The private secretary knocked on his leader’s door and stepped into his office. He stopped when he saw the leader face-down across his desk, his highly polished shoes resting on the window sill.
“Sir, are you all right?” he asked anxiously.
“Come in Nigel,” said the leader calmly. “I’m fine. I’m training to be New Zealand’s top plonker.”
“Top what?” asked the staffer.
“You know — one of those young people who lie on the parapets of buildings and other strange places. Then they put their pictures on Spaceface or whatever it’s called.”
“Ah, I think you mean Facebook sir,” murmured the official.
“And,” he added after a moment, “you are planking I believe, not plonking … except perhaps in the polls.”
The leader turned his head and glared at his staffer.
“That’s the point,” he said. “I’m so far down in the polls that I’ve got to change my image. It’s the young vote we need. Everyone else has given up on us.
“If the PM’s spotty-faced son can get himself on the front page of the country’s biggest newspaper for just lying across the settee in his lounge, surely to God I can do something that will get me national TV coverage. Maybe even a clip on the interlock.
“Ah, that’s internet sir,” murmured the staffer. He quietly closed the door as he heard footsteps coming down the corridor. He didn’t want anyone to see his leader in this position.
The staffer cleared his throat. “You did try the hair-dying thing to make yourself look younger but that didn’t really produce a spike in your popularity ratings sir,” he ventured.
“That was the wife’s idea,” snapped the leader. “I wanted to do Botox but she said it would be too obvious if my eyebrows suddenly vanished into my scalp overnight.”
“Women MPs can suddenly look like badgers that’ve fallen into a vat of bleach and nobody blinks an eye. But I sneak a dab of Just For Men on my silver-tinged scalp and the bloody Press Gallery goes bananas.”
“Anyway, relax Nigel,” said the leader. “This plonking business is all part of my cunning plan to wipe the smirk off the face of the PM right on the eve of the polls.
“In the meantime, can you jiggle my right leg, it’s gone numb.”
On the ninth floor of the Beehive a short distance away across parliament grounds, the PM hastily put down a glossy BMW accessories catalogue as a gentle knock came on his door.
His chief of staff poked his head in. “Seen the latest polls sir?” he asked eagerly.
“No but frankly I’m beyond caring,” yawned the PM. “I’ve tried scaring them with threats of asset sales, excessive overseas borrowing, cut-crystal glasses and infrared seat warmers in the next fleet of Beamers and even a photo of that halfwit son of mine, Mad Max, parked halfway between the Lay-Z-Boy and the Italian settee … and they still love me,” he said with a goofy grin.
“There’s only one thing that can stop a landslide win in November.”
“Our huge borrowing programme coupled with the growing cost of Christchurch’s reconstruction sir? asked the official.
“No, you idiot. Ritchie McCaw’s ankle injury. That could cost us dearly in a few months.”
“The public surely won’t blame us for that,” said the staffer.
“Of course not,” snapped the PM. “I’m talking about our rugby chances. Nobody cares about the election.”
“Ah, you mean in that world sporting event that’s costing taxpayers a small fortune and whose name we dare not mention?” asked the staffer.
“Exactly,” said the PM.
“While we’re on that subject,” said the official, “there’s something here I think you should read. It’s a report from OSH about potential hazards and necessary precautionary measures related to the aforementioned world sporting event.”
The PM’s fixed smile faded. He looked at the cover of the thick volume, the sharp edges of its pages carefully filed off to avoid paper cuts and its covers made from soft pliable cardboard.
“Who asked that lot for their opinion?” growled the PM.
“Nobody sir, they always look at the potential risks of…well anything we do in this country,” replied the staffer. “It’s not good reading. They are insisting on seatbelts for everyone seated at a stadium during the preliminary rounds of the cup and full rally harnesses for the final. They’ve done some research which shows that whiplash injuries, heart attacks, burst blood vessels and claims for loss of voice skyrocket during All Black test matches.”
The PM stared at the staffer in disbelief; his mind suddenly blank.
“There’s more sir,” the staffer said. “They want the Government to subsidise airbags for people at home who will be watching the games on TV. Their figures show that 68% of dislocated backs, 46% of wonky knee complaints and 89% of cuts caused by flying glass from shattered TV screens in New Zealand homes can be directly related to poor refereeing in Tri-Nation rugby matches in the past three years.”
The PM groaned. Bloody OSH. He wasn’t even allowed to carry a cup of coffee along the corridor to his office these days in case he scalded himself or tripped and emptied the contents over a parliamentary messenger.
“And finally sir, they want to appoint their own staff as referees.”
“What?” roared the PM.
“They say they can’t fund the growing list of sports injuries and want to scrap all lineouts, scrums, tackles, mauls, plus all forms of kicking —- and no sprints because of the high risk of hamstring injuries.
“Naturally the haka is a complete no-no as well. Overstretched eyeballs, groin strains and tongue strains seem to be the big worries there.”
The PM glared at the report on his desk.“Shred it,” he said, “before anyone else sees it.”
“Too late I’m afraid sir,” said the staffer.
“The report has already been leaked to the Opposition and their leader’s come up with an alternative world event that can be held with minimal risk to participants and spectators alike. He plans to represent New Zealand in it himself.
“In fact, I understand he’s training for it in his office as we speak.”