Saturday, 18 November 2017

Strand cigarettes: an object lesson for Labour?

“For the many, not the few”: it’s the slogan that Labour took into the UK general election in June 2017.

Nearly did it for Labour
Labour didn’t win that election but did a great deal better than I, or most commentators, expected. It came a far stronger second than we expected and the Conservatives hung on to office but lost their parliamentary majority. That’s about as successful as a losing campaign can be.

The slogan was key to it.

It’s an appealing slogan. Inequality is the great issue of our time, and we are infested around the world, and in particular in Britain, by governments that speak for a tiny minority already wealthy beyond belief but constantly enriching themselves, while the rest at best stand still and, among the poorest, sink further into poverty.

Reversing that trend is a matter of morality, but also of economic effectiveness. Gross inequality – as Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century shows – doesn’t just give an elite a disproportionate share of the existing cake, but makes the cake itself smaller for everyone.

The slogan neatly sums up the need, the urgent need, to fix the drift of the last four decades, from a divide between rich and poor, to a rift, to today’s chasm. Politically it’s right on target.

But I’m a marketing man. And I know that even the best of promotional campaigns can go wrong. Take, for example, the insurance campaign which took as slogan “we won’t make a drama out of a crisis”.

It’s a brilliant line, isn’t it? Easy to remember. Summing up what we need from an insurer when things go wrong. But who on earth was the company? I had to look it up before writing this, and discovered that it wasn’t who I thought it was.

Well, that’s not the problem with “For the many, not the few”. You really have to be entirely uninterested in politics in Britain not to know that’s Labour’s message. The example just shows badly an apparently good campaign can misfire.

The classic advertising flop
A much more closer example is what has become the poster boy of advertising flops: the 1959 movie advertising Strand cigarettes. It was made by Carol Reed, the director of The Third Man, no minor figure in the cinematic art.

It showed a man alone on a wet and deserted London street. He wanders along the pavement, looking disconsolate, until he stops by a streetlight, pulls out a packet of Strand and lights one. His expression turns to satisfaction, and in comes the voiceover “you’re never alone with a Strand.” 

Another excellent slogan.

But sales collapsed. Strand cigarettes were taken off the market. And yet the advert was popular, the background music did well in the charts, the actor became a star. And, let’s face it, “you’re never alone with a Strand” sound like a great line.

So why did it fail? The answer, analysts agreed, was that the advert was promoting loneliness. And who wants to be lonely?

That’s my problem with “for the many, not the few”.

Who wants to be one of the many? Most people like to think of themselves as unique. As individuals, at least. One of the many? Feels a bit like being relegated to a mere unit in the mass.

Should Labour speak for an anonymous mass? I want a government that speaks for me. I suspect most voters feel the same. How about, vote Labour because we matter? Because we have rights? Because we deserve better?

Remember that another way of saying “the many” is “hoi polloi”.

The principle’s great. And its a fine slogan. But then so was “you’re never alone with a Strand”.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Entertainment and purgatory

She could have been such an interesting travelling companion.

When I first saw her, sitting by the window across and empty seat between us, on a flight back to England from Munich, she was frenetically taking selfies of herself. She lowered the window blind, she turned one way then another, she seemed far from satisfied but she was in a hurry to text the photo away before the flight attendants told us to switch phones to airplane mode.

She’d spotted that I was interested.

“It’s a film role,” she told me in a distinctly East European accent, “I need to get a selfie to my agent.”

Was I sitting a seat away from a star? I didn’t recognise her.

“It’s the Ridley Scott film about Getty. Because of Kevin Spacey. They’re filming scenes with a new actor.” “Yes,” I said, “Christopher Plummer.”

From revered icon to unperson. In next to no time
A curious business. Kevin Spacey had gone in the space of a few weeks from much-admired, much-loved international star to non-person following a series of sexual harassment complaints. So much of a non-person that the Scott film is having to be reshot with him out of it.

An insider’s view could have been intriguing.

Of course, she wasn’t a star, but an extra as she quickly explained to me. She showed me pictures of herself in police uniform or as a paramedic, or just as a member of a crowd in costumes of various periods between the nineteenth century and today (including some from previous Ridley Scott films).

She does stunts too, and that sounds even tougher than thought.

