by Catherine Thomas
The Right Honourable Mr Cooke felt that Cabinet meetings were the worst kinds of meetings because they meant having to stay awake. A gentle snooze was common during a session in the House, unless he had to speak (something he avoided doing at all costs); a kip was always possible and possibly quite encouraged when it came to any meeting with the Liberals. A Cabinet meeting meant decisions, meant minute-taking, meant that anything that any minister said might become of valuable importance in the evening papers and public imagination. Indeed, a throng of journalists was waiting outside the door, hankering after any morsel of information of how Britain would set about rectifying the Troubles in Europe.
Mr Cooke looked across the table to the Minister for Pensions and rolled his eyes. The Minister for Pensions looked back and lolled his head, his tongue flopping out of his mouth, mimicking a dead person. The Prime Minister was banging on about Russia again and, desperate to show that they had all been paying close attention to their briefs, several ministers of the Cabinet were spouting their botched understandings.
‘Yes, yes, yes. But they are building the most magnificent metro.’
‘Balls to the metro – ’
‘That, sir, reveals the distasteful attitude to modernisation which has marred our nation for so long –’
‘We invented modernisation!’
‘Errr, actually, we invented the spinning top – well, Jenner did – ’
‘Spinning Jenny, I thought.’
‘No, no!’ roared the Home Secretary. ‘Jenner invented the vaccination for smallpox, you ignoramuses!’
‘That’s not right, aren’t ignoramuses like octopi?’
‘Octopuses, my Lord.’
‘To revert back to Mr Stalin and aeroplane production,’ butted in someone, whose name no-one was quite sure of but who they nonetheless acknowledged as important. ‘I contend that he is ahead of the agreed schedule that he flouted last week.’
The Minister for Pensions scribbled something on his dossier and motioned for a clerk to deliver it to Mr Cooke. Mr Cooke fumbled silently for his spectacles.
‘I’m bored,’ it read. Mr Cooke looked up and, to show his concurrence on the matter, sharply exhaled through his jowls in the manner of a neighing horse. This action having exuded a louder raspberry then he had intended, he found himself the centre of the Cabinet’s attention.
‘You disagree with the Prime Minister’s proposal?’ the Home Secretary scrutinised.
‘Well…’ Mr Cooke muttered.
‘Sure to say, sir, you pooh-poohed it,’ the Minister of Labour cried. ‘If you blow raspberries with such certainty, one might venture that you had your own solution to the Moscow question?’
Mr Cooke coughed, stalling for time. Surely none of the other lesser ministers had been paying attention to the meeting – or would such an admittance see him leaving government quite on his own, walking straight into the drooling mouths of the press? The Minister for Pensions looked similarly sheepish, nodding vehemently at Mr Cooke to hide away the dossier containing the evidence for their ennui.
‘I would recommend,’ Mr Cooke swallowed, ‘that we don’t settle our relations with the Communists if we have not yet exploited our relations with the Fascists.’
‘Or the Americans,’ jabbered the Minister for Pensions.
A rumble from the Cabinet and a touch of relieved wind from the Minister.
‘The Right Honourable Mr Cooke espouses wisdom,’ remarked the Chancellor. ‘Perhaps, sir, you’d consider joining the party on their state visit to Moscow later this month?’
‘Stalingrad, my Lord,’ corrected the Home Secretary.
‘Leningrad, I thought,’ chirped the Minister of Planning.
‘Balls to Leningrad,’ barked the Prime Minister. ‘The whole place is damned uncivil, no matter what they call it.’
Another rumble of agreement.
The Chancellor raised a worried finger. ‘Except for their splendid metro, of course.’
Despite the disquiet that he felt upon having unwittingly booked himself onto a Moscow jolly – it would be damned cold at this time of year – Mr Cooke was wholly unprepared for what awaited him on the steps of No. 10. Evening Standard photographers snapped explosively at his bewildered expression and journalists gathered round him like hyenas in raincoats. The Minister for Pensions squealed like an otter on ice and abandoned his age-old friend to the flashbulbs without so much as a backwards glance.
‘Give us a quote on your impending state visit, sir?’
‘What’s your line of inquiry regarding Mr Stalin’s arms production policy, sir?
‘Are you going to ask Mr Stalin about his lovely new metro, sir?’
Clutching his umbrella against the drizzle and clenching his buttocks against one another, there were only two things that the Right Honourable Mr Cooke could be sure of at this moment: that he would be seeing his face in the papers the next morning, and that his wife would have something to say about it.
Catherine Thomas is from Guernsey. She has had several short plays produced in London and Oxford, and last year completed an MA in Writing for Stage.