Here is a slightly revised version of a very old story, which first appeared in Twitching And Shattered two decades ago. I’m posting it here today for no reason other than mere whim.
Dear Mr Corncrake,
Re : MR B BEWG, 6 DISMAL TERRACE, HOON
Thank you for your letter of 20th July regarding the above-named; I am happy to provide him with a reference.
I have known Mr Bewg for ten years, ever since he took up the position of scrivener, dogsbody and wretch in my vast, gloomy factory perched on the hillside next to the lunatic asylum. At the time I engaged Mr Bewg I suspected that he had some connection with the latter institution, and inÂ the decade since I have had no reason to alter my opinion.
You ask me to comment on my impression of Mr Bewg’s “suitability for the job”. Forgive me if I find this difficult. I do not wish to do violence to our native language, but to use the word “suitability” in conjunction with MrÂ Bewg is to mock the Queen’s English. Indeed, it is to make a mockery of sense itself.
My problems with Mr Bewg began on his very first morning in my employ. To settle him in, I had instructed him to carry out a menial task, removing bits of goo from the interior walls of a vat. To facilitate his progress, he was supplied with a variety of tools, including a pencil-sharpener, a pin-cushion, and a decidedly ferocious blowtorch. No sooner had I turned my back than Mr Bewg became embroiled in a tussle with my pet panther, which – crazed with hunger – managed to slip its leash and embed its razor-sharp fangs in his left leg. For this impertinence I had no option but to dock Mr Bewg his first month’s wages.
It was not a good start, but I had had many a ne’er-do-well working for me in the past, and believed that I could yet mould Mr Bewg into a marginally less repellent specimen of human dregs. To this end, I assigned him to work in the filthiest, dankest wing of the factory, where he was expected to spend all day dragging sacks full of huge iron lumps backwards and forwards in infested tunnels for no apparent purpose. So ineptly did Mr Bewg execute his duties that I was forced to withhold his pay for a further year. I wrung my hands in frustration, but the man was impossible. Given a simple task, he would be utterly incapable of completing it with the requisite speed, good humour and fawning obeisance that one expects.
To take just one example: Mr Bewg failed to budge one particularly heavy sack, containing a score of medium-sized anvils, a single inch, despite being given all of five minutes to drag it two hundred yards along a stinking tunnel in which small bonfires of sulphur had been ignited moments before. I set a wolfhound yapping at his heels, but to no avail. The man was purely and simply work-shy.
But I am a fair employer, and I had no wish to consign him to the scrapheap of the unemployable and useless. Instead, I agreed with Mr Bewg that he could embark upon a training scheme. In return for a modest fee to be paid to me daily, in cash, I offered to provide him with a comprehensive course in a multiplicity of disciplines, both within the factory and in the adjoining administrative hellhole. In the first week alone, we covered a huge range of skills; licking my boots till they shone, prostrating himself on his stomach whenever I came within his sight, and dribbling with happiness at the mention of my name.
At this stage in what can only roughly be called his “career”, Mr Bewg crawled into my palatial office one day to request my assistance with a personal matter. Tempted though I was to have him savaged by mastiffs, I reclined in my unbelievably comfortable executive armchair and heard him out. He confessed that he was in some financial difficulty and begged me to help. Sipping my glass of ruinously expensive wine, I delivered a stern lecture on the virtue of thrift and beat him about the skull with a copy of Self Help by Samuel Smiles. I admitted that I was in a position to repayÂ his paltry debts a billionfold if I was minded to, but that such a course of action Â would not in the long run be of the slightest benefit to him. I then advised him that heÂ could earn a few extra pence by selling various of his bodily organs and thus better hisÂ financial situation while basking in the knowledge that he was being self-reliant rather than coming cap-in-hand to his employer.
To prove my point, I offered to buy one of his kidneys and three pints of his blood on the spot, for which I would pay him fourpence. As the bulk of his debts were monies owed to me, I generously deducted the fourpence from his account. In this way, I was able to relieve him of the responsibility of handling any cash himself, and thereby falling prey to the inevitable temptation to fritter the money away on food, clothing, or medicine. Only after this transaction had taken place did I set the mastiffs on him.
Not long after this incident, Mr Bewg announced that he had found himself Â another job, and wished to resign. lf his inane burbling was to be believed, he had been offered the position of assistant slave at a charnel-house, the main duties being to crawl on his hands and knees in foul pits of ordure. As I listened patiently, he explained that he felt this post would give him opportunities undreamed of in his current position, and that he was prepared to take a cut in salary in order to take up the offer. Poking at him with a stick, I nodded my consent. I had no wish to stand in his way. My only concern was that he would have the decency to fulfil the terms and conditions of his contract before setting off for pastures new. I then reminded him of the form he had signed on his first day at the factory, the main clauses being that in order to leave, he would have to give forty years’ notice and to repay every single penny of his wages since day one. To my surprise, Mr Bewg (who moments before had been adamant that he wished to leave) said that he would like a few days to think about it. Once again I nodded my assent, then summoned fourteen of my myrmidons, who bundled Mr Bewg out of my office and set him to work on his latest task, which was to lie face down in a muddy ditch while a herd of demented bison charged over him.
In view of the above, I must add that I cannot in truth recommend Mr Bewg to you. His work is shoddy, his attendance and punctuality leave much to be desired, and I have the gravest doubts about his character. His sickness record is appalling, and I have been put in the uncomfortable position of having to threaten various members of the medical profession with violence after they were so irresponsible as to provide MrÂ Bewg with certificates. However, should you decide to ignore my warnings and offer a job to Mr Bewg, he will be available for work upon completion of his notice period, in forty years’ time.