“You have to have six skills. Like riding, and not just ordinary riding, but jumping bareback which is hard without stirrups, or riding two horses and going from one to another; I do rock climbing too, and water stunts, but it’s all getting tough as I get older.”

She showed me a pay slip and that was certainly an eye-opener: in three days she’d earned little more than I do in a day. Not everyone in film is a millionaire, it seems.

“This will not make me rich,” she earnestly assured me.

Now if only the conversation had kept going down that road, I’d have felt my original evaluation was right. Unfortunately, that wasn’t things were going to turn out. She had other subjects she wanted to talk to me about.

First was the two days she’d just spent in Munich, at a spa. The saunas were wonderful, apparently, but I’ve been to German spas before so I wasn’t really learning very much. Apparently you can to the spa from the hotel where she stayed by cutting across a field, something she told me three times, though it left me less than wholly fascinated: I’d never been to the hotel, the field or the spa and don’t currently plan to visit them any time soon.

She then chose to give me the compelling news that she plans to fast for forty days. Momentarily I wondered whether she had a Jesus Christ compulsion, but it turns out she only does these fasts to flush her system of toxins. Sometimes she doesn’t manage the Christ-like forty days but stops after twenty.

I’ll spare you the details of what she eats over this period, where she buys the vegetables and the lemons for her lemon juice, how much they cost, and how hard it is to find the time to cook the damn stuff (especially when her husband is eating food that she finds far more appetising). I spare you those details, but she didn’t spare me.

From there it was but an easy step to the enthralling subject of her health.

When I was studying French, one of the pronunciation exercises told us that an Englishman asked “how do you do?” replies “how do you do?” A Frenchman, on the other hand, asked “how do you do?” starts to talk about his health.

Well, the stereotype isn’t wholly false. As a service to any non-native English speakers readers of this post, let me make it absolutely clear that there’s only one English answer to the question “how are you?” and that is “fine”. Even if the person asking is a visitor to your hospital bedside, and you’ve just been told by your doctor that there is no further treatment for your condition, so from now on you’re getting palliative care only for the last few weeks of your life, the answer is still “fine”.

Sadly, despite her twenty years in the country, my travelling companion had clearly not managed that step in cultural assimilation. She delivered her health woes to me in full and graphic detail. By the end, I was leaning so far out into the aisle that I couldn’t hear over the engine sound.

But as well as the English reluctance to talk about health, I suffer from the English inability to find a polite way of telling someone to put a sock in it. I’d slept badly the night before and was desperate just to read a little or even sleep, and here was this woman talking to me endlessly about her health (at least, I believe she was, though I could no longer tell). And instead of telling her to stop it, for God’s sake, I was just saying “yes”, “no” or “indeed” at random, without it apparently having any effect on stemming her flow of words.

I was reduced to just longing for the wheels to touch down. That gave me the opportunity to interrupt her and suggest that she check her texts for an answer from her agent. But that only opened another floodgate: I get all her troubles with technology, how phones never worked for her as she expected, “more than six buttons and I’m lost”.

Eventually, though, she got her texts. Sadly, she hadn’t had the call.

Sadly, I say and, strangely, sadly I mean. I might have seen her failure to secure the job as karma for turning a short flight into a taste of purgatory. Instead, I felt sorry for her.

On the other hand, I didn’t hang around to hear just how upset she was. By then, I really felt I’d given enough. I’ve seldom left a plane so fast.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Roman roots. And Jewish

One of the best aspects of my job, not exactly new any more though I’m still a week or so from my first anniversary, is that it takes me to Rome from time to time.

Why should that matter so much? Well, I was born in Rome. I left when I was thirteen, too young to have really learned the city, and until I started this job I’d only been back once or twice. Even so, it’s a place that holds a large place in my being, as I realise whenever I return. At times, the city feels eerily familiar – I know what’s around the next corner, I feel I belong, I feel I’ve come home.

The voices, too, I know. The same slangy loping Italian, flowing from cadence to cadence to leap up and start again. It’s the Italian I know best.

Not that I know Italian that well. I’m working on it, and I can keep up a conversation. But I’ve an accent that says “British” from feet away, and every now and then I can’t find the word I want, though I know it well and often remember it soon afterwards, kicking myself for having been forced to use some long phrase instead of the elegant term that would have said it so much better.

