It may subvert the cuddly left-liberal political credibility that I've been subtly cultivating in this column for the past few years, but a conjunction of events makes me realise that now is the moment when I must stand up and admit to having regularly accepted a number of well-stuffed brown envelopes for services rendered to the commanding heights of capitalism.
The whole sordid business began five years ago, when a former broadcasting colleague called Jason suddenly broke off from a self-serving monologue about how much better he was doing in the City than at the BBC to ask if I had any interest at all in Marmite. It seemed an odd digression, but all professional broadcasters are trained to switch from the consequential to the inconsequential in less time than it takes to say "And finally", so I was happy to provide Jason with a broad-brush account of my long love affair with the popular vegetarian spread.
I'd barely reached late childhood and the exquisite pleasure of picnicking on grease-proofed Marmite sandwiches when Jason interrupted to say that I sounded like the ideal person for the job. It was, he explained, all about advertising. Major companies committed themselves to one advertiser for a limited period of time; when that time was up, other advertisers were allowed to pitch for the account. This meant that there was a constant stream of people desperately seeking material of any kind that might just help them with their next presentation. "All you have to do is sit on your own sofa at home, stare into a video camera and talk sociological guff for 20 minutes. When it's over, the producer helps you to the kitchen with the empty coffee cups and slips you a brown envelope containing £200."
I'm ashamed to say that I've not looked back since. Jason duly put me in touch with a variety of extremely pleasant 19-year-olds who were busy preparing presentations for one or other of those major advertising companies that labour under such composite titles as Bartle, Boogie and Bumskin, and I somehow managed to find the socio-economic correlates and the cultural parameters for everything from Bernard Matthews's turkey roll to Timotei once-a-day shampoo.
There have been occasions when I've wondered if I should be bringing a lifetime of sociological reading to bear upon something more productive than devising a way to sell Aspro to people who might otherwise have settled for a cheaper bottle of aspirin, but there are compensations. Only recently, I derived considerable, if guilty, pleasure from realising that the new Guinness advertisement ("some things in life are worth waiting for") was not a million miles away from my own interview suggestion that a virtue might be made out of the time it takes to pull a pint. And even though I don't want to take too much credit away from other "creatives", I like to think that I've also made a significant input toward the recent campaigns for British Airways ("Why not show famous people mixed up with ordinary punters") and L'Oreal beauty products ("Try to emphasise the narcissistic quality of self-grooming. I deserve something like L'Oreal").
But now is the time to stop. Fate has marked my envelope. Two weeks ago, a PR company rang to say that it was pitching for the New Statesman account. Did I feel that it would be useful for their submission to contrast the integrity and independence of the journal's regular contributors with the cynical lickspittle subservience to organised capital that informed the rest of the journalistic pack? Perhaps they could pop round and have a word. I said I'd have to think about it.