Weekend Fiction: Another Ministerial Metamorphosis
When the Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous badger. That is, an enormous badger by standards of relative badger size, but by the standards of all living things the Minister was not particularly enormous at all and had in fact shrunk quite considerably since the day before, but still, for a badger, he was enormous.
The Minister closed his eyes again. “Bloody dreaming of badgers now,” he muttered and rolled onto his left side and snuggled back into sleep.
“Ain’t you got some meeting this morning?!”
The shrill, annoying voice of the Minister of Farming’s wife echoed up the stairs and into the bedroom where the dozing minister was jolted back awake.
“Yes dear,” he called, not without some difficulty, “I’m just getting up now.”
“Blimmin’ ‘eck, love, you sound god-awful! You sure you’re awight to go?”
The woman really was impossible. He wondered again why he had married her except for the reason that she would look good on his election literature. ‘The common touch’. Luckily, political wives were silent wives - in public at least.
The Minister rolled out of bed, landing on all fours on the plush carpet of his huge bedroom. ‘Getting old, boy,’ he thought and trotted over to the window to open the thick, lined curtains his wife had made him buy with her.
“If you pay, you can shove ‘em on expenses, can’t ya?” she’d reminded him. Incessantly. He would have gladly paid for the damned curtains out of his own pocket and save himself the misery of having to decide whether one blue material was nicer than another blue material but he comforted himself with the thought that even the prime minister can’t publicly argue with his wife.
“More rain,” he remarked miserably to himself as he stared out at the dark clouds swelling above the sodden fields, “Bloody global warming,” he chuckled, “Don’t let the greens catch you saying that!” He crawled back across the room to the en-suite, making a mental note to ask his wife to shorten the arms and legs on his pyjamas, as for some reason they were far too long to be sensible. ‘What was that silly woman thinking when she bought them?’
He reached up to grasp the handle to the bathroom door and used it to haul himself into a standing position, wondering if that last glass of red before bed had been such a clever idea after all.
“Pull yourself together, Minister,” he said as he tentatively stepped inside, leaning on the sink for support. He looked into the mirror hanging on the wall above the taps and was confused for a moment. All he could see was the very top of his head and the tufts of wild black hair sticking straight up (with some sorrow he noticed a bright streak of grey). Annoyed that someone should be moving the mirror in the night he upended the bin and clambered on top. It was with some difficulty that he managed to balance on just one foot, but he clasped the sink with both hands and turned to see his reflection in the looking glass.
“Great Scott!” he said.
For there, staring back at him, as if he had every right to be there inside the Farming Minister’s bathroom, wearing the Farming Minister’s pyjamas, was a badger.
“The impertinence!” he shouted, and the badger mocked him by mouthing his own words back, “How dare you?” the Minister cried and went to swipe at the badger, reaching out with his right hand as the badger reached out with his left paw and as they both struck the glass at the same time the slow realisation crept into the Minister’s mind.
“You awight, love?” shrieked his wife from downstairs, “You got the shits again?”
“Yes,” the Minister called back, “I mean, no. I mean… I’ll be down in a minute.”
The Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment stared back at his reflection, paw to paw. He was quite a fine looking badger, as badgers go: bright eyes, thick bristled hair, a good long snout with a wet nose, and a good row of strong, sharp white teeth.
But the badger was still there when he opened his eyes. He stared down at his badger body, his two back paws balanced on the upturned bin, his oversized pyjamas and the thick bristles of hair sticking out between the buttons.
“Poppycock,” he said, finally, “Utter tosh, if you ask me, badger’s may move goalposts now and then, but they don’t go around changing people into badgers.”
And with that, the Farming Minister picked up his toothbrush and determinedly brushed his teeth. He then picked up his comb and forced the bristles atop his head to conform to the rules of a side parting, he considered his face for a moment and then sniffed, ‘Beards are in these days,’ and finished off with some cologne.
