I am a trustee of a charity which makes opportunities for young people to perform music. The authorities by and large can take or leave the making of music by young people but they are determined that I should not take advantage of my position to abuse the children sexually. There has never been the ghost of an opportunity to do so even if I had wanted to, but it is a not unreasonable concern. There has after all been too much of that sort of thing.
So five years or so ago I filled in a long form and the charity parted with a sizeable fee. The questions on the form sought partly the sort of identifying information that would enable the authorities to track me on the Home Office database, if I were there to be found. Partly, however, it consisted of questions designed to trick you. By what previous names have you been or are you called, it asked. Those filling in the form with half an eye on the television might without thinking volunteer ‘Tony the Television Presenter’ or ‘Cardinal Charlie’. And then they’d be in it.
I didn’t; I concentrated and answered sensibly and truthfully and in due course I was approved.
But – five years or so on, the authorities started to worry. Has he lapsed? Better check again, they thought.
So I again filled in the form, with the same information. With what exotic handle have you scoured the internet for kiddy porn, they demanded – but subtly, so I wouldn’t catch their drift; with what nom de guerre have you prowled the tuck shops of our land seeking those with whom to interfere?
None, I replied.
There was however one new thing that they wanted.
Give us, they said, a copy of a recent gas bill: from Eon as it might be or the endearingly witless British Gas: we are platform- (as it were) neutral, they said
I was stumped. What did they want a gas bill for?
Possibly, I speculated, some thorough if – alas! – belated forensic investigation of Mr Savile’s caravan has revealed Baby Bellings galore but no Calor Gas bottles. Is it a question of the gas ring that didn’t roar in the night? Is there a natural incompatibility between his revolting behaviour and the comforting aroma of North Sea Gas?
Or maybe, I thought, the authorities have taken the bull by the horns and put something in the gas supply without telling us, like bromide in soldiers’ tea, and are anxious to establish that I am getting my fair share. Decades ago, in the first flowering of feminism we learnt that all men were rapists. Now perhaps they have decided that all men are pederasts, but that they will take drastic and universal action to stop them doing anything about it. They will, in short, gas us for the good of us all.
The incomparably great jazz musician Albert Ayler said, Music is the Healing Force of the Universe. Our authorities seem to have concluded, Sod music, but North Sea Gas is certainly the healing force of the universe.
Either way I was delighted to confirm my consumption of this beneficent facility. There has after all, as I say, been too much of that sort of thing and we have to act together to stamp it out, at whatever personal cost.
So with the satisfaction of a job well done I put the whole thing behind me.
Imagine my surprise then when a few days later I applied to a landlord to rent one of his flats. We are moving house and we need somewhere to live while building work is done on our new house. He presented me with a long form and relieved me of a £300 fee.
And I shall need a copy of a recent gas bill, he wheedled.
I was astonished, but I kept my cool.
Eon or the notoriously incompetent (I was losing patience now) British Gas? I said.
I sighed and let him have it. It was the same one actually.
But it does not engender confidence in the new flat. What on earth has been going on there?
We will be turning the mattress over, for sure.