I won't go to jail after all

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The Independent Online
An enlightened scheme has been proposed here in Ireland which would provide for a private prison, run for their debtors by those banks and building societies who have kindly lent them money but cannot persuade them to return it. Such unreasonable behaviour presently obliges the government first to prosecute these ingrates, then to incarcerate them, at a cost of pounds 600 a week.

I have always considered myself fortunate to have kept out of prison, for I do not think I should enjoy it at all. Nobody can be expected to provide decent hospitality at pounds 600 a week. The wine they serve must be absolutely filthy, the cuisine does not bear thinking about, and I doubt there is much choice in the matter of entertainment.

Could we hope for better from a privatised system? I like to think that the institutions to whom I owe money would take good care of me. Who knows, they might even let me write a prison diary. Some quite good stories have come out of debtors' prisons.

But, no. As a colleague kindly points out, bank managers do not think that way. You might be three years into a four-year sentence for, say, defaulting on your mortgage, and, inquiring into the possibility of remission, be told that you had only eight days to your account. 'So far, you've just been working off the interest,' your friendly bank manager would tell you, 'and you're just starting to work off the capital.'

WE UNDERSTAND very well in Ireland that the English require the same standard of probity from their politicians as we do from our bishops. This is probably the consequence of politicians usurping the moral prerogatives of the clergy. Our lot, wisely, have chosen to avoid this stony path, but it may not be long before they start telling us how to behave. If they do, they will be sorry, for there are many juicy stories in circulation about our legislators.

Next for the high jump this side of the water, I fear, will be another ecclesiastical gentleman incapable of keeping his glands under control. I met him last summer in the company of several good-looking women. We had a drink on the lawn.

'That fellow,' said I afterwards, 'is fond of the ladies, is he not?' 'I suppose it takes one to spot one,' said the blonde in attendance on me, 'but how did you know for sure?' Well, I explained, one recognises immediately a threat to one's harem, even should it proceed from a bishop. There are gentlemen to whom I would not, except as a gesture of very high esteem, introduce any lady whose company I valued, lest it be taken away from me.

So it can be with churchmen. Strangely enough, I have never felt the same anxiety over any politician. They are, of either sex, an unprepossessing lot. I have dabbled in politics myself but was tempted only once, at a party conference many, many years ago. These people really do wish to discuss their nefarious trade incessantly, from the conference floor to the pillow, but of one thing you may be sure: wherever and whenever party activists are gathered together, there will be activity and they will party, and not a bishop and a bucket of water could separate them.

YOU WILL be familiar with the anecdote about the two writers who meet after evading one another's company for some years. The first inquires as to what the second is up to. 'Actually, I'm working on a novel,' says he. 'That's funny,' says the other, 'neither am I'

I am. It is a comedy set on this island, where there is no shortage of loopers and imbeciles to caricature. I break all the rules by talking about it and reading from it. The three blondes concur that the characters have not a redeeming feature between them. No sooner did I stray to London in search of another character than I found myself inventing a homosexual mass murderer, with the intention of introducing him into polite Irish society. I am sure he will get on very well here so long as he does not spit in the soup.

It is not my first foray into fiction. Three thrillers of mine appeared in the States, under the name of an eminent best-seller who preferred to feed me vodka and dollars 25,000 a shot to the trouble of writing them himself. I was warned that he was a CIA agent. As it turned out, he was. In his youth he had written a novel about his own father, then sold it to him for dollars 50,000. It went straight into the fire. When the money ran out, he told the old man he had inadvertently kept another copy. 'Are you sure that's the last, son?' said the daddy, writing another cheque. I wish I could order my affairs so neatly.

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