The hard cell

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The Independent Culture
IT'S HELL up here, in the monastic cell, trying to turn syllables into school fees. What on earth makes columnists want to write books? Sure, sure, it's all words, but so is politics and at least if you're a politician you get to bluster and tell lies and travel Club Class in a smart grey suit with all the other catastrophic losers, sitting there on their worthless arses trying to pretend that being offered Champagne and pillows by hard-faced young women in on-the-knee skirts is an everyday occurrence. Club Class will be the first thing to go when I am Supreme Ruler. My Honesty in Advertising Act will deal with it instantly, by making it compulsory for all advertisers to say what's really in their mind.

Don't you think that's a good idea? Of course you do, but given that the ads are the only good things on television, there will be some details to be fixed. A too-rigid adherence to the letter of my new law would lead to dreadful boredom: just a series of dog-faced suits staring at the camera, and the same slogan for everyone. "British Airways: Give Us The Money." "Marmite: Give Us The Money." "Nike: Give Us The Money." "BUPA: Give Us The Money." Tiresome, you'll agree. So we'll limit that to a little subtitle at the bottom of the screen: "These People Want Your Money."

The advertisers themselves will have to use a little more creativity. Not too much, mind you, because that is self-defeating. Remember the Vita- Lite ad? The one with the dancing sunflowers and the spoof version of "The Israelites": "Oh, ohhh, Vita-Lite"? Didn't seem to work; at least I haven't seen Vita-Lite in my atrocious local late-night supermarket recently, and the reason is that, once you'd watched the dancing sunflowers and hummed along to the tune, you felt you'd had the Vita-Lite experience and need do nothing more. "That was a jolly good ad," you'd say to yourself, "Oh, must remember to get some Flora."

No; under my laws, all advertisers must reveal their strategic thinking. We know they all want our money; now they will have to tell us how they propose to get it. "Club Class: We know you are desperately insecure. We know you have a bit of an accent and a thing about not having been to a decent university. We know your wife despises you and you've got a grudge about your company Mondeo. We also know you think Pierre Cardin is a desirable label, that a Mont Blanc pen says something about a man, that you hanker after a Rolex, and that you've been having a bit of trouble, er, down there, but you haven't been to the doctor about it yet. In short, we've got your number, so we're going to give you a big seat and pretend we sympathise with your constant neurotic need to make telephone calls, and in return we'll charge you way over the odds. Club Class: Because It's Nothing Like What You're Used To."

The potential, like that of all my plans, is endless. Try it on any company that springs to mind. "Nike: because you're easily influenced and hopelessly out of shape." "CKOne: because you're very young and still find sex frightening, which is why we've made it smell of the stuff they put in laundry detergent, to remind you of nice clean clothes, washed and folded by Mommy." "Ginster's Cornish Pasties: it's not as if we're trying to sell them to the French." "The Times: because Rupert Murdoch owns us and frankly he's mad as a bus." "Notting Hill: because we know you don't want to see nig-nogs unless it's a Spike Lee Joint (whatever that may be)."

This is all very important to me, because I honestly don't know whether I am prepared to return to the "outside world" and face the interminable barrage of persuasion again. Indeed, watching the eclipse the other day, I was seized by the desire to be a monk. I was nearly a monk once before, so I know what it's like: a simple life of discipline and prayer, walking through the cloister cowled for compline as God's east wind whipped your nuts off; the careful avoidance of particular friendships; the Great Silence; nobody trying to sell you anything, not ever, because if you're a monk, you've bought the Big One and are immune from the rest, et nunc et semper et in saecular saeculorum.

It wasn't awe, you understand. It was more a combination of deep, deep pity for those people in Cornwall - particularly the poor mayor, with his crumpled face and his chain of office, trying to pretend it might yet stop raining and be all right - and a sensibility of monastic insouciance. If you're a monk, eclipses don't bother you. One of God's little warnings; say your office and it'll all clear up. And so it does.

Peace, plain food, and no more writing. No more sitting in a small hot room trying to think of something to say. Instead, spinning syllables into silence. Wonderful. "Monks: Just Shut Up."