Saturday 22 December 2007

Honoured, modernized and haggard

I have an extraordinarily vivid dream in the early morning. I am at some sort of bazaar in a church hall, where old biddies are manning stalls at a series of wooden trestle tables. Only they’re not selling hand-knitted cardies or homemade marmalade; they’re handing over honours, but only to people whose names appear on the lists pinned up at the end of the hall, like the seating plan for a formal dinner. I am extremely superior and dismissive of the whole concept, until I find that I am on the list for an OBE. Suddenly I find that I am very much in favour of this utterly brilliant idea. I derive particular pleasure from totting up the largeish number of MBEs of my acquaintance, whom I will now outrank. I’m just looking forward to my investiture by the Queen when I am kicked awake by the dog. What can it all mean?

I take the unusual step of listening to Any Questions at lunchtime, mainly because I am curious to find out what A.N. Wilson sounds like. I should have known: he sounds exactly like A.N. Wilson. Also on the programme is someone from the Ministry of Justice, a repulsive, totalitarian designation which can be considered British only in the sense that it is Orwellian. He is called Wills and is apparently a rising star among the Brownites. In answer to practically every question, he trots out an ironically learnt-by-rote mantra: “the important thing is that we must learn lessons”. The collapse of the Omagh bomb trial: we must learn lessons. The disastrous loss of personal data and the implications for ID cards: we must learn lessons. And so on.

Learning lessons is for schoolchildren. By the time they have grown up and found jobs as Government Ministers, one vaguely hopes that they might be ready to move beyond learning, holding enquiries and commissioning reviews. Onto harder things like making decisions and solving problems for themselves.

The post arrives during the programme and proves a mixed bag. There are no Christmas cards from people I have overlooked, which is an unexpected pleasure; there is a dividend cheque from a company I had completely forgotten about owning shares in (Christ, could I have forgotten buying shares in Northern Rock?); and there is a new cheque book from my bank, in a hideously modernized and dumbed-down style which I find thoroughly depressing.

For some years now, I have been using cheques so ludicrously old-fashioned that I obtained a genuine frisson of pleasure every time I wrote one, despite my natural aversion to spending money. They were the last printed document of my acquaintance containing the word “Messrs”, which my father taught me should come before the company name in all business correspondence. In future they will look just like the cheques of any other bank or building society. They’ve also taken to describing themselves as “Private Bankers”, one of those voguish catchphrases which is completely meaningless to me, and always sets me thinking of Tina Turner singing Private Dancer instead (not that I need much encouragement to do that). I suppose I should just be grateful that this small pocket of old world charm survived into the twenty-first century. At least it is too insignificant a change for Gordon Brown to be able to record it as another triumph for the hated concept of “modernization” in his Age of Change.

As I am lying on the sofa this evening, aimlessly flicking through the papers, a Top of the Pops compilation of old Christmas hits plays in the background. I perk up and take an active interest towards the end, when they get to the recently controversial Fairytale of New York. This is a recording of a supposedly live performance and, when she gets to the line “you faggot”, which recently caused so much anguish to the controller of Radio 1, I swear that Kirsty MacColl actually sings “you’re haggard” instead. A line which could not possibly cause any offence to our friends in the gay community, and has the additional virtue of being a 100 per cent accurate description of the ravaged and toothless Shane MacGowan.

Now why couldn’t they have used that instead of a wretched bleep?

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