So here I am, home again(1), able at last to survey the sad remnants of Albia's first contact with swine flu - those remnants being the most tragic victims of the outbreak, namely those sufferers who have been unable to conclude an exclusive newspaper deal, the A H1/N1 virus having turned out, outside Mexico at least, to be something of a damp and distinctly sub-lethal squib(2).
Yet while swine flu, or at least swine-flu-induced panic, seems to have abated in my absence, the scandal over the pay of Albia's parliamentarians seems to have surged, with daily revelations in right-leaning broadsheet Da Pijjonpost of dodgy claims being made by the country's top (and, indeed, bottom) political figures. Who knew that everything from rawlplugs for the dodgy shelf in Aunty Jin's back room to a politician's entire tax bill for the last forty years, via sanitary towels for the nanny, slaughtered rhino for the pet leopard and the cost of flying the surviving members of Da Eerwigz to one's fourth home to sing at a birthday party for little baby Schmo were all legitimate expenses? Yet - as the claimants repeatedly insist - all these claims appear to have been entirely within commons rules and - as the claimants even more fervently insist - insofaras they might seem a "little bit dodgy" to outsiders, should be put in no more serious a category than, say, the "borrowing" of an extra Post-It note or two from the company stationery cupboard.
Now, I freely confess that I wrote the first draft of this article on a sheet of notepaper headed "Property of Times Newspaper Group(4) - do not remove" and I am sure we would all concede that the odd bit of petty pilfering is often regarded as a normal perk of office life but I can imagine very few people who might ever have succeeded in swiping tens of thousands of pahnds each year without getting the sack ... or at the very least crippling back problems from lugging all those manilla envelopes, rolls of sellotape and hole punches. (By the way, should any of my readers be interested in purchasing items of vintage stationery, much of it embossed with the logo of the London Times, they should feel free to get in touch.)
(1) for details of my holiday arrangements, see Beating a Retreat.
(2) I, of course, was never worried in the least about swine flu(3).
(3) And anyone who claims to have seen me last Friday, bludgeoning a little old lady out of my path through customs, screaming "Get out of the way you stupid, bloody crone, don't you realise we're all going to die?" is, I can assure you, wholly mistaken.
(4) where I was an assistant junior sub-editor for three days in 1968.