John Walsh: 'If your phone sounds weird, don't worry, it's just the apocalypse again'

Tales of the City
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The Independent Online

Oh look – this year's imminent-apocalypse story has arrived. Imminent-apocalypse stories turn up about once a year, to spread panic among the unscientific. They began in 1999, when thousands became convinced that the chronometers on planes would malfunction at midnight of 31 December (when all the noughts on the dials turned to 2000), causing the aircraft to fall out of the sky. It was clearly bollocks, but we bought it for a time.

Last year, it was the Large Hadron Collider, which would, we were assured, create a real Big Bang near the departures lounge of Zurich Airport.

Now it's a company called Huawei, which is China's largest phone company. It has, it seems, been infiltrating every nook and cranny of British food and power supplies for years by supplying component parts to British Telecom's new 21CN network. This network, which cost £10bn to devise, is designed to speed up communications between businesses and powerful agencies – the military, government departments, GCHQ, power and water supplies, transport systems and the entire banking system. Since everything is interconnected, any virus introduced to the network could wreak havoc on Britain's fundamental operations, from government and army to supermarkets, the London Tube and railways.

Chaps at the Foreign Office are concerned that China has only to flick a switch to access the technology and close down half the UK; (Chinese cyber-hackers already nobbled some FO computers, two years ago). Now the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee warns about a "threat to national security", pointing out that, last year, the Pentagon blocked all computer-security overtures by the Huawei corporation because it wouldn't be "in the national security interests".

This must be paranoia on the part of the JIC; it's impossible to take this story seriously. It's like a Michael Crichton novel, another apocalypse-now drama for our over-technologised age. But it's true that in 2005, somebody at BT bought several million quid's worth of technology that now renders the nation vulnerable to attack from the world's fastest-expanding economy. If the country's vital services are closed down this year just because we innocently bought some Chinese phone components, someone in Whitehall will be smacking his forehead very hard and going "Doh!"

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So which X-rated blue films was Richard Timney so shamelessly watching, at the taxpayer's expense, at 11.18pm on 1 April and 11.19pm on 6 April last year? We know he was enjoying a late-night visual thrill while his voluptuous memsahib was stuck in a Commons bar with some junior Minister of String; but what precisely was he watching?

All that appeared on the expenses claim were the words, "Additional Feature (18)", so the newspapers fell into a frenzy of speculation about the movies Mr Timney chose. "The type of material available on the adult channels," wrote one paper, "include films with explicit titles such as Happy Husbands and Willing Wives." Happy Husbands and Willing Wives? Jeez. How wholesome. It sounds like a recruitment video for the Mormon Tabernacle.

The Sun found that, "among the racy titles are Dirty and Kinky Mature Women, and Heavy Petting." These must vie for the accolade of Least Erotic Film Title Since Sex Lives of the Potato Men. The Independent, meanwhile, checked out the Television X movie choice and discovered "titles such as Gash for Cash, Gentleman's Relish and Anal Boutique". I'm surprised to find anchovy paste in these sordid surroundings, but since Clement Attlee introduced it to the Commons in the late 1940s, there may be some parliamentary connection.

Frustrated by ignorance about which of these treats Mr Timney chose, the papers hinted darkly about how he might have watched them: "On-demand movies have DVD-like controls," reported the Mail on Sunday disgustedly, "enabling viewers to fast forward, rewind and pause pictures." Eeeewww. Rewinding and pausing? How shameful. I'm afraid our fascination about the Home Sec and her husband won't go away. Stand by for a new porn-film-cum--thriller brazenly titled My Additional Red Features (18).

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