The trick of happiness is to know how to master your rage and turn it into something useful. I don’t know if there is some eastern sage who first said that, but it is the kind of thing that could easily be expanded into one of those airport-bookstall business management best sellers. You know the kind of thing. Lao Tsu and the Art of Useful Rage. I might have a crack at it myself. In chapter one we would discuss the concept of Useless Rage.
This is when you appear naked on the heath, after experiencing some cosmic injustice, and come up with all sorts of impractical ways of taking revenge.
Let me give you an example from the past few days. On Thursday afternoon I was standing in a conference hall in Zurich when I heard an elderly Swiss lawyer inform the world that football had been invented in China. My hackles rose. He then went on to say that it had been “developed” in Scotland, when we all know that it was begun and codified in London. By this stage I was fit to be tied. But when he announced that the World Cup was going to Russia and then Qatar, dashing English hopes of hosting the competition for at least 20 years, I am afraid I had a kind of seizure.
I was so furious at the lies and the graft — and the bland complacency with which the world’s self-styled football authority had ignored the excellent claims of the England bid — that my first instinct was to go for the military option. What we needed, I felt, was a quick and popular Falklands-style conflict with one of the countries whose mendacious representatives had shafted England — just to clear the air.
I think I even vaguely suggested the idea to the Prime Minister, and he was sensible enough to rule it out. Still in the grip of Useless Anger, my next thought was that we should deal with FIFA. Perhaps we could send the SAS to this Smersh-like HQ, nestling in the hills above Zurich, with its sinister sliding gates and armies of good-looking blonde women in their tight-fitting FIFA uniforms. Or perhaps we should emulate those frizzy-haired American boxing promoters, who respond to defeat by setting up their own heavyweight boxing federations. Perhaps we should organise our own salon des refusés, under the working title of Sod FIFA, with our own world championship, complete with a London-designed World Cup made from the gold of recycled jewellery donated by millions of disgusted English football fans. Would anybody back us?
My final thought, as I continued to vibrate with Useless Anger, was that we should take the ultimate and most gratifying revenge on the rest of the world. Yes, we would show them who was boss and we would bring football home — by winning the FIFA World Cup! That would teach them, I puffed to myself, and as I held that thought in my head the full difficulties of all these projects became clear, and depression set in — the depression that always follows Useless Anger.
It is beyond my current powers either to declare war or to abolish FIFA or to set up a rival football federation or to train England to win the next World Cup. So the trick of managing that rage — and the subject of the next chapter of my business self-help book – is to find another frustration, and solve that one instead. Is there anything quite as irritating as FIFA?
Is there anything that sends you up the wall like Sepp Blatter? Is there anything else that is so inscrutable and mindless and illogical? There is.
Let’s talk roadworks. There is a marvellous newspaper interview in which my friend Philip Hammond, Transport Secretary, describes his fury as he is held in a traffic jam. There he is, in the heart of London, the greatest city on earth, unable to get to his meeting because of the orange-and-white cones blocking the road. As he inches closer to the scene of the roadworks, his fury mounts and his knuckles whiten on the walnut burr steering wheel of his Jag — because there doesn’t even seem to be anyone working on the road!
There’s just one man sitting there smoking a cigarette, and the resurfacing seemingly complete. Philip winds down his window and gives vent to his feelings. Why don’t you move the cones, he says, if you have finished the job? “Arrh,” says the workman. “Can’t do that. Tarmac not set yet, is it?”
That is the moment, of course, when most of us would pop with Useless Anger, that terrible sense of being thwarted by things beyond our control. Most of us, that is, except Philip Hammond and the Department for Transport, who now have the chance to convert that anger into something useful.
Roadworks in London are responsible for 38 per cent of delays. They are a serious cause of economic inefficiency. Many of these excavations are taking place, I might point out, on the 95 per cent of roads in London that are managed by the boroughs rather than TFL. And yet we can sort the problem out. Unlike FIFA, this is not beyond our control.
As Philip indicates in his interview, the solution is lane rental, and as soon as Whitehall can pull its finger out we will have a system whereby the 109 bodies that can dig up the road — often without so much as a by your leave — will have a strong financial incentive (a) to concert their activities and (b) to get the job done fast and with minimum disruption.
I want Philip and all other ministers to keep that anger in their hearts; coddle it, nurse it, blow on its embers, until Parliament gives us lane rental and we can get the traffic flowing so smoothly that our transport system will be just one of the reasons why we will be able to mount future unanswerable cases to hold the world’s great sporting competitions. By the way, have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam in Moscow? I have, and it was indescribable; and I wish Sepp and co every joy of it in 2018.