The Man From the Ministry

The Man From the Ministry

Graham Dukes falls back on a long-dead poet to get him out of a tight spot…

Let us get this straight. I am a Doctor of Medicine, with several framed diplomas on my wall to prove it. Unlike most medical doctors however, I decided at the start that I never wanted to make diagnoses, prescribe drugs or wear a white coat. I would serve my calling in other ways, hopefully with honour. So it was that, after spending an alternative period in the practice of Law, I chose to be employed in succession by two industrial corporations, one Ministry of Health, and several public international agencies. I became, to borrow a phrase coined sixty years ago by William H. Whyte, an “Organization Man”. A rewarding calling, but one demanding understanding, tact and sometimes (especially where the media are concerned) a morsel of cunning.

Society, after all, nurtures various (mutually incompatible) visions of the Organization Man. For some he is a mere cog in a vast, mindless machine, within which he ultimately serves merely as decoration. An opposing view is that, behind the scenes, he is in fact engineering the entire show. Whatever his perceived situation, it is widely believed that his insight into what Authority is thinking could provide fodder for juicy headlines or for timely hints to investors. To that end, the Organization Man shall be prodded and squeezed at certain unguarded moments. And what better unguarded moment than the climax of a cocktail party?

Nowadays, if I accept an invitation to cocktails I do so in my personal capacity, hoping to sip the Cointreau and sample the shrimps; but as an Organization Man I know what else to expect. Around nine fifteen, by which time certain folk may expect me to be gently inebriated, I find myself being shunted into a quiet corner where words are whispered urgently into my ear:

“Good to see you again, old fellow. I was just wondering – and of course this is just between you and me – what are your people thinking about the Dutifox scandal?”

I have probably no idea what Dutifox is, nor where scandal lies, but I shall not betray my Organization nor yet jeopardize my reputation for having access to juicy tales.

“Well, frankly,” I murmur, “The Old Guard prefers to keep some things under its hat for a while – I’m sure you understand.”

That is innocent enough, but also sufficient to send him off scribbling a headline on his iPad – “MINISTRY GAGS SPOKESMAN ON DUTIFOX SCANDAL”.

With that, I sneak back to my shrimps. On the way I am detained just for a moment by a dimpled young lady whom I recognize as a columnist from The Weekly. She begins:

“Is it true that your Minister is thinking of…?”

I interrupt her, hastily plucking the mobile from my pocket and pressing various buttons. “Really sorry, but I have this urgent matter to deal with. Ring me next week if you want.”

Narrow shave, that. Next week she will have other concerns and other victims.

Twenty minutes later, sitting and sipping the last of my Cointreau, I find myself surrounded by a small circle in which the Medicloud investments are the subject of a loud discussion that is clearly intended primarily for my ears.

“They should never have let the Moldavians in on the deal,” says the one.

“But they do know this drug market backwards,” declares another.

“Government must act urgently – the share price is collapsing,” pleads a third.

Then a fourth voice emerges, uncomfortably close to my right ear:

“Medicloud does look pretty shaky, though I wonder whether the Ministry can handle it,” it says. “Still, our friend from the Department here…” – and with this I receive a nudge in my ribs – “…is no doubt better informed than any of us.”

Suddenly, eight eyes are focussed on me. It must feel like this to face a firing squad. Just for a moment I hesitate; this is all too familiar ground. What will The Minister think of me tomorrow, whatever I say now? Then inspiration comes to my rescue. I stand up and seize on a faint memory from my law years. “Gentlemen” I declaim. “Before speculating in such matters, wise men recall the words of Horace: Quid sit futurum cras fuge quaerere, et quem Fors dierum cumque dabit lucro appone.”

I smile, bow, and then slip out hastily by the nearest exit, though not without hearing one of them remark, “What on Earth was he talking about?”

And, just in case I’ve bamboozled my reader too, that quote from Horace (roughly) translates to: “Cease to inquire what the future has in store, and take as a gift whatever the day brings forth. ”

The Organization Man, Whyte, W.H. (1956): University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA.




2 comments on “The Man From the Ministry
  1. Rob Pigott says:

    Thank you Graham. There can’t be too many greater pleasures in literature than coming upon Horace for the first time. His Odes particularly. I didn’t study them at school, but discovered them in later life. My favourite translations are by W.G. Shepherd in Penguin, 1983.
    Any other recommendations on poetry from the ancient world?

    • Graham Dukes says:

      Rob: Thank you for Your comment on “The Man from the Ministry.”
      For finding classic quotations that prove useful in Essays one cannot do better than turn to Joseph Addison, Father of the English Essay, who was especially fond of quoting Horace. I was reading recently Addison’s Essay from “The Spectator” entitled “on Friendship where in discussing the sort of friend who turns out to be prolematical at times he quotes .Martial (Epig, xii, 47)

      Difficilis, facilis, jucundus, acerbus. es idem ¨¨
      Nec tecum possum vivere, nec sine te ¨¨’

      He provides this Englush text:

      In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow,
      Thou’rt such a touchy, pleasant fellow:
      Hast so much wit, and mirth, and spleen about thee,
      There is no living with thee, nor without thee¨”


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