NO ONE SAID ANYTHING by CATRYN POWER. PUBLISHED IN 2015

NO ONE SAID ANYTHING

Patrick stood waiting on the platform of the train station. His face was ashen, as if he had seen a ghost. His stance was rigid, as if he had had a great shock. The day was dull and drizzling lightly. He was alone and this suited his mood. He thought of the events of that day, and got angry; he felt his blood boiling. He had been working for City Hall for seven years. He couldn’t believe what had happened. He felt betrayed, not just by John, but by all of his colleagues in the office. He kept reminding himself to stay calm and be logical. Not as easy as said.

They had all kept quiet, no one said anything, not a word; each one had continued to ignore the berating he was getting from the bullyboy area manager, each one continued their respective task, whether drawing, typing, phone calls etc, and not one of them had stood up with him, or defended him in any way. Each one kept their traitorous head down. Each one of them was obviously more ambitious, than he naively and stupidly thought. Now he was the ‘fall guy’. They were all silent, so silent. He could kick himself, he felt so foolish. Patrick was always over cautious about becoming friendly with people, too soon and too quickly. He wasn’t always like this. His way throughout childhood, teens and college, was to be over cautious and to keep to himself. He never liked to reveal too much of his privacy to anyone. However, he had left his guard down, when he had arrived in the office first. He had felt comfortable with these strangers, and they had been friendly, going for lunch breaks to the canteen and a walk afterwards. Occasionally Patrick would join them for a drink after work. It all lead to a breakdown in his defences, Patrick discovered with hindsight; the trait of carefulness was an asset of extreme good sense, which he should have clung onto. It was a sad lesson.

Patrick had been reading a book on the Battle of Waterloo, the night before. He cynically thought of a parallel with work. His colleagues all stood at their posts, loyal to their boss and job, just like the men under the Duke of Wellington’s command during the defence of Hougoumont. The château that was being defended was soon on fire. His men, in spite of falling timbers and flames reassured Wellington that they would stay at their posts to the end. As at Waterloo, rightly or wrongly, Patrick’s fellow Council workers were loyal to their jobs, though both for different reasons of loyalty i.e. one for country and the other for job security.

Then he remembered his Granny Webster reminding him of the old saying ‘the wheel comes full circle’! Kate Webster was a school teacher of English and Drama at a private school, first in England, and when she met her husband in Birmingham, they both came back to Ireland to secure jobs. Shakespeare was one of her favourites, and numerous quotes were heard frequently from her. Patrick’s Granddad Webster, who was an engineer maintaining canal systems in the midlands, had instilled in Patrick a love of buildings, engineering etc. Patrick travelled on canal barges in many countries with Granddad Webster. Patrick loved the early mornings, the wildlife along the way, cooking at the side of the canal, the mechanics of it all, and much more. It was his idea of bliss.

Patrick felt sick as he went through everything again, in his mind. His usually rather handsome brown face looked pale and haggard. Patrick’s way was always to help anyone; a characteristic which he now considered a shortcoming. John had been underhanded, and now, too late, Patrick realised overly ambitious, at any cost; there never was a real friendship!

Today John said nothing. How could that be? They all knew Patrick was right about what he had said, about what he had done. John told him only yesterday that it was an honourable and principled thing to do, and that he and a few of the staff on the floor would back Patrick, if there was any trouble. Of course, he never expected Maurice to say anything; Maurice Casey was too cowardly, and never disagreed with anyone more senior than he. He was ten years with City Hall, jumping one grade in that time. A good example of the Peter Principle, typical in a place like City Hall! A Dr. Peter published a book of that name in the late 1960’s. His conclusion ‘the cream rises until it sours’ is a favourite of Patrick’s. Put simply, in a hierarchical institution, every worker will get promoted to the level of one’s own incompetence, as long as they are capable; but they will not get beyond a certain level, because it is too difficult for them. Over time, the system will be filled by a worker who is not skilled in the new job. An individual’s incompetence may never be exposed, but they will never have the necessary skills for the new position, without training; and this is not always given. They will continue to get promotion, and be incompetent of each new set of tasks.

Sure, Maurice’s Aunty Brenda was working in the finance section, and she got him a start; not that he would admit it. He began with photocopying the files, and then he progressed to putting new files onto the computer. Three years at each job until three months ago, he was moved up a grade, he was now responsible for administration and over others in the office, in spite of their qualifications. Thank you Aunty Brenda! The entire floor was astounded, and of course very aggrieved. No one said a word.

