Laugh? I nearly bought a Skoda

BUNHILL
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The Independent Online
I Have been worrying about the Skoda joke. This is the problem: Skoda jokes are based on the premise that Skodas are bad cars. But Skodas are no longer bad cars - the new Octavia, I am told, is positively radiant. Which is fine for the Skoda, and those who want to drive one, but what happens to the poor old jokes?

Before the War, this sort of joke was attached to Fords. "Why do you get a squirrel when you buy a Ford?" the wags demanded. "To pick up the nuts as they fall off." "What time is it when two Fords pass?" "Tin past tin."

Since then, various companies have had their spot in the firing line. In the Fifties and Sixties the Americans had it in for Lucas, which they called the Prince of Darkness. "Why do the British drink warm beer?" they wondered. "Because their fridges run on Lucas batteries." Then in the Seventies they turned on Jaguar. "Buy two and keep one for spare parts." (This was actualy quite sensible advice).

No one knows when or why Skoda picked up the mantle. Professor Garel Rhys, who knows more about cars than is good for him, says it was a way of pouring scorn on Eastern Europe in general. But why did Skoda get the lion's share of the flak (with Lada getting a bit of stray shrapnel), when the genuinely bad Moskvich and Wartburg flew straight through unstrafed?

Though this piece is a serious (and probably searing) social comment, I am afraid I will now have to tell you some Skoda jokes, so that you can analyse them, parse them, or put them in the microwave. How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill the tank. What do you call a Skoda with a sun roof? A skip. What do you call a skoda with twin exhausts? A wheelbarrow. Et Cetera.

So, what will happen to these jokes now the Skoda is a decent car? They could of course persist (but the Ford ones didn't). They could be transferred to another model. But what? There is no such thing as a really bad car these days, though it might be fun to have a go at Koreans such as the Daewoo, the Kia or the implausibly named Ssangyong.

The answer, I'm afraid, must be to send them to the home for retired jokes, and let them gradually fade away. Me, I shall concentrate on viola jokes, because no one is ever going to make the viola better. The jokes are better too. Why do so many people take an instant dislike to viola players? Why wait - it saves so much time. What do you call someone who hangs around musicians a lot? A viola player. And what do you call a violist with more than one brain cell? Pregnant.

BY THE way, did you know that Skoda used to be taken very seriously indeed? It made the shells that both sides fired at each other in the Battle of Jutland.

On the button

I WAS interested to read a letter in John Lewis's excellent Gazette from an employee (sorry, Partner) complaining that he was not allowed to wear button-down collars. The Assistant Director of Trading (Department Stores) had a dusty answer for this young ragamuffin: "Partners should be dressed during working hours in a manner suitable for their business," he wrote.

I applaud this. Would you like to buy a shirt with a button-down collar from a man wearing a button-down collar?

NOW TO a challenging competition - to make up the ultimate title for a management textbook.

Here are some best-selling American titles. You can either pick and choose from these (The seven habits of consistently customer-driven success, for example), or just make them up. But they have to be extraordinarily witty and plausible to win a bottle of champagne. Here they are:

Principle-centred leadership.

Awaken the giant within.

The customer-driven company.

The seven habits of highly effective people.

Stop selling, start partnering.

12 qualities that make you a leader.

Consistently exceptional leadership.

Just say yes! A step up to success.

Creation teamwork.

Mea culpa

I Have been pulled up by Nigel Hulbert of Basle, in Switzerland, who says that "below par" may indeed be a good thing in golf, but it is a bad thing in financial asset prices. "If I'm feeling below par I am, in my subjective analysis, definitely worth less than I would be on a purely objective evaluation excluding short-term fluctuations." I always knew there was a reason why I never learned anything about finance ...

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