Back when there was an Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in the UK, the actual Deputy Prime Minister was a fat turd of a man called John Prescott, an old-school ex-trade union blowhard there to provide a figleaf of seeming socialism to distract from Tony Blair’s Satanic sacrifice of millions of Middle Easterners.
Prescott’s achievements were manifold.
He punched a protester for throwing an egg at him.
He was so overweight he broke two toilet seats in as many years.
Chumbawumba tipped a bucket of water over him at the Brit Awards.
As befitting a man with so varied a track record, a new government department the ODPM, was created just for him by bundling up a whole bunch of other government departments such as local communities and planning, food and traffic cones.
After my stint with the Merchants of Death, I came to work at the ODPM as an agency staffer operating on their telephone bank.
Here, I was once-more reacquainted with an ex-art teacher called Chris who had been fired from Reuters for ‘reading porn’ in the staff room. He explained to me they had been Robert Crumb comics. Terry, the supervisor at ODPM, who was silver-haired, Welsh and gay, overhearing this, intoned in a loud lilt straight out of the valleys, “You can have all the porn you want here at ODPM. So long as it’s got big cocks in it.” Conspiratorially, and squeezing my shoulder, he added, “I bet you’ve got a big cock, eh. You look the type.”
I was horrified but daren’t protest. This was the early Noughties and gays were beyond all criticism by then. Besides, I needed the money, badly.
A sideline I had had going- getting big bags of weed on tick in Bath and selling them on for a profit in London had unfortunately ended when a few days of joblessness meant I couldn’t pay for the last lot.
R72 was furious. A major reason he had invited me to live at his was the sheer convenience of having an on-site dealer. As I was only on a 27.5 hour contract with ODPM, getting back to that sweet yet precarious situation of knocking out weed to students and the Clapham South set was unlikely to happen again.
“Well, you’ll have to go out less, won’t you?” Said Terry when I complained that I wasn’t getting enough hours to live on. “You could sell your arse, you know. I’d give you a tenner for it.”
I stopped complaining and answered my next call.
Although it might appear I was somewhere near the levers of power, what I experienced was profoundly depressing and pointless. The calls we took were almost all from enraged members of the general public who would begin the conversation by bellowing, “I’VE BEEN TO THE COUNCIL, I’VE SPOKEN TO MY MP AND HE WON’T DO ANYTHING AND I’VE COMPLAINED TO THE PARLIAMENTARY OMBUDSMAN AND THEY WON’T DO ANYTHING AND NOW I’M CALLING YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? NO! I SAID NO! DON’T YOU DARE TRANSFER ME AGAIN! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?”
Generally callers were so angry by the time they were ringing the ODPM that they didn’t even tell you what they were so upset about although it was usually about the bins, a neighbour’s fence or the positioning of a street light. Very occasionally it was about traffic cones.
“Well, I do need to transfer your call to the civil servant responsible for that,” I’d say. “But all they will be able to do is advise you on policy. They won’t be able to comment on your case, I’m afraid. You’ll have to go back to the council.”
Sometimes, I’d have calls where I had absolutely no idea what the hell the person was going on about. I was also developing something of a massive loathing for the general public. They weren’t even angry about things that mattered- just that their neighbour’s tree was dropping rotten apples on their lawn.
“YOU PEOPLE IN WESTMINSTER, I TELL YOU WHAT,” one caller was saying, “YOU MAKE ME SICK! YOU MAKE ME BLOODY SICK! YOU’RE ALL THE SAME!”
“Can I just put you on hold a second, sir,” I said, not waiting for the answer. I know it would be another howl of primal rage.
I punched the button on the phone, and sighed in a troubled way. I dreaded asking Terry for anything as he always took it as an excuse to give me a back rub and make an inappropriate comment.
“Terry, I’ve got a complete arsehole on the line,” I said. “Could you speak to him?”
Terry took the phone. “Ello, Terry ere,” he began. “WHO called you an arsehole, sir?” Evidently, I hadn’t pressed the hold button properly. Oops. “Well, I can put you through to the civil servant responsible, but he won’t be able to comment on your case. Alright, putting you through.”
With the caller gone, Terry started massaging my cringing shoulders. “Why don’t you get your cock out? Go on, have a wank. Give the cleaners a treat.”
“He likes you, doesn’t he?” Said Chris, across the table.
(To be continued.)