He padded back across the room and found himself a smart jacket and tie, and a crisp, newly ironed shirt to wear, he decided that perhaps today was the day to try wearing his panama hat to work, and although it did look decidedly grim it may brighten up later, so sunglasses would probably be a must. He looked down at his paws poking out of the sleeves of his suit; he tried a pair of gloves but then decided that if anyone saw his hands they would assume he was already wearing gloves, so he needn’t bother. To finish off the look he put on his big, green, wax jacket, usually down to his thigh, it was now nearly all the way to the ground and disguised his shape perfectly.
The Minister of Farming looked at himself in the full length mirror. ‘Yes,’ he thought, ‘I look perfectly respectable, nothing out of the ordinary at all.’
He left the bedroom and made his way downstairs, he was becoming quite used to walking on his hind legs, and was able to manage the stairs if he took them one at a time. As he reached up to the latch on the front door he called out to his wife, “I’ll be off then.” She screeched back, but he was already out of the door and walking across the gravel to his jeep. He fumbled with the key in the lock, clambered up into the seat and turned the key in the ignition. The minister slid down in the seat, desperately trying to reach the pedals, but they were just too far. He adjusted the seat, bringing it forward, up, down, but no matter what he tried, he was not able to see out of the windscreen and reach the pedals at the same time.
“Nothing for it,” he said, and clambered back out of the jeep, walked across the gravel and turned into the lane toward the train station.
The attendant barely registered him as he paid for his ticket to London and walked through the gate onto the platform. He waited patiently for his train, purchasing a cup of coffee and a copy of ‘Country Life Magazine’. He made a note of the time and realised he was going to be late for his meeting but he sipped away at his coffee and carried on reading his own interview, ‘Nothing to be done,’ he thought, ‘Nothing to be done.’
Eventually the train clanked and screeched into the station, it was a sad old thing, tired, with graffiti strewn windows, frayed upholstery and a lingering stench of mildew and filth, and was only marginally faster than the rail replacement bus service.
“The sooner we get that high speed railway the better,” the minister said to himself as he clambered aboard and found himself a seat in first class. ‘Can’t let the side down though, must keep protesting against it,’ he sighed, ‘I’ll have to come up with better argument than being ‘concerned’ though… maybe something to do with bees… the bloody campaigners are always on about bees…’
Eventually the train filled up with commuters, more and more pressing themselves into the train with each stop. The minister occasionally looked at them over his magazine, ‘Why don’t they travel first class?’ he thought, and stretched his legs out in front of him on the seat. Suddenly he remembered that he’d have to get Sandra to fill out that damned expenses claim form for the ticket and he fumbled in his pockets for a bit of paper to make himself a note.
After much hassle he managed to change trains at Birmingham New Street, he then dozed off and had to be gently roused in Euston station by a train attendant who became rather startled. The minister ignored the attendant and shuffled off to find his way down to depths of the Victoria Line. People rushed along largely ignoring one another, and although the minister was shoved once or twice the busy commuter muttered a quick apology and went on their way, ‘Quite right too,’ he thought.
Although he’d never paid much attention to minding the gap, today ‘the gap’ seemed to be particularly cavernous, and the minister struggled to haul his body onto the tube train in time, almost losing his panama hat in the process. Ruffled by the experience he stayed by the doors, grimly waiting for his station, he had to rely completely on the announcer as he was unable to clearly see through the ridiculously high windows, and every time the doors opened he was jostled by yet more commuters and had to clutch desperately onto the hand rail. As each new commuter entered the carriage the soft odour of cheap perfume and cologne mingled with the whiff of fast food, remnants of cigarette smoke, undertones of vomit and the faint scent of urine which complemented the overwhelmingly heaving stench of human sweat. The minister hid his little wet nose under the lapel of his wax jacket and began to count the stops. He lost his copy of Country Life Magazine at Oxford Circus, he stared at it forlornly as it slid into ‘the gap’ far out of reach. He muttered angrily to himself but decided he would buy another copy to finish reading that interview.
Finally, the minister emerged onto the streets of Pimlico, tired, ruffled and hot. He breathed in the air and made a mental note that he must do something about air pollution. The putrid, synthetic fug was making him quite dizzy. He made three attempts to hire a taxi and although they each slowed down, they sped away again rather quickly.
