Here's looking at you, caller. Or not, as the case may be


Here is a prediction: the greatest force for social and commercial upheaval this year will be a harmless-sounding device known as Caller ID.

The more modern of you will be familiar with Caller ID - it allows you to see who is calling you before you pick up the handset. The social effects of this will be obvious: unpopular people will discover they are unpopular, mothers-in-law (except mine, bless her!) will find they are unable to make contact, and those of us who are popular will have to get used to being answered by name. I find it quite unnerving when one of my chums greets me with a cheery "Hello Bunhill!"

But the commercial impact could, I suggest, knock a couple of percentage points off the GNP, though few people will mind much. The following categories will find themselves unable to do their jobs:

Double-glazing salesmen, salesmen of all other kinds, public relations consultants, debt collectors, journalists (of the "tabloid" variety), pollsters and lots of others I haven't thought of yet. In fact it might put BT out of business. As my Cityish colleagues would say: Sell!

The Chairman's message to the partners of John Lewis starts: "It has been a most orderly year ..."

There is no one, nothing, quite like John Lewis. As the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride round the M25, as the stars of the sky fall to earth, as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit, John Lewis Partners will still be selling sensible things to sensible people, and the chairman will be writing his next report: "A certain disorder affected soft furnishings, and while Aberdeen and Milton Keynes disappeared into the abyss, we were pleased to note that Brent Cross was performing well ..."

Virgin deflated

Richard Branson's airline magazine is called Hot Air, with the sub- heading "Virgin Atlantic's high-flying magazine". Something will have to change. Either the title goes - I suggest Helium Falling - or the strapline should change: "Down to earth with a bump" maybe.

I have had suggestions for a subdivision of the Euro (Eurine, you may remember, was proposed before Christmas). Before coming to them, Magy Higgs makes a good point: that a good reason for disposing of the penny is that it is either referred to as a "pee", or that "pence" is used as the singular. As I've said before, decimalisation was a horrible mistake.

Back to the Euro Division. William J Mason brings mighty logic to bear with his suggestion of Pean (pronounced pee-an). The trouble is, Pean is also the US spelling of paean, a song of praise, which is implausible. Its other meaning in the dictionary, "fur represented as sable spotted with or" is incomprehensible, so should at least be well received in Brussels.

Keith Flett suggests that a Blair generic would be the New, while the democratic version would be the Pleb: the New Pleb might be a compromise. Adrian Brokin, a self-confessed realist, says the Euro should be made up of one deutschmark, so the subdivision presumably remains the pfennig.

Christophe Sladen has switched nationalities to write this letter, which I reproduce:

"Nous avons abandonne l'Ecu - historique nom francais - pour l'Euro: mot artificiel, sans histoire, sans famille, sans gravitas (comme dit le bon chancelier Clarke). En place de l'Eurine (aussi mot artificiel) permettez-moi proposer un mot tout court, tout simple.

Vous pouvez rappeler, j'en suis sur, le Sou: piece de monnaie petite mais bien utile.

Pour eviter aucun risque de confusion, je propose que chaque Euro soit divise entre cent pieces qui s'appellent, pas Sou, mais Fou. Ainsi, par exemple: J'ai fou (I 'ave fou), Tu as fou (You 'ave fou), Il/Elle a fou ('E, She or Eet 'ave fou) etc.

The word would, Mr Sladen suggests, be a useful exclamation in European negotiations. Just shout "Fou!", and no one could object. Those of a severely monolingual disposition should look up the word "fou" in a dictionary.

Competition time

I am pleased to announce the first Bunhill competition of 1997. Just think of collective nouns for professions. Here are some for starters: a boredom of accountants, an ignorance of non-executive directors, a stupor of actuaries, a waterproof of Internet experts, a wad of merchant bankers. Bottles of fizz for the best (I apologise, by the way, to those of you who were expecting fizz and haven't got it yet - our delivery wagon collided with Santa Claus's sleigh in a Horror Pile-Up on Cloud Nine Bypass just before Christmas).

Frantic phone calls jammed the switchboards of Bunhill Towers last week, demanding to know where I had got to. I am unable, for Security Reasons, to give an explanation, but I can say that it involved my old friend Captain Moonlight and a toad-sexing expedition in Anguilla. Thank you for your concern.

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