Sometimes I make a mental list of aspects of Britain that make me feel ashamed, and which I would, if at all possible, conceal from a refined foreign friend.
Our trains (most of the time). England football fans who boo during the national anthem of a visiting team.
Our city centres on a Saturday night, when inebriated young men and women make spectacles of themselves. Patients waiting for hours on trolleys to be seen by a doctor.
And John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons. Fortunately, I am seldom obliged to observe this pompous little man in person.
But whenever I see him on television, or read about his latest absurdity in a newspaper, I marvel that a nation which prides itself on its sense of irony could have installed him in such an elevated position.
How can our venerable Mother of Parliaments — which even now people abroad still admire — be presided over by this self-important and often partisan popinjay?
The trouble is that, supported as he is by compliant MPs, many of them Labour, our chief national embarrassment has acquired a kind of permanence.
When elected Speaker in June 2009, he undertook to serve no more than nine years.
By my calculations, he should be on his way next month. But after last year's General Election he indicated he would remain until the end of this Parliament, which could be as far away as 2022.
Will we ever be rid of him? Possibly. There is a sliver of hope, thanks largely to investigations by BBC2's Newsnight into allegations of bullying in the Commons. Speaker Bercow has been fingered.
A few months ago, Newsnight accused him and two other MPs — Tory Mark Pritchard and Labour's Paul Farrelly — of intimidating Commons staff. All three deny the charges.
The allegation against the Speaker was that he had bullied Kate Emms, his private secretary from 2010 until 2011.
She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after less than a year working for him, during which time she was subjected to sustained bullying. Mr Bercow emphatically denies the charge.
Now a new allegation against him has erupted which may be even more serious since it involves public money.
Angus Sinclair, who preceded Kate Emms as Mr Bercow's secretary between 2009 and 2010, claims he shouted and swore at him, and attempted to intimidate him physically.
Mr Sinclair describes a Speaker not always in control of his temper, who was prone to thumping tables, and once flung a mobile phone with such force at Mr Sinclair's desk that it broke into pieces. Mr Bercow denies these allegations, too.
What should we make of them? Mr Sinclair has an impeccable record. He worked for the previous Speaker, Michael Martin (who died last Sunday), from 2005 until 2009 apparently without mishap.
Before doing so, he had served 30 years in the Royal Navy, latterly as the captain of a submarine.
This suggests to me that he is trustworthy and reliable, as well as no shrinking violet easily ruffled by an overbearing panjandrum.
One shouldn't judge by appearances. But I can't be alone in trusting the word of a long-serving Royal Navy officer over that of a career politician who was a member of the racist far-Right Monday Club before morphing into a sometimes unctuous, sometimes rude, politically correct Speaker.
The most damaging of Mr Sinclair's allegations is that when sacked by Mr Bercow in 2010, he was paid £86,250 from public funds as a part of a deal which also required him to sign a gagging order preventing him from talking to the media.
During a well-orchestrated defence yesterday in the Commons — with Tory MP Julian Lewis sycophantically suggesting that most of the Speaker's staff had worked for him without complaint — Mr Bercow asserted that former Commons staff were not prohibited from speaking out.
Yet the fact remains that Mr Sinclair believes he was precluded from talking. Was the large sum of money paid to him designed to keep him quiet, or was it his legal right as a Commons employee of five years' standing?
If the pay-off was even partly intended to stop him revealing Mr Bercow's alleged extreme temper tantrums, it would have amounted to a scandalous misuse of public funds.
In any event, it is surely obvious that these serious charges against the Speaker should be independently investigated. One former private secretary alleging serious bullying might conceivably be ignored by the authorities. Two private secretaries can't be.
Moreover, in 2014 Mr Bercow was accused of driving Sir Robert Rogers, a much respected Clerk of the House, to resign earlier than expected by treating him badly and swearing at him.
It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to discern a pattern here. The charge against the Speaker is not that he is testy and bad-tempered, as people in authority can be, but that he is capable of humiliating those beneath him.
Imagine if similar allegations had been made against a Cabinet minister. It is doubtful whether such a person would survive. At the very least he or she would be required to give a detailed account of what had happened.
Then why is Mr Bercow immune? It is constitutionally difficult to get rid of a Speaker.
This puffed-up satrap has absorbed controversies that would have floored ordinary politicians — once claiming £367 for a trip to Luton to talk about MPs' expenses, another time submitting a £172 bill for a 0.7-mile chauffeur-driven journey that would have taken 15 minutes on foot.
Despite supposedly being impartial by virtue of his position, he thought nothing of having a sticker on his car declaring 'Bo*****s to Brexit', or inveighing against Donald Trump after the Queen had extended an official invitation to the leader of the free world.
But there are signs that this preposterous man may be in difficulty. Some hitherto sympathetic women Labour MPs have been upset by allegations that he bullied Kate Emms. Some are reportedly plotting to put the veteran Harriet Harman in his place.
Bercow's desire to suck up to the sisterhood probably explains his recent lecture to Boris Johnson.
He described the Foreign Secretary as 'sexist' after he had called his Commons opposite number, Emily Thornberry, 'Baroness Whatever' and by her formal title, Lady Nugee.
Yet when Theresa May had referred to the shadow Foreign Secretary in this way, the Speaker said nothing.
Perhaps more serious for Mr Bercow is No. 10's reaction to Mr Sinclair's allegations, which it described as 'concerning'.
The Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, yesterday suggested that an existing Commons inquiry might look into the latest charges against the Speaker.
Believe it or not, this inquiry, chaired by Dame Laura Cox QC, is not examining claims made about individuals, but only the atmosphere of bullying in the Commons.
I doubt it can be relied upon to hold the Speaker to account.
But something must be done. The Speaker often invokes members of the public during Prime Minister's Questions, claiming they will be shocked by MPs' unseemly bellowing.
I suggest that people will be far more shocked — and much greater damage will be done to the reputation of Parliament — if this bumptious, self-serving pipsqueak is allowed to continue much longer in office.