COLUMN: April 27, 2011

WHEN I was a child, I was less fleet of foot than other children. I wasn’t unfit, rather ungainly. It wasn’t so much that I had two left feet – it was more that my left foot was on the end of my right leg and vice versa.

Consequently, I was usually “It” in games of Tag – where I grew up, “It” was known as “Man” and Tag was known as Tick, but I will sacrifice accuracy for clarity for the purposes of this column – and I would lurch around the school playground while more nimble children would caper away, untagged.

Eventually, I realised something would have to change, and rather than dashing ineffectually around the knee-skinning asphalt, I would stand still, like a flypaper, trusting that eventually one of my dimmer classmates would wander stupidly into my sticky grasp. I was not mistaken. I would pounce. And before they knew what had happened I would yell the magic word “Barley!”

Barley was the game-changer in Tag. One who was in the state of Barley (and by that I mean had uttered the word, not a drunkard) was immune from capture. It was a ludicrous rule, one rendering the game unplayable, and which is probably responsible for Tag never troubling the International Olympic Commission. This is unfortunate because I would be a gold medallist.

I often thought it was a shame that the principle of Barley is not carried over into adult life. I imagine being pulled over by the rozzers.

Yes, officer?

Is this your car?

Sure is. Two tons of Austin Ambassador. She’s a beauty, isn’t she?

Have you any idea how fast you were going?

Not really. I was texting my mate. Blimey, I could barely read the phone screen after four pints.

Right. Out of the car. You’re nicked, sunshine.

Oh, no, no, no, officer. I think you’ll find I’m Barley.

The closest equivalent I have found in adult life has been the concept of “browsing”. I have seen off many sales people with a well-timed “Just browsing”. Sometimes I stop them before they can even ask “Can I help you?”

Of course, browsing is not an excuse one can use anywhere. If anything, it is looked down upon in such establishments as restaurants, funeral parlours and ladies’ lavatories. But it was the best we could do. Until now . . . 

Up to now, our dear Prime Minister has been able to distance himself from some of the more unpalatable decisions of the Government by using the magic word “Inherited.”

“Of course, I regret having to abolish the concept of love, but we have inherited this mess from the last Labour government.”

If Coalition ministers were forced to drop a quid into a box at the Treasury every time they used the words “inheritance” or “inherited,” we would have cleared the deficit by last Tuesday, and right now we’d be tucking into free Government cream buns and toffee apples made of gold.

But now Cameron is leading the campaign against the Alternative Vote, despite promising Nick Clegg he would have a limited role in the process.

Clegg is absolutely fuming about the broken promise, according to an interview he gave in the Sunday papers, a state of affairs of great interest to keen students of irony.

Presumably, Cameron has explained to his deputy that, yes, he did say he wouldn’t actively campaign against AV, but he was crossing his fingers behind his back at the time.

“Ah, yes,” Clegg will no doubt say, as he trudges into Cabinet, after the Lib-Dems’ miserable referendum and local government defeat later this week.

“You were quite clearly Barley.”

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