Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bananas redux

I seem to be unable to leave the idea of the humor inherent in the word banana alone today, so here is a column from the October 29 1997 London Times, by Matthew Parris:

Blair’s eloquence slips on a banana skin

Yesterday Tony Blair said “banana” in the Commons.

It sounded odd from this Prime Minister: somehow beneath his dignity. The leader’s Brighton speech had been a triumph. “Vision ... passion ... the British soul ... beacon to the world ...” had echoed round the hall. “Fear lost. Hope won. The giving age began!” he had cried. “Britain! A young country!”

Now here he was, looking tired, minus yet more tufts of hair, and saying “banana”. Not the giving banana, the young banana or the beacon banana. Just banana.

The occasion was a statement to the Commons on the conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Mr Blair began gurgling away in grand style: “Delighted to welcome Commonwealth Heads ... my thanks to the people of Scotland...” he gushed.

“Warmth of Her Majesty’s reception ... Economic Declaration on ‘Promoting Shared Prosperity’ ... Harare Declaration of 1991", the Prime Minister rumbled, as the capital letters rolled. “Arrangements for African, Caribbean and Pacific ...”

But oops! What was this? We sensed a tiny frisson of alarm ruffle Mr Blair’s composure as his eye caught the next word. He almost gulped. “... banana exporters.” He said “banana” very quickly and rather quietly, anxious to move on. Mr Blair soon recovered his dignity and his capital letters. “Code of Good Practice ... South Asia Regional Fund ... every Highly Indebted Poor Country ...” But once you have heard a person say “banana”, a sliver of the awe in which you had held them is lost, never to be recovered. Something similar happened when John Gummer said “porpoise” at the dispatch box, twice, in 1993.

And there was more to come. Perhaps in some schoolboy pact to make Blair say “banana” as much as possible, Tory backbenchers kept asking him about the Caribbean. John Wilkinson (C, Ruislip Northwood) demanded to know how the Prime Minister would “safeguard the banana regime”. Blair refused to say “banana regime” but could not avoid saying “banana” once again in his reply.

Bowen Wells (C, Hertford and Stortford) leapt up. Did he understand the importance of this fruit to Commonwealth nations? “Economies,” said Blair, pained, “that are completely dependent on, er, one particular, er, form of produce ...”

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