A Big Stick and a Little Prick
Josiah Oakshott was surprised to hear a knock at his office door. It was not that this was, in itself, unusual, it was more that it was unexpected at this time of day. This was because, it was at this time in the morning that Archibald Thurble had taken to bringing him his morning cup of tea and Archibald usually just careered into the office without warning, despite Josiah’s frequent suggestions that knocking would be appreciated. Therefore, it followed that, despite the time of day, this could not be Archibald bearing tea. In the time-honoured fashion of managers everywhere, he pretended to busy himself with paperwork and intoned,
“Come!” in his deepest and most authoritative voice.
Nothing happened. Josiah looked up from his desk in anticipation. He decided to try again, but louder this time,
“COME!” He bellowed.
Nothing for a few moments and then yet another knock on the door.
“COME IN!’ Josiah shrieked at the top of his voice.
There was some scratching and thumping from the other side of the door and then the door swung open to reveal a pole of some sort being hastily withdrawn from the doorway, but nothing else there.
“Hello?” Josiah shouted, hesitantly.
“IS THAT YOU, MR. O.?” A voice that could only be Archibald’s yelled from, what sounded like, quite a long way away.
“Of course it’s me, Archibald! Who else would be sitting in my office? What the dickens are you messing around with?”
“SORRY MR. O. CAN’T HEAR YOU FROM HERE. DO YOU WANT ME TO BRING IN YOUR TEA?”
“Archibald, I have no idea what you’re playing at but, yes, please bring in my tea”
“YOU WHAT. MR. O.?”
“I SAID, YES!!” Josiah screamed, worryingly aware that he was turning puce with the effort.
There was the sound of someone dropping something wooden in the distance, some shuffling, and then Archibald Thurble heaved into view, carrying a tray. He stopped at the door.
“I couldn’t hear you, Mr. O., so I brought the tea in any road. Is it alright to come in?” Archibald looked around the room, suspiciously.
“In point of fact, Archibald, my last utterance was to ask you to bring the tea in! Yes, of course you can come in, why on Earth should that not be the case?”
“Well, I heard as how they’re on about increasing the social distance thingy to three metres and I didn’t want to get too close”
“To the best of my knowledge and belief, Archibald, even if there is such a proposal, no such limitation has yet been enacted. Therefore, you may safely enter the office”
“Oh, right-ho.” Archibald beamed and bustled in with the tea tray.
“Should I take it that your concern over the social distancing rules explains the odd manner of your entrance?”
“You what, Mr. O.?”
“I mean the business with the knocking on the door utilising, what appeared to me to be, a long pole?”
“Oh ar, yeah. You see, I missed doing metric at school and I wasn’t right sure how far three metres is. So, I asked Egbert and he said he wasn’t sure either but he wouldn’t touch a three-metre limit with a long pole, so I got hold of a long pole…”
“And the rest, as they say, is history” Josiah completed, with a smirk, “you are in good company, Archibald. No less a person than the late President Theodore Roosevelt advocated the wisdom of ‘speaking softly and carrying a big stick’”
“Well, I couldn’t speak softly or else you wouldn’t have heard me”
“No, indeed Archibald.” Josiah busied himself with the tea-making things.
“I’ll bet that President Trump wishes he had a big stick” Archibald grinned.
“Regrettably, some of the more unhinged of his supporters do have such things, apparently, and are quite prepared to use them” Josiah said, grimly.
“Oh yeah, I saw about that on the telly” Archibald nodded, “mind you, I suppose if the election was stolen, you can see as how they might be a bit cross”
“A bit cross!” Josiah ceased pouring his tea, put down the teapot and stared at his employee for a while. Eventually, he pinched the bridge of his nose, screwed his eyes up, took a deep breath and said, “It is not the case, Archibald, that the election was ‘stolen’”
“Well, you say that Mr. O., but a lot of people reckon as how it was” Archibald said, stoutly.
