Among the readers here will be many of those who last year realised that much of this blog’s material has been supplied to me by recently retired members of the Armed Forces and even by middle-ranking civil servants still inside the MoD. Usually, after deleting the rants, I select only what I think useful and necessary, but today I am reproducing a report in its entirety. It is alleged to have been submitted with an expense account, although I am not sure I believe that.
It was late when I arrived at the B&B, but there was a kettle with a teabag in my room and I eventually found a cup in the bedside cupboard bottom drawer, and then my tiredness hit me and I was asleep as soon as I dropped onto the bed. In the morning the shower worked but the water was tepid, yet the soap packaging had a name I knew to be expensive, so at least the management was trying.
Breakfast was the real beginning of my education. Salisbury Plain is still very much MoD-land, and this was very much the sort of B&B one expects of a lodging managed by Whitehall, especially when the staff is rumoured to be on detachment from Main Building. I sat at the only table and looked at the menu, beautifully printed, obviously designed by one of the hundreds of talented and expensive PR men the MoD employs, and spoiled only, I thought uncharitably, by its grammar and spelling. But that was not important, and I was hungry.
After waiting for rather a long time, or so it seemed, I left to find evidence of human occupation somewhere and eventually stumbled into the kitchen to discover a cook wrestling with a large and complicated food mixer. I explained that I was in a hurry and should be grateful for tea, toast and scrambled eggs.
“Ah,” he said, in a voice I recognised from my dealings with MoD over the years. “Sorry, no eggs, and although we do have bread, somewhere, we lost our toaster as an efficiency saving. I can do you some caviar, and I’m plucking one of the turkeys, and we’ve got some Christmas pudding. There’s no tea now, for when they cancelled the biscuits they decided we didn’t need any more tea bags during working hours, but there’s some champagne left in the fridge. Of course, if you’re in a hurry, and if you’re really sure you want breakfast, I’ll get you a croissant from next door. We share our resources with the French now, and if that’s not enough I can probably get you some sauerkraut later, if you’re not too fussy. European Defence Force, you know. That’s the future. More economic, they say.”
I looked around the kitchen. It was clean but, fairly obviously, not used in a regular or systematic way. There were seven pans, all of the same size, but as there was no frying pan my scrambled eggs would have been a non-starter even if there had been any eggs. I checked the refrigerator, a top-of-the-line and very expensive European model, made, I suspected, in four different countries and assembled in Lancashire, but it was empty apart from about a dozen pots of caviar and a half-full bottle of an inexpensive champagne. The oven was from the same multi-role manufacturer, but when I checked its controls no lights appeared.
“What’s wrong with this?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing, really. We didn’t plug it into the electricity because we were promised an Aga and with an Aga we won’t need an oven.” Then, responding to my congratulatory smile, he continued, “Problem is: I have to be trained and all the instructors were made redundant in the last cuts because all the new Aga ovens are oil-fired and we can’t afford the oil any more, so that’s okay, really, I think, or anyway that’s what they told me. ‘It’s to protect the bonus,’ they said.”
“So how do you cook?” I asked. “I mean, that food mixer won’t cook, will it? And although I’m no expert, it looks to me as though it won’t even work.”
“Work?” he said, in wonder. “Of course it won’t work. I’ve been waiting for spare parts for months. It’s just for show, really. We all know that. Like a soap on the telly, it’s all illusion. Nothing here actually works. We can’t afford for it to work … electricity’s too expensive … so we blame the lack of spare parts.”
“But doesn’t that upset you?” I asked. “I mean, you’ve obviously nothing to do.” And then I added mischievously, “Or are you just waiting for your redundancy money to come through?”
“Oh, no,” he said. “There’s no redundancy for me. Too many ahead of me in the queue. Now to fill the spaces opening up I have to change to being a Warrior driver, or something like that. Anyway, that’s all in the future, and no one really seems to know what’s happening. And in any case I have to do Shrivenham first.”
Shrivenham? That made no sense. The staff colleges are at Shrivenham, and only officers attend them, not kitchen hands, not even cooks.
“Shrivenham?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. “I have to pass the Equality & Diversity Course before my next posting. Should be fun.”
So I left him for my appointment, breakfastless.
Perhaps the title I chose should have been NOT Breakfast with the MoD.
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