Look who's not on the front pages

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I HEAR on the news that the pound is in free fall. What does this metaphor mean exactly?

Not a lot.

Why not?

Well, when a person goes into free fall, it is not actually a free fall at all, because he always has a parachute ready to open to prevent himself going splat] on the ground. The pound has no such safety attachment.

So will the pound go splat] on the floor?

No. The pound will go splat] through the floor. In fact, I think it has already. Yes, there it goes]

Most of the talk about currency these days is expressed in terms of buildings - we hear about currencies reaching their floor, touching their ceiling, even bargain currency basements and so on. Is there a reason for this?

Yes. In the old days it was usual to talk about currency in nautical terms. There were rafts of currencies, for instance, and things were always floating free or being tied to something else, and the Bank of England was always bailing the pound out. Well, the European Commission felt that this marine symbolism was scaring people unnecessarily - rafts strongly suggested shipwreck, etc - and so there was a secret decision to get out of naval imagery and into house construction imagery, which was felt to sound a lot safer.

In the old days, when people got out of the pound, it sounded as if they were rats leaving a sinking ship. Nowadays when people get out of the pound, it's meant to sound as if they are politely leaving by the front door.

And has this switch of imagery worked?


Why has this currency crisis occurred just now? Is it anything to do with next Sunday's French referendum, as the Government keeps telling us?

Of course not. Only the White Queen would blame misfortunes on something which had not yet happened.

The White Queen . . ?

Dear God, don't they teach you anything in school these days? Lewis Carroll. The White Queen. Little old lady. Bit like Norman Lamont. Her motto was - scream now, prick your finger later. It saves time. Of course, Norman Lamont is quite the opposite. He is immensely cheerful just before a disaster. That's a sign, usually, that a disaster is about to happen - Mr Lamont saying that everything is hunky-dory.

I see. Anyway, why has this currency crisis blown up just now?

Because of Mr Major's visit to Balmoral.

I beg your pardon?

You remember how Mr Major went to Balmoral to talk to the Queen about things? And how we never did find out what they had talked about? But we all assumed that Mr Major had given her a bit of a talking to? About money and things?

Yes . . .

We got it wrong. Mr Major does not seem to be the man to give anyone a talking to.

So the Queen did all the talking, did she? And gave him a bit of a lecture on money? Told him she had always worried about the level of our entry into the ERM? Is that why all this has come about?

No, much though she may have wanted to. In fact, she didn't say anything. The Queen just refused to talk until Mr Major had got the Royal Family off the front pages of the papers. She said to him - do anything you like, I don't care what it is, just get the Royal Family out of the news, off the hook and back into decent obscurity. Then we can talk sensibly.

You mean this whole ERM crisis has just been engineered to give a breathing space to the Royal Family?

Of course. You remember a week ago you couldn't pick up a paper without the most awful royal photos and speculations hitting you in the face? Now it's all been forgotten. People can hardly remember who Fergie is.

Who is she?

I've no idea. Anyway, the currency crisis was whipped up to give the Royal Family a breathing space, though it has turned out to be a bit of a godsend for David Mellor as well. Unfortunately, things have got rather out of hand, and it seems as if we are now heading for a real crisis.


That the pound has gone into free fall.

Without a parachute?

And over the open sea. Soon it will come to earth and float free. Or, of course, sink.

You mean . . ?

Yes. We're going to go back to maritime imagery, as a desperate last step.

Will it work?

What do you think?