Mail or Indy? Man Utd or Carlisle? Life is full of choices!

Imagine a boy called Darren. He is a brilliant 16-year-old footballer. He's still at school, but now has no interest, although he could have done well, almost as well as his older brother and sister. He's played for his home town, Carlisle; his county, Cumbria; North of England schoolboys; and has also been capped once by the national under-l8s, despite being only 16.

Scouts have been hovering at his back door since he was in nappies. One recently climbed through the lavatory window. Or he might have been an agent. He's still in hospital, unable to speak. But Darren's pet Rottweiler is recovering well.

One club, which can't be named because we are talking readies, has promised his dad, who is a cracker packer at Carr's, £5,000 plus a car of his choice. Another club has promised Darren's mum a new semi. She quite fancies moving to Stanwix, Carlisle's most desirable suburb, as Raffles is now a bit rough, not to say a no-go area. Most of their neighbours have been boarded up - the occupants, as well as the windows. A third club has offered his dad a new woman of his choice, or a season ticket for Man Utd/Chelsea/Newcastle - all of which are harder to get and more expensive than a new woman.

Darren is determined, hard-working, well adjusted, but a bit small and light for his age. All the clubs have done their homework. They know the weight and height of his dad at this age, and now look at him - enormous (and it's not just because of the crackers). With professional training and a strict diet, they know that, at 19, Darren will be six foot tall and will weigh 11 and a half stone. Same as Becks. Man Utd has now made a definite offer. The Cumberland News led with the story. Four years ago, Darren said that he wanted to play for Carlisle United, but who could have known then that he would keep on developing. Manchester City, currently of the First, but bound for the Premier, has also made an offer, lining up just as many treats as Man Utd. They are promising a first-team chance within a year. Carlisle United would put him straight in the first team, and probably make him captain, manager and give him all the shares, if only he'd sign.

What does Darren do? Which club does he sign for? He's not really interested in the money, although he knows that the average Premier Division player now gets £409,000 a year, a First Division player gets £109,000, while at Carlisle, if they manage to stay in the Third Division (which is still in doubt), he would be lucky to get £37,00 a year.

While Darren decides, let's pop over to Durham, where his big brother Steve is a leading student activist. He fancies a political career, but doesn't care which party. If he goes Tory, he could be on the back benches, out of government for decades. If he goes Labour, he'll be in government; but with so many other MPs, many of them from Oxbridge, how will he shine? Go Lib Dem and he could be a front-bench spokesman in four years, if he works on his rural accent.

Meanwhile, at Oxford, Darren's big sister Zoe has just won the young student journalist of the year award. Both the Daily Mail and the Independent have offered her work. The Mail money is mega, plus huge expenses, a picture byline, foreign trips and lots of fun stories. She's a bit worried by "fun stories", suspecting that they mean girlie or human-interest stories. The Indy is offering a quarter of the money, no expenses, though possibly her tube fare now and again. It promises her "off-the-wall" stories. She suspects that they will turn out to be girlie and/or human-interest stories. She knows that the Indy won't worry about bad language. "Fuck" will be fine, if the story calls for it. Even if it doesn't. The Mail has made it clear that she might get away with "damn", at a pinch. Otherwise it's *****.

A friend has told her that the Mail has 93 bright young things, all earning a fortune. A shame that most of them haven't had a piece in the paper for seven weeks. On the Indy, she's told, anything you write gets in, because they are so short-staffed. By joining the Mail, she'll have a deposit for a flat in a year - on the other hand, her name might well be meaningless to anyone, even back in Carlisle. On the Indy, her name is bound to have been seen and registered by every editor in Fleet Street, wherever that is, even though she's still sleeping on her friend's sofa in Kentish Town. What does she do?

Back to Darren, who gets Matt Jansen on his mobile, a freebie from Blackburn Rovers. Matt, also from Carlisle, turned down Man Utd when they came along. He decided he wouldn't make the first team for years, if at all. Instead, silly sod, he went to Crystal Palace - what a mistake, a club in chaos. Then he went to Blackburn - another mistake, another rubbish team, going down. The moral seems to be: you just can't tell how life, football, the universe, will work out.

So what did they all do? Steve graduated with a 2:2 in History and is now doing a law course. He must have worked out that, as a barrister, he could be on £400,000 for 20 years as opposed to ten as a footballer and bugger all as a politician.

Zoe joined the Mail. The thought of the sofa must have put her off the Indy, especially as her rasta boyfriend is six-foot-four. She also found out that the Indy would take her later, even if she got nothing out of the Mail, just because she'd worked on the Mail.

And Darren? He's joining Spurs. The money's very good, his Dad won't get his leg over, but the car's quite nice, plus there's a free Amstrad. Darren knows that he's bound to shine in such a middling rubbish team sadly lacking in decent young players.