There was profound grief in the countinghouse this morning. When, at 6:25 sharp, I strode into the office with wont buoyancy, gave the footboy a gentle rap on the head, flung the cowhide briefcase onto my desk (making the tin lunchbox within clank) and hurled the hat onto the mantelpiece with casual swing – when I, to put it briefly, set about commencing an ordinary working day, I suddenly noticed it.

Where usually the keyboards clattered, pen-pushers’ lungs rattled and bureaucrats’ joints creaked; where clients and servants and affiliates scurried around and gesticulated; where red-faced men yelled about triangular transactions including skirting boards and rubber lumps, about intricate procedures applying middlemen in Patagonia and Uzbekistan and about stock purchases of 6 stone or more – in this very place, there was nothing but dismal silence this morning.

I tried a joke about a mathematician and a conductor with a defective ticket punch who both get chauffeured to Emden in an old Opel Manta by a blonde, but before I could get to the punchline my desk neighbour whispered the dreadful news into my ear and made me fall silent at once.

Our adventurous countinghouse life was over as I realised with leaden horror. Since the government, this very morning, has proclaimed general and unrestricted Solipsism, effective immediately.