The Department of Works!
the Village doesn’t run itself it requires an administration, and no matter who
is No.2, that administration is like the Civil Service it does not change. The administration
serves both the Village and its community and treats each new No.2 with equal
latitude and without question. Although the installation is a self-contained
society there are items which have to be imported, the tinned Village food, the
aspirins, brooms, pots and pans, crockery, and all manner of household goods.
The milk, ice cream, and the potatoes come from a local farm and dairy.
Sometimes there are special imports, like cameras, long playing records, and
Cuckoo clocks. And the citizen’s welfare is catered for and administered by the
“All we ask is for your complete confession” the top hatted Chairman of the welfare committee said.
The Welfare committee was made up by eight members and the Chairman, all dressed in striped jerseys and black top hats.
“My confession, you want to hear my confession…….are you the Spanish inquisition?”
“Your flippancy and lack of cooperation will be marked against you” the Chairman informed the citizen.
“And you think that worries me?”
“I warn you Number Fifty-eight, everything you say is being recorded.”
“And will be held against me!”
“Gentlemen, this session will continue once this committee has had the opportunity to study the medical and psychological reports” the Chairman announced “until them I suggest you consider your position very carefully Number Fifty-eight.”
Suddenly the lights went out, and after a couple of moments when the lights came on again…………..the committee had gone!
Later that day there was a meeting of the
Department of Works committee, made up by eight members and the Chairman, with
everyone dressed in striped jerseys and black top hats.
“Well I don’t see it” No.32 said
“You have to admit the current sewage system of septic tanks is hardly desirable.” The Chairman said.
“The system has served us well over the years” 213 said.
“Yes” 221 agreed “but at the same time the last time the septic
needed emptying the lorry was late.”
“Yes” No.85 said “and the operation has to be carried out at night when everyone’s asleep.”
“Well we all know why that is” the
“Yes so the citizens do not have to put up with the great stink all day long!” 179 said.
“So what exactly is being proposed?” 181 asked.
“No doubt to run a sewer pipe into the estuary and wash the waste away that way” No.85 said.
“We can’t do that” No.221 said “Sometimes the tide goes out and doesn’t return for weeks on end.
“Quite right that way is clearly impossible” the Chairman said.
“Then what?” No.85 asked.
“To dig a culvert under the woods and cliffs and quarter of a mile out to sea” explained the Chairman.
“And who is going to dig this culvert?” No.181.
“Don’t worry One-eight-one no-one will ask you to get your hands dirty!” the Chairman quipped.
“There’s no way the Village can take advantage of mains sewage that much is obvious” 213 said “but what about building a sewage plant so we can treat the sewage ourselves.”
“That comes at a cost” the Chairman said “not to mention bringing into question the possible compromise of the isolation of the Village.
“They didn’t say that when the power station was built!” No.190 argued.
No.120 who had yet to speak said “Well I think the simplest solution is the best.”
“Agreed” No.85 said.
“The culvert will have to go a long way out to sea” 32 said.
“That has already been agreed” the Chairman announced.
“And it must be clearly understood that the culvert must also have a downward slant to it, otherwise the waste will just sit there!”
“That is clearly understood” the Chairman said.
“Is it; are any of us an engineer?” No.32 asked.
The committee fell silent.
“Then I suggest we wait until we’ve read the engineering report” the Chairman offered.
This was agreed and the meeting broke up just in time for their elevenses.
No.2 was busy in his office dealing with
paperwork appertaining to administrative details of the Village when the pair
of steel doors opened and the butler entered bringing No.2 his elevenses.
“I never realized there would be so much paperwork” No.2 remarked taking the offered cup and saucer. He glanced at the tea plate “biscuits….is there no cake?”
The butler looked at his master with a blank expression.
“No cake! Well if there isn’t there isn’t!”
The butler wheeled the tea trolley across the floor and up the ramp as the pair of steel doors opened and the tall figure of No.21 entered the office passing the butler on the way out, he approached the desk.
“I’d offer you a cup of tea Twenty-one but
there’s only one cup.”
“That’s alright sir, I’ve already had my elevenses at half past ten.”
“Perhaps you’d care for a biscuit?” No.2 offered.
No.21 glanced at the tea plate “Aren’t there any proper biscuits sir, the ones with the cream inside?”
“Apparently not…..what have you got there Twenty-one, and why are you dressed like that?”
“There is an administrative meeting this morning with the Board of Agriculture, and I am a Top Hat official of administration sir. You did read the memo?”
“It’s probably buried in this mountain of paperwork!” No.2 replied.
“Well, I was asked to bring you your silk black top hat, black suit, coat, white shirt, black tie, and shoes sir.”
“Yes sir, after all you are the Chief Administrator, and so in that capacity you should attend the meeting.”
