Woke up this morning feeling ashamed of myself. Went out to dinner last night. But the roots of the shame are nothing to do with fact that I drank too much. Though I did, starting with the bubbly in the garden, and going on a very decent red at the dinner table. Nor was it anything to do with the fact that I ate too much. Though I did. I consumed more food than an Indian peasant eats in a day on the starters. The taramsolata was really succulent and I splashed it over chunks of pitta bread. When there was no more I switched to the avocado dip which was equally tasty.
By the time I had got on to the soup I realised that I needed to pace myself if I was going to last out this eating marathon. So I tackled the soup, which was a foreign concoction over which Ted, the husband of my hostess had slaved lovingly. I drank all the liquid but left many of the bits floating in it. Particularly the red bits, which I suspected were slivers of radish to which I am supposedly allergic. Good thing too. Because I needed all my digestive powers to tackle the huge chunk of lasagne which then landed on my plate. But, after a short break for a fag in the garden, I had recovered sufficiently to make the most of the summer pudding which was out of this world.
As I am writing this I realise that I should feel guilty about this pretty spectacular indulgence. But what got me out of bed and to the computer was shame at some of the things I said. Particularly some of the cheap jokes I made at the expense of one of our neighbours, the Alastair Campbell who has just published those diaries. I first heard his name when we were on the starters. It was Grant, the Scottish civil servant, who was talking about him. He quickly went on to a sharp denunciation of Gordon Brown, with whom he had been at university. I quipped, “It takes a Scot to know one.’ And then launched another conversation at my end of the table based on how much better I knew Campbell than the journalists who were writing about him in the press.
Now that I am replaying the tape in my head I can hear the music of the conversation. There was I bullshitting about Campbell‘s alpha male behaviour. And blending my theme with that of Grant at the other end of the table, who was going on about the short-comings of the new Prime Minister. He was also taking a swipe at Campbell for censoring the criticism of Brown in the published version of the diaries and cashing in private conversations.
Listening now to the whole dinner table symphony, I can see that Grant and myself were two alpha males, making our play for the attention of the ladies by cutting off the balls of the males we were attacking for making a mess of running the country.
At one point my hostess, Patsy, asked shrewdly whether I had actually read the diaries. I flannelled that one by saying that I had read his web site. But now I think about it, most of the things I was saying about Campbell last night came from what I had read by newspaper journalists. I had not even seen the television programmes.
And what strikes me, as I write now, is that much of this journalism is just like our conversation at the dinner table. I doubt whether any of the journalists who have written these articles have actually read the diaries properly. Like Campbell they earn their living by telling stories. And they have to earn it in age of 24/7 breaking news. It would take most people two working days to read the diaries properly. How can that possibly be justified for an article of one thousand words?
So if you really want to understand Alastair Campbell and get the flavour of what happened at the cabinet table when Blair, Brown and Campbell were taking us to war and David Kelly became so consumed with guilt that he killed himself, there is no substitute for buying the book and reading it yourself.
Which I may do, when I have completed the sale of my house, and moved down to my life of tranquillity on the Dorset coast, when I shall have time to write proper blogs based on real information and considered thought.
Meanwhile I will end this blog with yet another anecdote. I shamelessly used Alastair Campbell to help sell my house. My salesman’s patter, delivered without notes, blended several ingrediants, designed to make the buyers hungry for my house. I would mention the government car coming into the street at dawn to pick up the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary and take him to Downing Street, because Alastair was far too self-important to take the 24 bus. Which gave me an opportunity to bring in another famous man of the neighbourhood who always took the 24 bus to get to the House of Commons, Michael Foot, the nearly Prime Minister and champion of old Labour. Foot actually lives half way up the hill, but, what the hell, it gave me the opportunity to stress how good the 24 bus was in getting us to the West End
At other times I would tell the would-be purchasers about Campbell‘s habit of jogging on the heath before the start of the working day. Giving me an opportunity of emphasising that the house is one hundred yards from Hampstead Heath and that if you go for a stroll at dawn you can have it to yourself, apart from a few Russian secret servicemen, whose London pad is on the Highgate side. I also told them that Alastair Campbell played the bagpipes at the annual neighbourhood street party and sent his children to the local primary school, painting a picture of a jolly safe neighbourhood.
Most of this is true, except that for all I know Campbell might have regularly used the 24 bus because, to be honest, I never actually saw the Government car come into his street at dawn. I just read about in the papers. So I really should buy the diaries myself and check it out.
Meanwhile here is an extract from Campbell‘s blog, which will give you the flavour of his style. He must have started it in a fit of manic enthusiasm but the last entry is dated 6 May 2005. Here it is.
Well thank fuck for that. Tony’s got his historic third term and we’ll all be waiting for MH’s resignation (MH is Michael Howard, the Conservative Party leader) some time soon. Appropriately this clown who’s been blogging on his behalf resigned yesterday.
Spent the night with Tony – thought the acceptance speech I wrote for him was excellent. Pretty downbeat which suited the mood and we didn’t want him to appear too smug. Now it’s over though will have time to start concentrating on other things like running and rugby although I’m sure they’ve not seen the last of me at Westminster.
Oh and one last thing – Happy birthday Mr President!
The Blair Years is published by Hutchinson at £25. You can buy it from Amazon at £12.90.