Roberto Sorgo                                                                                                          Pagina iniziale > Buy Britain




Word spread rapidly in financial circles: Britain was up for sale. Due to the long-lasting recession, the country was bankrupt, so the government had decided to sell it to the highest bidder. On the top floor of a skyscraper in Milan, three of the wealthiest and most powerful Italian entrepreneurs were meeting to discuss the matter.

Brambilla had already put out feelers in international markets. “The Germans are out of the question,” he said. “They have spent a lot of money to save other countries from bankruptcy and don’t want any more of that. France will be the only other bidder. They always want to buy everything, but they are nearly bankrupt as well, so Switzerland will be the key factor.”

Fumagalli scratched his head. “Switzerland?”

Brambilla nodded. “Who else is going to finance the operation? The Swiss are ready, but we must beat the French on time. I have already had contacts with a couple of bankers. They are willing to support us, provided that we decide within ten days. They have been contacted by the French, too, but have given a noncommittal answer. The Swiss were expecting us to make an offer, and they are on our side.”

“Well, they should, after all that money we laundered there,” Fumagalli commented with a knowing smile.

Micheletti wanted more information. “What about the others? I mean, what do the Americans think? And the Chinese? The Russians?”

Brambilla shook his head. “There is a pre-emption right for European Union countries till the end of this month. Afterwards, competition will be open to everybody. So we must act quickly.”

Micheletti looked outside. The floor-to-ceiling window panes gave a stunning view of the city. It was stunning because there was nothing to see except grey buildings and a grey sky. Micheletti thought that the view could not have been any different in London. He had a dreamy look in his eyes anyway. “Buy Britain,” he muttered to himself. But he soon returned to reality. “Anyone else? What about Spain?”

Brambilla shook his head again. “The Spanish are not interested in a country where it is always raining,” he said. “They would just buy Gibraltar, but are waiting to see who takes Britain. They might even get it free of charge.”

“And the Poles? There are so many Poles in Britain now they might as well want to buy it.”

“No chance. The Swiss wouldn’t fork out for Poland.”

“It’s only France, then. But couldn’t any smaller countries form a partnership and place a collective bid?”

“I haven’t heard anything of the sort. Only the Greeks are interested in buying a prison.”

“A prison?”

“Yes. They want to buy a prison in Britain and make it Greek territory. That’s because they always have hordes of British tourists on Greek islands. They get drunk and turn violent, so the Greeks would arrest them and send them to a prison in Britain. To spare time and money, they would enter into an agreement with tour operators so that British tourists are sent directly to that prison. It would have all comforts, a swimming pool, bars and restaurants, so they can drink ouzo, eat souvlaki and watch videos of Greek islands.”

Fumagalli brightened. “Hey, that’s a jolly good idea. We could build a couple of prisons like that in Italy, too. When those bastards in gowns manage to convict some of us, a comfortable prison would come in handy. Why should we mingle with all those immigrants and drug addicts? We can go to a prison of our own choice, with swimming pool and all.”

Micheletti agreed. “Would you develop this idea, Fumagalli? You have a lot of experience in the field. Make sure the bars employ waitresses in miniskirts.”

Brambilla would not stray from the main subject. “Now, suppose we clinch the deal. With Britain, I mean. What will our government say?”

Micheletti gave him a questioning look. “Government? What government?”

“We have a government, you know.”


“Yes, unfortunately.”

Micheletti was outraged. “Why are they always making new governments, in this country? They are such a nuisance. They keep on inventing new taxes, and we must spend so much time and effort devising ways to avoid those taxes. It’s a curb on free enterprise. Couldn’t we just do like the Belgians? Remember the Belgians? They went without a government for almost two years, and everybody was happy. Are we any less intelligent than the Belgians?”

Fumagalli would not bet on it. “That’s debatable. But our government wouldn’t interfere. We know how to fool those guys, don’t we?”

The others nodded, with smiles on their faces. Fumagalli was already projected into the future. “Speaking of governments, how could we arrange things for the British? What government should they have?”

Micheletti had a suggestion. “We could make things livelier than the usual elections. For example, we could organise a song contest, like our Sanremo Festival, coupled with a national lottery. So the government would emerge partly from the contest, with viewers voting from home, and partly from the lottery. That would solve a problem: Britain has too few political parties. With a system like that, there will be many more and everything would be fun.”

Brambilla objected. “But our Sanremo Festival takes place every year. Would that contest be yearly, too?”

“Yes, why not?”

“I can see two problems. One is that a government chosen that way would be incompetent and quarrelsome. The other is that the British would have a new government every year.”

Micheletti was unimpressed. “So what? We Italians have had all that for decades. Couldn’t the British go on with their lives and let their government be irrelevant? But maybe you are right. Initially, we can organise the event every two years, so that people get accustomed to it. Needless to say, we are going to vet the candidates, to make sure they are not going to impose any new taxes. Come to think of it, why don’t we organise something similar in Italy, too?”

Brambilla waved the proposal aside. “One thing at a time, Micheletti. Let’s stick to Britain, for the moment. And let’s talk business. Top of the list is the currency. Britain should drop the pound and adopt the euro. We have to prepare the switch with accuracy. First we acquire all the stores and retail chains, then introduce the euro. The government will say that the switch is not going to affect prices. Then we fix an unfavourable exchange rate, so people will see their spending on groceries nearly double overnight. We had that a decade ago, remember? It was a wonderful experience, for all of us.”

