20th September

General Incompetence

General Incompetence was planning his next campaign. He wanted it to be a good one. In particular, he wanted to gain the greatest amount of something in return for the smallest amount of something else. He couldn’t remember the exact formula, but territory, casualties, collateral damage, direct hits, political approval and political embarrassment all came into it.

There was a knock at the door. ‘Come in,’ he barked. (He had learned how to do this at Sandhurst.) His trusty comrade Major Disaster entered. Disaster was a smart-looking chap but you never quite knew what was going on under the surface.

‘What is it, Disaster?’ Incompetence said. ‘Stand easy.’

‘Thank you, sir. Trouble in the ranks, sir. The men are fed up being sent into impossible combat zones underequipped and with no clear objective.’

‘Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but I blame the politicians.’

Major Disaster stood a little less easy and even shuffled his boots. ‘Sir – the troops blame you. I understand how difficult your position is, but the men on the ground don’t care. They’ve begun to take their frustrations out on the local population. There have been a couple of nasty incidents, sir.’

‘Good lord, Disaster!’

‘Exactly, sir. I have taken action, sir. Corporal Punishment has been arrested and I’ve been liaising with Marshall Arts to give the men some therapy, which has resulted in Private Anguish and Private Remorse being released.’

‘I don’t approve of that, Disaster. There were very sound reasons for Anguish and Remorse being locked up. And you know I disapprove of Arts. We can’t have the men going soft.’

‘I agree, sir. These are only stopgap measures. In the longer term . . .’ ‘Yes?’

‘I think you may have to go, sir.’

‘You mean resign? The army without General Incompetence? But that’s unthinkable.’

‘Sometimes the unthinkable must be thunk, sir. The Bismarck was once unthinkable.’

‘This is no time for bad puns,’ General Incompetence snapped. (He had learned how to do this at Sandhurst.) He stroked his moustache contemplatively. He was wondering if the Major was quite so trusty after all. Perhaps a coup was being planned. Perhaps Disaster would succeed Incompetence. It would not be the first time.

Reader: Matthew Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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