The Observer publish a column by me in their “My week” series.
It is interesting to compare what they published with what I submitted. Shortened for length, obviously, but the editing makes it look like my comments on alcohol were a jibe at Muslims, when in fact they were a jibe at Nick Cohen. It is perhaps understandable that the Observer have taken out criticism of their long-standing columnist and new neo-con pin-up. Slightly more worrying that they didn’t think my attack on the appointment of an appalling New Labour hack as chairman of the BBC was worth printing:
Anyway, here is what I originally wrote:
Nadira is studying a postgraduate acting course at Drama Studio London, an acting school of very high reputation. They have just broken up for Easter, and I go along to their end of term karaoke party. I feel inspirited by these young people. I would like to sing but Nadira only took me along after I promised I wouldn’t. Interestingly they all choose songs from my generation, not theirs. I learn that a song I have heard on a hundred radios, but didn’t know the title, is called ‘La Isla Bonita’ or sometimes, on this karaoke machine, ‘La Isla Bontia’. Does the Guardian do karaoke machines? Anyway one line in this song had always startled me. ‘I fell in love with some dago’ had always seemed a strange thing to sing, even in less politically correct times. I now see on the machine it was San Pedro she fell in love with: presumably a place not a holy old fisherman.
I also discovered that the Abba line from Super Trouper is not the improbable ‘Since I called you last night from Tesco’ but rather ‘Glasgow’.
Which is, of course, even less romantic.
I have spent a great deal of the week dashing between television and radio studios to give interviews about the Iran captives. I used to be head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign Office. In the first Gulf War I lived, quite literally, in an underground bunker working in the Embargo Surveillance Centre. I worked with Naval staff and was very heavily involved in the real time direction of Gulf interdiction operations. So I really know about this stuff.
There were farcical elements to the whole incident. Neither the British, Iraqis nor Iranians could say whose waters they were in, as the boundaries have never been agreed outside the Shatt-al-Arab. The military failure was due to the fact we have nothing in the area between a warship and a rubber dinghy; it reminded me of the Cod War with Iceland all over again (we lost that one too). Still less can I understand why we have warships attempting to collect Iraqi vehicle excise duty. These patrols, maintained at enormous expense to the British taxpayer, have made precisely zero seizures of significant quantities of explosives or guns. Up the Gulf by ship is not how the insurgents are supplied. The looting of thousands of tonnes of munitions from the disbanded Iraqi army was enough to keep them going for many years.
An extraordinary thing is the disconnect between the BBC presentation and what ordinary people can see. I think I can honestly claim that, unless you happened to catch me being interviewed, nothing else in hundreds of hours of BBC TV coverage would give a stranger the slightest clue that the majority of British people do not think our troops and Navy should be there in the first place. I am genuinely sorry for the ideal of these young people, but nobody can pretend it was a patch on extraordinary rendition to an Uzbek dungeon, on Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib or the regular beating of Iraqi prisoners by British troops, of which the hideous murder of Baha Musa is just one very bad example. There was infinitely more focus on the rejoicing families of our returned captives than there was thought for the grieving families of the four men and women just killed. Having sent those young people to their useless deaths, Blair’s only thought was to use them to bang the drum further for war against Iran,
Ask yourself – when is the last time you saw an anti-war voice, as opposed to a pro-war “military” or “security” expert, asked by the BBC to comment on a Middle East development? Yet the majority of people in this country are against the war. If they want an ex-diplomat, they go for pro war cheerleaders Pauline Neville Jones or Christopher Meyer, even though eight out of ten ex British Ambassadors are against the war.
Amazingly, Sky News is much more open to dissent, and gives much fairer representation to anti-war voices, than the BBC. I see that a New Labour apparatchik and mate of Gordon Brown has just been appointed to chair that august body. There would be no danger now of any unfortunate outbreak of the truth on the BBC, as when Andrew Gilligan told the nation there were no Iraqi WMD.
Lunch with Michael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton to discuss the latest developments in producing the film of Murder in Samarkand, the book of my time in Uzbekistan. Paramount are funding the project and it is good to discuss filming locations and casting with a pretty open budget. There has been a change of writer since we last met, and Michael himself has drawn up the ‘treatment.’ We agree that the drama has to be griping, the sex erotic and the humour hilarious. Michael has a passion for authenticity which could cause problems. He is very insistent, for example, that Uzbeks should play Uzbeks and Russians play Russians. I point out that this is no problem provided we can find actors with no objection to be executed or murdered by their governments once the film is shown.
Steve Coogan is to play me. He is, of course, not nearly good looking enough. But then, who is?
This week I read ‘An Honourable Deception’ by Clare Short, and ‘What’s Left’ by Nick Cohen. I confess to being a fan of Clare Short. Unfortunately her on/off resignation did huge damage to her standing, and probably to the sales of this book. That is a great pity because what it has to say about the sickness at the heart of New Labour is quite devastating.
Let me summarise Nick Cohen’s book for you. ‘If you are against eating Muslim babies, you are a supporter of Islamofascism. If you are perturbed by Guantanamo Bay, you would not have fought in the Spanish Civil War, are probably a fan of Hitler and have no right to call yourself a Liberal. Neo-Conservatism is the New Left.’
There, now you don’t have to read it. Believe me, I have done you a favour.
I have never been much attracted to Islam myself as my hobbies are drinking whisky and chasing women. Contrary to Cohen’s argument, the very many British Muslims I know, some of them very radical, have no problems with my lifestyle or any intention of imposing their religion on the rest of the UK.
I think the fight against neo-puritanism is very important. The mineral water at lunch crew are a fundamental threat to civilisation. I have always maintained stoutly that it is possible to drink a great deal without any impairment of the mental faculties. I fear Cohen’s book may be disproving that.
I am making arrangements to get to Ghana for the funeral of my friend, Hawa Yakubu. Hawa was a woman of quite extraordinary influence across West Africa. She was on the closest terms with almost every major African Head of State over thirty years. I recall late one night we were struggling with ideas in the negotiations for the Sierra Leone peace treaty, and she simply phoned President Obasanjo of Nigeria at 2am to ask him to put pressure on Charles Taylor. It says volumes about Hawa that he was delighted to be awoken by his old friend.
Hawa did huge amounts for women’s development, for African integration, for conservation, and for the poverty-stricken West African Savannah Belt. She was completely non-corrupt and leaves no personal fortune. Her influence was absolutely vital in helping Ghana become a democracy after Rawlings. She never held more than junior ministerial office because she found it too limiting. One of the most positive influences bringing hope to modern Africa, she is mourned by an extraordinary number of powerful people on several continents. It says much of our modern remoteness from African affairs that no British media have noted her passing.
Good Friday is Nadira’s birthday. Foxy, our cat, gave birth to four kittens. Last year on Nadira’s birthday Foxy gave birth to one, Chocolate, who we still have. Nadira goes all gooey-eyed on me and insists we must keep the kittens. I point out that our long-suffering landlord, Mr Dash, has already put up with two cats when our lease clearly states that we are allowed no pets.
‘But you don’t have any money to pay the rent anyway, so why would he worry about a few kittens?’ Nadira asks. I don’t see how to argue with that.