Sunday, 23 November 2014

Southeastern Delay Dating ®, a matchmaking service from @theroyalfactor

Welcome to Britain's newest and most original dating service: your chance to meet up with a new person who won't be able to get away from you! 

Just tweet @theroyalfactor with a little bit about yourself!

  • Find a new partner or friend whom you've something in common with!
  • Pass delays more productively!
  • Get some value out of your train ticket!
  • Look forward to travelling on Southeastern!
People making friends on a (tube) train, public transport is a hot bed for relationship development. 
It's no secret that Southeastern Railways has been voted the worst railway company in Britain, on more than one occasion. But never let a negative get in your way. I wrote a whole novel whilst being stuck on  SE's trains or platforms and now I'm offering you the chance to change your life too and get some value out of your ticket, at last.

Guy's Hospital from one side of train

London City Mission from the other side of the train
If you travel on Southeastern you'll have spent ages staring at the buildings above, stuck outside London Bridge due to Network Rail and Southeastern not expecting any trains through that morning, or trains or signals or both breaking down.The building on the right is the London City Mission and the people in there do some very good work, whilst being stared at by thousands of us lot seething with anger over the price of our tickets and our train not moving, with someone telling us it's 'congestion', or not telling us anything. Of course trains get stuck in many other places too - and we're always stuck on platforms because the train has been cancelled or is just stuck before it's even got to us.


How it works

It works like this: wherever you're stuck, Don't just sit there wondering how you'll murder the next person who tells you to 'move down' when there's nowhere to move, or how you'd spend the bonuses Southeastern's executives award themselves for abandoning us and saying it's Network Rail's/your fault, get  Delay Dating® your next partner!

Tweet me, @theroyalfactor, telling me a little about yourself and in turn I will sell you in to the thousands of my followers who are also sufferers of the demon revenue-collecting machine's railway 'service'. Then, if it all works properly you'll get tweets from fellow victims eager to tell you about themselves. Then spend journeys tweeting and DMing each other about where your train is stuck or the state of the station where trains are not arriving, until you're ready to meet! Remember to put #delaydating in your tweet to me!


Your first Delay Date®!

Imagine your first Delay Date® with your new found friend or partner! No more struggling for words! Here are some openers:

  • "I got stuck for two hours last night!"
  • "I had to sell my Rolex to buy my monthly ticket!"
  • "My season ticket costs more than yours!"
  • "I was abandoned at St John's at midnight, I'm still in therapy..."
  • "Sorry if I smell a bit, I've been sitting on a urine-soaked train seat for half an hour."
  • "Do you like buses? My railway replacement bus was an AEC from 1964. I saw it disappear around the corner just as I found it, 3/4 of a mile from the station..."
  • My train this morning had only four carriages, OK that might save Southeastern a few bob but I had to wrap my legs around a man's neck in order to fit on the train."
  • "Run away with me and you'll have access to a year's worth of Delay Repay vouchers darlin'. We could get to Herne Hill outside of peak time."
  • "Can I stay at yours tonight? Trains are all cancelled due to a purse on the line at Kemsing."

Terms and conditions

  1. Delay Dating® is free, don't pay for imitation services!
  2. Don't travel to a Delay Date® by Southeastern - you all know why. Walk, cycle or go by car.
  3. Do not send me or anyone else personal information. Just a little bit about you and your interests. No bank account details, PINs or size of tackle, etc.
  4. Only meet people in public places, so not most Southeastern stations after 6pm, or St John's at any time. 
  5. All relationships catered for whether straight, L,G, B, or T, it's my rules, not Ukip's. Just nothing illegal though, again, according to current law, not as Ukip and its crazy followers would have it.
  6. After one blind date I set up they were at it like rabbits for months, and they told me all about it. When they split they also told me all about it, and held me partly responsible. Just like Southeastern tells us, I take no responsibility for any relationship. Though I will probably get a machine that reads out empty apologies.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A foundation is at the bottom of a building, not the bottom of a customer-satisfaction survey

If you are in agreement with this letter, please RT it so that it can be signed by your twitter name, used to help improve your railway service and reduce your fares.


Update: thank you so much to those who have already RTd, your twitter name is now in the sign-off. Let me know if I have missed any of you. I will now begin to distribute this to relevant media. There has been no response or acknowledgement from Southeastern Railways. However, I was pleased to see a message of support from Tracey Crouch MP. 


An open letter to David Statham, managing director designate, Southeastern Railways


September 2014
Dear Mr Statham,

Congratulations on your appointment. We had asked that passengers, because we are a captive market, could have a say in the recruitment for your role. However, despite our huge stake in your company, we were ignored. Nevertheless we hope that you put our needs as your most important stakeholder before revenue, cost-reduction and hanging onto the franchise with all the profit and consequently personal bonuses it can bring.

We were troubled to see in the press release announcing your appointment that Mr Brown, Go-Ahead Group CEO, described Southeastern merely as part of a 'portfolio'. It is of course much more than that. We, your passengers and salary payers, have little alternative but to pay extraordinarily and unrealistically high fares to use your service, no matter how unreliable it is; many are forced to use you to get to work, interviews, weddings, funerals, football matches and a host of other life events that we are regularly late for or give up on.

