There was a distinct feeling of spring in the air as Provincial Governor Lawrencus Yulus strode out on to his balcony overlooking Hustings. He also had a spring in his step. The drawn-out Battle of Amalgamatus had taken its toll on both his Rusticarian army and that of Napierion’s ruler, Bullish Doltus. Both had retired behind their city walls to lick their wounds.
But on this spring morning in Heretuscany, with a clear blue sky above and a pink patchwork of orchard blossoms stretching across the plains below, an invigorated Lawrencus was looking to the future, not the past.
“We need to do something to bring the people of Heretuscany together, to lift their sagging spirits,” he said to his servant Obsequious, who was hovering nearby with a platter of grapes.
The servant nodded glumly. For several years the threat of amalgamation had hung like the sword of Damocles over hundreds of local body staff in both cities. Files had not been updated, hearings had been indefinitely postponed and pleas from insolvent ratepayers had been ignored. Even chariot parking wardens were issuing infringement notices at half their usual rate.
Lawrencus watched several of his staff trudging slowly into work, their shoulders slumped and their heads low.
“We need to win the hearts and minds of our citizens,” he said.
Obsequious held out the platter of grapes.
“Perhaps we could hold a big party, like those bacchanalian orgies the senators in Rome enjoy,” he suggested.
“Lots of wine, women and song, plus a few sheep.”
Lawrencus looked at him thoughtfully but then shook his head.
“A nice idea but not good for my image,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I was thinking of taking a leaf out of the Greeks’ books.”
Obsequious gave a start, scattering grapes down the front of his robes.
“The Greeks? You mean borrow huge amounts of money, spend it like a drunken sailor on grandiose projects and leave the citizens with a debt mountain the size of Vesuvius?”
Lawrencus glared at the man.
“Of course not. Anyway I’ve already done that. What I was thinking about is some sort of games, like those Olympics the Greeks used to run every four years. They were pretty popular in their day.”
Obsequious, who was shaking several grapes out of his neckline, looked up.
“You might have a few problems running them the Greek way,” he said.
“For a starter, women weren’t allowed to attend the Greek Olympics and all the male athletes had to compete stark naked. Frankly, big naked hairy men wrestling with each other, clutching their javelins and pole vaulting would hardly be a drawcard for most people. Mind you, the hurdle events would be entertaining.”
Lawrencus frowned and scratched his head. Obsequious was right. Watching naked men wrestling was not what he had in mind. Quite the contrary. Then he had an idea.
“Why not make them The Political Games, using the administrative staff from Hustings, Napierion and the Regional Forum as the athletes – with their clothes on of course. Make them compete against each other for a handful of jobs.
“It’s high time some of them got out of the office and found out what it’s like to appear in front of angry citizens baying for blood, like I have to all the time.”
His servant nodded slowly. The prospect of nervous bureaucrats battling for their jobs in front of a howling mob of spectators certainly had its appeal.
Lawrencus was thinking hard now, ideas tumbling through his mind.
“Only the first three place-getters will get to keep their jobs. We’ll call it a performance incentive. That way we can pay for the games out of the salaries we’ll save by getting rid of the also-rans.”
He turned to Obsequious, who was prising a grape out of his sandal.
“Prepare me a list of events for the inaugural Political Games of Heretuscany,” he ordered.
Three days later there was a timid tap on his chamber door. Obsequious put his head around the doorway.
“I have that list of events sire,” he said.
“We can open the Political Games with a bit of blood sport to get the crowd warmed up. Perhaps we could set our impounded dogs on to the citizens who owe the greatest amount in unpaid rates. That would not only be a crowd-pleaser but a salutary lesson for all non-payers.”
Lawrencus nodded. He liked the way the fellow thought.
“Then we could have a march past of all the employees of the various councils, with treasurers leading the way followed by town planners, assistant planners, roading engineers, building inspectors, team leaders, project leaders, department managers, assistant managers, personnel managers, communication managers, gardeners, librarians, parking wardens, cleaners and caterers. I estimate that will occupy a whole day so we’ll have to exclude consultants.
“The first event on the programme will feature a contortion test. Town planners from each council will have one hour to translate a report and its recommendations into plain English.”
“Excellent!” chuckled Lawrencus. “I can’t see any of them managing that but it will be enjoyable watching them try.”
“Then will come The Nitpickathon,” said Obsequious, who was feeling rather pleased with himself.
“The what?” asked Lawrencus.
“A contest for building inspectors who will have 10 minutes to examine a perfectly built villa and find 50 things they want changed.”
Lawrencus rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Fifty sounds too easy for that lot. They can manage that in five minutes. Make it 100,” he said.
Obsequious made a careful note.
“The next event will be the Ticketathon, where parking wardens will have to write out as many tickets as they can during a gruelling 26-mile endurance race around both cities.”
Lawrencus frowned slightly.
“That should be a walkover for the Napierion wardens. They’ve been training for this sort of thing for years. I hear they get through several tonnes of chalk a year marking chariot wheels.”
“And finally,” said Obsequious, “we’ll end the games with The Golden Handshake event where the chief executives of each council will compete to see who can come up with the most lucrative salary package in the shortest time, while simultaneously applying for six other jobs.”
Lawrencus stood up, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
“I feel better already,” he said.
“Let the games begin.”