Simon Hoggart's week: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, PM?

As John le Carré might have written it – how things would have turned out if David Cameron had agreed to join the KGB

✒It was startling to learn that David Cameron had been approached, in his youth, by KGB officers who hoped to recruit him to the Soviet cause. Naturally he said no. But the opening this weekend of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy made me – and no doubt many other people – wonder how things might have turned out if he had agreed.

"Smiley sighed. He always found the smell of Templegate's Sobranie cigarettes irksome. 'It could go to the very top, sir,' Templegate said, 'the very top.' He brandished a manila file proudly like, reflected Smiley improbably, a hen laying an egg.

"'Bogerov told us in his debriefing. The code name is "Prophylactic". I don't know if that is a clue.'

"Smiley sighed again. Karla never left clues, at least not on purpose.

"'Bogerov was able to give us some idea of what Prophylactic had been tasked to do.'

"Smiley merely grunted, which Templegate took as a signal to continue.

"'He was to pose as an upper-class toff, and rouse the normally docile and pliant British proletariat to a fury. There would be mass strikes across the country. In the meantime our man would pretend to take action against the class enemy, the bankers, but postpone anything for at least eight years, by which time it would be too late. There would be assaults on the health service and the education system, both free but for not much longer. The workers would be in a permanent state of outrage.

"'Soon, Great Britain would fall like a ripe plum into the Soviet sphere of influence …'"

So we can see how completely absurd all of that is.

✒You may have read about the extraordinary article in the current Spectator by Peregrine Worsthorne, who had denounced the gay novelist Philip Hensher – he has a piece in the same issue – for depicting gay sex in detail in his most recent book. Sir Perry feels that these graphic descriptions are disgusting, and will help to fuel homophobic sentiment.

Yet in his own piece he describes the "romantic" sort of homosexual behaviour he enjoyed at school, and how he was converted to straightness or straightitude, or whatever it's called now. He was in the army, when "a fellow officer in Holland, who typically went on to have his balls shot off, on a camp bed broke the romantic rule by trying to put his flagstaff-sized penis up my bum".

Well, that sounds pretty explicit to me. But then Sir Perry does trail clouds of controversy wherever he goes. Take Boodle's in St James's, the second oldest gentleman's club in the world, of which he is a member. The other day he turned up there in red trousers, and a non-matching jacket. There was outrage, and his solecism is singled out, with name attached, on the club noticeboard, where members are reminded that a dark suit is the only acceptable attire.

In the past, and for all I know now, members wrongly dressed were obliged to eat in the "dirty room". There is, however, no mention of flagpoles, romantic or otherwise. I'm sure Sir Perry is enjoying the fuss hugely.

✒I also loved the spat between Ofcom and a small Scottish Borders radio station called Brick FM over complaints about their use of the words "fuck" and "punani". The station management declared that Ofcom was ignorant of the local dialect, in which the word "fuck" was not considered offensive, being used by many people much of the time. (Though not in Boodle's, I suspect, even in the dirty room.)

"Punani" – which is slang for a vagina – was, they said, a hot cheese-and-tomato sandwich on Italian bread.

The notion that "fuck" is a purely Scottish dialect word is wonderful, but then people everywhere tend to assume that much of the English language is the product of their own local wit and wisdom. Kingsley Amis once mocked this: "We have a saying in these parts, 'a stitch in time saves nine'."

But actually "panini" would be quite a good euphemism, if you think about it. "Baps" already means breasts as well as bread rolls, and "baguette" would be rather a good term for the male organ – better than "flagstaff" anyway.

✒On the continent I noticed that almost everyone seemed to be reading One Day, by David Nicholls, now a not very good film. It's Un Jour in French, Un Giorno in Italian, and you can see it as Zwei an Einem Tag in German and it's everywhere. There may be places where it's illegal not to have read it.

I read it too, and while it is sharp and funny about changes in British society over the past 20 years or so, you can't help wondering why she hangs round for the hero, who is an arrogant and drunken jerk. Women: there is no perfect man, so don't wait for him. And he certainly isn't like Dexter in One Day.

✒Labels continue to pour in. Jennifer Hewitt bought a pair of Bypass brand secateurs. "Caution: contains functional sharp edges."

Aidan Cowan found razor blades in Superdrug. "Suitable for vegetarians and vegans," it promises. Rupert Besley bought a toilet seat which came complete with illustrated maintenance instructions. These show a hand wiping the seat with a damp cloth.

Iain Macbriar was sent a replacement credit card, complete with stern warning, "Please spend responsibly". He asks: "From the Bank of Scotland? They ask me to spend responsibly?"

Frances Popley bought some olives in Torquay. "Warning statement: olives contain olive stones."

And I loved the surreal note struck by an ad for wasp nest clearance sent in by Caroline Bond of Leeds. "Professional friendly service. Present a Shadwell Village Fish & Chip Shop receipt for a 25% discount."

(It reminded me of a supermarket in France where with every saucisson sec you got a free pack of playing cards. I wondered if stationers would insist on giving you a free sausage with every deck.)


Simon Hoggart

The GuardianTramp

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