Daily Archives: October 17, 2015


Ancient Wit

It is my birthday! I had a celebratory dinner last night in the home of very dear friends from student days. whom I had not seen for decades. We regaled each other with stories of those long ago times, and for a while were young again.

I heard again how I forgot about one of my finals and had to be helped, too drunk to walk, into the examination room but still got a first. Absolutely true but I had forgotten it until reminded. I did remember the tales of Clement Freud’s sleaziness while Rector in his advances on female students. There was one story in hearing which I took a shamelessly big-headed delight, of when we were at a Clement Freud speech in a formal university occasion. Rather pompously, he said: “You know when you are doing the job of Rector properly when the University Court thinks you are on the students’ side, and the students think you are on the Court’s side”. I interjected loudly “Two-faced bastard” and brought the house down.

If you live long enough you will make some jokes worth retelling.

But I haven’t changed in one respect. Just as I managed to miss the start of a final exam, I managed today to miss my speech to SNP conference by not being in the hall when called. I simply misread the programme, though to be fair to myself the programme is not plain whether the resolution would be in the 10am resolutions session or the 11.30am session. I am annoyed with myself nonetheless.

The motion was on the BBC Charter and I had wished to move a reference back on the grounds that it was not radical enough in its treatment of the BBC. SNP activists are continually accused in the media of being against journalistic freedom in their “attacks” on the BBC. I intended to say that, after a great deal of professional experience monitoring state propaganda organisations around the world, I know one when I see one. To oppose the propaganda output of a state propaganda organisation is not to oppose media freedom, it is to promote it. I missed out on the applause this would have got in the hall. You can applaud now.

I was fortunate in that for the whole of my twenty years in the FCO I had staff working for me who could organise me. Tell me where I was supposed to be, take me there, and make sure I didn’t forget my coat, briefcase or wallet. Without this structure around me, life is a constant struggle against my own impracticality.

Oh well, I have got through 57 years of this. If the next forty are even slightly as enjoyable, I have much to look forward to.

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