Of course, Hello? Hello? wasn't his real name either. It was just that, in middle age, he seemed to acquire a terrible fear that whoever he was talking to would die during the conversation. "Well," he'd say, "I was walking in the Orangery this morning when, bless my soul, who should appear but Mrs Lipschitz from the village, absolutely stark Hello? Hello? ..."
It was obviously hereditary, because Grandpa got it too, in due course. He was fine, face-to-face. It was the telephone that bothered him. The phone would ring. You'd pick it up. "Hello?" you'd say. "Ah," he'd say, "it's Grandpa. Are you there?" We never pinned him down, but I suspect a fear of electricity coupled with mild delusions of grandeur, as though the sound of his voice, electronically transmitted, was a phenomenon of such potency as to obliterate the person on the other end.
We waited for Grandpa to go over the edge, too, but he never did. Just got older, but otherwise remained much the same. It's easier when they go bonkers. Everything gets fined down to a single identifiable delusion, rather charming and forgivable. That's what has happened to the Government. Everything else has disappeared, now; all those things they used to believe in. Monetarism, lower-middle-class snobbism, the puritan work-ethic, the shopkeeper mentality, xenophobia, the mystical significance of double- entry book-keeping, sharp suits, mobile phones; contempt for the poor, the weak, the old and the sick; old ladies, bicycles, Holy Communion and morning mists; not to mention unreconstructed social Darwinism ... all gone, subsumed into one, overweening, lunatic idea; money. Not an idea about money. Not a philosophy with money at its centre. Not a political or economic system that has an interesting new approach to the question of money. Just the word itself. Money.
People used to go along to Bedlam on Sunday afternoons to have a look at the lunatics. We have grown out of that sort of nastiness now, being a modern Hello? Hello? enlightened society. But, watching the Government, I can see the attraction. There they are gambolling and jabbering away, mad as hatters and sniggering in their desolation, and, do you know what, I begin to envy them their marvellous single-mindedness. What it reminds me of is a wonderful scene in Terry Jones's movie Erik the Viking, where Erik has acquired the helm of invisibility but doesn't realise that it only works for its rightful owner. So there he is, bollock-naked, prancing around in the middle of a battle with this silly helmet on his head, secure in the wholly mistaken belief that he is invisible.
Such single-minded idiocy is dreadfully beguiling. You can see that Erik is completely, utterly wrong, but he is so unaware of his utter wrongness, and feels so invulnerably good about it, that you end up envying him. In the same way, I envy the Government, and I want so much to experience their astounding self-satisfaction that I have decided to do something about it.
If you know anything about how newspapers work, you will understand that this organ is an artificially-regulated environment. Advertisers cough up to plug their products in these pages, and we hacks all get a share of the booty. I have decided this smacks of dirigisme, if not out-and- out socialism, and will no longer do. What we need is an internal free market, not like the joke one that is buggering up the BBC and the NHS, but a real one with actual money.
So I have decided to implement two major changes. First, I am going to take advertising. Anyone who has products or services to offer is invited to drop round to my offices with money, where they will be regaled with Coca-Cola, the Pause that Refreshes, and Dunhill Inter- national Filter De Luxe, the cigarette in the red- and-gold box which says "Here is a man who smokes Dunhill International Filter De Luxe."
After a brief period of reflection, in which you might care to consider the benefits of banking with the Royal Bank of Scotland, I shall beckon you into my well-appointed office. Taking the top off my Waterman fountain- pen - writing pleasure that lasts a lifetime - I shall gaze at you over the top of my Lunor spectacles, available from Schuller Opticians (Bloomsbury and St John's Wood), filling you with confidence in both my good taste and my perfect vision. Then we shall get down to business, and if the ensuing revenue-stream means that Leviathan ends up crammed into the bottom right-hand corner of this page, so be it; the market will decide, just as it has decided that the world's best-dressed men bespeak their clothes from James & James of Old Burlington Street, the Look That Spells S-U- C-C-E-S-S.
The other innovation will be shares. The bad old days, when one could run a column as a private fiefdom, with no thought for market penetration, product research, global sales and marketing, or shareholder return, are over. Modern management techniques will be introduced, and this column broken up into independent operating units, responsible, respectively, for Paragraphing, Structural Management, Obscure Allusions and Jokes. I shall be publishing the flotation documents next week. In the meantime, though, a word of reassurance for those potential investors who may be worrying about the possibility of a Labour victory at the next election. Don't. In that event, we just rename you all "stakeholders" and cut the dividends. !Reuse content