Bill's thang and Monica's thong

William Scammell sees 1998 out the door
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The Independent Culture
An annus less horribilis than some, yet more disaster-prone than many others. The wages of the poor stayed minimum. Sons still disgraced the loins of their old mothers.

Bill Clinton's member took a little beating. He'd let the rascal loose to sing his song, but conscience told him that he might be cheating if this smart missile locked on Monica's thong.

He did his thang. And Monica did hers. The thong it stayed intact, thought it was keening. They crossed their hearts, and spangled all the stars. The Oval Office took on a new meaning.

Bill swallowed his oath, and then he took his mouth on television: "As I understand it I didn't, I didn't do it!" nothing loath to find the good ol' boy in the moral bandit.

He cheated, but it wasn't really cheating. A "third way," you might say, of having sex. Then Linda and Kenneth started bleating and the media got all horny on the facts.

You want lurid? We got lurid. We got Bill with his superpower trousers down. We got dresses, stains, lies, interns, tapes, begot by chauvinism on a southern clown.

We got Hill'ry Rodham, womanhood writ large, all attitude, and rectitude at bay. We got Baptists, New York liberals, and the gorge of middle America, rising ... Hell to pay!

We got risible, Rabelaisian, redneck. We got Jesse, Oprah, and the New York Times. We got Boris as a robot. We got Tony at first base. Yeah, we got Gingrichs and Husseins.

At home, abroad, the country stands in peril of being laughed to death - the white man's burden for being top dog, full of right stuff' n'all, the astronaut with the astronomical hard-on.

Sing softer, muse! There surely was a world still going on about its daily bread. El Nino hurricanoed. Rulers ruled. More children wept. More poets were struck dead.

One in particular: the king of beasts who was attuned to nature's savage vibe. Ted Hughes, who redefined our Englishness, and kept alive the dialect of the tribe.

Twelve months ploughed under Princess Di's young bones, Rwandan genocide, the last World Cup. The Blairites planted roses in the ruins of late millennial capitalism's closed shop.

A dome rose up in Greenwich. Grand opera took a twilight-of-the-nobs turn at the Garden. The age-old Ulster metaphysical copula - peace equals war - was re-thought by Mo Mowlam.

Almost. And Hume and Trimble got the prizes. And Israel's boots stamped hard on the West Bank. Tiger economies threw off their disguises and hope, like the Titanic, mostly sank.

Now Mandy's fallen too. Ron Davies, gone. The government we love to love and hate has lost its petals in the PR dung and Eddie George's magic Interest Rate.

They want a just society, it seems, in Number Ten - they want one on the Tyne - so long as justice keeps its place in dreams while the wide-awake yell out: what's mine is mine!

That brings us to the Scots, wha hae and hae'n't handed their notice in to Britishness, like Irvine Welsh, who loves to f--- and c--- in unintelligible Hibernian skittishness.

They want their own McJobs in their own McCountry. They want to cash Brits in for Brussels loot, McDevolution, and the new McGentry avid for power, the boot on the other McFoot.

Some felt like that when Pinochet was brought to book, sans medals, sans the swagger stick. What price the sovereignty of thought, the ghosts of the disappeared in his every look?

India went nuclear; so did Pakistan. The West blew up in moral disapproval. Suppose that fundamentalism hits the fan, threatening our ownership of "good" and "evil"?

The Countryside marched on the Wicked Town - John Bull turned whipper-in and loud campaigner. Louise dressed up to face the jury down. Cock Robin signed alliances with Gaynor.

What shall we say about his Eminence the Pope, a holy intellectual, who takes his stand on Europe's oldest conscience, but won't be budged on matters contraceptual?

Two parties were required for Charles at fifty: one with a frigid Queen, who touched him not, one with Camilla, nothing if not nifty at jumping fences in the royal plot.

Meanwhile, the unchecked reign of the bottom line, the universal love of self-delusion. Dear reader, have a good one in '99, barring Murdoch, Monica, meltdown, and confusion!