Where there is disruption, on each and every occasion it is as though Southeastern has never encountered it before. There is a complete lack of contingency planning, as well as inadequate and contradictory communication. When something goes wrong, it should not have an effect on the entire network; customers should be kept up to date with timely and consistent information.

We were also troubled to see that your PR people saw fit to write you a quote in the press release, in which you cannot surely have noticed the phrase when signing it off: “ looking forward to building on the firm foundations laid by the current management team.” Southeastern Railways came bottom of all rail operators in the recent Which? survey and has been either bottom or thereabouts in every other survey carried out over the last few years. You can also see from twitter how you let people down in return for sums of money you simply do not deserve. A foundation is at the bottom of a building, not the bottom of a customer-satisfaction survey.

Quotes like this that appear to be copied from other companies', which are working in competitive markets, press information lead passengers to believe that you will continue in the MBA-project driven style of management of your predecessor where providing an actual service is incidental to the business of reducing cost at any cost, aggressively driving profit and totally ignoring what is really happening on the rails. Of course you have shareholders to please but I would ask that you revise any targets you have made them aware of in order that you start to look after the audience that should actually be at the forefront of your thinking, and provides much of your revenue. Profit is not a dirty word but when it is your only objective, passengers suffer.

Let us make it absolutely clear. Southeastern's trains are late, short, expensive and often cancelled; this is no foundation upon which you can build a service. The company could not even be bothered to fix the heating that was left on full on so many trains during the summer, even on the most stifling days. You need to start again. And passengers do not believe the reliability statistics quoted. Please do not use them unless you are ruthlessly transparent with them.

What we would like to hear is an acknowledgement that your service is not the shining example that you claim. And then a plan with targets on how you will fix punctuality, short trains, cancellations and provision of information, particularly during disruption. And we want to see a reduction in fares, not an increase. If government subsidies are lowered, take the shortfall from your profits, not us; you have too much of our money already.

Southeastern has been asked through twitter several times how its senior people are bonused on customer service, we have not had a response. Can you now provide this information, showing the targets relative to those on revenue and cost-management? And how customer service is measured?

Mr Statham, we would be pleased to see your reply so that we can work with you to provide the service passengers have always wanted.


Your passengers.

 PS, If any relevant politicians are reading this, many of you have been utterly negligent in this very important aspect of constituents' lives. Some have even responded in a manner that seems as though they want employment at Southeastern.If you take up the cudgel it will be a vote winner. But if you take it up and drop it immediately then please don't bother at all, we’ll tackle it ourselves through social media and other action.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A-Z of Workplace Cynicism Launched

A new guide shows it's ok for workers to have complete doubt over anything they’re asked to do
Which? readers’ worst railway company in the UK holds top ‘Investors in People’ status, European Foundation for Quality Management five-star rating and Lloyd’s Register quality certification…
A new A-Z has been launched to expose dysfunctional workplaces and the guilty parties and horrendous practices within them. The A-Z of Workplace Cynicism includes MBAs, applying for your own job, entrepreneurs, corporate social responsibility, ISO9000, marketing and ‘leveraging’ amongst the topics covered.
The A-Z also covers corporate ‘badge collecting’ and has been launched just after consumer organisation Which? found Southeastern Railways to be the worst in the UK, despite it holding Investors in People ‘Champion’ status and a host of other badges.
The author, David Eckhoff, has worked widely with a range of small and larger organisations as a PR consultant. During this time he came across a wide range of questionable practices and dubious ‘goings-on’. However, the workplace is full of talented people full of self-doubt because they feel unable to point out frauds, fakes and waste-of-time activities for fear of being seen as ‘negative’. Many of these have now shared their experiences and they have been included in the A-Z.
David said: “It was only when I went into PR consultancy that I realised the desperate nature of many working environments. Renaming a department ‘Centre of Excellence’ in the vain hope it might stop being utterly useless and ‘badge-collectors’, with some of the most disaffected workforces in Europe, who devote significant resource to gaining Investors in People and other accreditation are just two examples I’ve come across.
“I want to show those that have realised what’s going on, who truly want to achieve useful objectives for their businesses and customers, that they can speak up.”
The A-Z of Workplace Cynicism is designed to grow through twitter. Suggestions can be tweeted to @theroyalfactor and considered for inclusion in further updates. The first edition is available for Kindle at Amazon at £0.98.
Further details can be obtained from David
David Eckhoff has also written The Royal Factor: what happens when a Prime Minister attempts to replace the royals through a tv talent show.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The A-Z of Workplace Cynicism

The workplace can be brilliant, an arena for all of us and our needs. From go-getting achievers  who want their own empires to those who just want cash to spend on the things we like, we can all get something out of it.
But for most of us it's no good pretending it's something it isn't. As a PR consultant and freelancer I've seen the incompetents masquerading as entrepreneurs, the business obsessives driving an organisation out of business and the MBAs being taken in by this week's new business mantra, as well as the sexual predators haunting the lives of the vulnerable. I want to show people that they have not lost it, and that somebody else has noticed that all is not as it should be.
Here's just the 'A' section; let me know if I should go ahead and publish the other sections or simply draw a veil over the whole thing.
In 'A' you'll find:
  • Affairs
  • Alcohol
  • Apple vs Microsoft
  • Applying for your own job
  • Appraisals
  • Apprenticeships
  • Awards
If you're the most normal person in world, like me, I hope you enjoy it.

