The Weasel

The arrival of the corporate jester is just the latest example of the tide of loony management nonsense currently sweeping the country
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The Independent Culture
What are we to make of the news that British Airways is to employ a corporate jester? A harmless enough idiosyncrasy, perhaps, so long as he doesn't appear on the flight deck, boxing the captain around the ears at the crucial moment or amusingly grabbing the controls over Gatwick.

Spare a thought, though, for the poor individual who has to have it written on his business card. Oddly, the man concerned, a former management consultant called Paul Birch, seems quite happy about the job. Indeed, he seems to have invented it himself, and relishes the opportunity it provides to "stick my nose into other people's business and be a pain in the arse".

There is more to it than that, however. The idea is that criticism is more acceptable when it comes with a merry quip, not to mention the tinkle of bells or a resounding thwack from a pig's bladder on the end of a stick. In the same way that a fool in a medieval court wrapped wise counsel in a cloak of humour, the corporate jester will be able to slip a whoopie cushion under the backsides of British Airways' managers while at the same time advising them on productivity.

Of course, the arrival of the corporate jester is just the latest example of the tide of loony management nonsense currently sweeping the country. What with drawing up mission statements and adhering to the doughnut principle and negotiating the sigmoid curve and listening with intensity and thriving on chaos and supporting champions and teaching elephants to dance and delayering and empowering and creative swiping, it's a miracle that anyone in industry ever finds the time actually to make anything.

I suspect that the whole idea relies on a somewhat romantic view of court life. Real jesters seem more likely to have been the backward, the deformed and the mad, dragged in to court to be the butt of cruel jokes. Indeed, anthropologists suggest that, in origin, their role was to be sacrificed in lieu of the king when things were going badly.

The life expectancy of a corporate jester is equally short, as Birch admits. "The whole point is that it is very controlled anarchy," he says, "If it goes too far I get sacked." It seems only a matter of time before he is asked to deposit his cap and bells with security before leaving the premises.

In any case, if business is to start modelling itself on the medieval court, why stop with the fool? No court was complete without faithful henchmen, favourites, young pretenders, plotters, gossips, back-stabbers, rumour-mongers, adulterers and sloths, all revolving around a petulant and megalomaniac figurehead. And office life isn't remotely like that, is it? Hey nonny no.

A gaggle of the Weasel's provincial relatives had an unsettling experience last week. They were refused entry to Harrod's.

This was not for the usual crime of wearing modishly ripped jeans or, indeed, for any other sartorial eccentricity, but because there were five of them. Apparently, five provincial ladies in the prime of life represent a serious threat to the smooth running of the great emporium, especially when one of them is pregnant.

Not deterred, they split up and gained entry in acceptably small groups, only to reassemble somewhere beyond the gaze of the store's uniformed doormen. But then came a second shock: apparently a visit to the ladies would cost pounds 1, although there was a special arrangement for expectant mothers.

How pleasing to know that there is still somewhere where the customer is always wrong.

I find myself oddly disturbed by the plight of seahorses. Apparently, after years of obscurity, seven of the finny creatures have turned up off the South Coast and are even now bracing themselves for the full glare of media attention, to include, at the very least, a visit from M Cousteau and an appearance on GMTV.

How opportune that the seahorse should have chosen this moment to break cover. While men everywhere continue to agonise about their future role in life, the male hippocampus ramulosus has it all sorted out.

A home-loving kind of fish, he remains faithful all his life and never wanders from the single square yard of sea bed where he first settles. His eyes move independently of each other, allowing him to keep a loving eye on his aquatic partner while giving due attention to his share of domestic duties. Best of all, after being impregnated by his mate, he gives birth.

Surely it is only a matter of time before these obliging seahorse genes are implanted into the human male, whose current instincts, for hunting, fighting, fornicating and falling over drunk, are so inappropriate for the modern world?

As a long-time opponent of the lottery, the Weasel has scrupulously avoided watching the extraordinary televisual feast that goes by the name of the National Lottery Live.

Recently, however, for reasons too tedious to explain, I found myself outside the BBC Television Centre, queueing to join the studio audience for the show. This, you will recall, features Anthea Turner, current holder of the coveted "third-sexiest woman" title.

Those of a sensitive disposition should perhaps give this experience a miss. Worried, perhaps, about any hint of indifference, the production team insist on warming you up within an inch of your life. First a man called Quentin comes on and makes you perform a Mexican wave, before lecturing you about the necessity of laughing out loud rather than smiling. Then the producer appears and tells you jokes.

Producer: "Do you mind having the cameras on you?" Audience: "No." Producer: "You will, they're very heavy." No wait, there's more. Producer: "Did anybody see the BBC streaker?" Audience: "No." "Well, he's going to give it up, but he's decided to stick it out till Christmas."

Only after all that does the real warm-up man come on, and most of his act consists of inviting members of the audience to tell jokes. After this, you're gagging to be entertained, even if it is only by one woman's struggle with her own autocue.

Honesty, though, compels me to admit to one frisson of excitement. For some reason, I found myself filled with a strange desire to place my hands on the tumbling balls whose magical powers so mesmerise the masses.

Sadly, the authorities were unaccommodating. The balls, I was told, are sacred.

Luckily John Willan, the tall, headmasterly figure who guards the lottery machine, relented. After extracting a promise that I would not dig my nails into it, he thrust one of the bountiful orbs into my eager hands. It was, I can report, exactly two inches across, and, at 80g, unexpectedly heavy. And it is made of solid rubber that compresses only slightly under thumb pressure.

"Do they bounce?" I asked, not expecting an answer. I had, you will recall, been led to believe that the precious spheres were to be treated with the greatest of respect: certainly, Willan always wears white cotton gloves when handling them.

Suddenly, saying nothing, Willan let one go, only for it to spring straight back up into his hand like the Wham-O Superball of childhood memory. I trust those whose plans for winning the lottery depend upon science will incorporate this piece of data into their calculations

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