I was quite surprised to hear the recorded voice of Mr. Parkinson - he of Parkinson's Law fame - on radio last week: I thought he had died sometime in the 18th Century. But it was as recently as 1955 that he first articulated the adage, pronouncing it a law of science, that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". This law (along with the kindred "if you want something doing, give it to a busy person" and "if it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done" - both of which are yet to be scientifically validated) wrings a knowing smile from those who have observed its effects.
Parkinson backed up his argument with compelling statistics from a first-hand study of the British Civil Service where he had worked. The main thrust of his case, however, was to demonstrate the alarming rate at which the numbers of civil servants inevitably multiplied regardless of whether the volume of their work increased, diminished or disappeared altogether. This image of an inefficient institution has stuck in the popular imagination ever since.
Perhaps this is why, when the Chancellor announced this week he is to put an end to automatic annual pay rises in the public sector, he received a metaphorical round of applause from those in the private sector, where such entitlements have not been seen since the early 1980s. Why, they ask, has it taken so long? After all it has been 57 years since Parkinson spilled the beans. Do these people live in a different world from us?
In a way they do - as do many others.
At the corner shop yesterday I was served not by the proprietor, as I usually am, but by a young, second-generation immigrant chap I had not seen before. The till was short of small coins so he was pleased that I offered him a handful of loose change. One of the coins, however, he rejected on the grounds that it was foreign.
"No it's not" I said, flipping it "look - it has the Queen's head on it".
He studied it for a while. Then his mate came over and took an interest.
"Is that the Queen?" he said.
"Yes, look she is on all the coins" I replied.
"Oh yeah. So, is that our Queen?"
"Yes" I said, probably sounding incredulous by now.
"Yeah but I heard" said his mate "that she is on some Canadian coins too".
"Yes" I said "and on Australian coins".
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"Here" they replied.
By now they were sufficiently intrigued to listen to the short lecture on British colonial history I felt obliged to deliver in order to convince them that I was not trying to pass off a foreign coin in exchange for a bag of onions.
"Well, thanks for that. They didn't teach us that at school" said one.
"Yeah, that's really interesting" said the other and with smiles all round, I went back to my world, leaving them to study all the coins in the till.
When I told this story to my partner she countered with one of her own. That morning she had taken a group of 13 year-old schoolgirls on a guided tour of the newly-opened BBC TV news studios. When invited to put questions one of them said "Where do you get the news from before you see it on TV?" The exasperated newsroom staff were enlightened by another of the girls who explained that none of them has ever watched TV news. They get all they need to know from Facebook.
It seems we all coexist in different worlds - which need not be too troubling as long as we don't delude ourselves that ours is the only really valid one.