A recreational weekend. Life in the fast lane? Did I go clubbing? Did I have fun? I suppose it depends on your definition of fun. Julia Roberts’ Vivian Ward, the “tart with a heart” in Pretty Woman (but can one use that expression anymore? The compassionate sex industry professional) is flown in Richard Gere’s Edward Lewis’s private jet from LA to San Francisco to attend the Opera. As they board the aircraft, she says, “In case I forget to tell you later on, I had a good time.”
I remember my father once saying to me when I was a young man, “You don’t get much fun.” I think by that he meant I didn’t play much sport, for he was mad keen on sport, football, boxing, golf, and badminton. I probably thought the best means of defence was attack, and I probably replied, “Well what about you? You spend all day catching crims…” (He was a cop) “…and then go to Civil Defence in the evening…” (It was at the height of the Cold War.) Periodically he would take me along to the Police Training School to try and improve my badminton. I could see his disappointment at my lack of hand-eye co-ordination. Actually I wasn’t that bad. I played for my school. But I was nothing like him. The best and most devastating badminton smash I’ve ever witnessed. Perfect timing. I remember he once told me that the Second World War had been a terrible waste of his time, because joining the RAF and going abroad for years effectively ended his badminton career.
I don’t think he was right about the fun. If anything, I had rather too much of it. I would party until 3 am, snatch a few hours’ sleep, get up, and go and run in a 10 k race. I wasn’t exactly disciplined. Still, twenty years later, a caustic femme fatale took a cool look at my life and remarked, “Where’s the fun?” Left me speechless. You can tell it rankled.
Back to my fun weekend. On Saturday morning, I wrote to The Herald.
I heard an anecdote in the sauna of my local gym, from a guy recently returned from Finland, whose Finnish hosts popped over into Russia to fetch a magnum of cheap vodka, not to drink, but to pour over the hot coals of their sauna.
Having painstakingly read the Sue Gray report, I find this to be an apt metaphor for Partygate: people living in a highly unusual hothouse atmosphere, amid an alcoholic haze. Sue Gray’s report does not take long to read because it is of necessity very repetitive. It is in its way a prose poem, using monotony as a literary device, her condemnation all the more powerful for its understatement. For each event, the restrictions that were current at the time are laid out, and then the event described. Booze is all-pervasive, and it is surely booze that defines an event as a party rather than a work meeting. Would you expect your doctor, your teacher, your policeman to drink while on duty?
But the real question the Sue Gray report raises is this: do we need No. 10 at all? I don’t mean that the PM shouldn’t have a pied-à-terre in Whitehall, or that he shouldn’t hold a Cabinet therein. But do we need No. 10 as, in Ms Gray’s words, a “small Government Department”? What is its function? What on earth are all these special advisers doing, other than sending WhatsApp messages to one another? It is said that they were all working incredibly hard to get the country through the pandemic. But it was the scientists who prepared a vaccine, the pharmaceutical companies who mass-produced it, and the NHS who delivered it. No. 10 made up a few rules which manifestly didn’t apply to SW1A 2AA. If the whole shebang were to be closed down, would any of us notice the difference?
Now all I had to do was sit back until Monday morning and see if they would publish me.
Then two dear friends of mine appeared on the doorstep and we repaired to The Lion & Unicorn for luncheon. There was much laughter, particularly over the reminiscence of a friend who had the unusual habit of snorting a line of Creamola Foam. In its powder form, I suppose. Now I have never done that. Maybe that is why I don’t have fun.
A post luncheon stroll betwixt the Carse of Stirling and the Highland Boundary Fault Line. It was very warm. Hurrah, at last. Then tea and biscuits. Asked, what is my favourite biscuit, I said Time, but they were no longer available. My friend consulted that font of all human knowledge, Professor Google, but failed to find Time. Time was no more.
To Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and the penultimate concert of the RSNO’s current season. I had expected to hear Nicola Benedetti give the Scottish premiere of Mark Simpson’s Violin Concerto, but alas Ms Benedetti has sustained an injury. Noa Wildschut stepped in at short notice and played the Mendelssohn, very beautifully, with some unaccompanied Bach as an encore. Then the RSNO played the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, a romantic dream, a neurotic vision, descending into chaos and madness. The orchestral balance achieved by conductor Fabien Gabel was perfect. A fun evening? I thought so.
Sunday lunch in Glasgow, and a visit to the Art Galleries in Kelvingrove. I hadn’t been in since before the first lockdown. Good to be back. There was a recital on the magnificent organ of the grand hall. I saw some dreadful driving on the M80 on the way home. Two black Golf GTIs doing about ninety, tail to tail, within six feet of one another. I blame the war in Europe. Unleash the dogs of war and you will have, in John Buchan’s phrase, “a general loosening of screws”. Not much fun in the fast lane, if you ask me.
Monday morning. Picked up The Herald. I’m in, unedited, first up, with a banner headline. Would we actually miss No. 10 if it were closed down? One thing I’ve noticed about being published is that, while it is gratifying to see my work in print, I tend to think retrospectively of the process as de rigueur. But it can’t be denied that being rejected hurts. Maybe I have the melancholic outlook of the glass half empty man. Every silver lining has a cloud. Now I must get tomorrow’s Herald and look out for the angry riposte. “No doubt Dr Campbell is blind to the shenanigans going on behind the door of No 6 Charlotte Square… No doubt he would rather the bunting currently festooning his village comprised Saltires rather than Union flags…”
But I get ahead of myself, rather like the man who gets a flat tyre out in the boondocks and while walking to a remote cottage for assistance conjures in his mind the hostile reception he is going to get, to the extent that when the door is opened to him, his first remark is, “You can keep your f****** jack!”
Before I forget, I had a fun time.