Have them. Those above you are; just make sure that you're not as indiscreet as they are. In a business where inter-office sexual conquest is a key but unstated value you'll notice that there are a lot of off-site meetings to discuss 'progress' and 'plan' for the coming whatever period.

The real reason for this is that your seniors are having flings, or would like to, and a free night or two in a hotel punctuated by booze-fuelled dinners, easy access to bedrooms with husbands and wives miles away are the ideal formula for no-strings (hopefully) shagging.

The only drawback is that the whole company must be taken away to make it look legitimate. This is expensive, and makes getting caught that much more likely. Some years ago an ex-colleague staggered back to his room on one of these occasions after a night on the sauce with the other uglies who hadn't paired off for the humping section. On his way he found the HR director half way through the door of his boss. They both winked at him. He was confused; were they saying: “This is our little secret.”? Or did they want him to join in?


Never trust a man who doesn't drink, unless he’s a recovering alcoholic; chances are that he will have built up far more 'trust' than most of us have ever dreamt of. Non-drinking women need to be treated with suspicion too but give them the benefit of the doubt. 

There is little more disconcerting than going to an event where the hosts aren't drinking or finding that you can't go out with your boss and share a few home truths that neither of you will remember the next day. On the other hand, if you do remember them, due to the bonding that a massive intake of alcohol can induce, they'll more likely be acted upon than if they'd been shared (which they wouldn't have been) at a corporate Presbyterian fizzy water-drinking ceremony.

 Whatever you do though, if you suspect that you cannot have a drink with becoming a mouthy, loud, insulting gobshite then give up drinking. If you can't give it up, retire and go and live away from other people. If a colleague behaves in this way, ostracise them.

 Apple vs Microsoft

This is where passion in the workplace can really boil over. Each has their own devoted supporters, which go around metaphorically 'tooled-up' to tackle anyone who 'disses' their device or operating system (whatever that is) like a sort of office Inter City Firm*.

 Apple devices tend to work in the same way that you would plug in a hair drier and switch it on. However, if you do have an issue, you will come across, if you can find anyone to speak to, a brittle organisation, which doesn't expect its clients should have problems with its equipment. If your Apple device goes wrong you need to make an appointment at one of its shops to speak to a 'Genius' who are trained to ooze disdain, even if they agree to see you. Of course this goes this against the tired old model of going back to the shop with a malfunctioning device and getting it fixed or replaced, but hey, Apple is cool so it can smack you in the face with your device if it wants.

Devices that work on Microsoft operating systems don't just work from the word 'go'. In fact they freeze, lock up and do bizarre things forever. If you want to use them you'll need to adopt the attitude of a classic-car owner; you need to be interested in constantly maintaining the device rather than what it can do for you. From day one, pressing the wrong set-up button as you become acquainted with the device means that you might have to adjust the date and time on the device to Christmas day 1975 before you dispatch each and every email.

*Inter-City Firm: a gang of hooligans associated with West Ham Football Club, which used to travel the UK using British Rail’s then Inter-City service in order to physically rearrange fans of other teams. Firm members used to infamously leave calling cards on victims stating who had provided the beating.

Applying for your own job

Some companies that are very keen on ‘change’, as opposed to doing things their customers want them to do, will go the extra mile to demotivate employees as part of their bid to re-energise and reorganise (yet again) their organisation. You could have been doing your job for 20 years but a little twinkle in the chairman's wife's eye will have you putting your CV together to tell your 'prospective' employer what they have been paying you to do for the last 20 years.

The interview will be a surreal affair with your boss, who could even be a mate, attempting to ask you serious questions about your job. In a less-bad organisation you'll have been given the questions beforehand. In a better organisation you'll have been given the answers too. Then it's the turn of the shell-of-a-person HR human who will ask you if you love your mother and why you would say 'yes' or 'no'. They'll then move on to asking you about a difficult situation you've handled. Just make something up.

If you're lucky you'll get your own job and you'll be asked to go back to your desk/fork-lift truck/till and begin/carry on work immediately. If you're even luckier you won't get it (as it's been lined up for a mate of the finance director's from his last place) and you'll get a large pay-off.



In the old days appraisals were a bit like school reports, they were useful guides to how well you had done and areas in which you excel or could improve. Now though they're carefully crafted works of completely incomprehensible strings of words and numbers and might as well be written in 'Klingon'.