Even so, it was fun to be in a restaurant the other night with four colleagues. It was a typically Roman place, the one who chose it told me. I was just pleased he’d picked somewhere other than the restaurant he’d taken me to four or five times in the past, until I said to him, “is there only one place to eat in Rome, then?”

Now he’s from Milan, as is one of the others in that company. Both women were from Turin, though one of them actually lives in Rome. But you don’t get to be Roman by merely living there. So it gave me great joy to be able to announce, in my best English-accented Italian, “I hope you realise that I’m the only true Roman at this table.”

Jewish-style artichokes: a culinary delight of Rome
The food was excellent too. I particularly enjoyed the dish that involved artichokes flattened and fried. They’re called “carciofi all giudia”, artichokes in the Jewish style – not to be confused with Jerusalem artichokes which are a different vegetable altogether – a truly Roman specialty. And delicious.

It tickled me to be a Roman with Jewish roots enjoying a Roman delicacy of Jewish artichoke. In Rome.

Of such small pleasures a satisfied life is made.

The thing about Rome is that it’s the quintessentially Italian city. Or at any rate the strip of Italy that runs from, say, Bologna down to Rome is truly Italy. North of Italy you get cities like Turin which is practically French, or Milan which is essentially just southern Austria: you know, they believe in efficiency and value for money and all those boring northern European notions. In Rome, there’s a feeling that it doesn’t much matter if things take longer than planned (or better still, happen without a plan) or if you’re ripped off as you go, as long as you’re enjoying yourself. Strikes me as a sensible approach.

Romans say that Africa starts just below Rome, so that’s not really Italy any more either. Of course, Northerners say that Africa starts just above Rome, but what would a bunch of Southern Austrians know about that? Not that I care: I like Africa, or at least the bits I’ve seen.

To me, Rome’s not just the Italian capital, it’s the worthy capital. It sums up Italy, it speaks for the country. And I enjoy being there. Hence my often-repeated statement that it’s a good place to be born, so I’m sure it would be a good place to die – for years I thought I’d retire there.

As it happens, that looks unlikely now. Partly it’s the sheer cost of the city. But more importantly it’s because two of my sons, both born in England, seem well-established in Spain. The third son, who was born in Switzerland, now lives in the UK, but we’re not keen on staying there: the climate’s too sad – physically wet and grey for far too much of the time, politically wet and grey since the Brexit vote.

Valencia attracts us. Down by the sea. A glorious climate. Good food. Easygoing people. I’m looking forward to it.

To be honest, I’ve been attracted by Spain ever since I watched The Princess Bride. Do you remember the recurring line? Its spoken with a strong mock-Spanish accent:

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

It may not be an entirely accurate view of the Spanish soul, but it has something about it that attracts me. Enough, at least, to make me want to explore how plausible it is.

Should be as much fun as Rome.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Trouble in Paradise

The latest revelations about how the richest protect their wealth and minimise their tax burden tell us little but confirm a great deal. The information in the Paradise Papers show us a truly glittering pageant of celebrities using offshore tax havens, including fine upstanding members of the community, such as Queen Elizabeth II herself, Trump’s Commerce Secretary with shady friends in Russia, Wilbur Ross and, regrettably, the mostly admirable Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

Why, it seems that even Bono, fine humanitarian and protector of the poor in the Third World, may have been benefitting from tax regulations that protect the rich of the Old World. Ironically, I read (in a piece from the Sunday Express, not the most reliable of sources, but this story has the ring of truth), that Bono’s own foundation was set to denounce the tax haven system until it realised that he was a beneficiary.

Still, it isn’t these fine luminaries that interest me here, but just two specific individuals, for what they reveal of how our system works more generally.
(Lord) Michael Ashcroft
Worthy citizen, tax avoider and major contributor to the Tory Party
The first of these is Michael Ashcroft, Lord Ashcroft, former Deputy Chairman of the British Conservative Party and one of its main individual contributors. For many years, he held “non-domiciled” status in the UK, meaning he could live in the country without paying its taxes. When he was raised to the House of Lords, he pledged to give up that status and become a full UK resident, but failed to do so for ten years, when a change in the law would have forced him to give up his peerage otherwise.

It now turns out that he’s a major tax haven investor. That saves a power of tax. Who needs non-dom status when you have tax havens you can take advantage of – and without even giving up your peerage? You might feel, and I’d tend to agree, that the law needs changing again, so that a member of the House of Lords can’t benefit from tax havens any more than from being non-domiciled in the UK.But let s see why that s not likely to happen.