“I see” No.2 said pouring out a second cup of tea “what is the meeting about?”
“If you had read the memo sir…..”
“Yes, but I didn’t!”
“Well I don’t consider half a dozen files a mountain of paperwork!” 21 said in derisory fashion.
“That’s as maybe” No.2 said “but I’ve never been one for paperwork, nor being perched behind a desk all day!”
“Then we shall go out sir, and take a leisurely walk to the Town Hall, and get some fresh air…….once you’ve changed of course” 21 said with a smile.
The morning atmosphere was clean, the air
fresh after the night’s rain. Citizens went about their daily business, amusing
themselves in whatever way they might. The Admiral was sailing plastic boats in
No.2 and No.21 left the Green Dome, making their way down the steps, a taxi suddenly pulled up, the driver poking her head out from under the orange and white striped canopy.
No.2 looked at the oriental taxi driver “No thank you, we’ll walk to the Town Hall it’s not far.”
The taxi driver shrugged her shoulders and the white Mini-Moke drove down the road the driver sounding the two-tone horn warning pedestrians of the vehicle’s approach.
No.2 crossed the road and stood at the top of a set of steps.
“Not that way sir” 21 said.
“But I can see the Town Hall from here” No.2 said.
“Yes sir, so can I but trust me we don’t want to get there too soon” 21 said “if we walk this way, taking the scenic route so to speak we’ll get there just as soon as if we went that way.”
“You mean it’s as broad as it is long!”
“Quite so sir.”
The two men in black walked adown the road, then left through an archway on the left, this took them down some steps and into the Piazza where citizens were promenading in the warm sunshine. Other Top Hat administrative officials were also making their way to the Town Hall, through a pair of large turquoise wrought iron gates, and across the road, walking up the three steps and into the imposing brick building of the Town Hall.
No.21 and No.2 entered the foyer of the
Town Hall, and joining others of their rank followed through a pair of oak doors,
then through a pair of open steel doors, and along a maze of grey walled
corridors which No.2 recognized from long ago, his encounter with the General! They
passed a number frosted glass panelled doors, until they came to a pair of grey
doors marked ‘board room.’ The doors slid open and No.’s 2 and 21 strode into
the orange and purple walled chamber with purpose. Other Top Hat officials were
already seated around a round baize topped table, which was made up of curved
segmented tables. No.2 and 21 took their seats making up the ten members of the
Board of Agriculture in total.
No.2 leaned over to his left and whispered to No.21 “Who’s the Chairman of this board?”
“You are sir” came the quiet reply.
“I don’t know anything about agriculture.”
“Don’t worry sir, you don’t need to.”
No.2 looked over his shoulder. Steps led up to a dais upon which was a large grey chair. Its back rest rose up to a point, above which was an electronic blue eye. The wings of the chair were straight edged, pointed and angular.
No.2 leaned over to whisper to his assistant once more “As Chairman shouldn’t I be seated in that chair?”
A member of the board heard what No.2 had said and scowled his disapproval.
“No, you don’t sit in that chair sir” 21 advised his superior.
“If I don’t, then who does?”
“The Worshipful Master of course!”
“You should bring the meeting to order” No.21 suggested.
No.2 unzipped the black document case he had brought with him and took out the two sheets of paper it contained.
“Gentlemen I bring this meeting to order……..cows” No.2 said having read the first short paragraph on the first sheet of paper.
“What about them?” one board member asked.
“The milk yield has dropped” 21 said “I have spoken to the farmer who told me the reason is there has been an outbreak of lungworm, and is dealing with it.”
“Chickens” No.2 said.
“What about them sir?” 21 asked.
“It says here that egg production has slowed” No.2 said, reading the second paragraph.
“That’s not quite correct sir. The chickens have not slowed laying. It was decided by the Board for Agriculture who made the decision to go free range, which means with the chickens having been given free range, it takes much longer to find the eggs let alone collect them.” 21 said.
“My egg this morning wasn’t free range” a member of the board muttered.
“What was that you said? No.2 asked.
A board member cleared his throat “I was just saying the egg I had for breakfast this morning wasn’t free range.”
“How do you know that?”
“It had a little red lion stamped on it” came the reply.
“That’s funny, so had mine” said another.
This brought about a general discussion amongst the board as to the question of the lion.
“It’s a British standard mark” No.2 said.
“You mean the eggs had been brought into the Village?” asked a board member.
“Yes” No.21 admitted.
“So we know where the eggs came from, how did they get here………” No.2 asked.
No.21 shot No.2 a glance of annoyance.
“No doubt like the aspirin, potatoes and the ice cream………. at night when we’re all asleep!” No.2 said.
No.21 shot No.2 a further disparaging glance.
“Well I am Number Two, I should know…..shouldn’t I?”
