Bunhill: All we are saying is give war a chance

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The Independent Online
Readers of this column last week may remember our entreaty to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to include some exciting old taxes in his Budget. By resurrecting popular favourites such as the Danegeld, the window tax and hearth money, he could do away with such modern impostors as income tax, which was only ever introduced as a temporary measure to fund our fight with Napoleon - perhaps our masters haven't noticed that the war is over.

With all this money raised from old taxes, however, Kenneth Clarke will need something old to spend it on. So here are my further suggestions:

q War: This is a solution fully in keeping with established precedent since most of the duties of the past were devoted to Britannia's attempts to subjugate (sorry, civilise) foreign countries. It would also have the knock-on effect of slashing our social security and education budgets for years to come. More important still, I'm far too old to be called up.

Seeing as we Brits are never better than when our backs are against the wall, I suggest a best-of-five nuclear confrontation with the rest of the world. The first side to three apocalyptic strikes shall be declared the winner and the judge's decision will be final.

q Engineering: An article on these pages a few weeks ago highlighted the looming skills shortage that imperils our industrial competitiveness.

Money urgently needs to be thrown at this problem and the way forward, along the lines of the 18th century press gangs who hauled sailors from taverns to fight for the Royal Navy, is to make engineers out of the foppish dilettantes who insist on taking media studies courses. The line of attack would be as follows: "Deadlines? I'll show you deadlines. Here's a set square, here's a table of logarithms, now design a bridge by 6 o'clock."

Any student journalists considered surplus to requirements will be enlisted by the Government to provide reader-friendly coverage of the war effort outlined above. "Minor nuclear bomb in London. Not many dead" would be good for starters.

q Man on the Clapham omnibus... in the saloon bar... on the street: Time was when the poor chap was badgered from bus to bar to boulevard by governments seeking his approval for their populist policies.

Now may be the time to bring him back. After all, politicians claim that the common man cares nothing for government sleaze or the minutiae of convergence criteria, and is only interested in more bobbies on the beat, more prisoners in jail and reintroducing the birch/rod/ horsewhip/gallows. So why don't they ask him in person and give him the odd token of appreciation while they're at it? It would save a fortune in opinion polls.

I have attended many business meetings in my time, and they never fail to amaze (and amuse) as they quickly degenerate from formal conjoining (a word that sadly I did not invent, but nonetheless like) of minds to an undignified outpouring of gibberish which usually results in the kind of lunatic decision-making that the meeting was designed to avoid. They possess a short half-life of sense which has usually degraded alarmingly by the end of the second hour.

At this point I have usually dropped off, but I have perfected the method of doing so, with my back straight and eyes slightly open so that - combined with the disguise offered by my elegant reading spectacles - no one in the meeting can tell I am in Never-never Land. If I am awake, however, I find myself having to interject observations and suggestions that will bring the self-destructive reverie to an abrupt halt and at least slow the ossification (another wonderful word I did not invent).

It is with this noble purpose in mind that I present the latest Bunhill competition: business meeting conversation stoppers. "Excuse me while I scratch my tumour" has always worked for me as a warm-up statement. My American cousin, Good ol'Bunhill, swears by "you shake hands like an Ebola victim" as an opening conversational gambit.

Suggestions are strongly welcomed, and the usual prize (the fizz) awaits the most abrupt conversation-stopper.

Ne'er cast a clout...

The upward march in interest rates has once again focused attention on the need for sound money: less borrowing, please and more saving. But as these faulty proverbs illustrate, is there any point?

"Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves." When Bunhill was young, he filled up a large food jar with 1p and 2p pieces, forgoing all manner of sweetmeats in the process. Puzzlingly, these coppers never did transform themselves into mountains of pounds 50 notes; their fate instead was to be drip-fed over a period of several months to unaccountably disgruntled bus conductors.

"Little and often fills the purse." Try telling that to BT.

"Many a mickle makes a muckle." No one amassed mickles more assiduously than I, but never has that muckle crossed my knuckles.

So for an economic policy that is truly prudent, I prefer the vision elucidated by the writer Anthony Hope in 1894: "Economy is going without something you do want in case you should, some day, want something you probably won't want."