You know that worried feeling you get, while looking through your monthly bank statement, that there are some items which you can't identify? One entry, reading "Comm. Od. Inst," or a similarly baffling arrangement of letters, will have cost you £91 last month, just as it did in January and February, but you still won't have a clue what it refers to. I used to lie awake nights wondering about the identity of something called "Box Clever," which for years had relieved me of £80 a month. Only when I cancelled my direct debit did protesting letters arrive, and I discovered it was a TV rental company from which I thought I'd ceased renting anything in 1998.
Well, now we've found the motherlode of misappropriated money, a financial black hole into which millions of our taxed income has gone in the last three years. It's the Treasury, and I don't mean the Inland Revenue; I mean the government credit cards which have been used by Treasury officials for a little spending spree.
They're called "procurement cards", and they're cards with which Whitehall civil servants are supposed to buy essential items of government equipment, from staple guns and spy equipment to Trident submarines and subscriptions to Which Index-Linked Pension Is Right For You? There are a head-spinning 140,000 of these cards around town. And alittle bold questioning has revealed some decidedly non-governmental things are being charged to them, at our expense.
A lot of shopping has taken place, not in procuring torpedoes or computer networks, but in John Lewis and Marks & Sparks. Details aren't clear, but I suspect some lovely glassware and designer plates now grace the homes of a few Treasury types, thanks to me. More than £28,000 was spent on vitally important overnight stays in fancy 5-star London hotels. I don't think there was anything sordid about these stays (this isn't France); they were probably nights when a poor civil servant couldn't face the long, lonesome trip from his Whitehall office to his agreeable manor house in Godalming. I'm happy I helped him enjoy a restful night.
More puzzling is the figure of £25,000 which was spent on Treasury visits to Revolution Karting in Canary Wharf and to Go Ape, the adventure playground where you're propelled through the air attached to wires slung between trees. The picture begins to form in my head of a gaggle of sober Treasury types reverting to small-boyhood, whizzing through tall branches or around a karting track, their charcoal-grey turn-ups flapping in the slipstream. Lots of the money was spent on training courses and team-building exercises, those self-conscious weekend affairs where you learn how to be leaders of men, or team players or communication experts. I wonder if the participants had a lunchtime session called "Royal Worcester or Villeroy & Bosch – Making the Most of Your Procurement Expenses"?
Careful with that 'mainland', Your Majesty
Despite the Queen's warily body-swerving a pint of Guinness yesterday, diplomatic relations between Ireland and the UK are fairly rocking along. Dissent has been kettled inside the outskirts of Dublin. National anthems have been played together (consecutively, of course, rather than in some Anglo-Irish disco mash-up.) Two sensible women heads of state have been photographed standing together in the Garden of Remembrance, gazing solemnly at wreaths mounted on cheap-looking trestles. All that's needed now is for people to be stopped from calling Ireland by reductive terms.
I didn't catch the name of the policeman on Tuesday who referred to "Ireland's relations with the mainland", but he must have offended a lot of exiled Celts. Great Britain isn't Ireland's mainland, you twit. Ireland is its own main land. It's not some offshore colony, like the Isle of Man. Likewise, people in Northern Ireland who talk about "the mainland," referring to England rather than the 26 counties, are asking for trouble. The Irish government is prepared to love the Queen, but not if she refers, in any speech, to "the British Isles" and includes Ireland under that umbrella term, because the place hasn't been British since 1922. And don't, for Gawd's sake Your Majesty, repeat John Humphrys's chucklingly matey question on Radio 4's Today show – "Come on now, when is Ireland going to become part of the United Kingdom?" – or we'll all be back where we started.
Call your band Agata Kristi and you're asking for trouble
I've been following with interest the legal troubles of Art Troitsky, the glamorous Russian rock critic and cultural commentator who's in court today facing a two-year prison sentence for "criminal slander". In a television documentary, he called a former rock guitarist named Vadim Samoylov the "trained poodle" of President Medvedev's chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov.
Surkov and Samoylov once collaborated on a rock album, but are both now in high-level politics, so Mr Troitsky's not-terribly-rude remark is being taken very seriously. He's also being taken to court and sued for slander because he had the nerve to criticise the Moscow police, and for being just too outspoken for modern Kremlin sensibilities.
One small detail of the case fascinated me: Mr Samoylov's "gothic rock" band is called Agata Kristi. Is that really an appropriate name for a modern, edgy, glam-techno collective? Is the late author of comfortable, slightly moth-eaten whodunits, the creator of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, the right person to namecheck when establishing your electro-goth bona fides? Are there other crazoid Russian rock bands out there called Pidi Jems and Doroti Elsayrz? Like Mr Troitsky's presence in court, it's a bit of a mystery.