It makes you wince for their mums. It makes you, when you hear that they talked about their friends, who seemed to include the Prime Minister, and the royal family, and maybe the Pope, and maybe Jesus Christ, and about how all these people could prove very, very helpful, hope that their mums were far away. Somewhere, perhaps, where you wouldn't pick up a newspaper and find your child on the front page. Somewhere, for example, like Uzbekistan.
It makes you think of all the times their mums would have told them that they shouldn't grab the biggest bowl of jelly, or hog the parcel, or steal the prize. It makes you think of the smacks for porkie pies, and the lectures on playing nicely, and on not showing off. It makes you wonder if their mums looked back on all of this, and thought they might as well have spent 18 years watching daytime telly.
It makes you wonder if, while their mums were telling them how to behave in ways that would make sure they sometimes got invited to other children's parties, their dads were telling them that their mum was very good with the washing machine, bless her, but she didn't have all that much idea about the world, and how to get on in it. And that if they did want to get on in it, the best thing they could do was ignore every single thing she said.
Perhaps that's why some of the men who worked for a company headed by a man who used to advise Margaret Thatcher, and who were secretly filmed by reporters, said that they knew lots of powerful people "very well." Perhaps that's why, for example, one of them said he knew the MP Rory Stewart. Who didn't seem to know him. Who said, in fact, that he had "met him once, for 10 minutes."
And perhaps that's why people whose job it is to make sure that children are tested fairly on their studies, and who were also secretly filmed by reporters, started telling teachers about things they knew that teachers didn't. Like, for example, the questions that would be on exam papers. And perhaps that's why one of them even said that what they were doing was "cheating." But said it in a way that made it sound as if this was something that made him proud.
And maybe that's also why people who go on a TV program to audition to work for a man who's much more famous for being grumpy than for the computers he used to sell say things like "I've got an IQ of 170," and "I've got raw business talent," and "I'm the brand," which sounds to some of us a bit like saying that you're a cardboard box, and other things that must have their mums telling their friends that it was only someone who looked a bit like their child, and sounded a bit like them, and happened to have the same name, who was on the telly last night, and not anyone who was in any way related to them.
And maybe that's also why some people, when they go on Twitter, and when someone sends them a message saying that they liked their book, or their column, or their shoes, will send it to everyone else who "follows" them on Twitter, so that everyone else can see how much someone they've never met likes the book, or column, or shoes, of someone they've also probably never met, but can also see, from the phrase in little letters at the bottom of the tweet, that the person who wanted them to see the praise was the person who got it.
And perhaps that's why people you meet at parties, at friends', at weekends, in your time off, and neighbors you've barely spoken to, who suddenly invite you for Christmas drinks, send you emails saying how lovely it was to meet you, and also happen to add that they've just started a new business, or written a new book, and perhaps you, or some of your "friends in the media," might be interested in "featuring" it in some way, so that you suddenly realize that what you thought was a nice chat, though you're not sure you'd call it "lovely," was, in fact, a "networking opportunity."
When these things happen, and people act as if it's completely normal to say you know someone you've met once, and to drop hints about information you have that you think the other person doesn't have, and when people think that everyone else should know anything nice that anyone ever says to them, and that a mince pie with a neighbour is a great chance to sell your products, or yourself, you can't help thinking that maybe the mums were wrong, and the dads were right. And so was the young man on TV, who said he was "the brand." Maybe now we're all "the brand," and maybe every conversation, every phone call, every email, and every tweet, is a chance to build it.
Some of us hope not. Some of us think that if you're going to boast about knowing things, or people, you should probably actually know them, because it doesn't take long, in an age of smartphones and Google, to find out if you don't. And because if you don't, it makes you look what you were trying very hard not to look, which is stupid. Which is bad for your business, bad for your "brand," and very embarrassing for your mum. But some of us can't help also thinking that the world would be nicer if just a few more people thought it wasn't such a great idea to boast at all.
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