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If You Ask Me: The Jobsworth and the Frog

There is a malaise creeping through society whereby authorities and businesses use absurd interpretations of regulations as excuses not to provide services or assistance, writes Flo Whitaker

I recently visited a publicly-funded resource centre and asked to display a poster. The poster advertised a talk about wildlife ponds and featured the usual what/where/when information, along with a picture of frog.

“Hmmm - not sure, I’ll have to speak to my manager”, came the response.

Me, bemused, “Why’s that?”

“Well, it might be considered improper content”.

“Eh? I understand you have an ethics code to follow, but how can this be unacceptable? It’s a poster about ponds - with a picture of a frog”.

“Yes, but your event may not meet our strict protocols”, said the by-now bristling jobsworth.

“Well, I suppose the image could be deemed offensive”, I mused. “Frogs are outrageously promiscuous and their parenting skills are appalling - they’re probably on drugs and benefits too”.

“Like I said, I’ll have to ask my manager,” intoned the jobsworth, shoving the potentially inflammatory poster into a file, which I assume was labelled ‘confidential shredding’.

Sensing defeat, I decided on one last try, arranged my features into a winning smile, (although, by now, my face probably resembled a rictus grin of the sort depicted on Victorian lunatic asylum mugshots) and enquired, “Perhaps this is a staffing or funding issue?”

The jobsworth, doubtless resisting the temptation to ask, “Are you still here?”, managed an eye-rolling “Wot?”

I continued, “If your drawing pin budget is depleted – never fear, as I’ve bought my own, (cheerfully rattling my drawing pin tin for effect). Furthermore, to avoid inconveniencing you, I am volunteering to walk from your desk here to the community notice board over there and put up the poster”.

“We’re not allowed drawing pins, cos of Health and Safety.”

Trammelled by pettifogging bureaucracy, I departed, feeling like a character in a Kafka novel. Except Franz would have probably dismissed the scenario as far too ludicrous and bizarre.

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