I have always loved the edgy charm of the Saki short stories. H.H. Munro, who wrote under the pen name Saki, was masterly at cutting through the pomp and pretentiousness of Edwardian upper middle class English society. He was a brilliant talent cut off in his prime – killed in the First world War trenches when he stood up to light a cigarette.
One of his funniest stories came to mind this week with all this stuff about the WikiLeaks and the pathetic scenes in Zurich over the FIFA World Cup votes. “Tobermory” is the tale of a cat who is taught to talk at one of those stultifyingly dull Edwardian house party weekends that television addicts love to see constantly dramatised in long-running serials starring well-known elderly thespians and a few of the latest crop of fresh faced drama school graduates all wearing posh clothes and talking funny.
Tobermory, the cat, had always been much loved by the visitors to the house as he wandered from room to room apparently oblivious to the goings- on. It is only when he learns to talk that he becomes a figure of hate. It soon becomes apparent that the cat has strong views on the guests and why they had been invited to the house. Poor Mavis Pellington asks the cat “What do you think of human intelligence?” The cat, rather like WikiLeaks, soon tells it to her as it is. “you put me in an embarassing position…when your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfred protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded.” Ouch.
I wonder what the FIFA delegates thought about three of the star guests at their gathering this week..Prince William, the nice but dim heir-but-one to the British throne, David Beckham, the nice but dim soccer star and underwear model and David Cameron, the nice but dim British prime minister who appears to fail every time he ventures into foreign affairs. Britain was supposed to win this World Cup thing, according to the hype and it wasn’t for the lack of trying by those three who spent days crawling to the judges in an attempt to win their votes. The Russian prime minister, the wonderful ham-baddie Vladimir Putin, has not only a lot more style but a degree of sophistication too. No humiliating arse-licking from him in Zurich – he stayed away and promptly won the battle.
Apparently, getting your country chosen for the next football World Cup means persuading a number of international judges, who are themselves elected for life, to vote for you. You have to spend millions of pounds showing that you can do it but then you have to, or so some people allege, do all kinds of backroom deals with the old geezers who have the vote. William, David and Dave thought they were winning because everyone was very nice to them to their faces. Vladimir, or so it seems, knew that he was going to win because, or so it seems, he had done the deal.
We would need Saki’s talkative cat Tobermory to tell us the truth but, in the end, this football business all seems to be about keeping the FIFA judges, under the allegedly charismatic president Sepp Blatter, well, let’s say, happy. I don’t know what it takes to keep the effervescent Herr Blatter sweet but this well-heeled Swiss soccer fan used to be president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders – an organization that campaigned for women to wear suspenders over or instead of their “pantyhose”. He obviously likes a bit of fun.
It would not come as a bombshell if we find that these stories are true about bribery and corruption at FIFA. some people think the reason why Britain failed to get more than one vote (apart from its own) in this “election” was because it has a wicked organization called the BBC at its heart. Most annoyingly for those men who like to sip champagne and chat behind closed doors, the BBC and a great British newspaper called The Sunday Times had the effrontery to investigate corruption at the centre of this deeply flawed system.
Not for the first time in history, people in powerful positions have blamed newspapers and their journalists for interfering and putting their noses in where they are not wanted.
The other bad guy this week, along with the BBC, is that strange on-line site WikiLeaks which is exposing America’s alleged diplomatic skills in a long series of revelations which may not be rocking the World but is, like Tobermory the cat, telling grand political figures what people really think about them.
There are still too many people in public life who see the World this way, knowing deep down that their only chance of success is to keep the people, us, in the dark. Democracy is not really meant to be run by chats in back rooms even if they are involving such innocents abroad as Prince Andrew’s sweet but naive nephew William or the equally well-meaning but hardly incisive David Beckham.
It is a funny old World, as Margaret Thatcher once said. It is a confusing one too for our prime minister, David Cameron, who still gets excited by flashy ideas about international affairs worked out that morning over breakfast with his fragrant wife Sam. Shame, that whenever he comes into contact with foreign governments and officials, he always seems to be left wondering what went wrong this time. Maybe he needs a talking cat.
My novel, Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love, was published on 31 October 2013. It is the story of a young fogey living in Brighton in 1967 who has a lot to learn when the flowering hippie counter culture changes him and the world around him.
It is now available as a paperback or on Kindle (go to your region’s Amazon site for Kindle orders)
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