‘What about a buffalo?’ asked Grig, shaven-headed focus of the New Flag Committee.
‘Buffalo?’ Jones, the smartly-dressed Home Minister was perplexed.
‘You know, a nice big fierce buffalo. In profile.’
Bell, the Foreign Minister, furrowed his brow. ‘What does that represent?’
‘Well, buffaloes,’ Grig said.
Bell furrowed his deep brow and took another sip of what should have been coffee but wasn’t. He needed a moment to think, make sure he wasn’t missing something. Polonius Grig was a respected flag designer, and the Foreign Minister didn’t want to look like a eunuch at a pissing contest.
‘I see,’ Bell said. ‘But what’s the significance to Newdonia?’ He finished stirring his un-coffee and set the spoon down in the saucer.
‘Isn’t it obvious?’
‘No,’ Jones said, to Bell’s relief. Evidently he was not in a minority of one in failing to follow the designer’s train of thought.
‘Buffaloes are a great symbol of this country,’ Grig said.
‘Er, we don’t actually have any buffaloes in Newdonia,’ clarified Finch, the freckled young Arts minister. ‘Not one. Including the zoo.’
‘But they are a great symbol of strength,’ Grig said. ‘Powerful. You don’t take shit from a nation that acts like a buffalo.’
‘I’m not sure Newdonia is planning to act like a buffalo,’ Home Minister Jones suggested.
‘Really?’ Grig asked, with just a hint of desperation. ‘What about all these mock-ups I’ve done?’
‘Sorry,’ Bell said firmly. ‘You might just as well propose we use an elephant.’
‘And what’s wrong with elephants?’ Grig protested, fearing that his un-revealed backup design was shortly for the trash heap.
‘We don’t have any of those either,’ Finch pointed out.
‘But you don’t take shit from—’ Grig began.
‘The taking of shit, or otherwise, from this new nation is not the raison d’etre behind the flag design we are seeking. I thought that was clear from our brief.’
‘Designers don’t always stick to the rules. That’s why we’re called designers.’ Grig’s tone bordered on patronising.
‘All we want is a bold design,’ Jones said, trying to smooth over things, casting his gaze around the room, placating the rest of the Committee.
‘A horse?’ proffered the designer.
‘No animals!’ Finch and Bell insisted in unison.
The designer sighed and tweaked his ear pensively. ‘Okay, what about this?’ Grig picked up his felt-tips and sketched something roughly on a sheet of his notepad. He nodded satisfactorily and held the pad up for all to see.
‘Er, isn’t that the Union Flag?’ Finch asked.
‘Yes,’ Grig replied, confused.
‘Well, aren’t the UK using that?’
‘Are they? Are you sure?’
‘Pretty sure,’ Finch said.
‘Completely sure,’ Bell said.
‘Okay,’ Grig mused. ‘But do they like it?’
‘It is popular. It’s also got a lot of history behind it.’
‘You don’t have any history though,’ Grig said, stating the obvious.
‘Or a flag, as things go,’ Finch mumbled.
Grig, unfortunately, had heard the Arts minister’s under-breath jibe. His eyes lit up. ‘I’ve got it!’
Everyone perked up.
‘Don’t have a flag,’ the designer stated triumphantly, slapping a hand down on the large mahogany table.
Jones’ mouth fell open. ‘Don’t have a flag!?’
Bell just shook his head. Finch pulled a face.
‘Look,’ Grig said, rising to his feet, ‘What do you need a flag for anyway? You’re Newdonia. You know that. I know that. Your neighbours know that. The world knows that. They have atlases. What do you need a stupid flag for?’
‘To hang on the flagpoles,’ Bell said.
‘All the flagpoles were torn down during the revolution,’ Jones pointed out.
Bell nodded sagely. It was true.
‘The Olympics,’ Finch stated.
‘Olympics?’ Grig stopped striding and faced the raven-haired Arts representative. ‘What chance have you got of qualifying for the Olympics? Do you ever see Liechtenstein at the Olympics? You’re not even that big.’
‘World Cup?’ Bell suggested reluctantly.
‘Don’t make me laugh.’
‘Well what about all the T-shirts, souvenirs and such,’ Finch asked.
‘Think how much money you can save! No flagpoles, no tacky souvenirs. You can re-use all the picture postcards—the scenery hasn’t changed. You’re a young nation. You have to build, establish a solid fiscal platform. You can’t start plundering the publics coffers for some stupid symbol of nationhood. Keep your money. Have a big party.’
There was silence for a moment, followed by gentle nods from all the ministers.
Jones stood. ‘Well, thank you Grig. This has been a very productive session. Thank you for all your effort.’ The men shook hands.
‘Yes, thank you.’ Bell, then Finch, exchanged a parting handshake with the designer.
Grig pulled an envelope from his top pocket and handed it to the Home Minister. ‘I’ll show myself out,’ he said, heading for the double wooden doors at the end of the room.
‘What’s this?’ Jones asked after him.
‘Oh,’ Grig paused momentarily, ‘The bill.’