“We don’t ask” 21 said.
“But someone must know” 2 said pressing the point.
“This” a member said “is the Board of Agriculture, what has any of this to do with agriculture?”
“Perhaps we should have convened this meeting in the barn on the farm” another joked.
“Oh there is a farm then?” No.2 asked.
“Of course, the herd of cows are grazing on
the pasture next to the hospital” a member of the board said advisedly.
No.2 thought for a moment before speaking again “So if we have a herd of cows providing milk, how does the milk get bottled. And the wheat, where does the wheat come from to make the bread?”
No.21 rose from his chair “Gentlemen I think we can adjourn this meeting pending a further report from the veterinary surgeon on the state of his cows.”
“Shouldn’t members of the Board visit the farm?” No.2 suggested.
“I think its best left to the vet” 21 said
“thank you gentlemen.”
And with that the boardroom was cleared.
No.2 and his assistant left the Town Hall and made their way through the Village towards the Green Dome.
“Did you have to ask those questions?”
“Did I have to ask those questions.........
and yes I did if I am to have a proper understanding of how the Village works.”
“The running of the farm is the Board of Agriculture’s responsibility” 21 said.
“And the Board of Agriculture is
“As Chairman of the board…you Number Two.”
“Well said Twenty-one, I want to visit the farm, where is it?”
“It is here, is its all around you.”
“You mean the Village is the farm?”
“Yes, surrounded by pasture on three sides.”
“I want to visit the farm.”
“For what possible reason sir?”
“I’m interested in chicken farming!” No.2 told his assistant.
The next day No.21 took a Mini Moke and
drove No.2 from the Village along a narrow track leading into the countryside.
Eventually a farm building came into view.
“Is that the farm?” No.2 asked.
“And the farmer?”
“He isn’t the most co-operative man.”
“He’s under the misapprehension that his farm is independent of the Village.”
No.21 steered the Mini-Moke off the track towards the farm and parked in the farmyard and sounded the horn. The two of them stepped out of the vehicle and waited for the appearance of the farmer.
“I take it there’s no arable on this farm?”
“That’s right Number Two, cattle, sheep, chickens and a few pigs. The farmer also acts as the Village butcher” 21 explained sounding the taxis horn again.
“What the devil’s that?”
looked to where No.2 was pointing.
“That’s the farm run-a-bout.”
“It’s a Village taxi.”
“It used to be, there were five taxis originally.”
“It’s covered in muck!”
“Farm vehicles generally are” 21 told him.
“And he’s had the two rear seats taken out!”
“Yes, he uses the Mini-Moke as a farm runabout.”
“And he’s allowed to get away with this, how did he get the vehicle in the first place?”
“Apparently he walked into the Village one day, and drove out in the taxi.”
“And they let him get away with it?”
“He is the surliest fellow to have to deal with and we don’t like to upset him, he is a very good farmer.”
A figure emerged from the farmhouse and trudged across the yard towards them. The farmer was of medium height, in his late 50’s with grey thinning hair. He wore an old tatty tweed jacket, torn trousers held up with string, and Wellington boots.
“What do you want coming here like this, get off my land the both of you!” the farmer ordered.
“Look here you don’t know who you are talking to…..”
No.21 closed his eyes and shook his head
“We’re from the Board of Agriculture” No.2 said.
“What’s that to me, coming here blowing your horn.”
“I’m sorry about that, my man here is sometime impulsive, he was being impulsive when he sounded our horn don’t you know.”
“No! What’s more I don’t want to know, now get off my land!” the farmer insisted.
“Are you married Number…….?”
“Number…what am I to do with numbers, my names Thorpe.”
“Mister Thorpe, and I take it this is Thorpe’s farm.”
“Who’s else’s would it be, now if you don’t get off my land I’ll set dogs on you.”
“As I said we’re from the Board of Agriculture…..”
“No you’re not; you’re from that place at t’other end of the track!”
“If that’s what you call it” the farmer said, turning he called for his two dogs..…”Nero, Kaiser.”
At that point two dogs began to bark.
“Well it’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance Mister Thorpe.”
“I get the feeling we’ve outstayed our
“I couldn’t agree more sir.”
Two large Alsatians came running, teeth bared.
Quickly they jumped into the Mini-Moke and 21 drove as fast as he could out of the farmyard, out through the open gate back towards the track with the two large Alsatians giving chase.
“You were right Twenty-one, Mr Thorpe is a very surly man!”
“That’s why no-one has anything to do with
“But he’s a good farmer.”
“Yes sir, he’s also our only farmer. But at least you know now where the milk, meat, potatoes, cauliflowers and cabbages come from!”
“You know 21 I’m beginning to wish I’d never asked!”
And with that the Mini-Moke drove off along the track back to the village.