On Government-Controlled Origami

What on earth was she blathering on about, that vicar in the studio audience of The Big Questions who said that the government ought to be responsible for origami? At least, I assume she was a vicar. She was dressed like a vicar, with a vicar’s dog collar, but it is always possible that she was an impostor vicar, deliberately or inadvertently. As I recalled in my fifty-eight memories of my father, he was occasionally mistaken for a man of the cloth due to an injudicious choice of 1960s shirtwear (memory number thirty-six).

Vicar or no, origami was one item in a list she recited, the other items on which I have forgotten. She topped it off with “the government should be responsible for these things!” I have added an exclamation mark there to give some idea of the heat of passion in which this declaration was made.

It’s a moot point whether this is a utopian or dystopian vision. Perhaps she was harking back to Gordon Brown’s ill-fated “government of all the talents” – goats – and took it too literally. If a government was to contain all the talents, logically one such talent would be the ability to fold paper in intricate oriental fashion. Thus there ought to be a Ministry of Origami & Associated Paper-Folding, with a Secretary of State supported by junior ministers and private secretaries and an army of civil servants. Five-year plans for the development of origami on our shores would smack too much of Stalinism, but such bonkersness is camouflaged nowadays by different jargon. Plans to roll out the origami stakeholder consultancy initiative on a region-by-region basis amount to much the same thing as Uncle Joe’s madcap schemes, but sound a little less megalomaniac.

Would origami become compulsory? Would each citizen have to set aside, say, half an hour per day to fold a sheet of A4 into the shape of an ostrich? Surely that is not what the vicar had in mind. Think of the sheer increase in the amount of waste paper, as the more cack-handed among the citizenry faffed about, using up sheet after sheet of A4 in abortive and misshapen attempts to make a half-way decent, or at least recognisable, origami ostrich.

If, on the other hand, origami were to remain, as it is now, voluntary, what would be the government’s role? We are already cajoled, through advertisements and leaflets and publicity campaigns, to make sure we eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but as far as I am aware there is not a dedicated band of fruit and vegetable police who will place us under arrest if we fail to comply. So maybe the Secretary of State at MOAPF would content him- or herself with mere hectoring and lecturing, poster campaigns, television adverts, mass mailings and the like. Indeed, one advantage of having a leaflet about origami plop through your letterbox would be that the leaflet itself could be folded, intricately, orientally, into the shape of a sparrow.

But I don’t know. The problem with such initiatives is that a change in government can lead not just to different priorities but to complete U-turns. Imagine that you have been persuaded, through relentless harrying, to eat your five fruits and vegetables each day while setting aside half an hour to do some intricate oriental paper-folding. All is well with the world, and you have slotted happily into your routine. Then, inevitably, there is a general election, a new government takes the reins of power, and the new Secretary of State for Origami and Associated Paper-Folding strides into the ministry on their first morning. Bright-eyed, dedicated, and power-crazed, the new bod might decide that, instead of encouraging origami among the hoi polloi, it is the sort of activity that needs to be controlled, restricted, licensed. “It is time for change!” the minister announces, a week into the job, “We have seen this country become the laughing stock of the origami and paper-folding world, as our hapless cack-handed scrunched-up excuses for paper squirrels and ducks and electricity pylons bear no resemblance whatsoever to the fantastically intricate oriental paper squirrels and ducks and electricity pylons of our competitors, and even less resemblance to flesh and blood squirrels and ducks and electricity pylons in the real world.” And so the minister outlaws amateur origami of all kinds, and establishes a new national origami and paper-folding baccalaureate, without which no one is even allowed to fold a sheet of paper in half for any purpose whatsoever, on pain of arrest and a long term of imprisonment. Whether that is a good thing or not, I leave the reader to decide.

It is certainly the kind of issue to sharply divide opinion. Just as, thirty years ago, there appeared a book entitled Authors Take Sides On The Falklands, one can imagine the bien-pensant intellectuals of Hampstead and Holland Park cobbling together a hastily-published Authors Take Sides On Origami. Whichever side one is on, it is surely the case that many, if not most, of those who would purchase such a book would immediately rip each page out of it and fold the separate leaves, either intricately and orientally or with cack-handed butterfingers, into paper models of the Secretary of State, adding buttons for eyes. Whether they could display the resulting origami on their windowsills, or have to hide it in an unlicensed folded-paper den, would depend upon the complexion of the government.

It is all very bewildering.

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