Tuesday 29 July 2008

Bunker mentality

While this column has always taken pride in being out of step with the modern world, I am beginning to be embarrassed by my inability to keep up with my peers.

If this were the Tour de France, I’d be the sweating bloke in a tweed suit slowly pushing his Edwardian boneshaker up some Alpine foothill about three weeks after the chap in the yellow jersey flashed by.

Compared with my fellow regular columnists, I labour under the huge disadvantages of never having edited a newspaper, or finding my sex life splashed all over one. In fact, I’ve struggled for decades to get one person (preferably female) interested in my sex life, never mind the entire readership of the Daily Mail.

His historic foul-up on the matrimonial playing fields had completely passed me by until Tom Gutteridge relived its horror yesterday. But then I am the man who had never heard of Max Mosley until he took legal action to protect his privacy. Incidentally, isn’t being pained by media intrusion into your sadomasochistic orgy something of a bonus, if you are that way inclined?

Rather than dwelling on that thought, perhaps we should move swiftly on to another piece of cruel snooping by the cameras, to which I can at least relate on several levels.

In my days working in the City, one of my more printable nicknames was “Smiler”, on account of my perpetually lugubrious expression. My girlfriend is currently trying her damnedest to entice me out of the suits and ties in which I feel most comfortable and into some sort of contemporary leisurewear. So when I saw the Prime Minister on TV on Sunday, grimacing as he strolled through Suffolk wearing a clearly brand new sports jacket and open-necked shirt, I felt a wholly unexpected surge of recognition and sympathy.

It came to me in a flash that I am Gordon Brown, and vice-versa. No wonder the country is in the proverbial.

I also really like Southwold, where I have spent many happy weekends over-indulging in Adnams’ real ale and walking it off over the surrounding beaches and marshes. The place is still caught in the 1950s time warp which Michael Palin brilliantly captured in his 1987 film, East of Ipswich. Quintessentially English and middle class, it seems a surreal choice of holiday destination for a Scottish champion of the disadvantaged.

If the rumours of bloody autumn coup plots are true, perhaps it will gain a name as “the last resort”. Frankly, I am more concerned by the admittedly remote possibility that Mr Brown may return to Downing Street “refreshed, renewed and ready” after his break, as his spinners claim. If it can achieve that, Southwold will gain a reputation for miraculous powers to rank alongside Lourdes, and the resulting hordes of coach-borne pilgrims will destroy its peaceful charm.

Let us hope that the poor bloke does get a bit of a rest this year, and is not constantly pestered by all those people from around the world ringing to seek his advice on how to tackle the economic crisis, as Harriet Harman revealed at the weekend. He selflessly delayed his departure to give Barrack Obama a few hints on how to court popularity and win elections, but now sitting on the beach with a knotted handkerchief on his head and a book of extra hard sums for mental relaxation must come first.

At all costs he must avoid the fate of that other leader who famously remarked in April 1945 that it was bad enough being holed up in a bunker with a flatulent Alsatian, as bombs and shells rained down, without being rung up at all hours by spongers looking for free tips on how to win wars.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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