France to service British nuclear warheads

(Reuters) - Britain and France are close to agreeing a deal under which British nuclear warheads would be serviced in a French laboratory, the Financial Times reported on Friday.

The Chief of Defence Staff was visibly sweating.  The Foreign Secretary, pale of complexion at the best of times was almost translucent.   Even the Prime Minister, always the optimist, looked drawn and tired. Only the Minister of Defence looked as if he was happy to be in the control room.

"We need to move to the next level, said the General.  "If the Irakistanians don't back down in the next ten minutes, we have to strike.  Otherwise our own forces - and the NATO troops - are in real danger".  The PM nodded.  " Get everything ready. Prepare the warheads".

A uniformed  officer nodded, picked up one of the many phones on the table and punched in a 8 digit code.

The conversation seemed to be going on longer than expected.

"What's the matter?" said the General.

"Sir, we have a problem.  It's the warheads.  They're not back from lunch yet."

"What?"

"Sir, they're being serviced in France.  And,"  (he hesitated), "our allies aren't back from lunch. Any of them.  There's only the lady on switchboard, she speaks jolly good English though, but she goes for her lunch early, 11 till 12.30, so the rest of them can have 12.30 till 2, except she says usually its more like 2.30, and today's Friday, if you know what I mean, the laboratory canteen has a very nice Cotes du Rhone on Fridays..."

His voice trailed off apologetically.

"Get me their Minister of Defence" screamed the Foreign Secretary.

Another call was made.

"He's not in the office this afternoon.  He's apparently 'visiting' a lady, just for an hour or two, it's OK, her husband is fine with it, he's seeing the woman from the florists, as long as it's all done discreetly, no-one gets hurt..."

"The PM?  The President"?  More calls were hastily made.

"They're out on a team-building shooting expedition.  Apparently it's the first day of the tiny song-bird hunting season".

"The President's Wife?" A wistful expression crossed the PMs face. "No, I don't think so.  Better not.  My wife gets a bit... funny... when I talk to the first lady..."

"I knew we shouldn't have outsourced the servicing of the warheads", moaned the Defence Minister.

"Oh come on, you know it was that or fire another fifty senior civil servants.  And none of us wanted to do that, did we?"  There were murmurs of assent.  A group of angry Permanent Secretaries terrified the Cabinet far more than the Irakistanians.

Suddenly the red phone on the PM's desk rang, and the General snatched it up.

"Really? Yes, that's great news.  Thank you."

"The Irakistanians have backed down, thank God.  OK, everyone relax. We can stand down the missiles for now at least.  Oh, and tell the French....well, tell them they probably just prevented World War III.  And I hope they had a nice lunch".

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