The use of a tax haven saves someone like Ashcroft a great deal of tax. That sets up a fine cycle of mutual benefit. With so much more money to play with, it’s easy for him to make contributions to his favoured political cause, in this case the Conservative Party. For the 2017 election campaign, he stumped up £500,000, which by British standards is a massive contribution to a political party.

Now, isn’t that neat? Serious money for a political party. The party that happens to be in government. In government at least in part thanks to that money.

Now, how much priority would you expect that government to set on changing the law to deal with the abuse of tax havens?

The second person is something of a favourite of mine.

Glencore is one of the world’s major commodities companies. The Paradise Papers reveal that Glencore “loaned” £45m to a shady Israeli businessman, on the basis that it would be repaid if they failed to win a lucrative deal in the blood-soaked, deeply corrupt so-called Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nothing illegal seems to have happened, but that only highlights the weakness of the law. It may have been legal, but there was nothing edifying about this transaction.

So how about this favourite character of mine? He wasn’t with Glencore at the time, but he is now. He’s the company’s non-executive chairman.

His name is Anthony (Tony) Hayward. Not a name to conjure with, you may feel, and I’d agree though I have mentioned him before. If you’ve heard of him at all, it’s likely to have been in the context of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, when an oil exploration platform caught fire and the ensuing oil spill polluted vast swaths of the Gulf.
Deepwater Horizon: fitting monument to reign of Tony Hayward
The oil rig belonged to BP. And the Chief Executive of the time? Why, Tony Hayward.

He came to fame with a series of brilliant gaffes. The one I like the best was his apology for the damage and, indeed, loss of life caused:

We're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused their lives. There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.

I’m sure he wanted all that unpleasantness over. As I’m sure that the millions whose lives or livelihoods were affected by the oil spill, to different degrees but seldom positively, couldn’t have given a flying curse for how much he wanted his life back.

Now just as the tax haven issue proves how little consideration of integrity or any kind of principle drives our governments, the Tony Hayward story reveals how little high business office owes to competence or even basic humanity. The colossal remuneration these people receive is often justified as being a reflection of the responsibility they accept. But far from being driven into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, Hayward simply stepped from BP into a series of lucrative and comfortable directorships, including at Glencore.

He wasn’t with Glencore at the time of the Congo deal. But still, it’s interesting that it was a company with as savoury a reputation as Glencore that offered him its non-executive chairmanship. And that a man with his track record accepted it.

Might that be just a coincidence? Speaking for myself, I doubt it.

Thursday, 9 November 2017


The younger members of the household – the ones who, naturally, run it – seem to be pleased with the transformation of the place. And pleased, above all, to be back in it. It didn’t take them long to pick up their old habits where they’d left off.

Misty, the feline element, never physically left. As we didn’t want to take him to a flat without a cat flap he stayed behind. That made him the household member who suffered the most: he was stuck at a house full during the day of strange, noisy people engaged in various aspects of building work, which always starts with a fearful destruction, leaving it full of dust, mess and strange smells at all times.

So it was good to see him, once the work was done, quickly learning the use of the new pet flap and making himself at home and at ease even before we’d moved back. That meant coping with a place without so much as a carpet let alone a couch, but he seemed to have no difficulty with any of that. 
I also have to say that, while he would never admit it, he seems delighted by the return of the rest of the family.

It started with the dogs. Within minutes, Misty was dealing with the constant and not always welcome affection of Toffee. Since that affection is often tinged with slightly aggressive jealousy, I can understand that he found it advisable to take refuge behind a ladder and, when Toffee persisted, to use one of his fine sets of claws to express his sense that it was time for her to stop.

Misty's patience running out
There was, for a time, a little tension between those two. Once Toffee had also mastered the pet flap, she quickly realised she could position herself to keep Misty out of the house. I mean, she may just have been looking at him, but that pitiful “hey, let me in” look on his face suggested that Misty, like me, thought otherwise.

Important note added since the initial posting: Im indebted to Deb, an ally Misty would be delighted to have if he knew about her, points out that Misty isn’t looking pitiful at all. “Looks to me,” she argues, “like hes rolling his eyes and thinking yeah, there are good things about them all being back but this I could do without...” Examining the picture more closely, I have to say she may well be right.

