Tuesday, 10am. Clacket Lane motorway services, on the anti-clockwise M25. I purchased from the Costa coffee shop my ‘small’ (i.e. least gigantic) americano-with-milk and settled at the unoccupied table amidst other unoccupied tables that was at the optimum equidistant point from the few occupied tables. Thus the exciting life of the travelling businessperson. I was about to peruse the latest Dabbler comments on my handheld mobile device when from behind me boomed a voice belonging unmistakeably to veteran Radio 2 disc jockey Steve Wright. Unmistakeable not just in timbre and pitch, but in tone and volume. He was sitting at a miniature table with his phone declaiming instructions about airline tickets in precisely the same manner that he might announce one of his ‘factoids’. A few minutes later his aged parents joined him. “Goooooood morning good morning good morning! And how’s mother today?” he actually said, as if he was interviewing Will Young. I was not eavesdropping, you understand: his voice was so loud it filled not just the Costa area but also the Macdonalds zone and the Hot Food Co platz, possibly even stretching as far as the Krispy Kreme locus.
I don’t think it was even that Steve Wright wanted to be noticed. More frightening than that: I suspect that he cannot ever stop being Steve Wright. God knows where he gets the energy to be himself all the time, I don’t know about you but I save being myself strictly for special occasions.
I see that tax avoidance is the new smoking (smoking being the new drink-driving, and drink-driving being the new paedophilia). David Gauke has morally condemned those who pay tradesmen cash-in-hand in return for knocking a bit off the bill. I don’t think Gauke went as far as ‘repugnant’, but the tactic is clear: HMRC is failing to collect taxes with laws so it’s hoping that guilt will do the trick instead. Dodgy territory, this. In my first diary I observed that moral outrage was an effective weapon in cases like the Jimmy Carr one, where the motivation is naked greed and the scheme is frankly taking the piss. But I’m not sure it’s wise for the authorities to open up a general debate about tax and morality, or we might have to ask awkward questions about the ethics of the tax system itself. Most can agree that an income tax makes some sort of ethical sense – we all pay a bit we can afford into the pot for shared services and a safety net (admittedly this would be more philosophically compelling if there were a flat rate for all – of which, fat chance). But other taxes take a lot more defending. VAT is applied to different things more or less arbitrarily (see pasty tax, caravan tax etc) . What is the moral justification for ‘national insurance’ contributions that are really just a tax on jobs, go into the general state spending pot and are not saved for the ‘insurance’ for which they were created? And inheritance tax – long known as the ‘voluntary tax’ because the rich can afford to give away enough in their lifetime to avoid it, and only the middle-class homeowners get stung, on money on which they have already paid tax – seems to me to be unequivocally immoral. Possibly even morally repugnant.
Watching Team GB’s efforts on the (men’s) football field, it was clear what they were missing: David Beckham. Not picking him as the captain was a gross failure to understand the nature of the occasion. Coach Stuart Pearce’s argument – that Beckham is no longer one of the 18 best players in Britain – is a non-starter since the structure of the Olympic football tournament specifically legislates against picking the best players (only three can be over 23 years old), and then there were the self-imposed handicaps: no senior England players, no Scottish or Northern Irish players. Olympic football is not real football and Team GB is not a real team. Most importantly, the crowds are not real football crowds. They don’t sing offensive songs or shout for a tribe: they bring the kids along and munch the proverbial prawn sandwiches (this, incidentally, is what all professional matches will be like when, post-Terry/Ferdinand-gate, the Guardianistas finally get their way and ban swearing and all working-class people from entering football stadia). David Beckham became an unreal footballer years ago – he would have delighted the unreal crowds and, Beckham being Beckham, would almost certainly have been Team GB’s best player.
On the subject of Olympic football, did the makers of BBC comedy Twenty Twelve come up with anything as brilliant as putting the South Korean flag next to pictures of North Korean athletes? On Day One, too. Whatever Olympian cock-ups await us will have to go some way to topping that. Well done, well done indeed.
I concur with the general consensus that Danny Boyle’s Olympic Opening Ceremony was (1) barking mad, (2) politically leftie and (3) a triumph. I genuinely LOL-ed heartily at the Rowan Atkinson/Vangelis skit, and also at the unintentionally funny bits such as the salute to Shami Chakrabati’s integrity. The idea that the NHS is the envy of the world is always good for a chortle too. The only bit I didn’t like was the skydiving Queen, which took irreverence too far into stupidity. But it was masterly of Boyle to create something spectacular and grand yet devoid of pomposity, and which worked well on the telly. Good to see the fine Arctic Monkeys featuring too – surely anyone else would have gone for Coldplay. Though doubtless we’ll see them at the Closing one.
Doubtless too the Olympics will feature heavily in the Diary in the next few weeks, at times possibly in snarky tones, but you may rest assured there’ll be no whining about the fact of the Games. The old curmudgeon who rails against the crass commercialisation of Christmas or the absurd cost of the elaborate wedding day may often be entertaining for a while and is invariably quite correct, but if he’s still at it while the kiddies are opening their stockings or during the reception disco knees-up, then he quite properly goes into the box marked ‘Crashing Bore’ and is pelted with rotten tomatoes until dawn. Go Becky!