Everyday life in the land of make-believe

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The Independent Online
This is sometimes said to be a particularly gullible age, when people can genuinely believe that there are UFOs and aliens and things in The X-Files and sex 'n' Satan in the Orkneys, and a reasonable chance of winning the lottery and so on. Logical, sensible, grown-up people like you and me don't believe in things that don't exist, do we ?

Oh, yes we do! Every day we too talk about things that don't exist as if they do. Every day we pretend that things are not what they really are. Today I am going to prove it by bringing you a list of 10 things that do not exist even though we say they do.


Mercia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom that flourished in the ninth century, especially under King Offa. It hasn't flourished much since, or, to put it another way, it hasn't existed since AD 1000. Yet people still believe in it enough to name a police force after it! It's uncanny. It's weird. It's a bit like Wessex. (See Hardy's Wessex.)

Hardy's Wessex

Hardy's Wessex is an imaginary concept dreamt up by the tourist people. It is a way of getting people who haven't read Hardy's books to a place which has changed out of all recognition since Hardy wrote about it. It is of a piece with Shakespeare's Stratford and Wordsworth's Lakeland and Jane Austen's Bath and Bronte Country and all the other things which come from something that doesn't exist called the heritage (see Heritage). Even living writers get the treatment. James Herriott, the best-selling vet, once said on TV that he had seen an ad for a hotel, set "In The Heart of Herriott Country". The ad had concluded: "Sorry - No Animals !".


Our heritage does exist, but not in the form that Virginia Bottomley and Stephen Dorrell pretend it does. For them, heritage is merely the historical wing of the tourist industry (see Millennium). But a real heritage, like happiness or heredity, is something that can only exist when you don't talk about it. One's heritage is something that hovers in the air and is part of the way you think. You can't isolate it in a test tube. You certainly can't isolate it in a government ministry.


Nobody can agree on the date of the millennium (2000? 2001?). Nobody can agree when Christ was born. Nobody can agree if it should be a Christian date or a calendar date. Nobody can even agree how it should be celebrated. Otherwise, fine.


We haven't had a proper forest in Britain since, well, since we last cut them all down. But this doesn't prevent us referring to the Forest of Dean, the New Forest, Sherwood Forest, and so on. Forests? I think not.


Nobody knows what post-modernism is. Nobody can define it, apart from vague references to a period of fin-de-siecle eclecticism - ie, a time when you could borrow from all styles because there was no real style around. The fact is that there is no such thing as post-modernism. What has happened is that because modernism has gone on so long, the pundits felt that there must be something coming to follow it, and it might as well be called post-modernism. But that doesn't prove that there IS something. Post-modernism is a bit like Balti cooking. They felt it was time for a new fashion in Indian cooking, so they came up with Balti, which nobody in India had ever heard of before.

The Olympic spirit

The true modern Olympic spirit is the urge to win at all costs, no matter how much time, drugs, money and sponsorship it takes. This has replaced the traditional Olympic spirit which says that it is better to take part than win, and which no longer exists except in pub darts, and not always then.


In many quarters Greenspan is thought to be an ecological movement which reaches across from the USA and tells the London stock market what to do. This is not so. Greenspan is a kind of unripe orange.

The special relationship

The only special thing about the special relationship, apart from the fact the the Americans are unaware of it, is that it does not exist.


The word "care" used to mean compassion. It now means some organisation desperately trying to make up for the shortcomings of some other organisation, such as "care in the community". It sounds a bit like "core", another modern cliche meaning nothing more than "basic" or "central" but SOUNDING a lot more important. An ideal modern name for a garage would be "Core Car Care".

More non-existent phenomena coming soon - the Commonwealth, democracy, truth, Government transport policy, etc!