What have we here? An unmissable opportunity to join the Millennium Hall of Infamy

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The Independent Online
As far as fame goes, I am happy to have remained in the shallow end of public recognition, down among the paddlers and the non-swimmers, where the worst that can happen to you is to get occasional letters from charities who are putting fund-raising books together ("We would be tremendously grateful if you could let us know your favourite recipe/ dream/travel story/childhood memory. We have already had contributions from Jeffrey Archer/Edwina Currie/Gyles Brandreth ..." )

Which is why I was slightly startled to receive a letter this week which began thus:

"Dear Mr Kington, It is indeed a great pleasure to enclose your invitation to be a distinguished biographee of the MILLENNIUM HALL OF FAME which will showcase the lives of men and women who have made this century great. The volume will be published in mid-1998. The Governing Board of Editors has nominated several hundred individuals from its vast international Who's Who archives to be featured in this history-making event. Congratulations on your nomination."

As you can imagine, my cheeks went a gentle hunting pink and my eyes stole shyly to the top of the letter to see who could possibly be such a misjudge of character. It was the dear old American Biographical Institute.

No, I don't know, either. But apparently they have been publishing biographical reference works since 1967, and they live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and they think so highly of their forthcoming book (THE MILLENNIUM HALL OF FAME) that they would like me to have a copy.

Well, to buy a copy.

"As a nominee for the MILLENNIUM HALL OF FAME you have the option of reserving a copy of the volume for your own personal library. Your biography will be compiled by our Senior Editor who will mail you a proof of your life's story prior to the publication's release ... It is certain to be one of the most sought-after reference works of the past one hundred years."

And that is not all.

"Biographees are also eligible for the MILLENNIUM Statue appropriately honoring those invited to be a part of posterity. A beautiful HALL OF FAME TESTIMONIAL PLAQUE is available as well. I have put together a special package option of all three items at a reduced cost than when ordered separately."

Gliding swiftly over the doubtful grammar of that last sentence, I turn to the special package option, a green leaflet illustrating the Hall of Fame Statue - which looks exactly like a gravestone with one's name on - and giving me more details of the book, or rather of "... this everlasting, interesting and motivating volume on global bookshelves ... in which you can document the legacy of your accomplishments - at least one page, if not more, will be dedicated to you and your portrait as well as your philosophies."

The letter ends, before giving details of payment, "I would like to thank you, on behalf of the Institute, for your many contributions to humankind," which convinces me, if I didn't know it before, that they have got the wrong man. But I can also feel a thank you letter forming in my mind. It goes something like this.

"Dear ABI, Tempted though I am to order your Statue at only US$375, or indeed the Hall of Fame volume itself, which I note is also US$375, I feel you should know that the philosophies which I have evolved during this great century would not make me feel worthy of inclusion in the MILLENNIUM HALL OF FAME.

"First, I note that you intend to include only living people, and thus to exclude such great figures as Einstein, Lenin and Stephane Grappelli. Why invite me, and not them? Could it be that I am alive, and thus able to send you money, while more famous people, no matter how revered their achievements, are dead and thus unable to make you richer?

"Secondly, I feel it is unwise for me to put money in the hands of people who habitually use the words `biographee', `inductee' and `honoree'.

"Thirdly, I do not wish to join posterity until I am dead.

"Fourthly, I do not wish my biography to be written by your Senior Editor. I want it to be written either by Michael Holroyd or, failing that, by The Independent's Obituary Department.

"Fifthly,the only decent portrait I have of myself, I sent about two years ago to a glossy magazine which wanted a black and white mugshot to go with an article, and they haven't sent it back yet.

"If this response disappoints you, may I suggest that you get in touch instead with Jeffrey Archer, Edwina Currie and Gyles Brandreth? I enclose their addresses.

Yours sincerely ..."