In the modern era, after you've been thoroughly appraised you will have no idea as to whether you're due for the fast track to the top or the Job Centre. HR, which used to be personnel, is now an MBAs' playground; it's no longer enough to reassure employees they're doing a good job, they need to be categorised, compared against corporate values and spat out at the other end with a rating that had been previously decided depending on how little cash the company actually wanted to hand over to the people who had ensured it achieved its objectives.


As a manager, you could be tasked with managing the most difficult resource of all, people. An important part of this is the appraisal, where you confirm what you should have been telling the employee all along. Of course, if you are managing a 'challenging' employee who is utterly convinced that they have the business genes of Lord Sugar and Bill Gates but really have the workplace ability of a labradoodle then it's not surprising that you will have left it until the last minute to tell them the good news. Your only hope is that if you can use the Klingon appraisal system to your advantage, you can give them a shocking report and convince them it's a good one.


In years gone by an apprenticeship was a high-status training scheme with workplace training and day-release and/or evenings at college paid for by a company whose intention was to make its apprentices into its future leaders.

Government and companies thought they could improve on this though. 'Apprenticeships' can now be given to anyone who joins a company. The great benefit of this is that companies get grants for doing this, which means that they can pay someone to be, for example, an apprentice barista (coffee machine operator) less than the Minimum Wage. If they employed someone who wasn't looking for long-term training (around three hours for a barista) they would have to pay them more. However, this can be offset by paying absolutely no tax whatsoever.

Another apprenticeship factor is the 'apprentice agency'. Mainly run by people who were previously engaged in selling non-existent investment schemes to pensioners or phantom conservatories, these agencies have copied some training manuals from the internet and set up websites portraying themselves as 'training experts'. In reality they place young people, desperate for work, in any old company that is willing to take a government grant, pay less than the Minimum Wage and put the youngsters to work dealing with toxic waste (or coffee). These agencies offer 'ongoing support'. However, this really means that they will be cruel to be kind by promising to call back any apprentice who finds they are actually expected to provide 'private dances' for Scandinavian executives after being appointed to train in hospitality, and never, ever call them. They are actually on their own, just like they will be in the real world they are being trained for.


Many organisations and sector media run award schemes. These schemes are run entirely for the benefit of the scheme owner and secondly the scheme's sponsors, and are no indication whatsoever of the quality or otherwise of award winners. The scheme owner lets the 'winner' plaster its name all over the winner's website, materials, etc, thereby ensuring publicity for themselves. Potential winners are offered a table at a phenomenal cost to a terrible award ceremony, hosted by a 'z-list' celebrity who used to be on a local news programme in the 1970s. The 'celeb' neither knows nor cares about the manure processing sector but has to make some sort of meaningful speech about it and tell some awful 'in' jokes whilst nobody at all listens, as they've just met Jason or Julie who used to work in marketing five years ago.

Award judges

Many senior executives love to be chosen as judges of these awards so they can bang on about their expertise to anyone who'll listen and get a tiny photo of themselves in the list of judges in a bit of a sector magazine that nobody but them will ever read. They love even more to get their secretaries to choose the winners as their busy diaries allow no time for them to actually do this themselves. One senior executive I knew did at least make some effort. I was in his office once when he was looking through a load of award entries. He arranged them on his desk and then said: “I just look through who's entered and if there's anyone I think is a c*nt working for any of those companies I ditch them. The secretary then chooses the rest, she probably does it alphabetically or something.”

 If you're thinking of entering an industry award, don't. Though you might miss out on shagging someone who is really drunk during or after the ceremony.
You can get The Royal Factor through this link in the UK: RoyalFactorUK, and this one in the US: RoyalFactorUS.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Royal Factor, the first two chapters

Whilst I'm (still) writing the sequel I thought I'd give away the first two chapters of The Royal Factor because that's the sort of person I am. I hope you enjoy them (and then buy it!). It can't be that bad as I'm still being trolled by a member of Waterstones staff.

I'm thinking for the big screen adaptation: Steve Coogan as the PM and Stephen Mangan as Terry, the talent-show impresario and impotence sufferer. What do you think?

I wrote the Royal Factor entirely whilst commuting and fellow victims of Southeastern Railways might appreciate this excerpt from the acknowledgement:

"...Southeastern Railways, without whose delays and extra time given on or behind broken-down trains, broken-down signals and broken-down staff, this novel would have taken many times as long to write."

The blurb

The Prime Minister is in trouble. He needs to improve his popularity, fast. An opportunity comes along to show his passion for the people - using misdemeanours carried out by some members of the Royal Family as an excuse to depose them – and then replacing them with a family chosen through a TV talent show. Surely Britain will love that? How could he go wrong?

In fact, he could go wrong in many ways: principally by tricking the Royal Family into leaving the country, blackmailing a talent-show impresario into developing the ‘Royal Factor’ and then influencing the result so that a family devoted to tanning beds and creating a police state wins the competition.

Britain is outraged and people show their feelings through riotous protest. The PM is left with only one option; he must secretly recover Her Majesty from her cruise ship, moored off the USA, and get her back before a ‘dethroning clause’ kicks in and the country descends into civil war.

