It all started with a perfectly innocent little chat before dinner about an academic colleague of mine from Teesside University who'd decided after much personal anguishing that he was a woman in a man's body and would therefore go ahead and arrange to have what he always referred to in a capitalised manner as The Operation.
We were all happily agreeing that this was an appropriate course of action when Terry, out of the blue, announced that he found the whole business disgusting and perverse. Before anyone realised what was going on, he'd plunged into a disturbingly tendentious rant about the absurdity of believing that surgery could possibly play a part in the reconstruction of one's identity. "Supposing", he said, "that I'd always thought of myself as a short person in a tall person's body. Are you really going to suggest that my desires to be short should be surgically gratified by allowing someone to chop six inches out of my legs? Or supposing I decided that deep down I'd always considered myself an intellectual. Would you all happily collude with my decision to have my cortex surgically honed so that I might pass in public as an egghead?"
Afterwards we decided that Terry had to be confronted and that I should ring and demand an explanation. He was instantly apologetic. "I really don't know what's happening to me recently," he confessed. "Every time I get together with a group of people who are supposed to be my friends, I'm overcome by the desire to break the consensus. You should have seen me last week in the Star of India at the examiners' dinner. Somebody made an innocent remark about the relatively high standards of the finals papers and I immediately launched into a wholesale attack on the hypocrisy of the entire marking system and the absurd ways in which academics tried to pretend they were maintaining traditional standards in the face of cast-iron evidence that they were now handing out upper seconds to students who ten years ago would have been lucky to get a job running a hot-dog stand."
How did he account for this newfound perversity? "I'm seriously beginning to believe that I might have a split personality. You know how we've all spent years sitting around agreeing with each other about abortion-on-demand and homosexual rights and fair deals for asylum-seekers and decriminalising the possession of soft drugs? Well, I've often got into my car after such chats and begun to talk aloud. But it's not me talking. There's this strange, low-pitched voice which starts saying that abortion is denying the unborn child's right to life, that homosexuality is an aberration, that most asylum-seekers want to abuse our social security system and that it's only a short step from cannabis to heroin addiction. It's got so common that I've even given the voice a name. I call it 'Ann'. After Ann Widdecombe. Because they seem to share the same opinions."
After I'd reported back on this conversation we all agreed that this was an intolerable state of affairs. Not one of us could face the prospect of sitting quietly down to dinner in the certain knowledge that we'd look up halfway through a chat about the tyrannies of the nuclear family and find that we were eye to hyperthyroid eye with Ann Widdecombe. Geoff was particularly unsympathetic to Terry's cause. "It does sound", he said, "as though he's trying to come to terms with the discovery that he is essentially a thoroughgoing bigot in a liberal body. Perhaps you could suggest quietly that he has The Operation and then proceeds to leave us all in peace?"