Samantha says to the Division, "I know you're all busy and that's probably why only one person emailed in with a 'brag'. So, who's got one they'd like to share with us now?"
Samantha - "don't ever call me 'Sam'" - is the big cheese of our Division, the Grade 3, the 'Director'. Everything about Samantha is neat to the point of rigid, including her way of speaking. Like most directors she is also very well-educated. However, she has just made a rookie's mistake, which I'll come to in a minute.
The Division comprises around 60-70 civil servants. Most of them work on EU-related topics with the odd anomaly, like the team I'm in, the Product Safety Team. It's an anomaly in that we are part of the Department for Business and yet my team is supposed to be putting consumer safety before business interests. This is one of the reasons Samantha hates me. She is about to get another one.
The Division meets every week in one of the conference suits in the Department's HQ in Victoria Street. These are always excruciating affairs which mostly see Samantha tell us some 'news' about Ministers, latest policies, etc, followed by someone giving a talk about their area of work and, well, you get the drift. At the end of each meeting, Samantha presents her 'Take the Biscuit Award', presenting someone with a packet of biscuits for doing their job exceptionally well. In all my time there, I never got to take the biscuit.
Actually, the winner is often not present since many people are either working from home or on flexi-leave or in Brussels, which means, like with the Oscars, someone has to accept the award on their behalf. Which tends to somewhat over-dunk the atmosphere, which to be honest was pretty stewed in the first place, mainly because the saner people present are so sick of meetings.
When I first started in the civil service there were very few meetings. Now, meetings are the main reason Whitehall exists. And because the only purpose of senior grades is to go to meetings, and because Whitehall is now top-heavy with senior grades, meetings go on round the clock.
Apart from meetings, the other thing that many senior civil servants suffer from is self-delusion. Which brings us back to Samantha's mistake.
An uncomfortable silence has fallen over the Division. I glance around at people looking anywhere but at Susannah, even those more senior types who are usually garrulous to the point of braying about how clever and well-connected they are. Apparently, cleverness and connectedness aren't actually achievements. Who knew?
By the way, 'brag' is Samantha's new word for achievement. I think she came up with it in the same way that the Department frequently tries to adopt more 'down to earth' language. Just recently, there were posters everywhere telling us to 'CHALLENGE' more - our managers mostly. Which of course no one will ever do since it would impact on their annual report. But it helps HR in their self-delusion that the modern civil service is keeping up with the hip world outside.
In short, Samantha has just asked everyone to speak up about any recent achievements they've made in their job.
But no one responds. No one. Not a single person has an achievement to report. Which means Samantha is facing the fact that her entire division, comprising fast streamers, all round policy wiz-kids and various teacher's pets, isn't actually doing anything, other than attending meetings.
How does Samantha deal with this potentially life-changing moment? In the time-honoured way of Sir Humphrey, of course. She simply never asks us again.
Oh, and that other reason she hates me? It's because I was the only one who put in a brag, which was that totally from my own initiative, and working with one of the country's leading test experts (not a civil servant), I'd come up with a change to the Furniture Regulations that would make the entire country's sofas and mattresses fire-safer, and greener, and save the furniture industry around £50m into the bargain. All this from the non-business orientated anomaly within the Department for Business.
What was my reward, apart from no biscuits? Simply that Samantha was going to make sure it never happened.