He should have guessed what John was like when John carried out a most insensitive, if malicious, trick on two of the temporary staff on the floor. Each girl was on a miserable short term contract; one as little as a week at a time. There was about one year of this messing, including their contracts being broken during some periods where they had been left go for a week; this action prohibited them from obtaining a better status, leading to permanency etc. Just before last Christmas John told the two girls that there was no renewal of contracts; this week would be the final week. End of work, money, etc. It was three in the afternoon. John told Patrick the following morning that it was only a joke and that he left it roll until the next morning, to obtain the maximum from this prank. He had decided that it would do them good! Of all the insensitive things to do! Patrick said so. Kathryn, John’s secretary, just laughed, and thought it was great sport. Each of these girls had put through an evening of angst; unforgivable. Instead of being angry, each girl was delighted that their contracts would be extended. They even believed John had helped them, with Kathryn telling them, how caring John was.

Patrick had carried out a few pranks in his life, but none intentionally malicious. When his mum was in hospital, and his Granny Webster was minding him and his siblings, they were all, four of them, sitting in front of the fire, one winter’s night, and Granny Webster was reading the story of the Billy Goats Gruff. Patrick smiled as he thought of simpler times. He loved that story. He was aged 5 years then. He always went to the front door to listen for the bad Troll who wanted to gobble up the kid goats. He thought the Troll gobbled up any type of ‘kid’! When he was coming back from the front door with relief that no Troll was outside, and so decided to play a prank, or so he thought. He stood behind Granny’s chair, and as she had got up from her reading, for some reason or other, he waited for her to be seated. As she bent down to sit, he pulled the chair from under her, and down fell Granny, aged in her late sixties! He thought it hilarious. Being a very kind Granny, all she said was to give him a warning, that he could have hurt her, and told him not to do that to anyone ever again. Otherwise he would have to spend a lot of time pushing her in a wheelchair, and there would be little time to play with his toys. For years he felt full of guilt, because soon after, Granny developed a painful back and required a walking stick. He erroneously believed that he was responsible. He also thought that the Troll would catch him some night and pay him back for his naughtiness. That was probably his last prank until he was a teenager.

Then there was Lisa; she only talked to Patrick, when she needed an idea. Once, she published a building conservation and engineering report of his as her own. He was very annoyed. He reported it to Percival, the area manager, who said, it was for the good of City Hall and not for personal gain, anyway; he added that the ever smiling and buxom Lisa was ‘soooo efficient’, and she had saved Patrick all of that effort publishing the work. Percival finished by saying that he should learn to get on with people and stop wasting time complaining. Complaining! His research for the journal (in his spare time!) and for the conference in spring took three months! Complaining!! Patrick was livid! Then he suggested that the pleasant Lisa take Patrick’s place at the conference. After all she dressed immaculately. All that Patrick thought of, was her almost painted on dresses, with transparent material! Not that Patrick had anything against being overweight, but a size 16 in those dresses!  All of Percival’s secretaries also had revealing clothing with plunging ‘neck’ lines. That was the way to get on! Patrick left Percival’s office, speechless. He couldn’t even defend himself, he was so stressed. He couldn’t believe Percival’s attitude.

The incident with Lisa made him realise that the specialists would not always be listened to; the administrators would continue to rule the roost. Civil service career opportunities! He asked questions, too many he was told. He didn’t always agree with Percival, at meetings, with the politicians and senior management; Percival would tell his staff the previous week exactly what each one should and should not say at meetings. Percival would kick Patrick under the table to shut him up; Percival would pass notes to him, ordering him to keep quiet for the next item on the agenda and so on….As a conservation engineer, he couldn’t allow important and structurally sound historic buildings to be demolished.  Nor would he allow a dangerous building be retained, without appropriate works. He had a conscience. That did not seem to matter to the administrators, nor to the specialists, come to think of it, very few, in fact, be they engineer, planner etc. Patrick had submitted a report on a potentially dangerous building, which the Council owned, giving recommendations on the procedures to make it secure. Yesterday Percival slammed it on Patrick’s desk, and demanded it be changed immediately, indicating that the structure was sound. He wanted the building to be sold as soon as possible, without spending money on it. Patrick didn’t agree. Percival, with one finger pointing at Patrick, and a grimacing smile, reminded him that his conscience would lose him his job, or he would end up, in an office in the ‘back of beyond’, at the far end of some distant peninsula, stapling pages together, indefinitely. As for promotion!! There was nowhere else to go, except the sea and a long swim to America. Percival also indicated that the manager was very unhappy with Patrick. This was not the first time that Patrick had been given such orders.

Previously the upper part of another building had fallen in a storm, onto one of the main streets in the city, during a busy bank holiday weekend. The owner had neglected to keep the building in good repair, and his friendships with some politicians, left people in no doubt that he wanted to leave the building deteriorate, so that he could obtain permission to demolish it. When some of the building fell over one year ago, people had been hurt, badly hurt; one girl of fifteen years of age had ended up in a wheelchair for life. Though his name was not mentioned, the manager had indicated to the media that it was the fault of an engineer, who had since been left go. The staff knew that this was untrue, but no one said anything. It was a subject not to be discussed. In time, the newspapers had the true version, and Percival Maclean was like a stubborn bloodhound trying to find the culprit. Patrick knew that the person responsible would never be found out. Tracks had well and truly been covered. Nevertheless Patrick was Percival Maclean’s chief suspect, wrongly or rightly!

