“A couple of years ago, a locksmith high on junk food pulled out of a McDonald’s drive-thru without looking and wrote off my car. At the time, as I went in a split second from steel-cosseted calm to rain-drenched shock, I wasn’t that pleased; but as time has gone by I’ve realised that he did me a big favour. However, it isn’t the madness of autogeddon that I wish to examine this week but the plague of overfamiliarity that has swept British society.
“Sitting in the police transit van a few minutes after the accident, I was chivvied through my statement by a couple of officers: ‘Calm down, William,’ said the WPC, reading my name from my driving licence. ‘We need to get the facts straight here.’ I was annoyed by the young woman’s tone, but it wasn’t until my shock wore off – a few hours later – that I sat bolt upright and ejaculated: ‘She called me William!’
“The absurdly youthful police officer is a standard-issue accessory of middle-age, but it can only be in the past decade or so that they’ve begun to address valetudinarian members of the public by our first names. I blame ‘Call Me Tony’ Blair for this insane inversion of social mores, as it wasn’t until the kidult air-guitarist acceded to power that such informality became de rigueur. Now everyone calls me Will: people I’ve never met before, writing me formal requests, employ the ghastly salutation, ‘Hi Will’, or even more absurdly, ‘Dear Will Self’ – as if I were a Quaker – and as for those I encounter in the flesh, only in the US or Germany do they use my proper title: Mister Self.”
Read the rest of Mr Self’s Madness of Crowds column at the New Statesman here.