“Lovely day for a walk,” he said, supressing a little cough and putting his right foot forward. Determinedly he admired the spring blossoms along the tree lined streets as he made the familiar journey to the ‘Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’. The minister checked his watch ‘Not too shabby,’ he thought, if he kept a good pace he’d still make it for the last few minutes of the meeting and if they had an ounce of sense amongst them they would have delayed the start of it so he should still be able to put his oar in.
The weight of his wax jacket on top of his suit and newly acquired fur was beginning to get rather stifling, that combined with the effort of walking on two legs was causing the minister to get rather overcome with the heat, however he found that if he stuck his tongue out every now and again it was really quite refreshing, although he did get the odd look here and there.
At last the familiar buildings loomed above him, he sighed in relief. The misery of the trains and the horror of the morning could be forgotten about, permanently filed under ‘piffle’ in his brain, just as soon as he got through this meeting. He could then go for lunch, talk over a few ideas and get himself back to normality, maybe take the afternoon off; the stress was probably getting to him.
He struggled with the heavy doors but once through the familiar smell of the building greeted his glistening nostrils; musty carpet squares, bleach, and the vague sense that something somewhere was rotting, was all somehow stronger today. He gave the security desk a dismissive wave and headed off to the meeting room.
“Morning, Dan,” he said as he bustled in and threw his papers on to the desk, “George, Ponsonby, sorry I’m late, just had a little car trouble.” The Farming Minister tried to look casual as he heaved himself, using all four paws, onto the chair and sat facing the others, who all stared at him with faces of shock, disturbance and confusion.
“What’s the joke?” he asked.
Not taking his eyes from the enormous and fully clothed badger, Ponsonby fumbled for his phone, “Bronwyn,” he whispered, “We’ve got another one, fetch the lads would you…. no the other lads, there’s a good girl.”
“Gents?” the minister asked again, “What’s the joke?” He tried grinning at them but they recoiled suddenly.
“This one looks vicious!” George said, quietly picking up his papers, “It’s a good thing the Minister’s not here to see it, he’d go ape-shit.”
George and Ponsonby and edged away from the badger back towards the wall using their briefing papers as shields.
“What do you mean! I AM here?!”
“Do you think it’s that ruddy Blessed again?” Dan asked, tentatively.
“It’s always one of the Brian’s,” Ponsonby replied grimly, “but they’ve never sent in a clothed one before, it’s bloody disturbing.”
“Don’t take your eyes off it,” George said, his voice becoming slightly high pitched “They are ferocious little bastards, saw one take out a whole pack of hunting dogs once, nightmarish.”
“Wasn’t that in an animation you made about the danger of bTB?”
“Yeah, it kept me awake for weeks.”
“Gents?” the Minister said, his voice weak, “It’s me, your minister! You can stop the banter now lads!” he forced a laugh, “Jokes over!”
“He’s one hell of a growler isn’t he?”
The minister puckered his noise and sniffed. He was sure he could smell - what was it exactly? - fear.
“Now what’s all this fuss—” Bronwyn stopped mid-sentence as she caught sight of the badger in the minister’s chair. “Not this shit again!” She turned to the licensed free shooter she’d been asked to bring with her, “Get ‘im lads!”
“No!” the Minister recoiled and fell off the spinning chair, landing with a thump, he scrabbled around trying to get his footing, trying to remember how to walk on two legs, but the panic was making him forget, he pressed himself against the wall, “It’s me!” he screeched, “The Minister!”
“It’s a live wire this one,” said the free shooter as he loaded his rifle, “I’m used to shooting the buggers in cages, but this’ll have to do.”
“It’s me,” whined the minister, pathetically, knowing his pitiful protest was no good, “I am the Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment... Member of Parliament for Totley in the Wold... Front bencher... I am a man! I deserve—”
He was shot twice in the chest and fell, whimpering, to the floor where he was kicked hard in the stomach.
“That’ll show him,” snarled Ponsonby.
About the author
As well as contributing to Disclaimer, Holly has published several comic short stories with Black Coffey, and has been known to write and perform stand-up comedy at festivals and charity gigs. Her first play for the radio is in production with Frequency Theatre, and she is currently working on a full-length play for the stage.
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