Micheletti agreed. “For all of us shop owners, you mean.”

“Yes. There will be a few elderly ladies on meagre pensions who will probably die of heart failure, but their purchasing power is limited, so it won’t be a serious loss. There is a price to pay for progress, after all. Moreover, the switch would benefit our football, too.”

A flash of passion lit Micheletti’s eyes. “Football?”

“Yes. Once the currency is devalued, the best players can be sold to Italian clubs at bargain prices.”

Fumagalli saw a hindrance. “By the way, what language are we going to use in Britain? My English is lousy, and so is yours. We must do something about that.”

Brambilla would not let any cultural issues get in the way of a successful deal. “We are in favour of linguistic minorities, aren’t we? So all variants of Gaelic may be used. Since we don’t understand a word of them, we are not bound to consider what is being said. The official language, of course, will be the Milanese dialect. It already has plenty of English words and phrases, so these will be allowed, provided they are adequately mispronounced.”

Micheletti was again looking out of the window. “I wonder what the newspapers will say. I mean: Britain to be bought by Italians. That makes headlines.”

Brambilla looked annoyed. “Newspapers have always bothered me a lot. They treat me like a criminal. They don’t understand that it’s people like us who bring wealth to the country. With the newspapers in Italy, however, it is fairly easy. If you cannot purchase them, you just ignore them, because people don’t read newspapers, except maybe for sports pages. In Britain, on the contrary, people read a lot. And not just newspapers, they read books, too.”

Fumagalli was astonished. “What a silly habit. Why read books when you have television?”

Brambilla had the solution. “We will have to buy a few influential newspapers, I’m afraid. As an investment, it is worthless. But politically...”

Micheletti had something to say about it. “Yes, we should buy a few. But many things will have to change, for the press. For example, British tabloids have that outrageous habit of publishing pictures of women with their tits out. That scandal must be stopped. We shall apply Italy’s famously high moral standards and forbid that practice. So those photographs will be banned and should be replaced by images of the Pope.”

In Brambilla’s opinion, sharper action was required. “We could ban those papers entirely.”

Fumagalli had a question. “Apart from tits, do they publish any news? Real news, I mean.”

Micheletti shook his head. “Hardly. Nothing relevant, anyway.”

“Then they can stay on.”

Brambilla was still thinking about newspapers. “When we buy those papers, there shall be less space for news and more for advertising. We have to place our products. Wine, for example. The British have no wines of their own, but drink a lot. There’s plenty of room for development. Of course we would have to ban French wines, right from the start. The EU and the WTO wouldn’t allow us, but it will take time before the ban is scrapped. Meanwhile, British drinkers should start appreciating our wines and seeing that the French ones are horrible, so that, when the ban is lifted, no-one would buy them anymore. Ditto for cheese. We have more cheese varieties than the French. And tastier, too. What we lack is good advertising, but now everything is going to change. The country must be plastered with ads for our products. For example, how do they call that giant wheel in London? The new one on the Thames?”

Micheletti thought he had the answer. “The London Eye?”

“Yes, that’s it. It would be an excellent place for advertising. Can you imagine this enormous wheel rotating with a huge billboard in the middle? We could even make an artistic feat out of it. Remember Tiepolo?”

Fumagalli was unsure. “Tiepolo? Wasn’t he a shoe manufacturer?”

“No, you are the usual ignoramus. Tiepolo was an eighteenth-century painter, from Venice. In some of his paintings, you can see the eyes of a figure follow you when you move around the room. We can devise something like that. The wheel rotates, but the picture on the billboard stays upright. Wonderful. I’m almost moved to tears while thinking about it.”

Micheletti looked enthusiastic. “This purchase will be a huge success. Brambilla, would you discuss the details with the Swiss?”

“Yes, I have to go to Switzerland anyway in a couple of days, because of my slush funds there, so I can also arrange a meeting.”

Fumagalli had one more question. “Maybe that’s unimportant, but... what are we going to do with the Queen?”

Micheletti had dreamy eyes again. “The Queen? I remember when I was a child, our family took a trip to London, and we saw the Queen. It was an emotional experience... You know what? She’s still there. The same Queen, after all these years. It is high time for her to go to exile. Or simply retire. Maybe we can replace her with a busty 20-year-old. What about another contest to choose her?”

Brambilla disagreed. “I would advise against that. You know, the British love their Queen. She is very popular.”

Fumagalli had doubts. “Really? More than the Pope?”

“Much more, I would say. In fact, the British tend to dislike the Pope.”

Fumagalli nodded approvingly. “Well, we must admit that, of the two, he is the worse dressed.”

There was a ringing sound. It was Brambilla’s third cellular phone. He used the first for everybody, including his wife. The second was reserved for his lovers. He kept the third only for emergencies and extremely important communications. After a brief exchange, he shook his head. “Bad news,” he said. “Britain has been sold.”

Micheletti looked appalled. “To the French?”

“No. To the Irish.”

“The Irish?”

“Yes. With American capital.”

“But... what are the Irish going to do with Britain?”

“Not much. Actually, they are keeping only Northern Ireland for themselves and will give the rest to the Americans.”

“And then? What will the Americans do with Britain?”

“Turn it into a giant theme park.”




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