Home | Short Stories | Nº 83 – Summing Up: a Pen-Pusher’s Life.
A Satire by Theobald Tiger

Nº 83 – Summing Up: a Pen-Pusher’s Life.
A Satire by Theobald Tiger

Saturday 17 th April 2021

This week, on returning home from the post office, where I keep a P.O. box which I pay an annual fee of 60 euro plus 23 % VAT for, I found a letter outside my front door. The letter had been artfully placed at right angles next to the foot mat. There it lay on the naked step, and I was asking myself which civil servant (or subcontracted company) might have left their office to head out into the fresh air to my place to tell me in this manner that once more, as happens every ten years, the population was to be counted? According to the latest calculations Portugal had 10,295,909 inhabitants, of which 4,859,977 were men, and, you guessed it, 5,435,932 women. This is high-level maths. What do these numbers tell us, and, putting the question differently, is there life beyond these figures, and if so, what does this life look like?

Instructions for right-handed folks.

Some journalists take a great deal of care in preparing their work. They look at what’s behind these numbers. Before a scheduled interview they write down their questions to the civil servant, deputy or minister on a white piece of paper, numbering them before sending them by email. I have a lot of respect for honest work. Yet I have to say, dear colleagues, today, in times of democracy, numbering the questions is no longer necessary. Occasionally it is still, or once again possible to conduct interviews face to face. This is where in reality we journalists differ from the civil servants. To conduct good and interesting interviews is part of the high art of being a journalist. You can learn that at journalism colleague and also in daily life, working in direct contact with people. Just make up a crib sheet with no more than five words on it, and when off to interview the prime minister, for example, keep the paper in your right-hand trouser pocket. These are the instructions for right-hand folks. And then just ask, simply and directly. Even with a face mask on. Dare to have courage. Try it. The same applies to an interview with Joe or Jane Bloggs, or, as it were, with a civil servant.

What else did I want to say? Oh yes, demographics is an interesting task. Because free speech goes hand in hand with free thinking, it in turn requires a solid base. This base is fresh air, the fourth element alongside solid ground, a glass of water and a well-measured dose of fire under the backside. You have to burn with desire for your job as a journalist. The same should hold true for civil servants by the way. Now at this point I wanted to prepare an interview with a civil servant working for the Instituto Nacional de Estatística, conducting the census. Fresh air is a fluid thing, bringing reality a little closer to people. Which is why I find it laudable that a civil servant or similar placed this letter at my door. Even in times of a highly contagious disease fresh air is an elixir of high quality. Access to fresh air and having both feet firmly planted on the ground keeps you healthy in body and mind. Good soil helps with a secure footing. There is nothing better for a good and free-thinking journalist than fresh air and a firm grounding to think about conducting a good interview with a civil servant. If we think about the civil servant to be interviewed and about what else we could improve in our state, we remember the direct and honest contact that the civil servant might have with their regular citizens. A home visit to the citizen, with a cup of coffee? Let’s not exaggerate. Shame that the letter was not handed to me in person. I haven’t opened it yet. Civil servants are indeed a very particular species.

What else did I want to say? Oh yes, demographics is an interesting task. Because free speech goes hand in hand with free thinking, it in turn requires a solid base. This base is fresh air, the fourth element alongside solid ground, a glass of water and a well-measured dose of fire under the backside. You have to burn with desire for your job as a journalist. The same should hold true for civil servants by the way. Now at this point I wanted to prepare an interview with a civil servant working for the Instituto Nacional de Estatística, conducting the census. Fresh air is a fluid thing, bringing reality a little closer to people. Which is why I find it laudable that a civil servant or similar placed this letter at my door. Even in times of a highly contagious disease fresh air is an elixir of high quality. Access to fresh air and having both feet firmly planted on the ground keeps you healthy in body and mind. Good soil helps with a secure footing. There is nothing better for a good and free-thinking journalist than fresh air and a firm grounding to think about conducting a good interview with a civil servant. If we think about the civil servant to be interviewed and about what else we could improve in our state, we remember the direct and honest contact that the civil servant might have with their regular citizens. A home visit to the citizen, with a cup of coffee? Let’s not exaggerate. Shame that the letter was not handed to me in person. I haven’t opened it yet. Civil servants are indeed a very particular species.

 

Avoiding critical situations

We’re talking about money, right? Have you as a regular tax payer visited a town hall, an Inland Revenue or Social Security office, the police or a court for professional reasons? Have you been to school in Portugal or have you visited a hospital? Two thirds of our working population are employed in the public service sector, being exposed to an invisible peril, nearly all day long: the inhalation of CO2-saturated air, which contains ever less oxygen towards evening and creates the danger of limiting the thought process to a worrying degree when the windows are closed all day long. And this apparently happens five days a week. All this, they reported, leaves marks. You become slower, they said, independent thinking becoming more difficult the less oxygen in the air. This is supposedly the reason why a large part of the authorities in our country have decided to close their doors to the public as early as 4pm.

Our municipality is home to not even 6,041 people. Most have moved away. Many are already living and working abroad. For those of us left behind, only one major employer remains, and that’s the town hall. However, the state needs to know the exact data. It wants to count its people, as those who have emigrated no longer appear in the stats. This means the civil servants are left to count the remaining third: the farmers, craftspeople, the artists and journalists, the active tax payers that we have left in the country.

By the way: I like the idea of taking government officials away from their desks a few times a year and send them into a field, as a training tool: press a few seed potatoes or other seeds of edible plants into their hands, to allow them to show and prove to regular citizens that civil servants too – without desk or computer – are able to feed themselves. This of course only in case that the near future will see fewer tax payers paying taxes to finance the remaining two thirds. Summing up: surely, those paying little tax, as little as the law stipulates, cannot be happy with the state of contemporary politics in the nation – or can they?

Theobald Tiger

journalist with investigative research methods, works with a pseudonym and has an unpronounceable name.
The real Theobald Tiger lived from 9 January 1890 (Berlin) to 21 December 1935 (Gothenburg) and worked as a journalist, writer and satirist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobald_Tiger

Fotos: dpa

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