Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Monday, 20 September 2010

Bog hopping across Britain

Back in London after successfully completing the six-day, 156-mile TransBritain ultra, amazingly feeling stronger and getting faster as the race went on. I even managed to come joint first in each of the final two stages, so I'm delighted with that.

I also discovered on getting back home that I got third place in my age group in the Regent's Park 10k summer series, for which I win £15, free entry to the next series (worth £60) and a medal! So there must be life in the old bones yet.

Lee Chamberlain, who won the TransBritain and is going for the John O'Groats to Land's End running record at the beginning of November, has done a report of the event. That's his photo (above) of me and Steve Keywood, who came second, lost in a bog on the last day.

I'm still raising sponsorship for Teach Africa and Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Thanks to everyone who has donated already - and you can do so here if you want:

Teach Africa and Cystic Fibrosis Trust

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Blair's apologies

Tony Blair’s unwillingness to say ‘sorry’ over Iraq is now so firmly entrenched that it has become part of his character armour. But he does use the word – 38 times – in A Journey.

He says he is ‘sorry about what happened’ to John Prescott over his fist fight with a fox hunter during the 2001 election campaign. He is ‘desperately sorry’ about the death of Roy Jenkins. He is ‘very sorry’ to lose Alan Milburn as a minister. He is ‘really sorry’ for David Blunkett over the affair with his secretary that sees him turfed out of office. He even says he ‘felt genuinely sorry – no, I really did’ for Jacques Chirac when London won the 2012 Olympics bid over Paris.

My favourite TB ‘sorry’, though, is the one he feels for junior defence minister Tom Watson after Watson signs a round-robin calling for Blair’s resignation in September 2006. ‘I have heard from the media that Tom Watson has resigned,’ Blair declares in a gloriously petulant official statement before announcing that he ‘had been intending to dismiss him’ anyway. ‘Actually, later I felt sorry for him and regretted I had done it,’ Blair writes in A Journey. You can almost see where his tears have left their mark on the page.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Me, myself, I

There are, according to a crude count done on my bootleg ebook, 5,843 uses of the word ‘I’ in Tony Blair’s account of his years in office, A Journey. If you include his 1,172 uses of the word ‘my’, 992 uses of ‘me’ and the many hundreds more instances when he refers to himself in the third person, it works out at about one mention of the author in every other sentence. And that’s not counting the 2,478 times he talks about ‘we’, often royally.

That’s some going, even for an inevitably self-serving political memoir – or, as Blair himself cringeworthily prefers, ‘letter (extended!) to the country I love’. (His use of exclamation marks, incidentally, isn’t quite as extensive as some reviewers, such as Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer, have suggested: a mere 50 all told, well short of 21st-century textspeak standards.)

Three of Blair’s first-person references appear in one telling sentence – the one you fancy he would pick as his epitaph if forced to make a choice. ‘All I know is that I did what I thought was right.’

Blair’s repeated return to this simple refrain suggests that Labour’s most successful ever leader (‘I won three general elections. Up to then, Labour had never even won two successive full terms’ – note who did the winning) still doesn’t understand what most of us learn at primary school: that doing what you think is right is not actually good enough if you happen to be wrong. ‘Please miss, I really did think it was right to set fire to the classroom when that nasty bully wouldn’t go outside.’

I don’t suppose there is a leader in history who consciously did what he thought was wrong. There’s invariably some form of philosophical contortionism that will provide apologias for the gravest of crimes. Tony Blair’s – and the world’s – tragedy is that a little less emphasis on the ‘I’ and a little more listening to others could have led to him doing what was right and not just what he thought was right.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The state Will's in

I’m getting increasingly irritated by the recent self flagellation of the baby boomer middle classes. Francis Beckett (65 in May) started it with his What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us – How the Children of the Sixties Lived the Dream and Failed the Future, published in July. Since then a shedload more of them have been jumping on the bandwagon, with ex-Observer editor Will Hutton (60 in May) one of the latest leading the charge.

Hutton’s mea culpa has him plead ‘guilty as charged’ in a self-indulgent Observer piece toying with his angst at turning 60. ‘Having enjoyed a life of free love, free school meals, free universities, defined benefit pensions, mainly full employment and a 40-year-long housing boom, [the boomers] are bequeathing their children sky-high house prices, debts and shrivelled pensions,’ he writes. ‘A 60-year-old in 2010 is a very privileged and lucky human being – an object of resentment as much as admiration.’

Speak for yourself, Will.

Depending on where you draw the line, I might just qualify as a boomer, though I came of age in the 1970s rather than 1960s, just after the Labour government had told us ‘the party’s over’ and just before punk and the winter of discontent gave way to Thatcher. But apart from the free school meals, I don’t recognise too many of the privileges that Will seems to think we all shared. Precarious employment, a rented flat and no pension is how my share of the spoils stacks up.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m forever conscious of the fact that those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in the west, in the latter half of the 20th century, got a damn good deal historically.

What I object to is this idea of generational privilege. At most 10 per cent benefited from free university education. And only those who were able to buy at the right time in the right places benefited from the property boom. As for full employment, try telling that to anyone who had the experience of looking for work in the old industrial areas at any time from about 1974 onwards.

It’s not a generational thing but, as ever, a class one. So, please, just because you’re one of the minority of baby boomers who went to university, made a fortune from property inflation and got gold-plated pensions, don’t keep talking about everyone else of the same age group as if they shared in the same privileges. Or as if they did nothing to try to make things fairer.