Martin Hesp: Cameron's visit to Hinkley brings The Simpsons to life
Don't you love it when life gets so surreal it seems as though you have entered some fantasy envisaged in a crazy movie or TV programme? That happened to me this week in a tiny office – but it was no ordinary workroom, nor were the people surrounding me everyday office folk.
It was the moment when I entered the Simpsons TV cartoon. Only it was even more Simpson-esque than that weird programme can ever manage to be.
For those who have never seen it, The Simpsons mocks the real world by being outrageous and surreal. Intellectually-challenged Homer Simpson works in a tiny office perched on top of a giant nuclear reactor. His boss is greedy, unscrupulous, power-plant owner multimillionaire Monty Burns.
I was in Homer's office on Monday morning. Seriously. I sat in a tiny room perched on top of the nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point.
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There were three other people in the office, which had a big window looking out over the cathedral-sized reactor hall. There was the editor of a local newspaper, a government official and a man who sat behind a computer screen – just like Homer Simpson does on TV.
We all looked identical because everyone up there in and around the reactor hall was covered from head to foot in blue overalls and all wore orange hard hats. So telling one person from another was not easy, but I did realise who the heavily disguised person behind the computer screen was – and I joked with him that he looked just like the well-known Simpson.
Luckily, Secretary of State for Energy Ed Davey has a good sense of humour – and he played up to the joke by pretending to be a bit Homer-esque, pressing various knobs and buttons with clueless abandon.
However, the horseplay soon ended because a whole bunch of boiler-suited people entered the room, led by a breathless public relations person who started bossing us about.
This was when my surreal Simpsons moment intensified one-hundred-fold – not only because this panting stooge reminded me of Monty Burns' sidekick, Smithers, but because the big man being ushered into the room behind him was none other than Mr Burns himself.
Or rather, it was the Prime Minister, who sat down next to me and said: "Shoot!" But only after he'd muttered to his minders: "Did I get that right about the cost of the Severn Barrage? I hope so."
Like one of Mr Burns' eager cartoon staff, Mr Davey assured him he had told the TV reporters in the reactor hall the correct figures.
The big man did not take any notice of this reassurance – indeed, I watched him closely during the 30 minutes we were up there on top of Hinkley B Station's nuclear reactors – and Mr Cameron never seemed to take much notice of his Energy Secretary at all.
Because, like Monty Burns, Dave Cameron is pretty much armour-plated. I had the feeling that if I really did shoot – as he had told me to – the bullets would have bounced off his pink, platinum-protected, skin.
Of course, it is no good some lowly regional hack like me trying to have a real conversation with a Prime Minister – his minders had told me I would have just two questions and after that my time would be up, the inference being that I was lucky to get even a single minute.
My couple of queries were duly bulldozed aside with replies that had been learned off-pat – and the PM marched off to his helicopter which, in true Simpson-esque form, ascended between a black cloud and a rainbow.
Later I watched the Prime Minister's announcement about Hinkley C on TV and learned what a "thoroughly good thing" it all was. Except, I do not believe it.
I'm a bit thick when it comes to numbers, but I cannot see why it is a good thing for the French and the Chinese to be investing in this nation's future energy needs, and not us. One thing is certain: they are not doing it out of a sense of charity towards the poor old British who cannot afford to build electric generation systems for themselves. One day we will be paying them, big-time.
Real life is not a game of Monopoly, but if it was – we just lost. But then, life is not a Simpsons cartoon either – it just sometimes seems like one.