Leaders in Their Own Field, but Have They Read the Manual? ELAINE MORGAN the Pensioner

Article excerpt

STILL hankering to become computer-literate, I got hold of a little manual. The thing manuals do is spend a few soothing paragraphs telling you how easy it is, and then zoom off into gobbledegook.

Michael Frayn had this experience years ago and offered to write a manual teaching people how to write a manual. Something like this: * "Step 1. Get hold of a fountain pen. (I said it was years ago) * Step 2. Remove the top by unscrewing it. * Step 3. Check there is ink in it.

Step 4. Write, using capital letters, the words "CHAPTER ONE" * Step 5. Underline, using a ruler. * Step 6. Now introduce some quasi-hieratic protocol. Maximise the heuristic opacity of the procedure by ellipsis or recursiveness in the hermeneutics. Compared with the somewhat pleonastic exegesis adumbrated in the prolegomena ... " That's just how they sound to me, too. I've now found an advert by a computer-geek targeting old people specifically, offering a book in very easy words with pictures. He claims he taught his aged father the trick of it.

He implies, without quite saying it, that the old boy is as thick as two short planks, so if he can do it anybody can. But let's move on to something simpler, like the economy. Someone must have published a manual telling politicians how to address their party conferences. They've all read it and they're all following its advice. * Step 1: Stress that the situation is serious, and you've realised what many people have overlooked: namely, that something must be DONE about it! Done quickly!! Not too quickly - that might destroy people's confidence and do more harm than good. Just a little bit quickly. * Step 2: Fearlessly admit that lessons must be learned from past mistakes. Yes, there may be one or two things you did wrong, but facts have since come to light that no one could have known at the time.

Step 3: Make it clear whose side you are on. You're on the side of nice people, good honest hard working people. Unlike your opponents, you'll never pander to nasty feral greedy skiving dishonest ones. …