Monday, 23 July 2018


It’s Wednesday and there’s no electricity. The pubs are shut. There’s no TV. Half the country is in revolt.  They’re talking about martial law.

What was it like? In the early months of the Miners’ Strike of 1972 it was actually rather wonderful. We sat around, drank and talked by candlelight. In the background we listened to the Stones and were glad to be alive in a civilised world.  The media were in paroxysms about the impending Armageddon but all else was relatively calm. The art of conversation reached new heights. We demonstrated nothing could blunt our appetite for living, loving and laughing.

So over 40 years ago I realised the three-day-week-crisis was not such a big deal after all. We even survived the inflation rates of 27% a few years later when there were typically two or three price increases a year and wage rises to match. Out there the world had surely gone mad but we all survived cushioned by friendship and our self-belief.

In 2002 when the Firefighters went on strike and the Green Goddesses manned by the armed forces were called into action it seemed like the world was falling apart (again).

It was then at a cocktail party at Lambeth Palace I ended any chance of ever working with or speaking again to the then Conservative MP Archie Norman who declared “I fear Britain’s now ungovernable” at which I burst out laughing and said “don’t be ridiculous”.

The point is that life moves on and as Churchill recognised so vividly you have to be patient and keep going. Alistair Campbell when Communications Director in Tony Blair’s office said wisely when yet another crisis blew up…”it will pass”. And of course it always did. What history cannot teach us is just how terrifying and raw these crises seem at the time. How do human beings recover from the loss of a partner or anyone close; from  injury or bankruptcy; from the loss of their job? Well they do (generally) and they do because human beings are very resilient. But they are also extremely dramatic and avidly seek out headlines or, in the case of our favourite Commander-in-Chief, create their own.

I have been a rather blasé spectator to decades of life-changing crises, almost always “the most important/dangerous/ruinous/catastrophic in the history of our nation/mankind”. We all thrive on it. In Italy they used to have a paper called La Domenica del Corriere  the raison d’être of which was disasters – train crashes, horrible murders, death by foul and unnatural means. It was very popular.

But very few of these crises have actually been life changing. A government falls, a President is replaced, a financial meltdown is averted, a union becomes disunited yet the sun rises and we try to do something extraordinary again. Whatever happens we’ll  be OK. And as Leonard Cohen said:

“When things get really bad, just raise your glass and stamp your feet and do a little jig. That's about all you can do.”

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