I must learn to be more careful with my jokes. A few months back when some friends of mine were discussing how to oppose the renewed threat of Royal Mail privatisation I quipped that we should say "Let's keep the Royal Mail, and sell off the Royal Family!"
Yesterday I happened to be in one of those leafy corners of Buckinghamshire where the very rich look down on the not quite so rich, and upon the likes of me with disbelief that we should venture about, and not have a stick bearing our lunch in a spotted hanky. Regretting I hadn't, I checked my wallet to make sure I would not be embarrassed, before essaying a jaunty air and popping into the pub to order "a pint of your best bitter, landlord", and hoping to convey to anyone who looked askance that "I'm really an eccentric millionaire, don't y'know"
It so happened that the news came on to the telly, just as I was finding a seat with my pint, that the government is contracting out Winson Green prison, to Group 4 or somebody . Had I been back at my own local I might have speculated aloud as to whether in future you'd be able to choose which privatised nick you were sent to - "Oh I always like the Isle of Wight this time of the year!, and so on. And what if prison companies are able to make more money according to the number of inmates they look after, won't that incline them to forget about rehabilitation and go all out for recidivism?
The news that the prison officers may take industrial action reminded me that at conferences I've attended in the past couple of years some fool or other was objecting to the Prison Officers Association being represented, not because of what their speaker had to say - he was the best and most militant of the union leaders I'd heard as a matter of fact - but because the union represents "screws". Was that a Pocket Dictionary of English Slang I'd seen the young man put away?
Anyway, being away from my own ground I kept my thoughts to myself and concentrated on the well-dressed group at the bar while pretending to have not the slightest interest in what they were saying, and was rewarded by the man in the suit who had only given me a nervous glance before opening. What I heard made even me take notice.
"Oh yes", he said,"I heard it from old Enderby himself. It won't be floated publicly until later in the year. We've got to get this wedding over first, and make the most of it, but we know even that is not going to be the same, though of course the great unwashed will take any excuse for a day off work and a bally street party".
"We are going to put the whole bally show out for tender. It's not that new when you think of William of Orange being asked over. We might even have a panel same as in these TV talent programmes. Then let the public have their say. But essentially it will go to the lowest bidder, so long as they can submit some interesting CVs and a decent video, and pay down a deposit."
They hum'd and hah'd over it, and the tubby little fellow with a tache and tweed jacket said "Better not tell the old girl, she will wanting me to get our application form in. Treats our Timothy like he ought to be royalty, and our daughter thinks she already is!"
A third member of the group wondered whether the Gaddafi family might be interested in the job.
I was not sure if he was joking, and the others were saying things like "Well, you never know", but I was back with my own thoughts again. I am not too keen on this idea of privatising the royals now that I have heard about it. and not just because I am generally opposed to privatisation.
For one thing, thinking of some of the other cases we've had, there's no guarantee it would be cheaper. And having a situation like this open to supposed "merit" would leave the bastion of privilege and public subservience while serving to shut up republicans like me (or so they'll hope)with claims that is "equal opportunity". It might reinforce the institution.
Besides, the posts would be politically vetted, you can be sure of that. With hereditary privilege and inbreeding that might not be necessary, though we have seen one or two odd sports step out of line, like Dicky Mountbatten with his views on nukes and NATO, or Diana campaigning against land mines, and look what happened to them.
I might have to support our Royals (critically of course)on this, if they decide to take strike action.
I don't know whether this bloke in a pub was bullshitting, or if the government really is considering privatising the Royal Family. There's been nothing on the news but then it would not be the first time I have heard something in a pub which turned out to be true, even if it had yet to be confirmed officially, if at all. It happened when the papers were talking about a "Black Day" for the pound and I stepped past topers out on the pavements of Belgravia celebrating how well they had done. I've heard of some places where you can go in lunchtime and hear the outcome of that afternoon's court cases.
So if you do see something on the news later just remember where you read this first, and the time and date it was posted.