Class conscious

There's at least one man who goes to my local who's genuinely funny. I once saw him walk in and say to the barmaid: "Every time I come here, I am confronted by a vision of beauty . . . move aside so I can see that plant." Well, it made me laugh. He's always joshing with the barmaid, and the other day, after he had requested a particularly complicated combination of drinks, she said: "I hope you're feeling a lot of guilt making me do this." "Guilt?" he replied. "What's that?"

I wish I had that bravado, but I know all too well about guilt. The other day I read a sort of "day in the life" of Osama Bin Laden, in which the writer related - or perhaps "speculated" is the word - that he rose at dawn to a breakfast of yogurt and dates. My response to this? Guilt, followed by more guilt, at the fact that this was the case. The early start, the health-giving breakfast . . . it all contrasted so unfavourably with my own egg-and-bacon croissant from the local deli, consumed at around 9.15am. It was a good couple of minutes before the thought kicked in that if he has indeed just murdered around 7,000 innocent people in New York, then it damn well ought to be him feeling guilty.

This latency on my part would be labelled by the Daily Telegraph as decadent, and I think it would be right. It has no time for the guilt induced by relative prosperity, whether it be in the international or domestic context. I assume that the paper's writers, unlike me, do not refrain from comment if they walk into a cafe and are treated with contempt because the proprietor would rather watch the EastEnders omnibus than fry an egg. To him, this rubbish is like Shakespeare, I guiltily tell myself. Who am I to keep him from it?

Even writing this column makes me feel guilty. I was at a small function in Cornwall the other week, and when the mini sausage rolls were distributed, a friend said: "Sharpening your pencil, are you?" This prompted terrible anguish, even though my thoughts preceding the remark had been wholly innocent. The truth is that I love mini sausage rolls, and I'm thoroughly sick of socially conditioned guilt.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, What would you do?