Welcome to Budget Day. You thought that was last week? Not exactly. The Chancellor's Autumn Statement – a sort of budget – was unveiled on Thursday. But what you saw is not necessarily what you get.
The details behind Jeremy Hunt's headline statements are contained in the so-called red books. And because the details are so complex, it generally takes the politicians and pundits a while to discover what's really going on. I may be proved wrong but today could tell us much more about the state of the economy than we heard last week.
Last year, for example, it took a few days for public servants to uncover and analyse the scale of looming redundancies. As a Civil Service website explained: “Red Book reveals civil service headcount cuts.” Careful how you say that.
A columnist on a national newspaper tells the tale of someone who complained to the local council about “noise pollution” after the neighbour installed a wind-chime in the garden.
Sneer if you will but noise is a strange and sometimes sinister thing. Given long enough, the most innocuous little sound, even the innocent tinkling of a wind-chime over the garden fence, can become as all-dominating as the roar of Niagara. Down the road from Chateau Rhodes a new development is taking shape. Every time a lorry reverses on the site, it emits a warning beep. This is for the benefit of workers a few feet from the vehicle. Yet those beep-beeps grate through the air to irritate me, half a mile away. Toothache for the ears: a disease of our time.
I may have created the impression, in last week's item about army haircuts, that an NCO can say anything to an officer, so long as it ends with “Sir.” This is an old belief, and a false one. I recall a moment at Sandhurst when an officer cadet dropped his rifle off the back of a lorry. The corporal in charge called him a single word, and it certainly wasn't Sir.