Fainting in Coyles An occasional letter from the
Heart of Euroville
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Nanny is off her rocker Libby Purves in today’s Times is very good, so good that I have had to circumvent the firewall and reproduce the more metaphorical parts.
IF THE Government were a nanny, as some maintain, she would be a confusing
old boot. She scolds you to eat your fruit and veg, berates you for getting tubby and enjoins exercise; but she prefers this to be in expensive leisure centres rather than out on the rough old football field that she sold to the developer. She rails against binge drinking yet has friendly arrangements with chain pubs. She is cosy with her European friends, but doesn¹t care whether you learn French or not. She abhors smoking and private cars, but stretches a point for her motor racing friend, Bernie.
You're never quite sure how Nanny wants you to treat your pets. She gets furious if you let dogs chase foxes across the countryside, but seems unconcerned about the squalid treatment of intensively farmed animals. She is in some ways very modern, implacably opposed to smacking and always willing to listen to grievances about people being mean to you and threatening your ‘self-esteem’. Yet she runs some grim prisons, and starts wars with insouciance. She flirts enthusiastically with khaki (Nanny is marrying one of the guard, a soldier¹s life is terribly hard) but her military boyfriend seems to be losing patience because he does all her dirty work for very little payback.As for pocket money, you can’t work out what Nanny wants at all. She
nags you to save for a rainy day, then raids your piggy-bank. She urges responsibility and tells you to work until you’re 70, but then you wake up one morning and find that she has installed a high-prize fruit machine in the nursery, and with a leer and a wink she encourages you to play for high stakes. When you have duly emptied your piggy-bank, through the nursery door you spot a seedy-looking man with his hat on the back of his head counting out grubby fivers into Nanny's outstretched hand. Noticing your wide little eyes, she taps her nose and growls: ‘Inner-city regeneration. Culture, see? Go to bed.’
The jar on the mantelpiece containing her own pension savings grows ever heavier. But before you can say anything, Nanny is on her high horse, scolding you for
financial improvidence. There is an old-fashioned Darwinian conservative argument that you can’t legislate for virtue; that few private vices need regulation; that life is a jungle; and that citizens should be allowed to wreck themselves freely on drink, drugs, weird sex, stupidity, diving off bridges on faulty bungees, eating monster cheeseburgers or gambling away the children's tea. ‘Serve them right for being so damn stupid,’ says the laissez-faire tendency. It is at least a coherent philosophy.
But it isn’t Nanny's usual line, and it isn’t what we hired her for in 1997. And the really worrying thing is that she only favours the hell-in-a-handcart option when there’s money in it for her. Tuck a fiver down that starched pinny, and she’s anybody’s.