worried her balance isn’t what it was and is sick of the meetings they spend covering their backs when they have a real fight on their hands.
The new team try to get their heads around the challenge of rebuilding public services. They help her rally. Flexibility is full of ideas. Let’s turn that on its head, he says. Scrutiny has a powerful torch that sheds light in the darkest places. Empathy identifies with the struggle the staff continue to make – they are good people, skilled people. Humility reminds them of the times they’ve gone over the top. We honour those who’ve fallen by carrying on, he says.
That’s right, but Courage needs to clear her head. She decides to visit her old mentor, Judgement. Informally they still call him Nolan, the father of the old guard, the Principles that went before her. Some say he’s lost it, but she sees his quiet reserve. He’s always been there for her.
“We learned a lot during the wars,” he starts, then stops, shaking his head. “Don’t roll your eyes so obviously, young lady.”
“Sorry,” she says, sheepish. “There’s never enough time these days.”
“We were always in the wars.” He has a rueful smile.
“The wars taught us new skills. We learned resilience, bravery, we built new institutions. We thought big and focused on the long term. We adapted to harsh realities and defended each other. We…” he holds out a wrinkly hand to her, “we, public servants, are the heart of this nation.”
She thanks him for giving them good genes. The Principles: Honesty, Openness, Objectivity, Integrity, Selflessness, Accountability and Leadership.
Careful not to speed on the way back to the office, Courage is optimistic, her convictions in order. We’re doing this for them, because we are them and they are us. Because we’re stronger together.
“Right,” she says. “Let’s crack on.”
It’s all in the timing? I originally wrote this flash fiction story last year for the Change the Ending collection but in the end, I went with the Editors vote not to include it. It turned out to be a good (lucky) decision – particularly when I think about the coming election and the current slew of difficult stories in the press about local government and public services.
Elections are a good time to remember what’s special and unique about being a public servant, because it can often seem like open season – a time when talk gets tougher (if that’s possible?!) and local government gets another kicking. I hope the story resonates and that it feels relevant now. I wanted to convey the confidence I have that there are good people in public service, who absolutely know what they are doing and will continue to make things better in a hostile environment.
In other areas of my life, my timing is a bit questionable. I was absolutely terrible as a stand-up comedian, tripped over the mike and totally died on stage at the Leicester Square theatre. I don’t intend to repeat that particular learning experience – ever. In fact I only admit to it now it’s well and truly processed (buried.) Err… not sure I’m fooling anyone am I? I’ll stick with the writing.