It's the Ministry of silly sundries

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Roger is a civil servant at the Ministry of Sundries, where he is known behind his back as the Permanent Private Under-Achiever. The Ministry of Sundries is the ministry that deals with everything that other ministries balk at dealing with, like handing out knighthoods in return for party funds. Roger has just offered a knighthood to wealthy businessman Damian Conyers. Conyers has refused it. Roger is baffled. So is the Minister. NOW READ ON.

''We can't have people refusing titles. Remind me why he refused it,'' said the Minister.

''The letter from Conyers just says, 'Dear Sir, I herewith return your offer of a knighthood. It is very nice of you to think of me, but I have always felt that a title was rather like a toupee - ridiculous, even when it fitted well. I shall not go on giving vast sums of money to the party coffers if you persist in making trivial gestures like this.' ''

The Minster glowered.

''I have a meeting," he said. ''By the time I come back, I want all record of this Conyers knighthood business destroyed.''

He left the room. Edith and Roger looked at each other for a long time in silence. Finally Edith sighed and then said, ''I've been thinking ...''

'' ... Thinking how unbearable it is working under such a cretin?

''No," said Edith, looking slightly suprised. ''No, I haven't thought about that for a long time. I was thinking about that competition we had the other day about how many new words we could make out of the letters in the word SUNDRIES.''

''We drew at 48 each, didn't we?''

''Yes. But I think I may have won. I've just thought of another one. One we never thought of.''

''Go on.''

''Sundries.''

''That's not a new word! It's the word we started with!''

''No, no, I don't mean the word 'sundries' meaning 'odds and sods'. I mean the word 'sundries', referring to tomatoes.''

''I'm not sure I'm with you.''

''Well, you know what sundried tomatoes are?''

''Yes. Tomatoes that have been dried in the sun. What's that go to do with it?''

''Well, a person who produces sundried tomatoes is someone who sundries them. Sundries! You see? Same letters, different word.''

Roger thought about it.

''If it's spelt the same way, it can't be a different word.''

''Oh, tosh!" exploded Edith. ''You mean, 'grub' meaning 'maggot' is exactly the same word as 'grub' meaning 'food'?''

''Yes," said Roger. ''It's the same word but with two different meanings. Like 'minister'. ''

''What do you mean, like 'minister'?''

''In Scotland, 'minister' has a quite different meaning for people. It has a religious connotation. It means a man whose public pronouncements are taken with deep respect, but which are despised behind his back. Whereas, here in Whitehall a minister is a man whose public pronouncements ...''

''... Are greeted with deep respect, but which are despised behind his back," cut in Edith. ''Sounds like the same word to me!''

Reader, do you get the impression that people in Whitehall ministries spend most of their time talking like the 'Times' crossword puzzle? Me, too. Let us get straight to the plot.

''Anyway, we'd better shred that knighthood folder," said Edith.

''Not on your nelly," said Roger. ''I'm hiding it. Never know when you might need some incriminating documents. What about this old cabinet over here? Nobody ever goes in there.''

He walked over to the corner and pulled open a drawer at random. It was empty, except for a tape-recorder. The tape-recorder was recording. Roger frowned. He stopped it and wound the tape back a bit, then played it at random.

''... Thinking how unbearable it is working under that cretin? " said the tape.

Roger stopped it again.

''My God," he said. ''Someone has been taping our conversation. And it can only be one person. The Minister!''

A reader writes: Hey, what's going on here? I started this political story because I thought it would be full of sex and sleaze! Some hope! It's all been talk so far, and not a single adultery!

The author writes: Just you wait till tomorrow, mate ...

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