Am I the only one with this revolting habit?

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The trouble with giving advice is knowing when to stop. My daughter rang up the other day. Latin difficulties. Kept getting stuck, confusing participles with verbs, so I put her right on that and added that the trick of Latin translation is to track down the main verb and parse the bastard. That way, you get your bearings and can slash and burn your way through the rest of it while preserving an appearance of cool immaculate decency, not a hair out of place.

Well, you know how it is. You get carried away thinking "My goodness, Latin unseens are a metaphor for life itself" when they're obviously nothing of the sort, and next thing you know, you're handing out paternal advice like some terrible dud, Cobbett or Chesterfield or the old fool in The Woodentops.

This time, she had a lucky escape. I was just on the point of telling her that the main thing in life was to be yourself when I noticed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had appeared on television. What's a chap to do? Why: phone down, trousers ditto, and stand before the television belabouring Chancellor Clarke's meat-slab face with blows from the faithful old membrum virile, that's what.

At around the fifth or sixth blow, the Chancellor uttered a truncated sort of croak, fell eerily silent and dwindled into blackness, and I turned round to see the bad yellow-eyed woman standing there with the remote control in her hand and a funny look in her eye. "Ha!" I said; "I wonder if the sod ever thinks about it when he's fraudling away at the camera?"

"Thinks about what?" she said.

"Thinks about all those millions of men, all over the country, standing in front of the telly and thwacking him in the face with their - "

"I don't suppose he does," she said. "I don't suppose he needs to. I'm quite sure you're the only one who does it. Can I put the television back on now, or are you going to stand there all night?"

Hah. It looks as if I'm in for a difficult week or so, until you all write in saying "Dear Mr Bywater, the bad yellow-eyed woman is talking unutterable balls, of course we all do it, too, my own favourite is that Michael Howard but every man to his taste," as I am sure you will do. As you damn well better had do. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate, so we had better contemplate it right now.

The alternative is that I am wrong.

There. I have said it, and how horrible it looks, stark and minatory in its separate paragraph, sneering and pointing the bone. But it cannot be avoided. The alternative is that I am wrong; that I am the only one who instinctively chooses to violate politicians in this way; indeed, that I am the only one who does and thinks and believes and feels an entire raft of things, an entire Medusa's hairdo of habits and prejudices. And, if that is the case, then it's a good thing the Chancellor came on at that moment, for what I was about to tell my daughter would have been absolutely disastrous advice. Be yourself? No; never; on no account. Dissemble, lie, misrepresent yourself: stony-eyed, tight-lipped, cards close to the chest, that's the way to play it.

The trouble is, it's impossible to test in safety. If I'm wrong in assuming that my desire to abase Kenneth Clarke is something you all share, then what else am I wrong about? It could be everything. But the only way I can find out is by telling you everything and risking your undying contempt. Where does that leave me?

Where does it leave me if I'm the only person who secretly hopes that the Barclay brothers' personal Channel Island springs a leak and sinks with all hands? Or if I'm alone in swearing that, next time I see some sleek illiterate produce one of those gigantic black threatening Mont Blanc pens to sign his damnable Gold Card chitty, I will tear it from his perfumed paw and poke it up his nose? Or if it's only me who secretly hopes that the Consumers' Association offices will one day burn to the ground due to a lack of elementary fire precautions?

The list of beliefs that I alone might hold is horrible, endless, destabilising. That polyester is wrong. That only fools make a little circle over the "i" instead of a dot. That people are in advertising for the money. That solicitors use language like that because they're petrified lower-class premature ejaculators. That I'm the only person I know who has been sad about his sex-life for most of the time. That traffic wardens don't do any good. That only pooves drink cappuccino after breakfast. That there's a curse on Africa. That America has gone round the bend. That Soviet communism had its good points. That women write about how they don't need or like men but secretly talk about how much they really do need and like men, but secretly secretly neither need men nor like them.

That the statement "Bach is better than The Spice Girls" would be empirically verifiable if we had the precision tools to do it. That God shrinks to occupy the space left to Him by science. That I would be happier if I weighed 20lb less and had a flat washboard stomach and a chiselled jaw. That it is too late to expect any major change in the circumstances of my life. That people are being made stupid by listening to too much bad music and watching too much television.

That we all wish we knew where we stood. That we're all too scared to live the lives we would wish to live, but don't know what we're scared of. That we all wake up at 4am in the certain knowledge that we have failed and all that remains is death. That abiding love is heaven's joy but strange new flesh is earth's delight. That pumpkins and marrows are much of a muchness. That Mister Manners doesn't want your bloody leavings. That political life is in the hands of swine. That the glory-days are over and were never really here. That it doesn't do to complain. That you've got to laugh, haven't you?

Let me know. !

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