The Friary Newsletter: More words than trains from the Transport Secretary

Patient 73429 will be strapped to a chair and his eyes held open until several simple phrases are imprinted on his mind
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The Independent Online
This week, Derek Blather, head of the Remedial Talking Unit, writes:

So many of the problems that beset modern celebrities are about words, aren't they? Poor Mohamed Al Fayed would never have become the social pariah we see if only he had learnt that true-born Brits do not pronounce the F-word as "fugg". Patsy Palmer's career never recovered from the annoying way she said, "Rick-ee-ye". And there is poor Gordon Brown, who is completely stuck in a lexical rut. He knows that saying things such as "prudent fiscal management" and "boom and bust" and "sustainable growth" fills the nation with boredom, so he tries to make the words more interesting by gritting his teeth or waving his hands around, but he desperately needs the help of the Remedial Talking Unit.

Here we persuade people to re-think their conversational strategies, their discursive gambits, to make themselves clearer, more persuasive or nicer to other celebrities and, if necessary, to ordinary people, too. Here, members of boy bands are taught to chat to people in a relaxed, easy manner without enquiring about the chances of a bunk-up. Ageing thespians are taught the rudiments of Jivespeak, in case they should ever meet young black musicians on a TV chat show; by the end of the first week, no matter how Donald Sinden-ish they are at first, they will have learnt to say, "Nuff respect in the area" like Ali G.

This week, it's all hands to the pumps because Patient No 73429, Prescott J, is back. One of our keenest regulars, he requires the attention of several consultants at every meeting: one to suggest what he should say, one to keep his sentences apart and a third to slow down his delivery by making soothing noises.

The trouble goes back to his childhood, when his father asked who had kicked a football through the glass window of the family garage. "I did," young John said, with the clarity of innocence. "It was me. I did it. The window was broken by myself. The agent of destruction was this football, which broke the glass. I am extremely sorry." His father, incensed by what he took to be youthful sarcasm, thrashed him with a leather belt. John resolved from that moment that clarity would never again get him into trouble. We like having him here. "This clinic," he said at breakfast, "is so renegotiation of franchises in the longer term profitable operation open to contract foreseeable future because I no longer companies expanding guaranteed investment the thing about railways is, they're so pass the marmalade."

Nobody realised he had stopped for a full minute, so nobody actually did pass the marmalade. You feel sorry for him at mealtimes. The Friary has a comprehensive buffet, and our Chronic Eating Disorders Carvery is a legend in Roehampton dining-out circles, but Patient 73429 is too grand to serve himself. He always waves the waitress over. "You want the beef Wellington or the chicken supreme?" she always asks, the table d'hote being a bit limited. You would think there might be a simple answer, but oh no. "If I have the chicken," he replies, "there will be a period of negotiation steering committee rail authority want an exclusive deal and that's what I can't think where that was decided a year ago among the special agreement beef Wellington in the event of expansion best interests of Railtrack and some custard please."

We are going back to the drawing board, therapy-wise, with this one. Remember flash cards, which you hold up for small children, saying little things such as: "Sam sees Lad" and "Ann likes Bill"? We are doing the same. Patient 73429 will be strapped to a chair and his eyelids held open until several simple phrases have become imprinted on his mind: "Hello, Tony, lovely day" is one. "I have every respect for the gentlemen of the press" is another. "Yeah, the trains are in a bad way, but what can I do?" is a third.

Just you wait. In two months, he will be sounding as articulate as Jonathan Miller. "You're very kind," he will say. "I've enjoyed my stay. I look forward to long-term guaranteed franchise horseradish sauce by 'eck whoops it just sort of slipped out, look forward to working with you again soon." Bless him.

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