We took Alastair on holiday with us this year. Listened to his version of the Blair years in the car all the way to Biarritz — it was either him or French pop music.
We took Alastair on holiday with us this year. Listened to his version of the Blair years in the car all the way to Biarritz — it was either him or French pop music. And no, unlike the average Travelodge customer, we didn’t leave him in the nearest service station for someone else to enjoy (is it just me, or does he have a crush on Bill Clinton?) Anyway, he was soon forgotten as we cycled 550 miles across France, taking in the Pyrenees and the Canal du Midi, fuelled by copious patisserie and the inevitable confit de canard. Once again, I was struck by the French antipathy towards capitalism. There they are, 8.5 per cent unemployment, growth a paltry 1.3 per cent (compared with our 3 per cent) and still restaurants in seaside towns close throughout August for the annual holidays. And woe betide if you need to buy anything between the hours of 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. or all day Monday or Wednesday afternoon. Dangerously démodé? Or reassuringly old-fashioned? Either way, it often felt like a country resting its loins rather than girding them for reform.
We returned to find the house next door finally being renovated. It’s a double- fronted Victorian place on its last legs. It was bought almost two years ago for a street record (don’t you just love www.nethouseprices.com?) and has been languishing ever since, presumably as the owners were happy to sit back and watch it appreciate. But now it’s all systems go; the media room is being dug in the basement, the back addition is being razed to make way for a glass box and the jungle in the back garden is being hacked into shape. I can only assume the sub-prime crisis has spooked them and they want to get it done before the market turns. Forget mortgage approval data and the Halifax house price index. They’re so yesterday. Just watch out for the sweaty brows of the builders and the even sweatier brows of the developers.
We also returned to chaos in the vegetable patch; foot-long runner beans, rocket that had done just that, rainbow chard riddled with slugs and the inevitable courgette turned marrow, surely the most useless of vegetables. The beans ended up in a spiced chutney with caramelised red onions, the marrow grated in a fritter with ricotta and the chard steamed in butter in a fish pie. Just some spring onions and potatoes to come now, before the purslane and winter cabbage go in. I like to think there’s a little bit of Felicity Kendall in me — although probably not as much as my husband would like.
In between the pickling, I followed Gordon Brown’s lead last week and conducted my own citizen’s jury. The citizens in question were my parents — pensioners from middle England who’ve never supported Labour (and couldn’t abide that ‘show pony’ Tony Blair). They also believe passionately in one’s duty to vote. Prime Brown fodder. The venue? Sunday lunch in our dining-room. The issue at hand? Should Gordon Brown call a snap election. The view? Well, my mum found it hard to forgive him for holing pensions by scrapping the dividend tax credit — ‘he’s got his paw prints all over the last ten years’ — but added she’d find it hard not to vote for him given the alternatives. My dad thought it would be opportunistic to call an election so soon. ‘What if he turns out to be a plonker? We’re stuck with him for five years then.’
Off to Brighton to do some pre-filming for the Conferences. I’m doing a sequence of virtual-reality graphics based on Saltdean Lido to highlight the challenges facing the three leaders. Bear with me. Their standings in the polls and the pitfalls awaiting them will be cunningly illustrated with the aid of diving boards, life jackets and sharks. It’s the same Lido that featured in David Dimbleby’s How We Built Britain, in which the historic national treasure was a picture of Victorian elegance, as he stood next to the pool in a costume bathing suit for his piece to camera. No such shenanigans for me, thankfully, despite my producer’s best efforts. But if you want to see a scantily clad Ming Campbell somersaulting from the high board, performing aquatic aerobics and running out of puff in the pool, tune in to our Conference coverage on BBC2. And in the interests of honesty and clarity, no, it won’t be the real Ming.
I don’t get recognised very often. I like to think it’s because I don’t often take part in phoney-in reality cookery programmes where you have to perform a dance routine while being given a makeover. But I suspect it’s because I’m entirely forgettable. When I do encounter the faint flicker of recognition — usually in National Trust properties — it’s soon followed by the question, ‘What’s that nice Mr Andrew Neil like to work with?’ One elderly couple once chased me around Waitrose demanding a Daily Politics mug until I placated them with an anecdote about which politicians nick them from the set after interviews. But the best times are the unexpected times. Like Gary, who sells me my morning newspaper, asking me what Gordon Brown is like, or the guard at the ticket barrier at Waterloo Tube the other week who boomed out ‘Good evening, I love your programme’ as I went through. Or the gentlemen who gather outside our local church for the Thursday night homeless drop-in centre, who watch the programme regularly, although where, I’m not quite sure. Who says no one’s interested in politics any more?
Jenny Scott is a presenter/reporter with the BBC.