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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Dubious Undertaking - Part 1

Josiah Oakwood steepled his fingers and sighed as he looked around the familiar, oak-lined, walls of the dimly lit office.  Sunlight, of sorts, struggled through the stained-glass of the narrow windows high above.  He sighed again and re-arranged the papers lying on the desk before him.  The heavy knock on the door made him jump but he quickly recovered his composure and intoned “Come”.

The door cracked open and a tall, lanky figure in an ill-fitting black suit edged into the office.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Oakwood?”  The figure asked, clearly hoping the answer would be in the negative.

“Ah yes, Archibald, please take a seat”

Archibald Thurble arranged himself in the seat in a sort of slightly organised pile.  He seemed, to Josiah, to be a series of ill-fitting joints, badly assembled and poorly tailored.

“Archibald, firstly may I take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the company for the entirely unexpected and very difficult situation that you found yourself in last week?”

Archibald breathed a sigh of relief.  He had been expecting to be hauled over the coals.

“Cor, that’s all right, Mr. Oakwood.  I only did what any other bloke would have done.”

“Well, we’ll come to that shortly, Archibald.  For the moment, I have to say that I take full responsibility for the unfortunate situation.  Had I known that the entire staff of our little firm, excepting yourself of course, would be struck down by gastro-enteritis whilst I was taking my annual holidays I would have returned immediately.  Regrettably, as I was sojourning at a hill-top retreat in the wilds of Tibet, news did not reach me until my arrival at Heathrow.”

“Not to worry, Mr. O, I had the whole thing well in hand” Archibald assured him, cheerily.

“Yes, well that is as may be, Archibald, and I do appreciate your efforts to maintain the running of this complex and difficult business despite having only a few weeks basic training”

“Ta” said Archibald, relaxing visibly

“However, there are a number of issues arising from your stewardship which we need to address.  Shall I begin with the case of the Reverend W. Pemberton?”

“Oh yes, the Rev.” Archibald stated brightly, “what’s the problem?”

“The problem, Archibald,”  Josiah opened a manila folder and extracted a document, “is that when Miss Hermione Pemberton, the niece of the late Reverend, called this office to make arrangements for her uncle’s funeral,  you allegedly said to her, and I quote ‘Strewth, do you mean to say that he’s only just conked it?  I thought he’d shoved off years ago and you just propped him up in the pulpit for the look of the thing’.  Do you recall that conversation, Archibald?”

“Oh yes, course I do” Archibald leaned forward in his seat and looked about him conspiratorially, “I was trying to lighten the mood”

“Lighten the mood?”  Josiah said incredulously

“Yeah, well, you know how in them old Readers Digests in the waiting room, there’s that bit about ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’?  Well, Miss Pemberton sounded a bit upset, so I thought I would try and make her see the funny side.”

“Really?  Well, in that regard you seem to have failed abysmally.  Miss Pemberton, despite her family having done business with this firm for decades, has chosen to make the final arrangements for her uncle with a competitor.”

“Oh”  Archibald said, crestfallen.

Continued in Part 2