It was my 53rd birthday and so I strolled, as was my custom, out of my Quanco office into Hyde Park to look at the statue which had been set up on the day of my birth. Curiously enough, the maintenance of that statue had become part of my ever-increasing Quanco duties – only the cleaning and repair, of course, despite Quanco’s ever-decreasing funds: the task of changing the advertisements and the labels on the statue belongs to the Commercials. I like watching the Commercials perform this weekly rite: it brings a touch of colour and razzmatazz to our fusty little park.
I crossed the road safely, assisted by a kind old Securicor traffic warden, and showed my security card to the Pertinax man at the park gate. The Pertinax company always seems to me the most formidable of the Commercials’ police forces. Perhaps it is just their badge, that battle-axe with ‘Securis Certa’ as motto. I wondered what it meant. I never learned Latin. Nowadays, of course, the better schools and universities all teach Latin, sponsored by the advertising industry: but I was born at the wrong time.
Yes, there it was, the same old statue (‘in sepulchral posture’, as my dad used to say) with my birth-date inscribed on the base: 1 April 1984. It could do with a good scrub and a nose-job: but Quanco funds, as we all know, are not unlimited. Never mind. The winning smile was still visible on the battered face of our first woman Primeperson, as she stood there triumphantly, in Coade-type stone, with her shopping basket and her safety helmet.
The Commercials’ officers, guarded by a Pertinax man, were changing the bright advertising labels on her helmet and the goods in her shopping basket. As usual, they had covered over the motto around the rim of her helmet – ‘Decus et tutamen’ – but that did not matter: it was merely the slogan on the New Penny she introduced in 1983, which is now, of course, out of circulation, quite redundant.
You could still just make out the inscription on the plinth: ‘Margaret Thatcher: Prudentia et Securitas.’ I understood that bit of Latin, all right. Beside it stood the bright placards of the traditional Commercial institutions: ‘Sponsored by Prudential Insurance’ and ‘Sponsored by Securicor Police’.
The statue was set up in the very year that the Primeperson inaugurated the rolling programme for the privatisation of the health service and the police forces. My old dad took this very much to heart: he was a ‘civil servant’, in the days before computerisation, and he would say to me, when I was a boy: ‘Prudence and Security, always remember that, Norm. There’s not so much of it in the Commercial world as they make out. Privatise as much as they like, there’ll still be a need for public service ...’
At first, my dad seemed to have judged rightly. The Primeperson recognised the apparent need for a non-Commercial element in society and she set up the Queen’s Association of Non-Commercial Officers, to deal with clergymen, heads of the broadcasting authorities, judges, magistrates, members of parliament, sports referees and various other oddments which seemed to demand an independence that no Commercial organisation could sponsor. Gradually, of course, many of these professions and rituals have been ‘hived off’: but when I first joined Quanco, as a young man, there were dozens of enjoyable departments in which I could busy myself. I particularly liked dealing with opera and ballet in the Minority Arts department: but nowadays they have been hived off to the closely-guarded university barbicans, sponsored by Murdoch-Times International, and I cannot afford to attend, with my Quanco money! Sometimes I feel that I have not been prudent, or provident, enough.
Musing on these things, I noticed that the Pertinax man was eyeing me suspiciously, as if I might be a Redundant. So I showed him my security card and wandered over to sit by the bandstand. The Commercials don’t like dowdy little Hyde Park, where we old-fashioned Quanco types congregate. The Commercials much prefer great big Jekyll Park, across the security fence, with all the amusements and advertisements and giant porn-video screens – and no unhygienic grass. It’s funny to think that the feminists of the 1990s gave the park its new name in memory of Gertrude Jekyll, the famous gardener. I don’t suppose Virago Communes Inc really meant the Commercials to cover the old park over with bounceable safety-flooring. But then I don’t suppose the Primeperson really meant my own organisation to sink to its present level of poverty. I was very worried about Quanco, very frightened of my new Director.