Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Once there was a beautiful princess who worked in an enchanted little hospital. This hospital was run by three Fairies: a Head Nurse Fairy who looked after the nurses, a Head Doctor Fairy who looked after the doctors and a kindly Administrator Fairy who looked after everyone else, including the princess.
The hospital was a happy place because the Fairies knew every nook and cranny. And there were nooks and crannies a-plenty as the hospital was housed in beautiful red and cream bricked villas which had been spaced out in wooded grounds, to minimise the spread of infectious diseases. This did mean that patients sometimes had to be moved between villas, to have physiotherapy, perhaps, or magical x-rays. So if it were raining, they might get a little damp but at least they could hear the birds sing and smell the fir trees.
The princess was happy working as the little hospital’s Personnel Manager, partly because she had a lovely secretary who took shorthand dictation, partly because she had her own office with a carpet and pot plants, but mostly because she had a swivelly chair.
Now you might think that having a hospital in wooded grounds was asking for trouble when it came to keeping it clean. Luckily, the hospital had its own team of elves who walked in each day from their nearby toadstools and worked hard to keep the place magnificently clean. If the evil goblins tried to sneak MRSA or C Diff onto the wards, the elves made sure they had nowhere to hide. And the princess’s office was kept spotless by her own friendly elf who would empty the bin and wipe down the swivelly chair.
Alas, it came to pass that a wicked witch took over the running of the land and her eye came to rest on all the little enchanted hospitals. “These elves are taking too much gold,” snarled the witch. “What do they think this is – an elf service?” And the witch decreed that there should be a competition to see which elves could work the fastest for the smallest amount of gold.
The Fairies were sore afraid because they loved their elves and they tried to figure out how to win the competition. However, a Blue Meanie had his eye on the enchanted little hospital and realised that this could be a good way to make a fast buck. He sent rumours and whispers and conjectures into the woods and these soon wormed their ways into the ears of the elves.
Eventually, the Fairies figured out how the elves could be reorganised to give them the best chance to win the competition. So they held a big meeting and carefully explained their plan to the elves. And they asked the elves to vote to agree to the plan so that their jobs could be saved.
But the elves answered: “La de da, we’re not listening to you! For we have been told that if the Blue Meanie wins the competition then we will be given bags of redundancy gold to spend.”
“But what about your jobs!” gasped the horrified Fairies.
“La de da, we’re not listening to you!” retorted the elves. “For we have been told that the Blue Meanie will give us jobs. So then we’ll have jobs and bags of gold.”
“But you’ll get less money for more hours,” the Fairies warned. “And you won’t have sick pay or holiday pay or a pension scheme. What about your job security? “
“La de da, you are just scaremongering. We don’t believe you,” replied the elves, for they could now see nothing but the promise of gold. Which was not surprising, because illustrations of bags of gold were now pasted on walls and on newspapers and even on the sides of buses.
The Fairies were very distressed and they kept trying to explain to the elves why it would be best for them to agree to the plan and stay working at the hospital. They explained it at meetings. They wrote personal letters. They got all the great, wise people they knew to explain the plan to the elves. But the elves wouldn’t listen for their ears were now stuffed with the prospect of gold and they were beyond reason.
As the day of the competition got closer, the beautiful princess became very unhappy because she was sore afraid about what would happen to the elves. And sure enough, the Blue Meanie submitted his plan for keeping the hospital clean with fewer, cheaper elves. The witch looked at the plan with delight and, in a scarily low voice, she declared this to be the winner.
The elves rejoiced at the thought of their bags of gold. Then they went and asked the Blue Meanie for jobs.
“Some of you can have jobs,” said the Blue Meanie. “This is what we will pay you; this is what you will have to do and, of course, you will not have an entitlement to sick or holiday pay or pension rights.”
“But, but, but,” spluttered the elves. “That’s less money that we got before! And for much more work! We thought that things would go on the same but with extra bags of gold.”
“You made your choice,” laughed the Blue Meanie. “Now, take it or leave it.”
And the Fairies wept sorely as, from the corner of their eyes, they could see the goblins preparing to sneak into the hospital and cause misery. And the princess had to sack all the elves, and, not long after that, all the cooks. Eventually, she decided to stop being a personnel manager and went to train as a teacher instead, where she might not have a swivelly chair but at least she wasn’t sacking people.
So, in the long run, it did turn out happily ever after for the princess, who loved being a teacher and was soon working in an enchanted little school. Which was just as well as, by then, the enchanted little hospital had been closed and the land sold to a property developer.
But from time to time, something reminds her of the day she had to sack her own office elf. Of how her office elf had cried and how she’d said she didn’t realise what would happen when she’d voted not to support the Fairies’ plan. And of how bloody frustrating it was when all potential for reasonable debate was swept away with by the promise of bags of gold.
And then the princess is sore afraid, again.