Chapter 1 - 'Operation Cockleshell'Grindstone stood under the big chandelier outside the prime minister's office nervously picking at the string tie keeping the increasingly obese folder clutched to his chest. He knew he should not be the one briefing the prime minister, he was the Department of Internal affairs resident lackey who even the tea lady looked down upon. The senior civil servant, Sir Nigel de Woodehead, had thrown a 'sicky' and headed off to Bermuda for his health. His number two, Madeleine Cakes, was having her hair done and could not be contacted. The remaining 10 civil servants ahead of Grindstone in the departmental pecking order had taken one look at the brief and headed off to far more important meetings on such diverse matters as legalising the police use of oysters for gathering information or just how long should a community sentence for 'leaving your rubbish bin top open' be. In this way the civil service grinds small until even the tea lady refused the job and it was left to Grindstone to brief the prime minister.
So here he was, standing out side yet another head master's office, on the wrong side of yet another potential beating. His father had been all for the 'public school ethic' and believed it would make a 'man' young N. T. T. Grindstone. Thus just as soon as it was legal Grindstone was dispatched to boarding school and the hell of unthinking parents and the initials they lumber you with. Unsurprisingly the spotty eight year old Grindstone was quickly named 'Nose' by his peers and the teaching staff, his fate was sealed and he became that student who was always working, never having 'fun' and a permanent excuse to 'miss games' - the school nerd.
This would have been well and good if Grindstone had achieved the grades his diligence should have delivered but by the time of 'O' levels the teaching staff were perplexed as to just what Grindstone had been studying, given his barely passable grades. His A levels were equally undistinguished and instead of Oxbridge and a position as the high flyer in the civil service, his father had envisaged for him, it had been a case of scraping into the least distinguished red brick University which would have him and a MA Hons 2 class 3. A previously unknown class of degree the University created for Grindstone out of embarrassment, in acknowledgement of his effort versus his achievement. Grindstone was certain the civil service had only taken him out of sympathy for his old school and now deranged father. A father who had realised Grindstone would never become a knight of the realm and unlikely to even get an MBE - having stated this as the reason for his suicide in the early 80's. Grindstone had thought this declaration just a tad unfair as when acting as executor for his father's estate he discovered the old man was bankrupt twice over and facing two court cases - one for bigamy and the other relating to his time as the local Scout Master. Once again Grindstone's diligence to his father's wishes had drawn a blank as when the manor house, grounds and other remaining assets around Barnsley had been sold, Grindstone had been left to pay the legal fees of some £5,000 from his own savings.
Grindstone knew he would get no gong, Sir Nigel had already told him the next MBE given to the Department was already tagged for the tea lady (equal opportunities and all that, old boy), so it was very unlikely he would even get one prior to his early retirement in three years time at the age of 55 - Sir Nigel had been very insistent that Grindstone applied for early retirement at the first opportunity. Yet here he was waiting for a blind fold, a post and a firing party, a situation far more preferable than telling the prime minister just what was in this brief.
The Honourable Julian Cambourne was not a happy man. Dickie, who had been his fag at Eton and in the same stair at Cambridge, had just popped in from number eleven to tell him the Treasury had some how mislaid around £40 billion pounds of tax payers' money. He was hoping it was a case of a wrong decimal point but 'not to worry' his team were 'on it' and working out a good line to use to blame the previous government's incumbent at number eleven - old 'Foxy' Daring (a non Etonian - boo but had been on the same stair at Cambridge - so not all bad).
Now there was some 'oik' from a minor public school and a third rate red brick university with an MA (2.3) in 'Coronation Street', outside with what could not be in any shape or form 'good news'. The briefer was of a level in the civil service which never normally ventured from under their stone. Cambourne's private parliamentary secretary had tried to get hold of Sir Nigel in Bermuda but Sir Nigel's wife had firmly and caustically stated that Sir Nigel was incapacitated and could not come to the phone. Cambourne realised if his old mentor from Cambridge and their Gray's Inn Chambers was that drunk, it had to be buttock clenchingly serious.
