Last week I attended, for the sheer fun of it, a conference about some forthcoming changes to the NHS. One of the lectures was given by a lady apparatchik from the Department of Health whose grimacing attempts at smiles, and whose bodily writhing as she tortured the English language with neologisms, acronyms and platitudes in the service of evident untruth, made Gordon Brown’s bonhomie seem like a model of spontaneity. She knew what the assembled doctors thought of her, so in a sense she was being brave; at one point in what I suppose I must call her ‘presentation’ there was a single guffaw of contemptuous laughter.It was an illuminating moment, a flash of lightning in a moonless night-time landscape.
Once in the Equatorial Guinean capital of Malabo I spent a very happy afternoon counting the number of aid agencies whose white Land Cruisers passed me in the street (the only vehicles there were). I counted 27 agencies in all, which goes to show that corrupt dictatorships are the boon of aid agencies. And I had a friend who played a game of special cricket in his mind whenever he was in the company of an eminent but notoriously self-obsessed colleague. A run was scored every time the colleague said ‘I’; there was a wicket whenever he uttered a sentence without mentioning himself. Needless to say, no innings was ever completed.