Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A Ministerial Message

After Franz Kafka*

From her political deathbed**, the Secretary of State has sent you a message; you, the least assuming teacher of the least assessed year group of the most rural school. Barely graced as you are by the light of the imperial sun (which, in hushed tones, all those around you say hangs lower in the sky than it used to), the shadows around you are long, but your eye is still trained daily on the glory of an incandescent firmament, and this alone makes you worthy of the ailing minister's epistle.

Distrustful of the written form, which has failed emperors and her alike before, the Secretary has not dispatched a missive but recorded a video message. It is scripted of course, but with the addition of her earnest facial expressions and firm, friendly tone, how could you fail to understand her? Neither is this her first attempt to correspond with teachers, so gone now is the black background, ingenuously and erroneously designed to remove distractions from her previous, sombre communiqué.  Lessons have been learned, and this message is recorded in a bright, middle-class home office. What could be more familiar and reassuring to you than that?

The message is recorded, and the Secretary on her political deathbed is initially pleased with it. There is a look on the media management intern's face as he publishes the video that troubles her, but nothing is said between them (as how could it be?), and it is posted. Her unease will soon lift. Death's proximity makes all things lighter.

In an instant, the Secretary of State is speaking to you. Her digital facsimile stares you in the eye and you hear, but cannot understand, the message. For how could you? You know it is there, but it struggles to connect in your mind with the right meanings.

Powerful words though they are, bearing the ministerial seal as they do, they fight in your mind through a throng of parliamentary secretaries and press advisers who you know vetted and approved them. They are the grey-clad ceremonial guard of all political deaths, and as you imagine them, the Secretary's words lose some of their motive power.

Having made it past this first hurdle, they have yet to push past an army of spads, wonks, think tanks and focus groups that you know helped to forge them into weapons. The army is not large, but it is armed and well organised, and as you hear their secret strategising, the message loses some of its voice.

Should the words be as indefatigable as the Secretary herself, having made it this far, they will yet have to compete for your attention with the amassed media messages that besiege your mind. As you think of those, you almost forget there was a message, and find yourself fascinated by her clothes, by the ornaments on the window-sill behind her. (Why two clocks?)

If they could break that siege (but that could never happen!) how fast those words would fly, and soon you would know with certainty the Secretary's dying wish, but you sit before your screen remembering only vaguely that she has invited you to ask her a question.

You think wryly that there is no question you could ask that she might understand, and dream instead of dancing together.

* This story is inspired by Franz Kafka's An Imperial Message, available to read here.
** We are given to understand that every politician is perennially on his or her political deathbed, prey each passing second to the ardours of public opinion and shifting sands of accountability. The life political, by this token, is the most existential there is, and most painful. Whether this is a myth concocted by politicians to dissimulate the trappings of power, or a rightful balance our ancestors imbued democracy with, is hotly debated in certain esoteric societies. 


  1. Wonderful stuff - very Orwellian (or indeed Kafkaesque). Are the clocks set to the same time I wonder?

    1. They aren't! Make of that what you will...
      (And then let me know what that is.)

      Thanks for reading and for your kind comment.

  2. I trust the clocks tell different times and work at different rates in order to provide maths teachers with a useful source of real world problems to solve such as how many times each day the clocks can be reliably used to time the boiling of eggs for high tea.

    1. I don't trust that for two simultaneous, asynchronous minutes.


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