From writer to author in under a year

Part 4: The Government Years (1) Above board

I’ve always been a writer…………..

It won’t surprise you to learn that Civil Servants do a lot of pen pushing. During my illustrious career I churned out millions of official pages including: guidance; instructions; decisions; replies to letters sent to Ministers (sometimes the PM) from their constituents, members of the public or MPs; replies for Ministers to give in response to Parliamentary Questions; briefing and speeches for Ministers; training manuals, courses and materials; promotional literature and annual reports.

But during my 35 years as a pen pusher I can honestly say that I also performed way above the requirements of many a job. That’s because I took it upon myself to provide a little ‘added value’ to help with team communication and engagement. It all started only a year into my role in the business of administering unemployment benefit. I was recruited onto a regional team of 15 people to take administrative process and procedure into the age of automatic data processing! Split into 3 teams in which individuals rotated every 3 or 4 weeks, we worked simultaneously on 3 sites across the region. It soon became apparent that we needed a bit more cross-team communication. So, outside my job description, I created TEAM NEWS.

I was amazed to discover how many self-produced copies of TEAM NEWS I had kept all these years. And even more amazed at the variety of content, much of which called upon the skills of other team members – crosswords, cartoons, competitions, Loves and Hates, Desert Island Discs – and all lampooning ‘the system’, team personnel and, sometimes, staff in the offices we visited. Surprisingly, it was condoned by management and enjoyed in offices across the region (where our presence had been felt) by the end of the 2 year project.

Picking up edition number 23 at random, I was reminded of the production difficulties back in the day. For a start, it was written in longhand and for copies I relied on friends with access to a photocopier or a Banda Roller. (Google it!) The same issue also includes a written record of my first experience of a weekend on my own and, in particular, “….how nerve wracking eating alone can be.” Unlike so many others, I thankfully learned how to eat out alone with aplomb.

Later, in the 1980s, when I was working in my Department’s London Headquarters, I was asked to produce an official regional magazine as part of my job. No programme or personnel lampooning in this one.

Throughout my various roles, and at every grade level, I produced endless songs, sketches, skits, pantomimes and, on occasion, forged documents to raise a smile at formal and informal staff meetings and get-togethers. More than one office grandee was known to request, “ ..a sketch or something from Christine.”

However, all this above board stuff was eclipsed by a brief underground period, that enlivened difficult and uncertain times, and helped to maintain the sanity of a group of colleagues in the 1990s.