Meg Munn. Now there’s a name. It might – indeed, should – have come from the pages of fiction. One of Fanny Hill’s associates perchance, coarse, bawdy and in the same line of business; or perhaps a poor, exploited working-class girl from the pen of, say, Edna O’Brien; or, more happily and of more mature years, a Dickensian gin-tippler built along the lines of Mrs Gamp.
But alas, she is none of those and, disquietingly, she is real. Moreover, she is a living archetype, a breathing specimen of the creatures who now inhabit public life. Right-on, politically correct to her fingertips, so immersed in equality and diversity that she might as well be pickled, she is a meddler by nature and profession. Born in Sheffield in 1959, she studied at York and Nottingham Universities and then the Open University before unhesitatingly entering the public sector as a social worker.
After working her way through the inadequate and hapless low-life of Berkshire, Nottinghamshire, Barnsley, Wakefield and York, she sought a larger canvas for her skill in improving upon the raw material of humanity and became Member of Parliament for Sheffield Heeley in 2001.
Her progress was steady, her interests predictable. Women and equality were her bag, plus children. Today, we find her clothed in the raiment of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in which capacity she has fallen into the orbit of this column’s jaundiced eye.
It is perhaps a measure of the decline of that great office of state that the Foreign Office, which under Lord Palmerston roared at errant foreign regimes, today concerns itself with the tipsy antics of over-50s holidaying abroad. But if in these post-colonial years, that is all that is left to it, then it is fitting that a qualified social worker should be its mouthpiece.
And what a voice emerges. Caring, concerned and infinitely condescending, it is the product of years of knowing what is best for others. Others who, without the help and advice of one trained at York, Nottingham and the Open Universities, embark on life’s hazardous journey blindfolded.
The Foreign Office, time weighing heavily on its hands and the clock ticking slowly to going-home time, wiles away the fitful hour in contemplation of older British holidaymakers. In between firing paper pellets from catapults fashioned from paperclips and rubber bands, the FO’s human resources has discovered that the over-55s on overseas trips are endangering their health by drinking too much alcohol and trying out dangerous sports such as bungee jumping.
One would have thought that anyone, regardless of age, ran a risk in drinking an excess of alcohol, and as for dangerous sports, someone ought to break the news to the Foreign Office that these activities are, what’s the word? Ah yes, dangerous.
In support of its mission to mother the over-50s, the FO calls as witness its British vice-Consul in Rhodes, Rania Kossiori, a woman who has seen such things as make the heaven’s weep. “Drinking and staying too long in the sun can make you ill,” she says, “and undertaking strenuous activity like going swimming or snorkelling after a large meal can put you in unnecessary danger. People have drowned this way.”
Rania, though not as far as I know a social worker by training, is certainly one by instinct and inclination. “After one too many drinks people can become abusive, for example shouting at resort staff,” she adds.
Again, for the benefit of the dunderheads of the FO, it should be said that ill manners are not a function of age. Britons abroad (and at home), young and old, are by and large a boorish people for whom an inclination to abuse foreigners and shout at people who are obligated to them is second nature. The baby-boomer generation, pampered, self-indulgent survivors of the Sixties who comprise the over-55s, may be particularly repellent, and it may also be said that today the wrong kind of people travel, but no amount of hand-wringing by the FO will make a scrap of difference.
Never mind, sink lower in your bed, try to look the other way, here comes Meg. Too late, she’s perched on the counterpane and, in that soppy, caring voice that is the signature of the social worker, she says, “The Foreign Office is all for over-55s having fun on holiday, but it is crucial they make some simple preparations to help avoid encountering difficulties whilst abroad.”
Well, thank you very much, Meg. Next time I pack my bag and set off for an over-55’s nude, white-water rafting expedition, I shall take comfort in the knowledge that if I have fun, it’s all right with you.