Toffee watching Misty –or keeping him out?
With his domestic staff, Misty’s got straight back into usual routine. At breakfast time on the second day, I thoughtlessly left the table to get myself another coffee, and hadn’t even reached the kitchen before he’d jumped up and taken my place. He likes our dining chairs, but prefers them warmed up for him before he sits on one. He also knows that while Danielle will just tip him off, I haven’t the heart to do that. Or more to the point, I have too vivid a memory of scratches and bites with which my temerity has been rewarded in the past.

Curiously, Danielle never receives that treatment.

Anyway, I was pleased to see how comfortable Misty was in what I’d fondly come to think of as my seat. Although it made the end of breakfast rather less comfortable for me.

Kindly warmed for him, what I thought was my seat suits Misty perfectly
The dogs readapted quickly. The couch, their favourite place when not out on walks, had stayed with us during our exile, and it returned with us. That made the whole experience easier for them: they’d enjoyed living in a home-from-home for a while and now could relax completely in their home-at-home.

There have, however, been changes. There’s an extra floor now, and another set of stairs they have to climb when they want to jump on the bed with us for the night. The bed itself is higher, as well, so the leap is bigger. That sometimes bothers Toffee, so she occasionally prefers just to whimper till one of us lifts her up – even though she knows as well as we do that she can get up herself, since she’s done it many times.

Luci, at any rate, seems perfectly happy with it. Completely at ease.
Luci satisfied with the new accomodation
All in all, I’d have to say it was a successful homecoming.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Centenary of a revolution. Or coup d'état

November the seventh. The centenary of the October Revolution.

Yes, yes, I know. October. On 7 November because the Russians were a bit late switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

Lenin addressing a revolutionary crowd
When I first became interested in that portentous event, it had not long before celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. At the time, I accepted its description as a “revolution” and also believed that it had represented the seizure of power by a whole class, the working class of Russia, laying the groundwork for the introduction of socialism. Things had gone astray since but there was still hope that the course could be corrected and the promise of 1917 realised.

Nearly half a century on, I’ve had time to review my early impressions, correct some fairly crucial errors of perception, and fundamentally revise my opinion.

First of all, it was no revolution. That implies a fundamental change in society; in reality, Russia went from an autocracy oppressively run by a self-serving hereditary elite, to an autocracy oppressively run by a self-serving self-selecting elite.

Secondly, it was no revolution. This was not an uprising of the working class against oppression. Lenin never commanded a majority of the working class, but he had a wonderful theory to get around that problem: he proposed that though it was the revolutionary class, not everyone in it was as revolutionary as all the others. Instead, in his world view, there was a vanguard of the proletariat that understood the true working of history (which was to put Lenin and his pals in power) and would lead the rest of the working class to understand that truth. Finding a majority among the vanguard was easy, since the vanguard was by definition made up of those enlightened elements who’d realised that the Bolsheviks and Lenin were the best friends they’d ever had. That kind of sleight of hand is still popular, in groups of left and right alike, when they lack majority support outside their own narrow confines.

Thirdly, it was no revolution. Lacking mass support, what Lenin found was a God-given, or in his outlook, historically-inevitable opportunity in the chaotic conditions created by the government of Alexander Kerensky. With a small armed group and in the face of the impotence of the authorities to block him, he seized power in what he called a revolution but anyone else would call a coup d’état.

There was far more continuity than change across the dividing line Lenin and the Bolsheviks drew in 1917. Change came later, but it was one of degree, not of kind: the Bolshevik autocracy descended into bloodier oppression than ever previously seen in the long and blood course of Russian history. As many as 60 million Russians may have been put to death under the regime that followed Lenin’s, when Stalin mounted his own coup against the leaders of the first. Lenin died too soon to see it, which may have been fortunate: he might well have ended his life in gaol had he survived: he would have meant a constant embarrassment to Stalin, a reminder that he didnt lead the uprising.

For if the October “revolution” was led by Lenin and his pals, it didn’t only include pals of his. Stalin, whose name meant man of steel, was a friend of no one but Jughashvili (his real name). It’s likely that his regime killed more people than the Nazis though, to be fair, it did have considerably longer.

Among his victims were leaders of the “revolution” that put him in power.