The Royal Factor uses a combination of fact, fiction, romance and comedy to explore popular culture, politics, the monarchy and the cult of celebrity. Viagra misuse, the Sex-Offenders Register, lunatic chauffeurs, enforced marriage of a gay man to a woman and the fact that the PM’s best friend is the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition also feature…
You can get The Royal Factor through this link in the UK: RoyalFactorUK, and this one in the US: RoyalFactorUS.


The Royal Factor is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used entirely fictitiously. This book in no way represents the views, opinions or actions of any member of the Royal Family, politicians or members of the entertainment industry.


Lassiter, Whitehall’s most excitable civil servant and press adviser, paced frantically up and down the PM’s office: “We can’t go on like this, we simply can’t.  There’ll be a revolt,” he moaned and then sat down on a chair in the corner of the office staring at the carpet. The PM looked at him over the top of a copy of The Sun.

“I can’t find it, what are you on about?”

Lassiter jumped up as if he was about to attack the PM and snatched the paper from his hands.  He turned the pages manically and slammed it down on the PM’s desk with a degree of frustrated violence. 

“There, there, on the front page!” he shouted, pointing at the offending article.

“I can’t see through your finger Lassiter, you’ll have to move it.”

Lassiter withdrew the offending finger.

“Ah yes, ‘The Royal condom copter caper’, is that today’s vital knowledge?”

“Yes, yes!” screamed Lassiter.

“Well high spirits and all that,” said the PM distractedly, thinking about his imminent weekly phone call with the extraordinarily irritable Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Alex Medway. Sir Alex was probably going to shout at him again, his preferred method of communicating economic policy issues.

“High spirits? High spirits? They dropped them from a helicopter!”

“Don’t helicopters drop stuff to the starving? And aren’t condoms useful in the third world?  I’m sure it was just a bit of practice,” replied the PM.

Lassiter was hyperventilating.  It took him nearly a minute to get the following statement out: “The condoms were dropped onto Westminster Cathedral.  The headquarters of the Catholic church in England…”

“Ah,” said the PM.

“The cardinal is, well you can imagine.”

“I can’t actually.  How is he?”

“He’s very, very pissed off. Very, very, very pissed off. Not only can this be seen as a direct challenge to the Roman Catholic church’s views on contraception, it’s also remarkably environmentally unfriendly,” Lassiter spat at the PM.

“OK, I can see that contraception is an issue but I don’t think the environment will register as a major contributor on the Catholic pissed-off meter,” said the PM, in a matter-of-fact manner.  He wanted Lassiter to go away and deal with this whilst he worried about having his backside flayed by Sir Alex.

“This is an issue on so many levels.” Lassiter continued.  “This will seem like a step back to the dark ages of religious persecution.”

“Oh come on Lassiter, they didn’t have helicopters in the dark ages…”

“Before you make light of this any further Prime Minister, I would like to remind you that Catholics do have the vote in the United Kingdom, along with women and people who live in council houses.  You cannot allow this to spiral, for your own sake.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Come!” said the PM. A young woman stepped in.  “There’s a phone call for you sir.”

“Bloody hell, that’ll be Sir Alex,” said the PM.

“I’m afraid not,” said the secretary. “It’s the Pope, calling from the Vatican.”


“…and zis sort of activity ist alzo ver bad for ze enwironment…” and then the PM heard the phone go down at the other end.

“I can’t believe it, he put the phone down on me! The Pope actually put the phone down on me! Only Mrs PM ever does that,” lamented the PM. Lassiter had been listening in.

“We must get the Queen to issue an apology immediately, and get some soldiers down there to clear up all the johnnies,” said Lassiter.

The PM sighed.  Lassiter had passed him a note during the call with the Pope saying that Sir Alex was holding on the other line. He would be even angrier now that he had been kept waiting and, such was his focus on financial issues, he was likely to have forgotten who or what the Pope was; the PM would be unable to use the excuse that he was held up by the Vicar of Rome. The office intercom buzzed and the PM pressed a button to hear his secretary: “Sir Alex on line one sir.  I’m afraid he’s not happy, again.”

The PM picked up the phone resignedly and was immediately put in mind of himself as a boxer, pinned into the corner of the ring by several opponents, his ears, eyes and nose bleeding.

“Right Mr Prime Minister,” started Sir Alex in broad Yorkshire tones, “I was hoping to talk to you about these bloody interest rates or lack of them, but I was held up trying to get through town after some twat tipped a load of rubberware all over the left-footers’ place.”

“Yes, I am aware of that Sir Alex…”

“Well you need to do something about that bloody family, they’re making a mockery of my knighthood.  Hope you do better on that than the economy. Don’t s’pose you will though, you’re a bloody shambles you lot. Bye.”

“He’s put the bloody phone down on me as well now!” said the PM. “Must be my day to be ‘dissed’, as the young people say.”

Lassiter went and sat down at the PM’s desk looking at messages on his mobile phone.

“We’ve got every newspaper, station and website from every country in the world, particularly the Catholic ones, wanting to know what we’re going to do about this.  And they know that you’ve spoken to the Pope, they want to know what you said, what he said and whether you apologised?”

