I lost my job a while ago
I lost my job a while ago. Project Control Manager at the Council. I was gutted, thought it was it, I was really making decisions that affected people's lives. That's the Council's slogan 'Improving people's lives in the London Borough of Bishop Auckland'. I thought that up. They still use it now but I thought it up on the toilet one morning. A few months later it's on the rates bills and a couple of years after that it's on every bin in the area. I should have copyrighted it, then the Council would still have to pay me for the rest of my life. Except they'd probably change it to 'changing people's lives for the better' or something, to get out of it.
Well, I was buggered anyway, no more decisions for me to make, yet the bins still get emptied, the old people still have their social workers and the pigeon poo still gets cleared from under the train bridge. It makes you feel a bit down, a bit worthless.
Anyway, me and Andy got together over a pint. He was made redundant too. He was Development Manager, developed all sorts of stuff but they still kicked him out. He'd developed their redundancy policy. He said, "we need to develop some sort of plan", "yes", I said, "some sort of project to control, that's what we need". Five to eleven it was. How many pints to have at last orders? I just couldn't decide. Andy only wanted the one, I wanted two of course but would I have enough time to drink them? Perhaps I'd better go for a pint and a half, or one pint and a short, but that can make you feel a bit grotty in the morning. Of course, Andy pointed out that what was needed was later opening hours for pubs, not just imposed straight away of course, but phased in, so that the policy can develop and the pubs would have time to adjust, employing extra staff and so on. Still, that didn't help our decision then and I was in danger of missing the last bell. A man at the bar had overheard our conversation, "wouldn't it be good if someone would make these sort of decisions for you" he said. I said, "yes, lets give it a go then, what do you think I should have", "got any cans in the fridge at home?" he said, "yes" I replied, "well have one here and then drink a second at home in your own time". "Good idea" I said, I followed his advice and it worked out just fine.
But that started me and Andy off thinking. Well we thought there could be a demand for this sort of thing. I mean, people to make insignificant decisions on behalf of others, like how many pints of beer to have at last orders, tea or coffee, salad or shepherd's pie, do I buy the red dress or blue dress. People find it difficult to make these decisions as they're not that bothered about them so we take the decision off their hands and they have more time to think about their families and love and career and mortgages and the important stuff like that. So we rented an 0898 number, did a bit of advertising and we were off 'let us decide, the decision line, it'll make your life improved'. Good slogan. If a bit bulky. Could make a jingle on the radio I thought, if things went that far.
Andy said to me before we opened, "do you know who that was in the pub that gave us the idea" I said no - "it's been bothering me for ages but it's just come - it was Arthur Smith, local playwright and radio 4 person", "good god" I said, perhaps famous people will use our service. Kenneth Brannagh might ring in to decide which Shakespeare play to make a film out of next. Enough of this fantasising though, we're now officially open for business.
"Er, hello, is that decision line"
"yes it is"
"I'm in a shopping centre talking to you on my mobile"
"I'm buying knickers, I've always bought lacy ones before but I was thinking that now I'm a bit fatter than I used to be, and my husband wouldn't notice anyway, should I save a bit of money and just buy a C&A three pack"
"Well I think your self-esteem is more important than any of that. Don't think you're not worth it - buy the expensive ones"
"OK, I will, thanks"
"Hi, decision line?"
"Big Mac or McChicken sandwich"
"University Challenge or E.R?"
"Haven't you got a video?"
"7 or 12"
"no, I think I'm going for 7 after all. Thanks, you really helped"
It was all going very well. Day after day we did this and managed to make a decent living. But then one day Tony Blair rang up. Of course, I thought someone was having us on, but it didn't bother me, they were still paying one way or the other. "The white paper on social care", he said "how long should I give for the phasing in of the registration of social care assistants?". "How would I know" I said. "No, go on" he said "it doesn't matter, the civil servants will just have to work around it, I haven't been able to do any work for the last two hours trying to put a time scale on this one. It would really be helping me out." "OK, one year", I said. "Blimey, that's quick" he said, "but what the hell, I'll get onto Frank Dobson now".
Imagine my surprise when two days later, it was announced that the very policy he had been talking about would be implemented over one year. It was much quicker than people expected. Residential homes were furious but campaigning groups were delighted. Overall I think it did the government some good.
He rang back again. "Paul Condon - in or out?". "Oh leave him in", I said, "sacking him after this time's going to look a bit populist". You'll notice that he's kept his job.
Well this has been going on for a while now. We couldn't tell anyone about it obviously, because the service adheres to a strict policy of confidentiality. So Tony was alright, had much more time to spend with the wife and kids. That's why you don't see him shagging interns. Do we have interns in this country? I don't know. We were alright, didn't have to take any responsibility for wrong decisions and the country seemed to be alright as well. I have to say that despite the confidentiality thing I did tell my wife Astrid, with instructions to use maximum discreetness of course. But she didn't believe any of it. "Now you're not Mr Big at the Council, you have to go making up ways to make yourself feel important" she said. She never had much faith in me since losing the job.
But then Tony phoned again, and Astrid right in the room. He was looking for something to cheer the people up again, to revive Cool Britannia a bit. "Well , you could try letting the pubs stay open later" I suggested. "Good one" he said. "Oh, and Tony" I said, looking right at Astrid, "before you go, why don't you turn the sky pink, that should give people a bit of a lift". "So Astrid" I said, "you still don't believe me then - just look out of the window". "Bloody hell" she said, "the sky's gone pink, I'll never doubt your word again".
Well, me and Andy are thinking about expansion now, the service has taken off that well. "We'll have to recruit carefully" he pointed out, "you're not wrong" I said, "we're dealing with delicate stuff here, word's spreading, I've had the prime minister of Norway on asking something about fish and the pope yesterday about making Mother Teresa a Saint. We really have to be more careful though, I still can't believe I got pissed before Christmas and told Bill and Tony to bomb Iraq". "Well, I think we've made up for that now" said Andy, "half past midnight, time for another couple?" "Oh just get the one for now eh" I said "plenty of time left". We congratulated ourselves on how nice it is that you don't have to knock back your drink before twenty past eleven any more. Still, I wish they'd turn the sky back to it's normal colour, it's starting to get on my tits now.
back to the Short Story Page.Decisions, 13 September 1999