A JOURNAL written by Scotland’s top civil servant Sir Peter Housden has been published on the internet for the first time – giving an insight into his struggles with his golf swing and his impressive grasp of the minutiae of domestic trivia.
That Scotland’s most senior mandarin should display a quirky eye for the mundane in recent instalments of his Not-So-Secret Diary of a Civil Servant Aged 61 might surprise those hoping for political controversy.
After all, it was the row aroused by the permanent secretary’s musings that led to the diary being made public.
His diary was conceived as a weekly blog to be circulated to civil servants on their intranet system. But a leak of extracts in 2011 triggered complaints from opposition politicians who claimed the views Sir Peter expressed breached civil service neutrality because they were too pro-independence.
Amid accusations that the permanent secretary had “gone native”, the Scottish Government was swamped by Freedom of Information requests seeking the contents of his journal.
So it was decided in the interests of “transparency” to publish his entries, with updates to follow every quarter.
Those expecting political controversy will be disappointed. But those looking to learn more about the permanent secretary’s attempts to clean his patio, his dietary habits and his strange encounter with a squirrel will be enthralled.
A bank holiday trip to London saw Sir Peter head for St James’s Park to follow a regime that sees him attempt “to get 30 minutes of proper exercise” most days in the week.
“I was struck not only by the squirrel that ran up my leg as I was stretching, but also the scale of the Olympics infrastructure,” he observed.
Readers might also benefit from the odd pearl of wisdom thrown their way.
On eating out at the many functions he attends, Sir Peter advised: “I always eat vegetarian at these things, not on principle, but because it’s easier on the digestion, and everyone always says: ‘Oh, I wish I’d had that.’”
His fondness for vegetables was also in evidence at the annual meeting of the Scottish Government’s Gardening Club.
“Despite the appalling growing conditions this year, some lovely produce was on display and was later auctioned – my room is bedecked with lovely flowers today and 50p-worth of rhubarb has been stewed,” he wrote.
Sir Peter has also been busy in his own garden when he has not been clearing out the garage.
“I bought this yellow thing last year that power-washes patios,” he revealed. “I have had to wait until both my wife and the nearest neighbours were away to give me a proper run at it.
“So carefully shutting the door, I set-to on Saturday (and on Sunday) and now we have cleaner flagstones and not too much moss and mud sprayed on walls, windows, other people’s washing or passing pets. I came in, however, looking like I’d ridden in the Grand National.”
All work and no play would make Sir Peter a very dull civil servant, so it is of some relief to be updated on the permanent secretary’s golf game.
A reference to his “annual 36 holes disaster with the Education Golf Society” is accompanied by an account of a visit to “a very large bunker” on the Old Course.
Erratic golfers will sympathise with his near hole-in-one on a par-three followed by an eight on the next hole.
After those rigours, he can unwind to his favourite tunes.
“After a protracted postal delay (I gave them the wrong address), I am now the proud owner of a 180gm vinyl copy of Dusty Springfield’s immortal album recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1967,” Sir Peter said. “Just extraordinary. A unique voice and a huge talent.”
Of those three attributes, some unkind souls might suggest that only the first two apply to Sir Peter’s gifts as a diarist.
Dispatches from heart of government
I was struck not only by the squirrel that ran up my leg as I was stretching, but also the scale of the Olympics infrastructure.
We bought a James Grieve apple tree for our garden this weekend and so bright was the sun, I had to buy a visor to play at the range on Sunday afternoon. What is happening to our country?
I am making progress with my new golf swing. I had to stop pretending that I just needed to make this small adjustment or that before all would be well. A fundamental makeover is required, using different – and presently weak – muscles and overcoming the heart-felt desire to give the ball a big thump. Like all improvements, however, sometimes you get worse before you get better.
We had a great dialogue about ways of saying “thank you”. Praise is an important
part of the mix at work. And when you want to say someone has done something well, it’s best if in doing so, you say what it is you liked and appreciated – ie make it specific rather than a generalised “well done”.
“I have cleaned out the garage (where does all that junk come from?) to enable the car to go indoors in the frosty weather,” Sir Peter wrote. “I have finished off the patio, this time using the brush attachment on the power washer, so with less impact on the windows and low-flying aircraft. It all looks very clean.”
Great day out on the water yesterday with RNLI and a number of SG fundraiser colleagues off Dunbar. The crew kindly fixed this as a “thank you” for SG efforts and it turned out to be a beautiful day. The picture shows us near the Bass Rock. The sea was like plate glass, so the helmsman showed us some hand-brake turns on the way back, and then steered through his own waves, so we could all see what it was like to be properly at sea.
I nearly had a hole-in-one on Saturday. It finished about a foot away from the hole. I got an eight on the next, so normal service was resumed, but some lovely outdoor weather this weekend.
(Thanks) to the anonymous donor who sent up a copy of Cures for Crazy Cats. When they are awake, our cats are principally crazy about scratching the carpets and this book has a section on Demon Rippers and Scratchers. So I have told our two to watch out, otherwise its homeopathy.
Last week’s posts showed we love to hate cliches. But we enjoy malapropisms and we have all met a David Brent or two.