At the End of the Day

Time is infinite and thus, one day, the mad stuff must come true

When I posted a piece about rumblings in Slovakia last December 30th, the story got 15 hits and two comments. I happened to have bumped into a Slovak (as you do) who forecast pretty accurately that one Richard Sulik – an anti-EU libertarianish politician – would one day take centre-stage. Liking the cut of Sulik’s jib, I duly boned up a bit on the country, and wrote a piece headed ‘New Eurozone blow as Slovakia mulls exit’.

As you’d imagine, as soon as the Googlies got hold of that headline yesterday, they put two and two together to give me 600 hits. It’s often just the luck of the draw in this game, but to some extent one makes one’s own luck: Sulik was a pivotal influence in the decision to throw out the EFSF extension bill last Monday, and all those months ago, like I say, there was a lot of sound fiscal sense being talked by Slovak legislators in general, and Mr Sulik in particular. The future’s in The Slog, that’s what I say.

I have a particularly soft spot for Slovakia, because it’s the only country where I’ve ever had a bestseller. During 2001, I published a business tome in the UK called How to Choose an Advertising Agency. It changed the face of advertising new business pitching for about a month, but a copy eventually landed, unwanted and remaindered, on the desk of some distant Saatchi expat in Eastern Europe. A Slovak colleague duly read it, and asked me to put a price on the rights. As my publisher had wisely assumed the book would be of little interest outside the UK, I did indeed own the rights, which I sold for £250. It is now the standard work on new business pitching in Serbo-Croat.

I am in Slovakia what Norman Wisdom was in Albania. Well, not really. But it reads well.

.     .     .     .     .     .

So here we are in the present day, and just look what I’ve found on the Open Europe website – a fine place, by the way, for all those who want a balanced view on EU lunacy, rather than just a lot of screaming heads:

‘The European Commission will today recommend that the EU starts accession negotiations with ex-Yugoslav state Montenegro’.

Isn’t that a belter? What poor, sad Billy Nomates the Montenegrans must be: good enough to get a draw against England, but negotiating to form a unit of the Waffen SS just as the bodies of Hitler and Braun are being burned out in the back garden. But then, for some people even the scorched earth can look like a form of grass greener than theirs. The last five hundred years in Montenegro, you see, have not been a barrel of laughs.

This is the heads up on the boomland that is currently Montenegro: ‘Unemployment and regional disparities in development are key political and economic problems. Montenegro has privatized its large aluminum complex – the dominant industry – as well as most of its financial sector, and has begun to attract foreign direct investment in the tourism sector. The global financial crisis has had a significant negative impact on the economy, due to the ongoing credit crunch, a decline in the real estate sector, and a fall in aluminum exports.’ So, having just got away from the clutches of Serbia, looks like the Montenegran dinghy is about to be picked up by the Lusitania.

And it’s not as if you could say, “What a pity, it was all going so well”. The Monteys have had a pretty sh*t time since the 1500s: ruled by mad ascetic bishops for 200 years, they were ravaged by bisexual Turks for another century, before being raped by the Nazis and then bludgeoned into Communism by Tito. I have advice for its Government: break the habit, guys. It doesn’t have to be like this. Become the Montenegran Psychedelic Republic or something, and let the world go its own way for a while. You’ve suffered enough, and you don’t need any more sugar Daddies who keep their offspring in the cellar. Independence is a lonely road, but it beats serial crucifixion.

.     .     .     .     .     .

I love local freesheet papers. This is not as eccentric a passion as you might imagine, because in their pages is a steady stream of hysterically unintentional humour borne out of a desperate need to fill the bloody pages somehow. The year before last, one paper in our neighbouring town led with a splash that promised genuine interest value: ‘Riddle of car in cliff fall’. The piece turned out to be about somebody phoning the local Plod to say a car had driven off a cliff. But it hadn’t. Even Kelvin McKenzie had to start somewhere.

This week, another freebie along the road in the other direction went with the front-page lead, ‘Dog mess sparks new fears’. Now you see, I read it and think, ‘I’ve yet to see sparks coming out of a dog-turd’, and suddenly – bang, I’m hooked. The yarn is eventually spun about old ladies complaining because some excretia fetishist has been smearing their bike saddles with hound-poo, but it doesn’t matter: I’d picked up the paper by then, and as Jan drove back to the house I giggled non-stop at the avalanche of mixed metaphor and aggrandised news that fell from the pages.

Right at the end of the sparking dog mess piece, for example, the hack writes, ‘It is understood that the incident has not been reported to the police’. I’m sorry, I’m laughing just remembering it. On page 3, the fire brigade had been called to an electric cooker fire, but it was out on arrival. On page 5, another potential goodie – ‘Schoolkids read stories on bug-infested classroom carpet’ – but the bugs are a pattern woven into it. On page 8, a tipper trailer has been stolen, and police advise that ‘it has a slight dent on the left-hand side’. Brilliant.

I always wind up wondering what would happen if something really massive happened in our neck of the woods. Or better still, somebody got hold of the edition for a day while the editor was off. Imagine a lead like, ‘New record for Midwich as f**k-all happens all week’. Or a small insider announcing, ‘Scouts Coffee morning tedious beyond belief’. ‘Boring constable with big feet gives braindead, patronising address about road safety’ and so forth.

Many years ago I had a chum who worked on a Racing paper (don’t ask) and he told me that his abiding fantasy was to invent and get printed a completely false world sensation about horse-racing. He complained that by the time you’ve gone through ground firm, short head and ‘Loppyluggs looks a good each-way to stay the distance at Newbury’, being a racing journalist didn’t offer much in the way of stimulation. Anyway, this mate’s favoured spoof story was ’40-1 on bookies’ choice vapourises in final furlong: Alien betting ring held’. He emigrated in the end, but if you’ve ever come across that line, I’d say there’s a good chance he wrote it.