Your mission, should you choose to accept it

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The Independent Culture
THE LITTLE WHITE BUS had a Mission Statement on the back. Well it would. Everything has a Mission Statement now. I'm thinking of getting one myself. I don't know what it could be, but that doesn't matter. You just go down to a Mission Statement Consultancy and they do it for you.

"Name?"

"Michael Bywater."

"Mission?"

"Actually, that's what I was wondering."

"Ah. Right. Got it. Michael Bywater: Wondering What His Mission Is."

It has the right feel, don't you think? The right fatuous boastfulness, the faint reek of despair, the confiding clamminess of damp sheets in the middle of the night, cereal gobbled down hastily on the lavatory, and just a short step to muttering on the train and asking young women to pose for photographs.

Better than the little white bus, anyway. The little white bus said Camden Commmunity Transport, and then, on the back, Supplying Transport For Age Concern.

But why? Why did it say that? What are you supposed to do when you've read it? Are you supposed to think that Camden Community Transport has better things to do - more profitable things - than Supplying Transport? Are we supposed to say to ourselves: "These people are heroes, you know? They could be specu- lating in plutonium futures, plundering the beleaguered South-East Asian economies, inventing new musical forms, writing theses on Catullus and the Metaphysics of Aggression, cooking the perfect souffle ... anything, in fact; and yet, from the goodness of their soft, humanitarian hearts, here they are, Supplying Transport For Age Concern."

And then what? Should we rush home, unscrew our fountain-pens, and fire off scented letters to Camden Commmunity Transport? "Dear Sir, Madam or Whatever: I can't tell you how impressed I was to realise that, although your department was set up to supply transport, what you are actually doing is supplying transport. If there were more departments like yours, this country would be a better place."

Like any other conundrum of modern life, the answer lies in the ancient technique of reductio ad absurdum. Let us peer, for a moment, inside the little white bus. Look! Here are the people whom Camden Community Transport is Supplying Transport For. They are, as advertised, old. In the back row an old man sits alone. He is smartly dressed, in a tartan hat and an overcoat obviously originally meant for someone much bigger; himself, perhaps. He is trembling slightly, and staring out of the window. It is not the expression on his face which is alarming, but, rather, the fact that there is no expression on his face at all. In front of him sit two tiny old women, gazing at each other in silence, heads nodding gently with the delicate precision of birds. A third tiny old woman sits with her eyes closed, a small knitted garment in her hands, turning it over and over. What is their mission statement? What would the Consultants advise them to say? "Old Ladies: Wondering What The Hell Happened"? "Little Old Bloke: That Overcoat Used To Fit Him"?

Of course they wouldn't. Such honesty is not part of the Mission Statement genre. Mission Statements exist to disguise the truth, evade reality, and claim spurious credit for doing what you're meant to be doing anyway. Old People - Growing Old For The Community. Or how about: "Old People - Training Geriatricians 24 Hours A Day"?

No? Well ... what if we reverse the principle, and force the Mission Statement buggers into telling the truth. Camden Community Transport: Buses And So Forth. Or: "Old People: Facing Yet Another Morning Mouldering In Some Municipal Day Centre Where The Chairs Are Ranged Around The Walls And You Can't Turn The Telly Off".

It could catch on, don't you think? How about: "The Labour Party: Governing Britain Because Everyone Got Sick Of The Conservatives", or: "Radio Four: Changing The Schedules Otherwise Nobody Would Realise We've Got A New Controller".

You'll have noticed by now that this, like so many of my innovations, could completely transform our national life. People could go about their business with the renewed confidence that comes with being in possession of the facts. A new understanding would inform our dealings with officialdom (HM Inland Revenue - We Like What We Do) and the forces of law and order (The Police - Fitting You Up To Protect Our Own Backs, John).

And why not go the whole hog, and make Mission Statements compulsory, to be produced on demand? Parties would be transformed (Graeme - Inextricably Married But Hoping For A Meaningless Poke). Medical consultations would be revealed for what they are, both in the GP's surgery (A Locum: Not Listening And Doesn't Give A Damn) and the Harley Street consulting rooms (Private Medicine: Charging Extra For Dressing Well, But You're Still Going To Croak). The world of romance would be changed for ever (Closet Misogynist - In Your Bed To Make You Miserable), as would fashion (Donnatello Vermani - Everyone's Bum Looks Big In Our Clothes) and haute cuisine (Chez Rissole: The Chef Is Doing A TV Series And Hasn't Been Here In Weeks).

It would cost money to implement, of course, but it would do wonders for commercial life (British Industry - Don't Waste Our Time With Your Bloody Orders) and for the public services (DSS - Despising You With A Vengeance). Most of all, it would give Mr Blair (Tony: Supplying Prime Ministerial Services For New Britain) and his funny friend Mandelson (Throwing Tantrums For Your Future) the thing they've all been looking for: a Unique Selling Proposition for New Britain as the only country in the world where you know exactly where you stand (Britain: Avoiding The Issue Since 54BC).

As for me ... well, correct me if I'm wrong, but I rather like: "Michael Bywater: Wasting Time Till He Ends Up On A Camden Community Transport Little White Bus In A Too-Big Overcoat, Staring Out Of The Window But Seeing Nothing".

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