The Return of Phil Harris Private HMI

7th March 1997 at 00:00
I was in a wine bar in the capital and I felt uncomfortable. The call had come in that morning, telling me where to go and what table to sit at. When I got there there was a sparkling mineral water, the sort with a hint of peach, waiting for me. It tasted the way I'd expect Barbara Cartland's bathwater to taste.

I poured it into a plastic plant pot and ordered an Irn Bru. The drink came in a glass like a narrow vase, complete with ice, a slice of lemon, a parasol but no smile. I gave the broad a handful of loose coins. "Keep the change," I said. "Buy yourself some personality." She glared at me. "It's not enough," she said.

"Allow us!" Two smoothies in Italian suits rolled up as quiet as Bentleys. They paid off Sourpuss and sat down. "Thank you for coming," the one on my right said. They were both so identically nondescript that I could only distinguish them by where they sat. I said nothing. "You are probably wondering who we are," said his companion. "I know who you are," I pulled on my drink. "You're the Opposition. I never saw two more obvious grads from the College of Rotating Physicians."

They managed to wince and smile at the same time. Neat trick, but so is sticking a pin through the back of your hand. "Look," one of them said, "you know Mickey the Ferret's days are numbered." I cut him off there. I disagreed with almost everything Mickey said but somehow I didn't like these guys badmouthing him. "I don't call him that these days," I grated, half truthfully. The other one held up his hands. "Whatever. All we want to say is that you've nothing to fear under us. Nothing much is going to change as far as you are concerned."

"Swell," I said flatly, getting up to go. "But hey, shouldn't you guys be drinking Red Eye?" When I got home the phone was ringing. It was Mickey the whoever he was these days. "I called because I realise that I forgot to do something about Easter presents for teachers," he said apologetically.

I could have made a crack about it being difficult to use a mobile on board an RAF jet anyway or pointed out that he'd never done anything about presents before but I didn't. "I hear you had a meeting with the Opposition," he added after a pause.

"How the hell do you know that?" I asked. "Sources, sources," he replied. "Do you want to hear a joke about them?" "Hell, why not?" "Why does the Opposition want to ban Sellotape in Scottish schools?" "Go on," I sighed.

"So they can put up tartan tacks!" "It needs some work. Now what's this about teachers' presents?" "I'm too late to organise that now," he said, "so I thought I'd take them all to some cinematographic entertainment."

"A movie?" "Yes. There's this great one on just now, nearly as good as Braveheart. It's called Independents Day. There are all these fantastic private and opted-out schools but these loony-left invaders with demonic eyes come and try to get them back under local authority control. What do you think?" I took my transistor radio, put it off station and turned the volume up. I held the speaker to the telephone mouthpiece and said over the static: "Sorry, the line's gone bad. I'll call you back."

I put the handset down and went into the other room to lie down and worry about the future.

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