31 DECEMBER 1994, Page 6


Season of goodwill be damned. I spent Christmas in a sequence of towering rages. Roman Catholics are taught to avoid 'occa- sions of sin'. Anger is one of the seven deadly sins. To avoid it over the past couple of weeks, I would have had to refrain from opening a newspaper at all. First it was British Gas, who, with annual profits top- ping a billion, justified cutting the wages, pay structure and holiday entitlements of their showroom staff on the grounds that some shop-assistants were paid even less. Meanwhile, you remember, their chief executive had his annual salary upped by 75 per cent to £475,000, presumably on the grounds that some CEOs might be paid even more. Injustice and greed are called `flexibility' these days. Whenever you hear that word, reach for your gun. The good news is that the Institute of Directors at one end, and British Gas's small sharehold- ers at the other, are marshalling their forces to put the squeeze on executives' outrageous flexibility. Tell Sid.

The Government underestimates the public's intelligence. Their only problem, they continually say, is that they 'haven't got their message across'. But they have. That's their problem. This failure to per- ceive cause and effect is baffling. The same goes for Cedric Brown and British Gas. How did they not foresee the furore? No one needs that amount of money. It is as if Mr Brown had won the Lottery. But here is an interesting moral problem. Why do we resent his bonanza, which is after all a reward for going into an office every day and doing a job of work, when no one except. the nastier tabloid elements and some Muslim religious leaders — resents a Blackburn man pocketing nearly £18 mil- lion on the chance falling of numbered balls? Maybe because any one of us might win the Lottery, while rather few of us are ever going to be paid nearly half a million a year for doing our jobs. Actually, the odds against are probably pretty much the same in both cases. Though I know I could win the Lottery. It's just that I haven't bought a ticket, to avoid possible disappointment.

An d then there's the systematic destruction of British Rail, already frag- mented into more than 80 organisations. Half the rail passenger network may be chopped in the run-up to privatisation. Smaller stations will be closed and sold. Hundreds of rail-related jobs will be lost in towns such as York. The financial crisis is caused partly by the Government's refusal to consider subsidies or 'dowries' for poten- tial bidders, and by the cost of restructuring in fees to lawyers and consultants, who VICTORIA GLENDINNING need no lessons in 'flexibility' themselves. Note also en passant that those who run Whitehall executive agencies are receiving salaries well above their normal Civil Service pay-scales, and that a six-figure severance payment is being made to an NHS hospital trust chief who already has another job of equal importance lined up for himself. The Government, in all these cases, disclaims responsibility. Mr Major should beware of his flexible friends. 'There is so much going for us,' he told the News of the World in the week of the Dudley by-election. What is going, going, gone, is faith, hope and chari- ty.

We have got our sorry-saying the wrong way round in this country. We say `Sorry' in a conciliating sort of way when we need not, i.e. when someone crashes into us on the street, or pushes in front of us on to a crowded bus. It doesn't do a lot of good. I said 'I'm sorry' to a woman whose shoulder brushed mine as we both reached out for Mr Kipling's mince-pies in the supermar- ket. 'No you're not,' she said. 'You're not sorry at all. You did it on purpose."No, I didn't."Yes, you did. Bugger off.' When there is a real case for an apology, no one says sorry at all, on principle. In the week before Christmas the paper got twisted, 12 layers deep, round the roller of my fax machine. In the now habitual towering rage, I unsuccessfully attacked the com- pacted paper with a kitchen knife before hauling the machine to my friendly neigh- bourhood repair-shop. It came back with the fax mended — but the telephone answering machine to which the fax is wed- `What's this then – home-made pasta or anger management?' ded had been put out of action in the pro- cess. Back to the shop. Several telephone calls later: 'We've got her stripped down on the bench now.' Rather her than me is all 1 can say. And did they say they were sorry for the incompetence, inconvenience and delay? Of course not.

0 f Valerie Grove's claims to literary fame, not least is the distinction of having Invented the necessary but previously non- existent expression `forelog', which is the mountain of things that have to be done before enjoying, ha-ha, a holiday break. Thus we have just experienced the forelog followed by the yule-log, and will shortly be squaring up to the backlog. It's enough to make you reach for your wee chainsaw. There is also the smouldering question of the New Year Resolution. I may give 111) smoking, again. God knows I have tried. I have done groups, I have done acupunc- ture, I have done hypnotherapy and aro- matherapy. I have read books and listened to tapes. It has all been intensely pleasur- able. Smoking cures are addictive.

Time now to put away the familiar, bat- tered, dog-eared 1994 diary and come to terms with the new, stiff 1995 one. Filling in the first page of personal particulars is a rite of passage, like inaugurating a new exercise book at school. I'm not talking about a big desk-diary, nor a journal in which to write down thoughts and suchlike, but the little book carried on one's person that tells you where you are meant to be and when. Nothing, not even buying under- wear, is more personal than selecting the new diary. It is an area of special needs. MY diary has to be the conventional rectangle (7cm by 17cm, I just measured), and bright- ly coloured so that it stands out from the deep litter on the desk. The new one has on the cover a soppy tortoiseshell pussy-eat sit- ling in a bed of flowers. No decent person will ever pick it up mistaking it for their own, that's for sure. It meets my demands — a week at a glance, unlined paper, and blank pages at the back for writing clown interesting things that people tell me when, I am out. The diary manufacturers could leave out all the preliminary matter so far as I am concerned. I shall never consult the calorie chart, the vintage chart, the metric chart, nor the notes on eclipses, law sit- tings, and religious festivals. My new diary also has a map showing 'British Rail Maul Lines'. They are already thin on the ground. Wales, apart from the linesi tn.. Holyhead in the extreme north and Fsh guard in the south, seems a rail-free zone; In 1996, such a map may hardly be worth printing, unless we take to the barricades.