Tales of hamburgers and ordinary madness

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The Independent Culture
Hi, Ordinary People! I have already written this week's column but I have crossed it out and I'm starting again! You wouldn't have understood it! Because you're Ordinary!

How do I know? Because I am a Media person, and not Ordinary at all. I hang out with other Media people, none of us Ordinary at all, and we know what you like, and what you would understand, and what you are interested in. Of course we do! It's our job!

The thing you wouldn't have understood this week, and which I crossed out, was all about Mad Cow Disease. I saw someone come down with it in a West End hamburger joint last week. I can't tell you which hamburger joint, but I bet you can guess. I'll give you a clue: Ordinary People go there all the time. In fact, the victim was one of them. Grey suit, geography-master specs, Daily Mail: if you'd seen him, you would have said "Look, there's an Ordinary Person! Just like us! Gosh, we feel right at home in this West End hamburger joint!" And you know what? You'd have been right.

So there he was, alone at his table, mouth stuffed full of hoof and nostril and ketchup and mortician's-wax cheese and all the other components of his GigaBurga, munching and chumbling away, when suddenly his eyes bulged, and he dropped his Daily Mail and stood up, tottering, and said to nobody in a calm but penetrating voice: "Well; I've had enough of your insatiable sexual appetites. You're a slut. Poke poke pokey. But there's more to life than poking."

Ten-year incubation period? Nonsense. Fast food, fast encephalopathy, that's the modern way, but when I raised the matter at a dinner-party of Media People the following day, they all went off on tangents. How the Media handled it; how the politicians handled the Media; how the Media handled the politicians. It was like watching Michelangelo draw a circle, freehand: perfectly formed, totally enclosed, existing in isolation.

I got angry. "This is bollocks," I said, in my bluff, Media way. "This is about a disease risk. It's not about politics or news management."

"Well," said the most important pundit at the table; you could tell he was the most important because he was shouting. "What would you have done if you'd been a politician?"

"I hope I'd have had enough respect for the electorate to publish the actual statistics," I said, "instead of just babbling about scientists."

"Ordinary People," said the pundit loftily, "are not interested in statistics. And they wouldn't understand them anyway."

You used to be able to get something called nux vomica which made you throw up. That was in the days before Paul Johnson articles in the Daily Mail, and the market has largely dried up now, but nux vomica was nothing compared to this. It was hard to know where to start. I could have pointed out that scientists work by putting forward models for other scientists to try to falsify, and that asking a scientist to deny the possibility of a causal link between Mad Cow and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is like asking a Monsignor to say the paternoster backwards while sodomising a goat. I could have said that the Editor of this organ might be well advised to sack me at once and spend the money on hiring an in-house statistician. I could have railed against the Media, which has (or have, if you are a pedant) become so involuted that it (or they) (or even we) now thinks everything is, in the end, about itself. I could have observed that the one human instinct that we seem unable to suppress is the urge towards blind faith, and now that we no longer believe in God we believe instead in, not science, but Scientists, but still ask for no sign of proof save the Word.

I could have, but I didn't, being too busy goggling at my angelically beautiful hostess and plotting to lace her boyfriend's after-shave with consomme so that he came down with Bovine Spongiform Face and lost his allure. Instead, I crept home like a sneak and wrote a column about it all.

But next day, on the television, they were trailing some programme about aliens and flying saucers, and there was a man banging on about these things whizzing along at 4,000mph, and a woman mobbing up the government for being buggers, and the soupy voice-over said: "Secrets of The Paranormal: Ordinary People give their accounts of ..." and then I switched off, because I suddenly realised that what had really annoyed me was how the Ordinary People nonsense had dripped from the pundit's lips like spittle; and here it was annoying me again.

You might wonder, if it's Ordinary to be so convinced of the existence of UFOs that you go on television to accuse the government of a cover- up, just what the hell you have to do to be not Ordinary. You might even be sunk in an Ordinary sort of benightedness so profound that you believe your life to be a very special thing, a unique and rich mixture of comedy and tragedy which holds your attention to the very mouth of the tomb. Perhaps you believe that your work, your family, your admiring and affectionate friends, your tortoises, your sex-slave on a silken leash, your collection of Victorian angling equipment, your helicopter licence, your drink problem, your travels, your grandchildren, your rare medical condition, your military service, your elegant wardrobe, your fluency in Tagalog, your poetic soul, your flair for detail, your plans and your dreams, are more than enough to make you extraordinary.

You're wrong, of course. You are Ordinary, and if I were you (which, of course, I'm not; I am a Media person, and not Ordinary at all) I would be getting pretty angry about it. Next time any Media bastard or wet-lipped politico patronises you in some fatuous speech or condescending leader, I suggest you ring the bugger up and recount the entire dramatic tale of your inner life, from Genesis to Revelations and soup to nuts. And then we'll see who is the Ordinary Person. !