‘That’s it!’ yelled Camshaft from the de luxe swivel chair of his top floor suite. ‘Clogg – here a mo!’
Clogg emerged from the back office, bleary-eyed and bedraggled from working late into the Westminster night. When he accepted the job as Camshaft’s Deputy, he’d had no idea there’d be quite so much filing and tidying up.
‘What?’ he said, dazzled as ever by Camshaft’s awesome glow.
‘Universal, that’s what!’
‘Sorry?’ said Clogg, a step behind his colleague’s wizard intellect.
‘The money we shell out for people who say they haven’t got any,’ said Camshaft. ‘Instead of lots of confusing labels, we’ll lump them under one title. How does Universal Credit sound?’
For the last two hours Camshaft had been deep in the Westminster Thesaurus, trying to find a perfect tag. Common and Comprehensive had no resonance; Preponderate, Omnipresent and All-embracing were too cumbersome; and Catholic Credit would have been insensitive, considering he’d chosen Duckan-Dive, an influential Roman Catholic with a benevolent family-man image, to front the changes.
But Universal – that was perfect!
‘Fabulous,’ said Clogg, proud to be under such astute and forward-thinking leadership.
‘And Universal also implies there’s something in it for everyone.’
‘Marvellous,’ said Clogg.
‘We’ll get people to claim online,’ said Camshaft. ‘That’ll save a bit.’
‘Is that fair?’ said Clogg, timidly. ‘What about those without computers?’
‘They can use Library ones,’ said Camshaft.
‘But aren’t they closing Libraries down, and charging for computers in the ones still open?’
‘A trial period will sort all that out,’ said Camshaft.
‘Suppose so,’ said Clogg. ‘And no-one will lose out? Like single parents or sick people?’
‘Shouldn’t think so. But if they get short, they can always find a job to top up.’
‘True. You know, I really admire your foresight, Cams,’ he said, risking the familiar. ‘And Duckan-Dive will love the idea. I’ll go and tell him.’
In a lower basement office Duckan-Dive was trying to make sense of the figures on his easy-read calculator.
‘We’re calling it Universal Credit,’ Clogg said, as if it was his idea.
‘That’s brilliant!’ said Duckan-Dive. ‘Universal sounds so, well – universal, that with luck nobody will question the sums. Very clever Cloggs!’
‘Thanks, Ducks,’ said Clogg in a tone not too obviously patronising. ‘Come up for a drink.’
By the time they arrived, Camshaft had downed a couple of malts and slipped the Glenlivet back into his desk. ‘Whisky?’ he said, proffering a bottle of Spar Blend. ‘To Universal Credit!’ they called, charging glasses several times before Camshaft marked the whisky level with a felt-tip and put it back in his drawer.
‘Now – let’s do it!’ he said with a cheeky glint.
‘You don’t mean …’ said Clogg, eyes flashing expectantly.
‘Well, it is the tradition!’ said Camshaft.
Duckan-Dive giggled like a schoolboy as he slotted his hands through Clogg’s perfectly placed jacket slits and Clogg in turn fixed on to Camshaft who led the singing:
We’re go-ing Uni-versal, We’re go-ing Uni-versal, La lah lah la, La lah lah la
With unconfined joy, they snaked round Camshaft’s massive desk, chanting loud and off-key as men often do after whisky. Into Clogg’s office they advanced, circling his fold-up table and chairs, all the while raising legs right and left like a centipede in time to the beat. Then, as with any good conga, Camshaft took the line into the corridor.
We’re go-ing Uni-versal, We’re go-ing Uni-versal, La lah lah la …
‘Eleesha,’ she said, ditching her floor mop and falling comfortably into the conga’s Afro rhythm as she latched on to Duckan-Dive.
La lah lah la, La lah lah la …
Down the staircase they went, echoing their presence through the building. At the next level another cleaner tacked on, and a young Parliamentary Researcher swotting for the Wildlife Secretary, Theresa Green. As they carried on downwards, they were joined by a porter, a Polish security guard, three more cleaners, and a Parliamentary Assistant, her clothing somewhat in disarray. The twelve-strong snake curled its way round the lobbies and into the debating chamber where the Speaker and the three remaining MPs, discussing the de-licensing of a Darlington dog home, fastened on to relieve the boredom.
La lah lah la, La lah lah la
Its universal gospel spread, the conga eventually petered out by the impressive front doors, and with congratulations all round, the hangers-on dispersed to the business of the night.
‘Best be off,’ said Clogg, unfolding a silver scooter from the bike rack and switching on his flashing trainers. As he pushed off along the pavement, Camshaft turned to Duckan-Dive. ‘I think your job title will need changing,’ he said. ‘There’s no point being Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if we don’t distinguish between the likes of poor pensioners and the unemployed. How does Head of Universal sound?’
The beam from Duckan-Dive’s face could have boiled the beans in a boy scout’s billycan. No longer a Secretary (which he’d always thought had girlie connotations), but a Head; and not heading the narrow and frankly dull subject of work and pensions, but Head of Universal! It could be Hollywood! Making off to catch the 159 to Streatham with a grin visible at fifty yards, he turned and waved to Camshaft, standing alone under the arched doorway.
Back on the top floor, Camshaft dialled his chauffeur and poured a single malt for the road.
‘La lah lah la,’ he muttered. ‘Shaft by name, shaft by nature.’
Paul Costello © May 2013
Illustrated by Emma Hames.
Publication: spring 2013. Fineleaf Editions http://www.fineleaf.co.uk