Bolshevik leaders
Indluded are Rykov, Radek, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky,
all put to death by Stalin – who’s nowhere to be seen
Not, then, an event to be celebrated with unmitigated cheer. I shall, I’m sure, raise a glass tonight, since I shall be with colleagues. But it’ll be to their health and mine, not to mark the centenary.

Of the October coup d’état.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Transient's diary: end of the epic

Transience, as the word itself implies, comes to an end. Ours has. We’re back home, and a home transformed, if not quite as completely transformed as was planned, but more of that later.

Like all good operations – and I’m thinking of D-day, for instance, as an example of comparable scale – the enterprise got under way the day before the main action. With my impeccable sense of priorities, I wanted to make sure that the house was reconnected with phone, WiFi and, above all, a service to run both our TVs. Because we now have two TVs, but more of that later too.

So I was in the house the day before making sure that the engineer knew what to do. For instance, when I told him we wanted a TV connection in our new bedroom, on the new top floor, he did that teeth-sucking thing so many technicians like.

“Ooh, I don’t think I can do that,” he assured me with obvious satisfaction, “the only way I could get a cable in would be by drilling a hole through the window frame. It can’t come through the wall, you know, it’s covered in tiles and if I tried to drill, they'd shatter.”

“What about using that cable, then?” I asked pointing to the cable end sticking out just where we wanted the TV.

“Oh, I don’t know what that’s for. Is it for a satellite?”

“No. It’s the connection the electrician put in for us.”

“Oh! You mean got it put in special, like?” 

The tone was "why didn't you tell me before? Perhaps before getting my hopes up that I'd get away quickly?"

I showed him the other end of the cable, he tested both ends, and lo and behold, it worked. So we have the second TV.

What was good is that I also came round to feed Misty, the cat, for the last time of his cruel separation from us. I was delighted to see that he was already inside the house. He’d been outside before. So he’s mastered the new pet flap! A great relief.

I have to call it pet flap, by the way, because the girls, Luci and Toffee, think it’s a small dog flap and Misty thinks it’s a cat flap, and it doesn’t pay to put any of them out.

They were with me, by the way, the girls. Misty was delighted to see them, so the reunion went swimmingly, as they all gathered on the patio, inspecting the pet flap and each other.

A household reunited
The move itself happened the following day. Danielle realised that this was the fifth time in just seven years we’d used the same Polish removals company, such has been our sad nomadic existence since we reached Luton. This will have been the last, partly because we don’t want to keep bobbing about like that, but partly also because our Poles – the hardest-working, most skilled removals men we’ve ever worked with – have decided to go home. Ah, Brexit, Brexit: the gift that never stops costing.

The manager of the removals team agreed to put up our new bed for us (new bedroom, new bed). But then he decided that he had to go to another job. I suspect that he took a look at the flat pack kit and realised how long it was going to take. 

I didn’t.

IKEA stuffs not that hard. Its a bit like the model aircraft kits I used to build as a child: you take it a step at a time and follow the instructions. Its just that with a bed it takes a tad longer.

Bed-building under way.
Why the carpet? See below
Use a carpet or it will end in tears
Who am I to query Swedish wisdom?
I bet it would have taken our Pole less time than it took me, but that still would have been a few hours. In my able hands it was a five-hour job and left me exhausted. Still, it was eventually done, meaning that we could spend our first night back in the new room, right up at the top, and wake up to a view of a clear blue sky over the tops of the houses behind us.

No picture of the bed collapsed, because it hasn't. Yet.
What we weren’t able to do, through lateness and tiredness, was make use of the new TV (I told you I’d come back to it). The idea is to be able to watch TV from in bed. That means that when we’re put to sleep by some contemporary fairy tale or another – perhaps something based on the premise that, against all experience, all it takes to be a successful US president is honesty and decency, we wouldn’t have to wake up again to brush our teeth and make our way to the bedroom.

Ingenious, right? Well, we shall test it tonight.

And what about the completeness of the transformation? Well, there are a few minor bits and pieces still to deal with. Like the installation of a fire sprinkler system. The building contractor was adamant we didn’t need one. The building inspector says otherwise. So walls on which the paint has barely dried will have to be channelled out again, for electric power and water. But this time we’re not moving out.

Anyway, when was a building job ever completed without the odd hiccough and setback? Never, you tell me, and I agree. And, after all, I know that soon this too will end.