Some time ago I found myself sitting opposite an old college lady-friend on a train. She asked me what I'd been up to since being drummed out of Wales. I outlined my career as media mercenary, following walk-ons in showbiz raiding parties and the ironic smuggling of non-contraband goods.
"And what about you?" I concluded in my best Prince Charles manner.
"I'm a dominatrix," she replied with the best smug-plug since a Belarussian mother-in-law told me she'd danced with the Tsar.
Channeling pure heir-du-trône, I ventured "How interesting, and what does that entail?"
"I kick middle managers in the pods with my Christian Louboutin slapper wellies for 200 quid an hour, and don't even have to listen to them complain about their wives."
She belonged to the dumpy, frumpy and grumpy category of Metroland gals - second daughters who end up as council leaders' PAs - so it was good to see her penetrating a profession that I lazily associated with angular Germans and Oriental ladies in catsuits.
It also explained what you do with an lower-second degree in geography.
"What about Repetitive Strain Injury?" I inquired.
"You bet they have!" she beamed.
"I meant you."
"Nah, I swap legs. It's quite aerobic."
Not sure what knackersmacking had to do with yoghurt, I asked whether she varied it with other forms of violent perversion. She provided a list of alarming gerunds, all of which seemed to involve applying kitchen implements, manual or electrical, to her client's danglers.
By now we had the carriage to ourselves, so she elaborated on her favourite practices.
"People talk about BDSM, but there's a world of difference between S&M aficionados and the adepts of bondage. I much prefer the former. They are usually well-born, bohemian or members of the higher professions, and mess not about.
"'Good afternoon, Mistress Cadwaladr! After my opaque summation, the jury will be out for at least two hours. Kindly belabour my buttocks with whatever pieces of Javanese furniture you might have to hand, then disparage me in your choicest fishwife demotic.' And then off they go, happy as hogs.
"Bondage bores are another matter. Teachers, social workers and reformed clerics in the main, they sport facial hair, broadsheet newspapers and inky little diagrams of precisely how they want to be suspended from my rafters.
"They insist on using Japanese technical terms, which they mispronounce, and once they're up there all you get it 'Ooh, mistress, if you don't mind, I think the 股縄 may be slipping out of the 海老責め! Could you twist it up a notch?'
"Then they hang around for ages doing nothing, just moaning loud enough to drown out my iPod. And once it's all over they email me 'feedback' on the session. Needledicks!"
I don't think Lord Tebbit himself could have coined a pithier metaphor for the public sector.
The Boy Scout devotion to knots shown by Mistress C's trussing companions confirmed my conviction that DIY is the true vice anglais. It poisons the whole of English life, from Fred West and his patio tombs to Mr Cameron's Big Society, via the have-a-go-hero on his way to Casualty in two separate ambulances.
And this taint spreads from the lower-middle classes:
- Aristocrats wear ancient clothes and drive decrepit jalopies around decayed estates, heralded by explosive plumbing and overcooked food.
- Working people make things for sale in the marketplace, and undergo years of training in the correct use of tools.
- Professional types hire artisans from a guild of nations to primp their pergolas, appease their boilers and entertain their children.
Only the petite bourgeoisie tamper with motor engines, venture into drains, wrong-end soldering irons and lose rabbits in ersatz top hats before rooms of tearful tots.
On a global scale I'd hitherto always associated the Japanese with the Scots:
- They like tartan, whisky, golf and rewriting history;
- They owe everything to their mighty neighbours, and never show the slightest gratitude;
- They've more than their fair share of islands; and
- Their cooks do frightful things with fish.
But, on reflection, perhaps the true kinsmen of the Japanese are the English:
- They share a belligerent attitude to their continental cousins;
- Their simple language is let down by an absurd writing system;
- Their closest former colonies - Ireland and Korea - are sods of incomprehensible souses split into an eccentric south and truculent north; and
- They like naval fleets, public drunkenness and below-par royalty, whom they invest with religious significance.
The Japanese also mirror the English class system, and I bet their salarymen like being mortally coiled too.
There are vital differences, of course. Japanese cars work, and the country has no equivalent of the Welsh. The Hairy Ainu match most of the roles performed by the Scots, although the Japanese are careful never to let them rule the country.
But the most common weal of England and Japan is decline. While we dismantle the Welfare State, Japan slips behind China among the mercantile nations.
Perhaps the road to recovery lies in abandoning the cult of DIY. I assume the Japanese are prey to this too, given the prevalence of paper houses in their rice-bound realm.
Aspirants to public office could be asked what, in their view, is the correct use of hemp. If they reply that it involves enhanced smoking, they may proceed.
If they mumble something about resentful redbrick lady graduates brandishing the I-Spy Book of Knots, the Switchfinder-General should do everyone a favour and belt them up.