Cambourne's natural instinct was to slip out of the back door of number ten and avoid the messenger. A quick check had indicated maybe that would not be a good idea as he was told journalists from the Telegraph, Financial Times and Robert Peston were waiting to pounce - they must already have wind of the missing £40 billion thought Cambourne. The escape routes via number eleven were also being watched. Maybe he could get his chief whip to call him to the 'House' for an urgent meeting with back benchers; that would do it, surely. His PPS made the call. The answer came back - don't under any circumstances. The 1922 Committee have wind of Dickie's latest foul up and are not happy bunnies - they would love to meet with you and Dickie. The talk is of wooden stakes and silver bullets.
Between a rock and a hard place was where the prime minister found himself. Maybe his PPS could take the briefing but Crambourne looked at the flimsy, top secret - Prime Minster's eyes and ears only. Maybe his PPS could persuade this Internal Ministry 'oik' to leave the file for later perusal by the prime minister which would allow it to be filed under pending for a few days until the '£40 billion missing' fiasco calmed down. No, it definitely states that this Grindstone chap has to hand the brief to the Prime Minister's hands directly and await instructions. Who else could Cambourne shift the 'buck' on to? Internal affairs? Surely that is the province of the Home Secretary, the rabid right wing woman who makes Mrs Thatcher (of beloved memory) look like a rampaging socialist. A phone call later and it appeared the Home Secretary did know in outline what the brief was about but had it made clear to her, by Sir Nigel, it was something she should leave to the prime minister for any substantive decision and action.
"Remind me again, Dan, just what is the SAS doing deployed in the Scottish Borders, with out informing the military HQ in Scotland, right by the main transmission line to England?"
Dan Defoe risked disturbing their camouflage by stretching his toes in his boots, it had been nearly four hours since his last stretch, so he felt he could relax a bit.
"Search me, Rod, must be some anti terrorist exercise where we are supposed to be blowing up the power line from Scotland to England and currently the civil authorities are supposed to be searching for us. Need to know ..."
"That's probably it then Dan, ..... need to know. Its just why do we have enough demolition chord to take out a mile of pylons?"
Gemima Grayling sat with her team in Bute House looking out the window over the Georgian Square which epitomised Edinburgh's New Town, while her advisers were telling her the interesting snippet that the Treasury had misplaced £40 billion, around about the same amount as she and her government had in pocket money from the UK treasury to run Scotland. Her advisors were telling her their sources in the UK Treasury knew where the £40 billion had gone. Apparently it was in a loan to Greece via France to cover the French banks massive exposure to the impending Greek default. The reality was the cash had never left France so was artificially making the French Government and Bourse's support for the Euro look in a stronger position than it actually was. The real problem her team had identified was the new socialist President of France did not like the idea of being beholden to 'Les Rostbifs' and wanted the money returned to the UK or used for the purpose it had been borrowed - to lend onto the Greeks. There was a lot of Gallic shrugging by the moneymen and women accompanied with lots of 'Mais non Monsieur President, c'est ne pas vrai! C'est difficile, non - c'est impossible'. The answers the President received to his 'Pourquoi?' did not make him a happy man. By all accounts his predecessor had already spent the lot on the next generation nuclear plants in France, in a secret deal with the UK Government to keep the lights on in London via the HVDC inter-connector. A deal the Honourable Dickie Flint had apparently happily signed off, after a few snifters, along with other 'Treasury' specials at the same time. One of those 'specials', an additional payment to Internal Affairs 'special fund' rang alarm bells in Gemima and her team's heads, they knew about 'Cockleshell'.
Grindstone's lower back was aching and he was starting to get cramp in the back of his calves. He instinctively knew this was part of the routine to impress on you just how busy the prime minister is and partly to see just how important the message you had to deliver actually was. Considering how junior he was, as a civil servant, he guessed he would have to stand there for at least an hour past the stated time of his appointment. For the same reason, he assumed, there was no chance of him ever being offered a seat or a cup of tea and a biscuit. Just as the arms of his fake Rolex indicated he had, indeed, been kept waiting an hour - the door to the Cabinet Office opened and the prime minister's PPS waved him in and sat Grindstone opposite the seat he knew had seen the backsides of all the prime minister of his lifetime. Cambourne entered, Grindstone stood up, Cambourne said "Well?" and Grindstone told him, "To save the Union it was time to activate operation 'Cockleshell'." Three minutes later Grindstone was heading back to the Internal Ministry with a less than definitive answer from the prime minister of, "OK, I suppose we must - see to it, my good man."