Everything had come to a head that morning, at ten, during a meeting at City Hall to discuss the historic building, on which Patrick was reporting, as well as other planning matters. It was a complete farce. It started with five Councillors coming in late and signing ‘the diary’, and then slinking out the fire exit door! Three others were there early, one young rural Councillor read the local newspaper throughout the meeting, while he stretched his legs over a chair. The meeting’s chairman chose to ignore this rudeness. The remaining Councillors answered their mobile phones on a number of occasions, and again the chairman paid no heed to them; at one point, he answered his own mobile phone for a few minutes. Some hissing and guffaws were heard from one or two Councillors. Responses to this included some heckling. A young female journalist, recording the meeting, asked Patrick, afterwards, if they were always like this. He explained that it was their usual routine. This dismayed woman never came to a meeting again! One of the last items on the agenda was the 18th century old Market House. Percival had altered Patrick’s report. However, Patrick stood up and indicated that this was not his report, and placed copies of the original on the table. Percival tried to interrupt but Patrick continued with his report verbally, knowing that his demise at City Hall was nigh. The majority of the councillors didn’t listen and wanted to sell the old Market House without the engineering report that Patrick had attached to the file. Patrick was aghast, but he shouldn’t have been, as it was quite normal for this committee to make such judgements. The chairman berated Patrick for his report, ‘was he trying to break the Council’s purse, with such nonsensical proposals to save the old building?’ In reality, one of the others said that they should sell it to demolish it, or sell it on to someone else. ‘After all’, one politico said’ it was only a pile of builder’s rubble waiting to happen’. A few Councillors had already some proposals for the site! A lot of shouting ensued. One lone councillor wanted Patrick’s report to remain in the file.

Patrick stood at the railway station. He had left the office, indicating that he was taking an afternoon off. By then, Percival had stormed out, and would be none the wiser. Patrick had put the report in his bag. He did not know what he was going to do. He knew he could never again work in that environment. He was single, had no dependents, no mortgage, and could get a job elsewhere. He could not expect a reference. He had ten years experience in private practice and had lots of contacts. He knew now that he couldn’t go back, to this form of corruption. He remembered Shakespeare’s quotes (his Granny Webster would be proud of him), ‘Love all, trust a few’, and ‘To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man’.

He got onto the train and having taken his seat, he took out the daily newspaper. He needed a diversion. He read the newspaper for his hour journey. Everything in the newspaper made him think of his job, from voodoo in Haiti, to fraudulent business practice, to houses falling into giant sinkholes. Practicing voodoo gave Patrick a chance to let his mind and worse thoughts run wild. Voodoo focuses on dishonour and greed. Perfect for Percival! Some voodooists seem familiar; they practice to get power and wealth and fleece foreigners and Haitians. Patrick laughed out loud when he imagined making an image of Percival. Maybe he would try it……  He got great amusement when he thought of Percival sitting in City Hall while screaming at someone, and then Percival sliding into a sinkhole under his office. What a laugh, that would be! When the train had stopped at his destination, he left his mind wander as he got off the train.

As he walked to the nearest cafe, he rang Roger, a dear friend. Roger went back a long way with Patrick, right back to nursery school! They even lived on the same road, went to the same schools, and engineering college. Both their parents even played bridge together. Roger gave him a few ideas, sympathised with him and told not do anything foolish. Roger then promised to meet him in The Daily Grind Cafe, after saying that ‘the wheel comes full circle’! That’s what Granny Webster used to say!

Patrick arrived first at the cafe and. ordered an iced coffee. While waiting, he had decided that later that day, he would take the train to spend a few days with Granny Webster, who was full of advice, and whom he hadn’t seen for a number of weeks. Although ninety-one years, next birthday, Granny was very active. She still lived in the house that she and granddad had bought when they returned from England, a house alongside one of the canals, that Granddad had spent his life conserving. Two of her daughters lived with her. A few days on the water might just be what Patrick needed.

Roger came in, ordered a coffee and threw the evening newspaper on the table. He smirked, pointing to the front page, ‘the wheel has come full circle’! The grey wrinkled, smug face of Percival Maclean glared out at a puzzled Patrick. Percival’s bushy eyebrows looked like wings, Patrick chuckled; one could swing from them! Above Percival’s balding head stretched the heading “senior official in City Hall arrested by Gardai for colluding with developers for payments, and for falsifying reports. Response from the manager is utter incredulity at such activities in City Hall. The staff here is of the highest calibre in honesty and integrity. The miscreant spreading these malicious rumours will be found and ousted”.

2014-2020. CATRYN POWER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

 

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