Most of us, at one time or another, have heard a would-be benign dictator recite his manifesto.
I use "his" advisedly because by and large it's a male thing. These sheep in wolves' clothing can often be overheard at dinner parties telling some poor, trapped soul what they'd do if they ran the country. Benignly, of course, since this isn't some third-world gangster state and they're far too civilised to trample on our freedoms like your actual practising dictator.
Despite setting great store on their benevolence, they often roll out a wish-list of bans, censorship, imprisonment without trial (which usually involves throwing away the key), and denial of human rights, the implementation of which would be impossible without the full, coercive apparatus of tyranny. Which I suppose explains why these saviours never go into politics.
It may well be that inside every self-styled benign dictator there's a bossy-boots who'd jump at the chance to bully his fellow citizens and re-make society in his own, contorted image. Fortunately, most normal, well-adjusted people have no desire to boss others around. Take me, for instance: if I was given a free hand I wouldn't abuse my power. I'd merely impose a few minor restrictions, eliminate a few annoying aspects of contemporary life, the sort of stuff you'd hardly notice. But, believe me, New Zealand would be a better place.
Under my benign dictatorship restaurants and cafes would be forbidden from unilaterally coating food with pepper. I have no idea what drives this compulsion (in my experience unique to the Kiwi hospitality industry) to pepper food to within an inch of its life without consulting the consumer. Having smothered your meal with unwanted pepper, some establishments add insult to injury by denying you the option of salting it.
Call me uppity but I have every confidence in my own ability to decide whether a dish needs salt and pepper and, if so, how much. I object to having that decision made for me by the chef or, even worse, a 19-year-old waiter who clearly wouldn't know the difference between osso bucco and microwaved catfood.
Guests in hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and private homes would be offered the choice of duvets or blankets on their beds. The ubiquitous duvet is just another example of our increasing laziness in domestic matters - it's more about the host's convenience than the guest's comfort. Research, experience and common sense all tell us that being too hot is a recipe for a poor night's sleep but the monolithic duvet provides no scope for adjusting to the temperature: it's all or nothing. Denied the flexibility of blankets, we're left with the choice of sweltering under the duvet or, especially in this miserable excuse for a summer, shivering under a sheet.
Sports broadcasters would be required to abandon the peculiar and self-important interviewing style whereby the interviewee is simply required to endorse a barrage of vehement assertions masquerading as questions: "You really put the heat on them at scrum time?" "It doesn't get any better than that?" "You'd be rapt with the way the young fella went?" It seems perverse of the media to complain that most sports stars are either monosyllabic or banal when they're given so little opportunity to speak for themselves.
Receptionists would no longer be allowed to tell callers "You're speaking with Marie". Look, no offence but you just wasted five seconds of my life telling me something I neither need nor want to know.
Tradesmen would have to surrender their transistor radios. Members of the public would be permitted to go down to the local police station with a sledgehammer and, for a small fee, pound a transistor to smithereens.
Tradesmen who declare a job 100 per cent complete and disappear when they know damned well it doesn't fully comply with their undertakings or the customer's expectations would have to turn themselves in. Members of the public would be permitted to go down to the local police station with a supply of rotten eggs or horse manure and, for a small fee, pelt a tradesman until he acknowledged the error of his ways.
The playing of music at sports events would be banned. Announcers who prattle inanely or cajole spectators into undignified behaviour in the pretext of providing fun for all the family would be sent to a re-education camp near Waiouru, as would people who ring talkback radio more than once a month.
People who toot in tunnels or use the phrase "Easy, peasy, Japanesy" would be locked in a very small room with the Mad Butcher. The Mad Butcher would never, ever be allowed out of this very small room.
The TV networks would be restricted to one story about beached whales per year. Newsreaders would be forbidden from embellishing said story with displays of ersatz emotion to flag that we're watching a fraught and potentially tragic situation unfold. Newsreaders would also be forbidden from engaging in off-the-cuff (yeah, right) banter with each other, the sports boofhead or the simpering weather person. The people who write this drivel would be dragged from the studio and shot.
Even my benevolence has its limits.