No sitting when you're on the Privy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TRADITION, they say, is a wonderful thing, but whoever they are, Gordon Brown isn't listening. No sooner had our Chancellor unknotted the long- established "white tie" dress code at the Mansion House dinner by wearing a lounge suit (and by the way could he please turn his reforming zeal to the self-same lounge suit because I'm tired of having to put on a jacket and tie every time I go into the living-room) than he was presenting his Budget from a brand-new red "briefcase" and switching his set-piece speech from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Clearly nothing is sacred to Mr Brown, so perhaps he might look at a few other cows now he's in slaughtering mode. I nominate, for one, the bizarre custom that forces members of the Queen's Privy Council to conduct their meetings standing up. This is a reasonably practical proposition when the issue of the day is an open and shut case, such as Jonathan Aitken's resignation offer. But it remains entirely impractical when they're discussing eternal mysteries like motorway traffic - why there's gridlock one minute but, before you know it, everyone's doing Michael Schumacher impressions.

I contacted the Privy Council's office to find out the reason for this seating ban, and they told me it was simply tradition; no more, no less. So no clues as to the author of the custom - probably someone who was attacked by a chaise-longue when he was very young. And no answer to why - in these days of all-seater sports stadiums where people who want to stand have to sit - people who'd rather sit have to stand. Strangely, Mr Brown's Budget spending plans didn't stretch to a set of kitchen stools for our foot-sore Privy Councillors; perhaps he could rectify this next time round.

That said, the absence of furniture is at least an aid to quick decision- making: "Right, Aitken's done the decent thing - any other business?" "NOOOOOO!" shout the councillors in noisy unison as they're treated for cramp by a team of paramedics. "Okay, then, last one down the gentlemen's drinking club is a cissy." (Noises off, alarum, exeunt stage left.)

Talking of gentlemen (and gentle ladies), another hallowed institution that might have cause to fear Mr Brown's assault on tradition is Cazenove, the Queen's stockbrokers. From Monday to Thursday, staff at Cazenove have to abide by a notoriously strict "laces and braces" dress code that makes "white tie" wearers look like penguins without a cause, but on Fridays they are given special dispensation to slip into "country wear" - tweed jackets, Arran jumpers, shotguns, dead rabbits ... that kind of thing. This is great news for those brokers with a country pile, who are spared the arduous task of changing out of their suits in the back of the Range Rover, but less comforting for those whose alternative wardrobes consist of nothing more grand than, well, lounge suits.

So in the spirit of sartorial egalitarianism, can we expect Mr Brown to make baseball caps worn back to front de rigueur in the City? You read it here first.

THOSE who praised the Chancellor for not playing fast and loose with the economy will have been dismayed to find that many of us played fast and loose with his Budget, taking a bizarre series of bets on how long the speech would last, how much would go on a packet of cigarettes and, hard to swallow though it seems, how many times he'd reach for his glass of mineral water.

Many of these wagers were "spread bets" where, taking the example of the Budget speech, a bookmaker offered an opening quote of 92 minutes' duration and then invited gamblers to wager on whether it would be longer or shorter. To illustrate the amounts that could be won or lost, Steve Lodge, the personal finance editor of this paper, bet pounds 1 on brevity and was praying (along with many others, though for different reasons) that Mr Brown would sit down immediately without saying anything. As it was, the Chancellor remained upright for 60 minutes and the Independent on Sunday's finance guru had to settle for a windfall of pounds 32 - which he will, of course, invest wisely.

The water wager was the innovation of Sporting Index which, believing that Mr Brown would be as prudent with his imbibing as he is with high finance, opened a book at five sips. High drama ensued as the Chancellor ignored his water with iron restraint for the first five minutes, erupted into old-style Socialist frenzy with two consecutive sips, and then carried on speaking. Sporting Index reports that it did pounds 5,000 worth of business on this bet alone, so many of the gamblers must have imagined he would empty his glass in one go (as the whole of the House chanted "down in one, down in one, down in one"), do the same with the next, and then swig straight from the bottle before calling for the whole crate. In reality, he took just four sips and the House of Commons gentlemen's cloakroom wasn't required.

If this episode illustrates anything, it is our determination to eke out excitement from the most unpromising situations. So the next time you're at a loose end, why not make a market in how long it will take the paint to dry, how many blades of grass you've got in your garden and how long it will take the kettle to boil.

Mouldy cheese

THERE'S some bad news for people who like nothing better than a bit of tin foil with their cheese: Kraft, the maker of the Dairylea triangles, has brought out a new form of plastic packaging that uses tabs instead of red tape and promises to turn what was once mission impossible into a piece of cake (well, cheese, anyway).

The Unifill package is produced by Elopak (a milk carton company, so perhaps it won't be that easy, after all), which makes the mystifying claim that the plastic is "pressed into a variety of child-friendly moulds such as crocodiles and sharks".

The next step, then, must surely be "adult-friendly" moulds in the shape of bailiffs, lovable London gangsters and thermo-nuclear warheads.