The PM got up and opened a cabinet.  He opened a decanter and poured himself a scotch. “Fancy a drink Lassiter?” he asked.

“It’s a bit early isn’t it?”

The PM sat down at his desk with his glass and ruminated.

“OK, first of all, what the Pope said: much of it was incomprehensible so I don’t really know what he said and we shouldn’t describe the conversation anyway.  What I said?  As you heard, I couldn’t get a word in edgeways so that takes care of whether I apologised or not.  Let’s get whatsisface on the phone; have our people spoken to his people?”

“Who is ‘whatsisface’ sir?”

“The Queen’s press man, the fat chap with the huge arse, what’s his name?”

Lassiter looked offended by the PM’s base description of the Queen’s senior press adviser.

“Sir Reginald Tandy.”

“Yes, get Reggie on the phone please.”

Several minutes later, much to the surprise of the PM, Sir Reginald could be heard on the loud-speaking telephone.

“Good morning Prime Minister.”

“Morning Sir Reginald. I’ve got Tim Lassiter with me; I think you know each other?”

“Yes, he’s my half-brother.”

“Ah,” said the PM, regretting his ‘huge arse’ comment from earlier. He carried on, deliberately avoiding looking at Lassiter or Lassiter’s backside to compare sizes. “OK, you know we’ve had the Pope on here, not a happy Pontiff, and I dare say you’ve had the press on to you as well, what are you saying?”

Sir Reginald took a deep breath. “It’s a difficult one.  Whoever did this has clearly over-stepped the mark.  We’re thinking of claiming post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“Has whoever did it really got post-traumatic stress disorder?” asked the PM.

“No.” Answered Sir Reginald. “But they could have.”

“Well so could I after being ripped to shreds by the Pope and then having my already bruised bollocks stamped on by the Governor of the Bank of England but I haven’t so I’m not going to say I have.  And it’s insulting to those who really do have it. And it sounds like you don’t know even know which one of them it was!”

“They are not like other families, half of them have helicopter licences and turning into Hercule Poirot to establish who did this is not on my agenda. How exactly is the Bank of England involved in this?” replied Sir Reginald.

“It isn’t.  It’s just that after I was bollocked by the Pope I was bollocked by Sir Alex for not keeping control of the Royal Family.”

“Oh right,” said Sir Reginald. “I still don’t understand why the Governor of the Bank of England is advising you on the activities of my employers?”

“He’s not.  One of your mates tipped half a ton of contraceptives on a cathedral, which resulted in traffic restrictions and Sir Alex ended up paying overtime to his chauffeur. Anyway, enough of this, I’m not going to go all Ollie Cromwell on you Reggie but I would like Her Majesty to issue an apology.”

“OK, it’ll have to wait until later, she’s gone racing.”

“Not good enough, we need it now.  Can’t you get Charles to issue one?”

“He is rather busy currently...”

“Look, I couldn’t give a Royal cuss about how busy he is wandering the country, telling everyone that their buildings are a pile of shite, I want you to get a Duchy Original apology sorted from the old man so I can get on with running the country and he can get on with producing expensive biscuits for peasants! Do you understand?”

“I’ll ask him and let you know.”

“Yes please.  And let me know by lunch time what he’s going to do. Goodbye.”

The PM turned off the loud-speaking phone. As ever there were too many things to do, the pressure was relentless.  The teachers were threatening to strike again, there were a couple of wars that he had inherited going on somewhere or another and there was a delegation of bee-keepers outside his office with a petition to get the Government to fund research into the shrinking bee population. 

He’d got a bee caught in his pants as a boy and had had to show his stung penis to the school nurse, it was the most humiliating thing that had ever happened to him. He was worried that being seen with a bunch of militant bee-keepers might prompt one of the class of ’71 to give this little titbit to a tabloid. He was quite happy for bees to suffer a bit but he needed all the potential votes he could get right now and little animals were at the heart of his strategy.

The PM had a certain charm.  It had got him everywhere he had been so far, which was lucky as he had no interest in education, health, finance, defence or even politics for that matter.  He simply didn’t know that much about any of them, but he really, really liked being PM.  He had to use his charisma to ‘take people with him’ as he liked to say Maybe he strayed into manipulation now and again; he had supportive and clever advisers that either liked doing things for him (and he looked after them in return) or he had to get something on them. The Cabinet and civil service were littered with former drug-taking, porn-film acting, defrauding and philandering, yet sharp-brained people that knew their future lay with the PM and, unless he agreed with their next career move, were not likely to have much of a career at all once Lassiter had discussed a few previous sins with the red-tops. The PM hated doing this but if he wanted to remain PM he had to have an overall strategy in place and manipulation and fear was at the heart of it.  Now and then he needed to supplement it with a ‘bolt-on’ mini strategy, such as bees, because he had come to realise that the middle classes, with all their lovely votes, were far more able to understand badger tunnels, bat boxes and the scarcity of sparrows than the Euro debate, fiscal policy or the Middle East, which was handy as this was his position too. 

