In the fourth largest Meeting Room of The Clinton Hotel, Capital City:
The Committee To Decide Whether to Form a Committee to study the state of committees in the nation met for the first time on the first of April. It had taken 3 years to form this committee since the representatives for each of the provinces had to select additional members from among their communities —both urban and rural— and at the local level, objections were raised to the proposed appointments, discussed, debated, overturned, raised again in a slightly different format and finally resolved but not after some significant time had passed, during which the representatives of the provinces had stood for reelection —some winning, some losing and being replaced— which meant the process had to start all over again.
Mary Ellen Gurley banged the gavel on the podium to quiet the crowd of fifty-odd persons gathered in the meeting room of the Clinton Hotel, chosen for its proximity to the national rail service station and the Government House. Mary Ellen had had to pilfer the gavel from the district magistrate next to her constituency office and she hoped she would be able to surreptitiously return it before it was missed. As a result the gavel was inscribed with the initials S.P.G. which Mary Ellen was prepared to explain as the gavel having been inherited from her father (even though her father’s initials were not S.P.G. and he had never used a gavel in his career as a plumbing inspector for the county council), but she was hoping no one would ask.
“Order! Order!” she shouted over the din.
“Not even a cup of tea for us?” whispered the rural representative from Fusty Plum in the southeast of the southeastern province.
“They said there’d be pastries too,” replied his neighbour.
“Typical,” muttered Fusty Plum. “Never trust a government committee.”
“Each of you should have before you a printed agenda for today’s meeting…” Mary Ellen announced. “You will notice that each agenda item has an allotted time assigned to it. This is to ensure that we cover all the items and equal time will be given to each and so that we don’t run out of time before covering them all…”
“Well what I want to know is, who came up with this list?” asked the urban representative from Belk, the second largest city after the capital. “It’s positively bonkers! Why weren’t we consulted on the order of the agenda? We need to talk about the cost of living! The price of fuel! The retirement age of these footballers —they’re giving up too soon! And how about the litter on the buses? It’s getting our of hand! We need to hire more cleaners for the buses! And don’t get me started about the …”
Mary Ellen banged her gavel. “My honourable friend from Belk, while all of those issues are certainly worthy of discussion, that is not the purpose of this committee. The fact of the matter is, we have been tasked with deciding if the committees in the nation are doing an effective job and if we decide they are not, we will propose that a committee be formed to do a more thorough investigation of said committees, and advise accordingly.” A hand went up: the rep from Fusty Plum. “Yes? You have a question?”
“They said there would be tea and pastries.”
Mary Ellen gritted her teeth, internally rolled her eyes, took a deep breath and said, “If you check your agenda, you will see that we will have a break at 11 AM for tea, coffee and pastries.”
Fusty Plum squinted down at the page, then after reading, looked up, smiling. “Right! Good then, that’ll do.”
“Now hold on!” cried the rep from from Belk. “Why are Business and Culture at the top of the list and Sport and Transportation at the bottom? If you think sport isn’t important to the people of this country … !”
Mary Ellen sighed.
“And clean buses!” he added, bringing a fist down on the table. “Transportation!”
Mary Ellen held up her hands in appeal and said, “I know how important sport is to the country. The list of items are simply in alphabetical order.”
Another hand shot up. The rural representative from Wimple-Haddock in the west of the country. “Well obviously ye have a bias against us farmers. Why did ye not put it in as ‘Agriculture’ instead of ‘Farming’? Obvious bias, I say!”
“Look, I didn’t make this list so…”
—“think we should have been consulted”—
—“isn’t she the head of this committee?”—
—“if she didn’t make the list, who did?”—
—“…and you could call Justice ‘Crime’ and that would put it ahead of Culture, don’t you know”—
“Order!” The pilfered gavel banged on the podium. Mary Ellen, already ten minutes behind schedule, continued resolutely, “Item One! One: A: The committee to oversee business apprehension…”
“What does that even mean?” asked Fusty Plum to his neighbour.
“Damned if I know,” he replied.
Mary Ellen went on, “Continuing with One B: By-laws, then Corporation, De-corporation , Ethics, Flagrance, Graft, Hyperbole, Inertia, Joviality, Knitting, Loquaciousness, Malfeasance, Nefariousness, Opulence, Perfidy, Qua, Recidivism, Sapience, Torpor, Unguents, Vainglory, X-ray Machines, Yogurt and Zebras.” She paused for breath. “So, regarding the committee to oversee apprehension, page 2 of your packet gives a brief definition, demonstrates the scope, the goals, procedures, errors, corrections and current results of the work completed so far. Has anyone any initial observations?”
“So what are these business types apprehensive about?” asked the urban representative from Gensley, the third largest city in the country after the capital. “Ha! They should be worried! The workers are getting tired of the long hours and the low pay. They won’t put up with it much longer, I say. We’ll have a real revolution on our hands. You mark my words! Won’t put it up with it!”
“No, not that kind of apprehension. The acquisition by power, you know…”
“Right, the workers will be taking over! Had enough of being exploited! These fat cats in their fancy cars jetting off to the Riviera —and not on the old Ryanair either! Their days are numbered!”
Mary Ellen ignored the digression. “Would you all agree that the committee to oversee apprehension has done a thorough and effective job?” She crossed her fingers behind her back and waited. One, two, three… she raised the gavel and…
“I’d not be too sure about this,” said the rep from Wimple-Haddock. “Who’d be doing the apprehending then? And who’d be the apprehended? Is it criminals they’d be going after? Or what?”
Mary Ellen rubbed an eye, smearing her mascara. “That’s not for us to worry about. We just have to decide whether or not the committee looking into the issue is doing a good job.”
“So you’re saying it’s an issue then? There’s a real problem with things being apprehended and such? Should we be worried?” He turned to his neighbour. “Wouldn’t like it if some so-and-so up and apprehended my farm!”
“Alright, alright, maybe issue isn’t the right word. Ah, let’s say the practice of apprehension. Yes. The committee to oversee the practice of apprehension. Are they doing an effective job?”
—a rustle of papers—
—clearing of throats—
—“What’s this term mean?”—
—“Eh, all the young people say it.”—
—“But what’s it mean?”—
—“Ah look, it’s just a fancy way of saying it’s happening in front of your own eyes.”—
—a self-conscious cough—
—“Why don’t people speak plainly anymore? It’s all ‘empower this’ and ‘real time’ that. Facilitate instead of help. Why back in my day…”—
“Excellent!” Mary Ellen smacked the pilfered gavel on the podium. On to item One B…”
“Wait!” cried Fusty Plum.
“What now?” asked Mary Ellen, exasperated.
“I think it’s time for tea.”