By Nigel Balchin, Cassell, 2002, 0304359696

Nigel Balchin wrote this during the WW II (1942) so it is almost like a history novel, but it’s an intriguing story about people during stressful times (London Blitz). It’s a mixture of urgency and common place.

[p126] [I said,] “That Cabinet Committee business is the oldest joke in the place.”

“How d’you mean?”

“Come into my office and listen,” I said.

I rang up Sutton, and said, “I believe you asked my department for some figures this morning?”

“That’s right,” he said. “Sorry to give you the trouble, but Giles said they wouldn’t take long to get out.”

“D’you mind telling me what you want them for?” I said. “Par tomorrow”s Cabinet Committee. Didn’t Giles tell you?” “He did, but I didn’t believe him. You say the Cabinet Committee asked for them?”

“They didn’t actually ask for them,” said Sutton. “But we want to hand them on to the Cabinet Office.”

“Oh, the Cabinet Office asked for them?”

“No, no,” said Sutton, getting a bit annoyed. “It’s just a question of preparing the papers.”

“Listen,” I said. “Should I be right in saying that nobody’s asked you for them?”

“Not in so many words. But they might easily be wanted.”

I said, “There’s perhaps one chance in five hundred that the total stock figure will be wanted. You’ve got that. I gave it to you myself last week.”

“They might ask for details,” said Sutton, a bit weakly.

“Fine,” I said. “Well, if they do, let me know and we’ll get the figures out. Until then, my department’s got a lot of work to do that is wanted. Cheerio.”

I hung up and said, “There you are.”

“Don’t really want them at all?” said Fred.


“Well, my God, when he rang me up you’d have thought the whole Cabinet was waiting for them with its tongue hanging out.”

I said, “You always want to check up on Sutton. He’s a nasty little pip-squeak, and he’s always doing that sort of thing.”

“What for?”

“God knows. He likes to load the Minister up with a pile of papers two feet thick that he’ll never read and wouldn’t understand if he did. Then he reckons he’s done a whale of a job.”

“It takes a hell of a time too, that stuff.”

“Of course it does. About half the place spends its time producing stuff that somebody important might want. That’s why it’s never got time to do its proper job. Go and take ‘em off it Fred, and get them back on to the stuff for Wednesday.”