With bees he felt that he was at least making a small personal sacrifice.  Since the penis-stinging incident he was frightened at the merest hint of a buzz.  It was unlikely the bee-keepers were bringing any bees with them but nevertheless they might have one caught in a fold of clothing.  Maybe he should ask them to check, but that would look a bit odd. An idea came to him and he pressed the button on his office intercom.  Samantha, one of the secretaries answered.

“Sam, are those bee-keepers here yet?”

“Yes sir, shall I bring them in?”

“No! Er no,” he toned his voice down. “I’m a bit worried about security today; can you have the security people give them an extra check?”

“OK sir but we’ve had no warnings about potential security problems today, or have they not come through to us out here?”

Typical Sam, he thought.  Always a bloody argument.

“Sam please, just get them checked.”

He switched off the intercom but Sam forgot to switch off hers.

“Bloody hell,” she complained. “What’s up with him today? He wants me to get those old biddies strip-searched in case they’re tooled up. The security blokes will think I’m taking the piss, like they did when his Mrs wanted everyone who was an Aries checked…”

The PM had had enough by this point and he called one of the other secretaries by phone.

“Tracey, can you do me a favour?  There’s going to be a review of secretarial posts and I need you to check your job description.  Can you ask Samantha to do this too?  I would ask her myself but she’s left the intercom on loudspeaker and I can’t get a word in edgeways.  Oh, and can you ask her to add a bit just into hers?  Something like ‘a significant part of the role of being a secretary to the PM is doing what you’re bloody told?’ Thank you Tracey.” And as he put the phone down he heard an “Oh shit!” over the intercom and a satisfying click as it was turned off.



The PM smiled to himself after his short meeting with the bee people.  Not only were there no bees concealed about their persons, he had agreed to fund a study into the bee-population decline - for just £2 million.  It was an absolute bargain compared with the number of votes it could bring in once Britain opened up its papers the next day and read how he was standing side by side with Britain’s bees and their valiant, masked keepers.  He made a mental note to get Lassiter to work up a list of other animals that were in some sort of difficulty and, after recognising one of the bee-keeping activists as none other than celebrity-pub-chef Sheridan Shandy, he decided to brief Lassiter to get him a bit more celeb action too.

The thought of Sheridan Shandy had made him think of lunch.  It would have been nice if the pot-bellied, somewhat annoying, cook could have gone into Number 10’s kitchens and knocked something up for him.  However, it would take until dinner time next Thursday to get him security cleared so it was not to be.  And anyway, he had a working lunch with the Chancellor and Home Secretary to discuss something of major importance to them.  Bloody sandwiches again, he thought, which the Chancellor would inspect closely and put back on the plate after half the fillings had fallen out and then gorge the rest.  A couple of weeks before, when one of the secretaries had taken the unwanted sandwiches out to the secretaries, one of the girls' fog-horn voices was overheard: “Christ almighty Tracey, these sarnies look like they’ve been fingered more times than you!”  He had laughed so much that two items on the Government's Action against Poverty initiative had to be postponed until the next meeting.

“So Chancey,” the PM said to the Chancellor, “what’s on your mind?”

The PM smiled surreptitiously at the Home Secretary as they both knew exactly what was on the Chancellor’s mind: hoi-sin duck wrap or prawn-salad sandwich? The Chancellor picked up the duck wrap and the filling fell out of one end.  He put it down and picked up the prawn sandwich.

“It’s this,” said the Chancellor as he demonstrated what he was masticating like a socially unaware washing machine. “We think that you ought to be thinking more about the social effects of depression.”

“Isn’t that a Department of Health matter?” asked the PM.

“Why would that be a health matter?” asked the Home Secretary.

“Well correct me if I’m wrong but depression is surely a matter for the NHS, or have you decided to give some taxpayers’ cash to depressed people to cheer them up a bit?”

“Ah!” exclaimed the Chancellor, and laughed, expelling not inconsiderable quantities of a saliva and prawn emulsion on to the remaining sandwiches.  “You mean medical depression, we’re talking about economic depression; you know where ‘men and machinery remain unemployed for long periods’.”

“Ah,” said the PM too and looked around the sandwiches for one that had not been contaminated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

“What we’re saying is that we think economic problems could be so great that they could lead to civil unrest, or even quite 'uncivil' unrest, ahem,” said the Home Secretary.

“Yes, save the jokes for conference, eh Homey? Actually please don’t, there’ll be media there, and people, ratings are bad enough as it is.” He liked to call the Home Secretary ‘Homey’, especially as his sexuality was by no means certain.  He desperately wanted to appoint a woman Home Secretary so he could refer to her as ‘my Ho’ but as there weren't any women who wanted the role currently he had to stick with Homey.

“That's your view too Chancey?” asked the PM.

“Yes.  Things could get really tough for a lot of people.  And I mean really, really tough. We’re talking about no jobs for years in some places, apart from Tesco’s, and that will drive some people to take some really tough action.”

“Like what?” asked the PM.

“Fighting,” said Chancey, moving back to the remains of the duck wrap.

“People have always fought, why does that worry you so much?”

