By Rowan Pelling ‘04
First published in The Independent
Sunday 21 November

Are you letting terror affect your life? Do you gibber with fear if a man with a bushy black beard and staring eyes sits across from you on the train clutching a bag that is clearly stuffed with high-grade explosives? No? Good for you – that’s just me then. And, yes, I did watch Adam Curtis’s TV series, The Power of Nightmares, which examined the way Neo-Conservatives have exploited the public’s sense of foreboding for their own ends. But I already knew my fear was irrational and that my chance of sitting on a sack of gelignite was infinitesimally less than being nutted by the standard lamp. All my top fears are irrational: ghosts, spontaneous combustion, Victorian dolls that blink when you stare at them and hold out their arms saying, “Mama.” I am not so much frightened of these things occurring as of obsessing hysterically about them at an inappropriate moment, e.g. midnight in a deserted toy museum. I avoid all situations where my over-febrile imagination may disgrace me. Lately this has meant steering clear of planes, although I know full well that it’s trains that actually kill people. Shaming though it is to admit it, I hadn’t flown for two years when a sinister organisation called BAP invited me to go to Chicago for a conference. The reason I knew that BAP (or the British-American Project for the Successor Generation to use its full moniker) was highly suspect is because the Guardian said so just before I departed. Apparently, there are persistent rumours of CIA influence, the group has “been described as a Trojan horse for US policy”, and John Pilger said it was “by far the most influential transatlantic network of politicians, journalists and academics.” I was glad to hear this, as up until then I had supposed it was a beano for pleasure-starved young professionals who didn’t get out much. Last April I had attended a selection meeting for BAP after being nominated by an acquaintance who somehow had failed to mention that I would be seated at a Holborn boardroom table drawing Pictionary-style flowcharts at 8am. But now I thought about it, my fellow interviewees were classic recruitment material for espionage, including as they did an arable farmer, a DJ and a PR supremo in an Alice band. And just look at what a cunning plot it was to wave me through. As Britain’s greatest scaredy-cat I was perfect to disseminate the spooks’ programme of paranoia. All they needed to do was get me on a plane to the States where I would be guaranteed to start chanting, “We’re all going to die.” And what could appear more innocuous to the conspiracy theorists than a woman whose transatlantic network was limited to dates with the Sopranos? Because – and here’s another embarrassing secret – I am pretty much the only person I know who has never been to the USA. Until this weekend, that is. Now I had a mission, plus Valium for the flight. I would seek out my controller and ask him, “Master, why do you send me bad dreams?” The only problem was that it was hard to spot the Neo-Cons for all the bleeding-heart liberal stooges trying to discuss urban regeneration and sustainable housing, and how sick-making it was the George Dubya was back in the White House. But as the Guardian so perceptively suggested, that is the whole purpose of BAP: to enlist soft-touch British lefties and force-feed them ice-cream until they’re singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” every time an Iraqi is shot. Unfortunately I don’t like ice-cream that much so they had to find another way to make me see just how awesome America – God bless her – truly is. Three long sleepless nights of blues club dancing shattered my defences and I finally yielded to Our Blessed Lady of Capitalism. An’ despite the spooks and the neo-Cons an’ all, an’ the pretty ladies with their yabba of social inclusion, I had myself a swell time. I can’t think of any other forum where, on top of the politicos, I’d meet a fire officer, a pathologist, a professional poker player and the man who writes Star Trek. Of course, this may just be soft packaging to disguise the real agenda and brainwash writers like me into saying what good, clean, elitist fun it all is. But that’s the trouble with conspiracy theories: every strand of evidence can be read to support the cause. So what do you make of this? I had a booklet that included the biographies and contact details for all BAP delegates and I stored it in the zipped pouch of my suitcase as I checked in. When I reclaimed my bag at Heathrow, the list had disappeared. Big Brother may not be watching, but someone’s taking an interest.




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