It’s like being a grown-up caught picking your nose and eating it. There you were all alone, absent-mindedly doing what you do – doesn’t everyone? – when all of a sudden you realise that that door is open and someone’s standing there watching you. Were they there when you . . . ? You drop your hand to your side and frown into your book, your keyboard, the clouds outside the window in the hope that either they weren’t there, or that your new move obliterates, invisibilises, what you were doing. But for the rest of your life at any time, waking in the middle of the night, sitting on the loo, chairing a committee, that moment will come to you and you will seize up inside, curl, if it’s at all possible, into a foetal hummock and moan gently.
Can it be otherwise for the MPs who see their receipts in the Telegraph? The moat clearing, the second home flipping, the chandelier, the Tampax – the Tampax, for god’s sake – the Tampax that everyone else has to pay VAT on. Lady Sylvia Herman has returned the £2730 in rent overpayments she received in 2005 from the House of Commons, saying she only found out about it last Monday. ‘I remain profoundly upset and embarrassed. I’m also very angry that the Fees Office did not draw my attention to my mistakes at the time.’ (Drops hand to side, gazes intently out of the window.) Phil Hope is about to write a cheque to repay £41,709 he received for furnishings for his two-bedroomed flat. (Turns page of his book, turns another page.) And all of them walk briskly along the street with their faces averted from the cameras assuring those of us who they’ve suddenly discovered standing in the doorway that they only complied with the rules.
This would all be entirely slapstick fun if it wasn’t for the fact that those who discover nosepickers suffer equal embarrassment at the behaviour they have had to observe, and themselves wake up in the middle of the night wailing at what they couldn’t avoid witnessing.
I preferred the days when our elected persons had wild sex romps and came up smiling, or offered state secrets to unfriendly countries on principle. I would even feel better if they killed someone.