“A surprisingly large amount of people believe the world is flat, Archibald, but that does not make it so”
“I’m not so sure, Mr. O., my Nan fell of the edge when I was little!” Archibald asserted.
“Your Nan fell of the edge?” Josiah asked, unbelievingly.
“Yeah!” Archibald nodded, vigorously, “oh no, hang on a minute, I think it might have been off of the pier at Southport”
“That does have more of the ring of truth about it” Josiah agreed, “nevertheless, in relation to the much-discussed election in the U.S.A., it remains the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, not a shred of evidence has been brought forward to support this claim of electoral malfeasance”
“Yeah, but, no smoke and all that” Archibald suggested.
“Well, it seems to me” Josiah began, pouring his tea once more, “that the allegation of the election being ‘stolen’ is somewhat selective. You see, our cousins in America do not just elect a President. They hold a huge election which encompasses not only the determination of who should be the President and Vice President, but also those standing for election to the House of Representatives and for the Senate”
Archibald looked suitably puzzled.
“It’s a bit like our House of Commons and House of Lords” Josiah explained, “in addition, they also elect a raft of people at a local level, right down to the dog-catcher in some instances” Josiah chuckled.
“Strewth! Must be a heck of a sheet to put your crosses on!” Archibald whistled.
“I believe they have voting machines for that very purpose, which is another bone of contention.” Josiah stopped and sipped his tea, contemplatively, “However, my point is that, although the Republican Party failed in their attempt to have the current President and Vice President elected for a second term, they did do rather better than expected in the elections for members of the House of Representatives, gaining seats there. Now, if the election was fraudulent in some way, then it must follow that those seats gained were also suspect and should be reviewed. Oddly enough, the claims of the election being ‘stolen’ only seem to apply in those instances where the currently governing party were unsuccessful, and not the reverse”
“I think I’m getting a headache” Archibald rubbed his forehead.
“I think we all are!” Josiah agreed, “in the normal way of things, I would not concern myself with the arcane workings of the American polity, however in this case certain actions have been taken that strike at the very heart of how a democracy must function. It is incumbent on those in power, and the population at large, to respect the outcome of an election, no matter how displeased one may be about that outcome, and to arrange for a safe and peaceful transition of power. Where an election is disputed, then firm evidence should be brought forward for investigation. These are the principles on which democracy is founded. If you attack these, then you put all democracies, everywhere, at potential risk”
“You’ve thought about this a bit then, Mr. O.?”
“I have thought of little else, over the past few days, Archibald, which is frustrating as there is no shortage of matters requiring my attention in the here and now”
“Getting pretty busy with this covid-thingy innit?”
“I fear we are at a critical juncture, Archibald. We have not seen such a demand on our services since the peak of the pandemic early last year. We can only hope that the roll-out of the vaccine affords a breathing space in which restrictions can be somewhat eased”
“Oh, is that how they’re doing it then, this vaccine stuff?”
“Is what how they’re doing it?” Josiah frowned.
“With a roll-on. I wouldn’t mind that so much”
“Not a roll-on, a roll-out! To the best of my knowledge, the vaccine will be delivered using a traditional hypodermic needle”
“In that case, I’m not so sure I’m going to bother. I don’t like needles” Archibald shook his head, determinedly.
“With respect, Archibald, I am no fan of injections either but I think, in this instance, one must put such feelings aside. The sooner a sufficient proportion of the population, particularly those at most risk, are inoculated, the sooner some form of normality might return. You, for example, might get to see Ms. Ryder once more” Josiah grinned.
“Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought of that” Archibald’s countenance became markedly sunnier, “perhaps I will have the jab after all. Only a little prick, innit?”
“So I am reliably informed, Archibald” Josiah smiled, desperately trying to avoid the legion of inappropriate comments racing to the fore of his mind,”so I am reliably informed.”
You can find many more stories about Josiah and Archibald in these two collections: