Winterval* had been a nice relaxing time - a few brief days away from the pressures of unemployment and propaganda. Our saved Credit Vouchers had even meant a few luxuries - we'd even been able to afford a bottle of wine. My computing misdeeds of two weeks before had faded into a distant memory,
*(I preferred the archaic term 'Christmas', but this had fallen into disuse after complaints from other religious groups.)
I wandered into the Volunteer Centre and found a vacant seat, trying to summon up the enthusiasm for another day of distributing Toynbee Tracts. I'd thought up a great idea for speeding up my 'round' by going through the outskirts of Retail City. Soft paper would doubtless be well appreciated there.
I jumped from my seat as if I'd parked my backside on a barbequeue, and spun to face the Harpy.
"What on earth are you doing here?", she asked, as if whatever misdeed I'd committed was done solely to infuriate her.
"Er...leaflet delivery, I expect".
"Don't be fatuous", she snapped. "You're due at the Job Centre at nine!".
I looked at my watch. 8:58. The Job Centre was three hundred yards away.
I flew up the street, covering three hundred yards in a time that would have qualified me for the Olympic relay team*, making it through the Job Centre doors absolutely on the stroke of nine.
*(Or at least it would have done if we still took part in the Olympic Games. But we'd withdrawn from 2016, as winning, losing and competing were considered Unfair and thus against Policy.)
Another becardiganed Co-Ordinator led me to a hard plastic chair outside the office of the Employment Assessment And Placement Facilitator. I waited. And waited.
And waited some more. And some more.
Just as the pressure of my bladder was overcoming my willpower, the door opened and I was face-to-face with the Facilitator - perhaps thirty, small, slim and wearing an expression and suit that spoke of a career spent enmeshed in Diversity training and Public Sector buzzwords.
"Ah yes, Geoghan", he said. "Have a seat.". There was no apology, no indication that he was even aware I had been waiting almost an hour.
He shuffled the papers on his desk and gave his mouse a few desultory clicks. Read something, and made a small, disapproving sound in the back of his throat that sounded to me like a Victorian judge donning the black cap.
"You've been selected for, and approved for, Labour Party Membership, and as such approved for a Public Sector position", he said, sounding about as congratulatory as an undertaker. "I see that you were a writer before the Nationalisation. What do you believe you are fitted for now?"
"Yes, I was. But in all honesty I'll take anything. I'll be Assistant Bagger to the Canine Excrement Hygiene Enforcement Officer if it gets me out of the Volunteer Centre", I replied. Then immediately regretted it.
The Facilitator appeared to notice me properly for the first time. He regarded me coolly. The appraising stare extended past uncomfortable, through unnerving and well into bowel-loosening terror. My bladder warned me that I had only minutes remaining, and if being a smartarse was going to cause delays would I please shut the fuck up?
"Tell me, Mr Geoghan. Do you consider yourself...", he paused, as if savouring the use of a word that had largely passed from British lexicon, "...humorous?"
"I used to. But I'm better now".
"Good!", he said, seeming to brighten at my answer. "The Public Sector is no place for frivolity, you know. Now, anyway, the Assistant Bagger position has actually been filled, but I think we can do something for someone of your apparent intellect and skills".
He turned to his Terminal, his mouse clicking with renewed vigour. I waited, not daring to open my mouth in case it overran my brain again, and trying desperately to ignore the increasingly urgent messages from my bladder.
"Ah! Here we are", the Facilitator said, bureaucratic triumph manifest in his voice. "It's a little more senior than we would normally consider applicable for such a new registrant, but it's available and you're adequately skilled.
"I'm posting you to Information as a Satisfaction Survey Design Co-Ordinator", he said."You can start tomorrow - here's the address".
A limp hand was extended across the desk. I shook it, half expecting it to detach in my hand. It was slick with some sort of moisturiser - the sort of thing never used by anyone who'd delivered Toynbee Tracts to the Jericho Gated Community, that's for certain.
I headed for the door, the call of nature now insistent to the point of pain, and pulled it open.
"Oh, and Geoghan?"
I stopped and turned, wondering whether emptying my bladder on this oleaginous idiot would result in the withdrawal of my Party membership and job offer. I decided that it probably would.
"I would suggest ensuring your mouth doesn't outrun your brain in future."
I nodded, not daring to speak.
"And put on a suit."
I shut the door gently, and as fast as dignity allowed headed for the Gents in Reception. I made it just in time. And the ensuing relief was almost as good as being employed again.
But only just.