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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

The Devil's Dictionary: Birmingham Edition
Bloated public sector [adj.]: a term justifying the dismissal of nurses, teachers, policemen, soldiers, careworkers, etc., while implying that only high-paid civil servants are in danger.

Clobber [verb]: the effect of proposed taxes on the extremely wealthy. Usage note: This verb is not applicable to lower income groups. When they have their wages cut or their benefits removed, they are merely being stripped of an unfair advantage.

Disproportionate force [noun phrase]: See proportionate force.

Proportionate force [noun phrase]: See disproportionate force.

Rebalance the economy [verb phrase]: a) to achieve a better balance of payments; b) to reduce the dominance of the financial services sector and increase manufacturing; c) to cut wages and make public sector workers redundant. Usage note: In practice this phrase is now generally used to mean c), but it retains the virtuous associations of a) and b).

The Editors are always grateful for new definitions.

Thy Pyramids, Built up with Newer Might
According to a programme I heard on the radio yesterday, back in the days when bankers got obscene bonuses rather than just ridiculous ones - that is to a say, a couple of years ago (and also a couple of years hence, as the programme made very clear) - they would often use them to buy property in cash. "A flat in Knightsbridge? Look at my wad!" If not property, they would buy fast cars, or Rolex watches.

Well, I do find it possible to understand spending a lot money on a flat in Knightsbridge. After all, you can then live in it, and the more you spend, the better flat you get. It's also, potentially, an investment you can resell, and maybe even make a profit. It makes sense that a banker would think in those terms.

I also find it possible to understand spending a lot of money on a fancy car, though I'd never want to do it myself. After all, you can then drive it, and the more you spend, the better car (roughly speaking) you get, or at least I assume so. Admittedly, cars depreciate rapidly in value, so it's not much use as an investment, but in the meantime you can feel the wind in your hair.

What I can't understand is why people would spend thousands of pounds on a Rolex watch. After all, you can buy a watch that will keep perfect time for, say, £30, and your Rolex won't do a jot better job of being a chronometer. Nor can you expect to resell it at a profit. The only point of a Rolex, as far as I can see, is to let people know that you're a dick rich. But if you want to do that, you'd still be far better off buying a fake Rolex at a fraction of the price. At least, that's how I imagine I would view it if I were a banker - and yet it's the bankers who buy them.

The Watercress of my People
A river, she had said, and now, while her maid’s fingers rippled across the lyre, Sulis found her mind drifting, flowing with the river on its journey. Fifty miles inland she rose, a slip of light amidst the chalk and flint. Gargled by rock, she bobbed under the blown grass, hummed fat bees across her banks, ricocheted the dragonflies downstream and followed thirstily to the plain. At length she became a divider of fields, made way through rich harvests of oats and wheat. Sheep’s teeth nipped her shallows and cattle curved their tongues to reap crystal sheaves, while in her silted depths the slick trout threaded pennants of luminous weed. Then, tiring, she slowed and muddled through ill-assorted islets, reserving solid clufts of land to the use of coots and ducks, to the remote ghosts of swans. Sulis shifted comfortably on her pillow. This was Lychfont, her own country. The rushes towered there. No fisher waited, but sieving birds prospected the mud or snatched at elvers. There the flats were loose and salty, lifted and re-laid four times a day by the restless Solent tides.

That was my attempt to evoke a Hampshire chalk stream in Death of a Ghost - as seen by a river goddess in sentimental mood. I'm not sure how I could have included watercress beds in her journey, but I regret their omission, for watercress is a vital part of the Hampshire riverscape, just as it is a vital part of my daily lunchtime sandwich. And I was shocked - shocked - to learn from the television tonight that sales have halved in the last 20 years, in favour of such niminy-piminy greens as rocket and lamb's lettuce. Indeed, many of the watercress beds have been ploughed up, making the Hampshire chalkland look no more interesting than - well, Berkshire!

It was bad enough losing most of the Hampshire Avon to Dorset in 1974 - a measure that still rankles - but this is serious. Are people really not eating watercress any more? And why ever not? Have they all gone mad?