You can tell a lot about a minister from their bookshelves. Some display photos of themselves with the great and the good, others favour wonky texts. As you walk into Elizabeth Truss’s seventh-floor office in the Department of Education, the first thing you see is a think-tank pamphlet: ‘The Profit Motive in Education: Continuing the Revolution’.
Knowing Truss, I half expect she put it there to provoke; a symbol of her radicalism.
My career in politics nearly ended the day it began, when I was almost run over by a gang of Nazis in a Mini-Metro. Not a very butch car to be hit by, I know, and a rather pathetic substitute for a Panzer tank. But it was the early 1990s, and supporters of fascist government in Britain had seen their resources dwindle a bit over the decades.
I was 14, and attending my first political demonstration, an Anti-Nazi League protest against the BNP in Halifax.
Inside Tate Britain on Monday night, a fashionable London audience will applaud the award of the £25,000 Turner prize to whatever is judged the best thing a British artist under the age of 50 can come up with.
Standing outside will be a group of Stuckists protesting against the overlord who for nearly a quarter of a century has ruled this process. Sir Nicholas Serota chaired the prize until 2007, yet still retains his grip.
As someone who once spent a whole summer refusing to leave the house in anything except his Superman costume (to be fair, I was only 23 at the time), I was tickled to death by the announcement last week of a Costa Book Awards shortlist that included not one but two ‘graphic novels’, and the subsequent declaration by the chairman of next year’s Man Booker judges that he would be open to the idea of such things being submitted for that as well.
The world came closer to thermonuclear warfare during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 than ever before or since. Most Americans now aged between their late fifties and late sixties remember ‘duck and cover’ drills during the crisis which taught them to hide under school desks and adopt the brace position in case of nuclear attack. One man who at the time was a 13-year-old schoolboy in Buffalo, New York, told me how on the day after a drill, ‘I was sitting on the big yellow school bus thinking: Will I get home today? Am I going to die? Is this it? Just looking out the window at the world passing by and wondering.
It was about as English as you can get. I saved a man from drowning, and ended up annoyed that he didn’t say thank you.
The setting was a disused railway walk near the meadows of my local market town in Suffolk. I was out with my dog, enjoying one of autumn’s last sunny days. The walk is heavily lined on both sides with trees, and shielded from view of what few houses there are nearby. From the left, where a river runs alongside the track (again, shielded by the trees) came cries of ‘Help! Help me! PLEASE help!’ At first I assumed some kids were messing about.