Few of life’s problems cannot be resolved by dipping into a West Wing Box set. From accidentally sleeping with a call girl to invading other sovereign jurisdictions the answers are all there.
My favourite character is CJ played by the incomparable Allison Janney. She is everything a slightly frayed public servant could wish for as a role model. Smart. Funny. Compassionate. Passionate. Sensitive. And, of course, at the end of the final series leaving The White House for somewhere new.
I was reminded a lot today of the changes facing the characters as a new regime arrives at The White House. People who have been used to working flat-out suddenly find themselves without a job. And CJ quietly slipping out of The White House is asked if she works there and is able, for the first time in eight years to say, ‘No’. (No, no one was outside to ask me if I worked in the office block I just left.)
There was an air of that today as we gathered to deposit our masters’ goods and chattels.
Some colleagues looked as if a huge weight had been lifted from their shoulders simply by laying down their laptop bags. But for most of us it was a case of quiet mingling, the occasional joke and a gentle ebbing away of the last hours and minutes of our current service.
Some colleagues planned to have a last drink at lunchtime before heading off in our different directions. I thought that I might go depending on how I felt. My mind was made up by being taken aside by a representative from a whole gang of folks with whom I had worked. They had had a collection and wanted to give me a card. Because of the circumstances they had decided to send one person because they thought that would be best.
It was difficult. I had not bargained on this having been worried about any potential senior management glad-handing. It’s strange how kindness can be so unsettling. It would have been easier to have had a pack of baying small-staters hooting and pointing with derision. But kindness … ? Altogether a much more powerful and daunting sensation.
I couldn’t open the card on the spot. Instead I made small talk as long as I could before making a bolt for it.
It all taught me that my feelings about my employer, my redundancy and the public realm in general are all pretty tangled up. But I have a brief period of grace to sort my head out and prepare for a whole new world. And, of course, I know that I am so much luckier than many former colleagues and other public servants out there.
On my way home I distracted myself by stopping off to visit a small local museum I have been meaning to visit for ages. I find the past a restful place to contemplate the present. I was struck by a Roman artefact, a small altar erected by some unknown person 2000 years ago, ‘that the gods should be kind …’ Well I think I had recovered enough to capture a little of that unknown Roman’s instinct to propitiate the Fates.
In ending there is beginning and here I am poised on the edge of whatever happens next. So I’m going to try looking forward now more often than I look back. Here goes …