THE LEGACY OF THE CLERKS


The most senior staff had their offices
at one corner of the building, stacked
one above the other. From their desks,
through one of their three sets of long windows,
they could watch the tidal river’s ebb and flow
and the decline of the salmon. If they stood
at another they could see upstream
to the medieval sandstone bridge – the river
susurrating beneath its arches –
and, beyond, the meadows prone to flooding.

Like most county halls it was an empty
rectangle. Of those with their own offices –
our names and titles plated to the doors
and all, but the most senior, with only
one set of windows – location was all.
A view outwards – even if it were only
the canyon-like yard where the prison vans
debouched – indicated rank. On balance,
we did more good than harm. Things worked:
schools were opened and closed; bridges made safe;
fires attended; streets kept orderly.
We were an embankment to stem havoc.

Though the ubiquitous tea trolley wheeled
through the corridors of power promptly
at 11.00 and 3.00 was a leveller,
my office faced inwards to white tiled walls.
The room had a piece – the last extant, old hands
claimed – of the former Chief Clerk’s carpet:
yellow, sixties, a ‘contemporary’ design
with fussy circles and curlicues
perhaps belying, on the reverse,
the Free Mason’s chessboard. I never looked.

Through my window I could see the tent of sky
criss-crossed by skeins of gulls and flights of pigeons.
I would imagine the heaving waters
from the mountains curbed by the ancient weir
above the bridge – and, on a branch wrenched
in some forgotten storm and caught on the weir,
a cormorant waiting.

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by John Chapman - January 30th, 2016 at 16:21

    I trained and worked for an American owned motor manufacturer whose management were mostly Lodge fellows, more concerned with their little ‘pig pens’ and whether they gained obscured glass, their own internal telephone number and a carpet and their name on the window, who eventually brought the company to its knees mainly through lack of knowledge and acumen. Frightened of anything new, they overestimated costs for new models to cover their ineptness. The parent company eventually saw the light and transferred it lock, stock, and barrel to Germany where this hindrance did not exist.

  2. #2 by Raji Davenport - January 30th, 2016 at 21:31

    I loved this poem, David! So evocative, it brought back mixed feelings about that huge building by the river, where I spent my first working years as a trainee accountant. Thank you for bringing back the memories – and yes, I too like to believe that we did more good than harm. Shame those ways of working are long gone.

  3. #3 by John Huddart - January 31st, 2016 at 21:26

    County Halls across the country have been threatened and closed by Conservative centralism. God knows what the bureaucracy in the big ministeries is like – a cross between Ikea and Brave New World, I should think. That fine people should feel they only did more good than harm is a testament to your modestry and consequent fineness!

  4. #4 by Katie Henry - February 1st, 2016 at 08:37

    It all depends on that cormorant!

  5. #5 by Andy Kent - February 6th, 2016 at 21:54

    This made me smile…I remember my genuine shock when I was told to move because someone more senior wanted and had been promised a river view… but more good than harm – yes, I think so, and happy memories, by and large, evoked reading this.

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