“On its own not so bad but if you combine it with stealing, looting, murdering and the efficient organisation of this lethal cocktail via the internet you have a formidable challenge for any civilised society.  It might surprise you to know Prime Minister that back in 1936 there was no internet…”

“That wouldn’t surprise me at all, there was no hoi-sin duck wrap then either,” said the PM, pointedly.

“The point I’m trying to make Prime Minister is this, we need to be prepared for the worst. Crime figures are getting worse and protests more violent and pitched against specific middle-class targets.  In the last month there has been a repeat of second-home burnings not seen since the 80s in Wales, only this time across the UK, along with co-ordinated vandalism of Jaguars, Mercedes and BMWs again across the UK, on particular nights,” said Chancey.

The Home Secretary added, dramatically: “I’m afraid Prime Minister, we may not be safe in our beds.”

“Right,” said the PM.  “What do we do about it?”

The Home Secretary did a sort of gurning thing that he did when he was in a tight spot and said: “I’m afraid I’ve absolutely no idea.”

The PM was about to tell him, in a meaningful way, that he ran a department that was supposed to have lots of ideas when not only Lassiter but Mrs PM burst into the room.

“I think you’ll find that I was first ma'am, and it’s urgent,” Lassiter said to the first lady of Downing Street, and as they both rushed towards the PM, the first lady stood on Lassiter's foot.

It transpired that Lassiter’s message was rather urgent.  However, he was unable to speak immediately as the pain in his toes prevented him from doing so.

“Darling, I’ve just been to palmistry class with Tamsin, absolutely marvellous!  Do you know you can map out someone’s career from just one line on someone’s hand? It really has modernised so much.”

“Prime Minister,” Lassiter tried to interject, “You really…”

“And tell when their career is about to end.” continued Mrs PM, pointedly looking at Lassiter.  “It’s so fascinating, come on Homey, hand over your paw!”

The Home Secretary did as he was told and the first lady began to examine it in some depth.”

“Yes Lassiter, what is it?” said the PM, whilst Mrs PM was distracted.

“The Prince of Wales has issued an apology.”

“Well that’s good news isn’t it?”

“Well not exactly sir, he said ‘Sorry’…”

“What else did he say?”

“I’m afraid that’s it.”

“Oh,” said the PM.

“Oh,” said Mrs PM. “Looks like Homey’s in for a spot in the wilderness.  Rather like you dear if you don’t sort out those bloody Royals.”  And she flounced out.

“Ok,” said the PM when he’d checked that Mrs PM wasn’t about to return suddenly.

“Homey, hang on please, I might need your advice here.  It’s not a Treasury matter so Chancey you can go off and count the money or whatever it is you do when you’re not with me.”

He motioned Lassiter to come and sit down with them.

“So is there some protocol I’m not understanding here? Do they usually just say ‘Sorry’ or are they taking the Michael?”

“They’re taking the Prince Michael, PM. Not only did Charlie say just ‘Sorry’, the Duke was out on a visit today…”

“Ah yes,” said the PM.  “One of those occasions where he claims that something was made by Indians or the hosts have got ‘slitty eyes’.”

“Indeed PM, the very same.  He was asked by a journalist from the Daily Mirror to comment on one of his family dropping hundreds of condoms onto a Catholic cathedral.”

“Oh God,” said Homey in a strangulated tone.

“What did he say?” asked the PM.

“He said that in his view, and as the Americans would say, that whoever did it ‘had a lot of spunk’.”

“Right,” said the PM.  “Let’s talk about the Duke later; if he hadn’t have said that he would have said something equally unfortunate later anyway.  Why has Charlie just said sorry? I thought he subscribed to every religion going?”

“Indeed he does PM, but it appears that he doesn’t much approve of the cardinal, they have clashed over the whole Royals not marrying a Roman Catholic thing.”

“But I thought that Charles was supposed to be so mellow? And cardinal religious-type people all forgiving?”

“I think I can help here,” said Homey.  “Yes you’re right, on the face of it they are both types that you would expect would be in violent agreement over anything.  However, the cardinal objected to Charles remarrying.”

“Ah,” observed the PM.

“And,” Homey went on, “When HRH protested the cardinal said that he took it back…”

“So why are they at each other’s throats still then?”

“Because, he said that he took it back and then told the Catholic Herald that he’d had his fingers crossed behind his back when he said it.”

“How do you know all this Homey?”

“I’m a Catholic, I know the cardinal.”

The PM inwardly groaned when he realised that these petty squabbles between the Catholic Church and the Royal Family were going to eat into his own newspaper coverage.  In his mind he could see the pictures of him, grinning with bee-keepers, being replaced by pictures of a smiling Duke with photo-shopped packets of condoms sticking out of his hat band.

“I don’t want to think about it now, this whole bloody Royals versus the Catholics thing, it's getting on my tits. What am I doing tonight Lassiter?” asked the PM.

“Mrs PM has invited round some of her ‘celebrity’ friends,” he emphasised the word ‘celebrity’ as if he was talking about a bucket of excrement, “for dinner.”

“Oh shit,” said the PM.