We must lash out to improve ourselves

I WAS Called In the other day. Never mind the details; just a nasty man in a nastier suit who told me it wouldn't do and I had to pull myself together. Well. The answer is obviously self-improvement, wouldn't you say? So would I. So what we are going to do today is look into the deepest recesses of our ignoble black hearts and see if we can't come up with a Plan, and you can wipe that innocent smirk off your "face" for a start, otherwise one day I shall turn up on your doorstep, force you into the kitchen and roast you on a low light.

The first thing we must get into our heads is that, after all, this is 1999. Nothing new in that, of course. I don't mean there's nothing new in its being 1999, because there obviously is; it's never been 1999 before, unless you're Jewish, in which case 1999 is thoroughly old yarmulke; no, the point is that there's nothing new in saying things like "after all, this is 1999". People have been saying that sort of thing for ever. Do you really think they used to go around nodding gloomily at each other and saying, "Well, what do you expect, these are the Olden Days"? Of course not. They said things like "For heaven's sake, old chap, this is 1503" and thought themselves thoroughly modern and up to the minute, just like we do. The difference is that we are right and they are wrong; after all, this is 1999.

Having established that, what are we going to do about self-improvement? My great plan is, we stop living in fear. Living in fear is so utterly vieux jeu. I made a list the other day. It was a list of Bad Things, and there it was, large as life: Living In Fear. Would you like to know what I live in fear of? Very good, then; you shall. I live in fear of people Getting Me. People who can Get Me include the Inland Revenue, British Telecom, sundry non-specific enemies, common people who hate me on principle, my accountant, my agent, any bank manager who happens to be passing, court officials, bailiffs, fat vulgar men in cheap suits and thick-soled shoes who I see walking up and down St John Street letting off horrible little baked-bean farts and carrying Puma sports bags although they would obviously drop dead, hooray hooray, if they so much as saw an item of sporting equipment. I live in fear of traffic wardens and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, even though I do not have a car.

I live in fear of the police, thus disproving the theory that if you are innocent you have nothing to fear; I haven't done anything wrong (nothing the police can get me for, anyway, unless they choose to believe certain women whose testimony is wholly unreliable and anyway they loved it, they know they did) and yet whenever I see a policeman I find myself rehearsing ingratiating little phrases to myself in order to appease the bugger and try to make friends. "Oh hello, I was just admiring your shirt" or "That's nice aftershave" or "I once knew a policeman." Sometimes, in moments of extreme terror, my grip on reality disintegrates entirely and, without warning, I imagine myself to be a policeman; then, it is as much as I can do to stop myself rushing over and telling ludicrous lies, for example, "Hello! I am a policeman too! In GS137 Department [or some such implausible bollocks] and goodness! but our sergeant is a right tosser. Did you ever know Ken Knob, we was at Hendon together, why don't we go and have a drink and discuss police things?"

The thing they have in common, all these people of whom I live in fear, is that they are authority figures. That means they have authority to Do Things to me: they can Call Me In and tell me it Won't Do; they can arrest me and lock me up and take my Stuff away and basically disapprove of me. Why they should want to do these things, I don't know; I imagine it to be the same motivation that drives swans. You know swans; they can break a man's arm with one blow of their wing, and somehow one imagines they do nothing else, just spend their days looking for men. ("Look! There's one! Let's break his arm!") It's no way to carry on, you'll agree, and don't smile wryly and nod your head in that supercilious way because you're every bit as bad yourself. What we have to do is stop it all in its tracks. Next time someone who is obviously your social, intellectual and cultural inferior, not to mention clearly worse in bed, calls you in and starts pursing his lips at you, remind yourself that you are an autonomous adult and not to be calumniated by some little squit so lacking in true authority that he has to parade that which he holds under sufferance and ex officio.

I am confident that it will work. The next time some counter-jumping jerk tries it on, just throw yourself into a tumultuous rage, shout, go red in the face, demand to know who the hell he thinks he is, and, if necessary, punch him in the eye. If we all pull together as one in this, we could change the world far more rapidly and irrevocably than by any conventional bum-licking tactic of playing the game. "Speak softly and carry a big stick" is nonsense. If you've got a big stick you don't need to speak at all. Just lash out; that's the way forward.

Having solved that problem, the rest should be easy. What, after all, remains for me but to work out why I am frightened of clearing out my wardrobe, why I have been in this flat for 18 months and still haven't unpacked my books, why I don't have any furniture, why I possess 23 pairs of spectacles but only wear one, why I have at least four of everything I like and none of anything I need, why I drool when I am excited, why I can't settle on one brand of shaving soap like everyone else, what happened to the five motor cars I have lost over the last 20 years, and why, having once discovered that I had only two pairs of workable trousers, do I still now, 10 years on, regard myself as a man with no trousers and so buy trousers every few weeks with the result that I am now equipped with enough trousers to last several centuries. Simple questions, really, and, after all, this is 1999. Never mind therapy and personal growth; I shall just punch myself repeatedly in the eye and then everyone will be happy. !

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