It's 1981 all over again

We've a Tory PM whose policies are causing irreparable harm and an opposition leader who nobody believes will become PM

✒Step back with me in time: we are governed by a Tory prime minister whose policies appear to be causing irreparable harm to the economy, but who refuses to budge. We have an opposition leader who nobody believes will become prime minister himself. And there is the possibility of war in the Falklands. I know that history repeats itself, but in only 30 years?

✒I went to the Hugo Young memorial lecture at the Guardian this week to hear Alex Salmond talk about Scottish independence. I doubt very much that he is the genius, the Mycroft Holmes of politics, that some seem to think, but he is extremely crafty. He introduced himself as an Anglophile and listed many of the wonderful things about England that an independent Scotland would always cling to. I thought, he hopes to get his way by tickling our tummies.

He had most respect for the former Scottish first minister and Labour leader Donald Dewar (who spent his last years living on his own in a flat, watching football on TV and subsisting on the snacks he stuffed into his pockets at formal receptions).

An anonymous Scottish Labour politician had given some offence when he was quoted as describing Calton Hill, a proposed site of the Scottish parliament, as "a great nationalist shibboleth". Salmond said: "I knew it had to be Donald, because he was the only person in the Scottish Labour party who would know what a shibboleth was."

✒To the launch for the memoirs of Mark Seddon, Standing for Something (Biteback, £16.99). A Jag-driving, wine-bibbing, lefty bon vivant, Seddon loathed New Labour. Once, to liven up a tedious meeting of the party's national executive, he persuaded Dennis Skinner to ask Tony Blair a question in New Labour-speak. Skinner asked: "When are we going to apply blue sky thinking to a third way approach to beacons of excellence at municipal level?" Blair couldn't react, but instead looked shocked and scribbled furiously.

✒Thanks for all the round robin letters. There is certainly a new trend – misery. This is from Canada. It starts with the fridge packing in, continues with a lamp breaking, a door falling off, the TV losing most of the stations it is supposed to pick up and the car needing new tyres.

Then, visiting a department store on crutches, the man takes the down escalator, which lifts the crutches from his arms and pitches him, head first, on to the metal steps and smashing his forehead. At a high school reunion he has a horrible time, as nobody seems to realise how important he is and how many books he has written. He is the only one there to appear in Who's Who In America, but no one is impressed. Reflecting ruefully that he has no money, he finally signs off after about 2,000 words of distilled unhappiness.

✒I have been very pleasantly inundated with your suggestions for satnav voices such as the Robert Frost one I mentioned last week ("you have come to a crossroads. Take the road less travelled"). The most obvious of all I missed, but lots of you – led by Simon Lacey – did not. It's the Margaret Thatcher satnav: "U-turn – if you want to."

Brendan Moran suggested Talking Heads' minatory "You're on the road to nowhere" and I very much liked John Kilcoyne's Tennyson instructing: "Half a league, half a league, half a league onward … "

Gerry Northam proposed the Bob Dylan version: "Don't think twice, it's a right." He also proposed a satnav for narrow boats on long, lazy canal holidays: "In three days, turn left."

The former Labour MP Alf Bates suggested the pope: "Stop! Now pull out!" Andrew Stewart had the Proclaimers: "Continue 500 miles, after which proceed for a further 500 miles … "

WB Wenot recalled Yogi Berra's famous line: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Anne Winter wrote from Phoenix, Arizona, to remind me of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia GPS, as the Americans call them: "You have reached your destination. What a long, strange trip it's been."

I really liked Martin Stott's notion of the TS Eliot Four Quartets satnav: "At the chapel leave the rough road, and turn behind the pigsty to the dull facade." Trouble is that Eliot's mournful monotone voice might send you to sleep at the wheel. Roger McCarthy said that when he lived in the old Soviet Union, street maps and road signs were regarded as a security risk. "You could drive along a largely deserted highway, and the only signage was a giant Lenin pointing into the distance, saying: 'You are on the right road, comrade!' "

✒Labels: Ian Williams bought some Mr Muscle Shower Shine, which offered: "Directions for use. Start with a clean shower." Neil Gershon of Sussex sent a flyer for a "Nearly New Baby Sale". He remarks: "The recession must be biting in Haywards Heath." Peter Wrigley was given a pad and pen set, with inch-thick magnets on the back so it can be stuck on a fridge. "Seek immediate medical help if the magnets are swallowed or inhaled."

Mrs GM Wood has chortled over an advert for gloves in Garden Answers magazine: "Prick protector. Pink suede. One size, ladies only." Stuart Booth bought a CD case in the States for $3.99. "Unit automatically becomes portable when carried."

And months ago I mentioned those annoying inanimate objects that try to talk to you, such as coffee cups marked "I'm hot". My friend Karl Sabbagh found the ultimate on a flight from India, on the bottle of Himalaya brand water he read: "I look back on life – it's funny how things turn out. You, a connoisseur of fast food, now gaze at water that took years to make. And I, some of the purest water in the world, stand here trapped in a bottle. Come, enjoy the irony." He almost couldn't bear to drink it.


Simon Hoggart

The GuardianTramp

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