‘I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go,’ said Mr Blowhard.
‘What?’ cried the Captain. ‘You’re firing me?’
‘You mustn’t think of it like that,’ said Mr Blowhard, trying to look kind. This didn’t come naturally to him, as he wasn’t a kind sort of person and his wasn’t a kind sort of job. ‘You’ll get a good pension, and the boys have clubbed together to give you a send-off. They’ve bought you a lovely clock!’
‘But I can’t retire,’ the Captain protested. ‘I’m not old enough – the government has just raised the pension age to 75.’
‘You are 75,’ Mr Blowhard reminded him. ‘The boys threw you a party last month, remember?’
‘Oh yes,’ said the Captain. ‘But I don’t feel 75! I’m still fit and healthy, and I’m perfectly capable of doing my job. I’ve never done anything else!’
Mr Blowhard squirmed in his seat and resisted the urge to scratch his bottom that always came upon him in awkward moments. This was proving harder than he’d expected.
‘How can I put this?’ he said, steepling his fingers and gazing at the ceiling of his plush office. ‘We feel your image is a bit… outdated. In this business, as you know, it’s vital to move with the times.’
‘Outdated?’ exploded the Captain. ‘What on earth do you mean?’
‘Our advertisements have a certain… target market. We aim to reach a certain… demographic. That is, the grannies. Children don’t buy fish fingers… and nor do parents anymore, they’re all feeding their kids tofu and alfalfa sprouts. Fish fingers are what the grannies give the little darlings when they come to tea.’
‘I see,’ said the Captain, slightly deflated. ‘But why wouldn’t I appeal to the grannies all of a sudden? I’m the right age, aren’t I?’
‘You don’t have the right image,’ said Mr Blowhard.
‘Image? What on earth do you mean?’
‘Grannies aren’t what they used to be, Captain. Thanks to the media marketing machine and the diet and cosmetics industries, grannies have been encouraged to believe they should still be sexy.’
‘Sexy?’ cried the Captain, his red cheeks puffing out through his white whiskers like a baboon’s backside. ‘Since when did grannies need to be sexy? They’re well past reproductive age – some of them are past the menopause! Grannies are meant to be cosy, not sexy!’
‘Grannies need to be sexy, Captain, because the beauty industry needs them to be sexy. It’s made a fortune selling compulsory sexiness to younger women, so now it’s doing the same with the older ones. It’s got all the old girls doing aerobics and having their faces rebuilt and dressing like teenagers and joining online dating sites. It’s created a whole new market by making grannies think they need to be sexy. ’
‘I still don’t see why you need to fire me,’ the Captain said stiffly. ‘Presumably they still buy fish fingers when the grandkids come to tea?’
‘Of course they do!’ said Mr Blowhard with a patronising smile. ‘We’d be out of business otherwise.’
‘So why are you firing me?’
‘Because you’re not sexy!’ shouted Mr Blowhard, losing patience. ‘The grannies don’t want cosy anymore. They don’t want a maritime version of Santa Claus with a West Country accent, they want a virile, exciting sea captain!’
The Captain stared at him. ‘But that’s preposterous. You can’t have a young Captain Codfish.’
‘Of course not – he’s still going to be a grandad figure. We’re even going to have him swimming with the grandkids. But, just like the grannies, he’s going to be sexy as well as old. And you don’t fit the brief, which is why we’re letting you go.’
The Captain had run out of arguments. He got up, put on his cap and stamped out of the office.