One of the joys of working early mornings is not having to work after 9 a.m. But there are pitfalls. My colleague Jeremy Bowen, during a stint on morning television, went for a pleasant lunch in central London and emerged from the restaurant to see a 176 bus. This goes close to the unfashionable area of south London in which we both live. He boarded and sat at the top. The next thing he remembers is waking in Penge bus garage, in darkness, still wearing his makeup though no longer remembering why. He had to struggle to find a way out of the garage and home. Mindful of this, I always come straight back in a bus whose journey ends near my house. The result is that I find myself with time on my hands and the urge to Get Things Done. Why, for instance, has the old furniture we have been chucking out not been taken by the council as they promised? I ring them and they tell me that there was no access to the place where the rubbish was left. They have a photo to prove it. May I see it? No. Have you seen it? No. Would it help if I point out that we paid for the dustmen’s cameras? No. By now half an hour has gone and I reflect, as I admit defeat, that if I worked normal hours I would never even have made the call. I would have slung the stuff in the Thames, and gone to work without another thought.
Not since the days of Beau Nash has the city of Bath had a bigger knees-up than the one I just attended for Sir Michael Caine. A thousand people came to see him launch his autobiography. I had been asked — as a local boy — to lead the conversation. I was hardly needed: he is still a master of storytelling. His best is about Paying for Sex in Peckham: it’s a cautionary tale and for the details you must buy the book. But he had a Bath-based story that can be quickly told: when he was young and relatively unknown he was starring in a film in the city and bumped into Cary Grant in the Royal Crescent. ‘You’re Cary Grant,’ he stammered. Grant replied, ‘I know!’
I am a coward. The other day on the Today programme, John Humphrys was harrumphing at some newspaper story about the Americanisation of English — I meekly harrumphed in agreement. This was silly. John likes a friendly set-to (you are surprised?) and I should have tackled him on this. I feel quite strongly that American English is wonderful. I was based in America for eight years for the BBC and my children grew up speaking American. They are done when a meal is finished, good when asked how they are, and regular in their tastes. In time, we will all speak like this. And our language will be none the poorer for it. My mum used to say everything was ‘frightful’; it was the upper-middle-class adjective of choice for her generation. People were ‘frightfully nice’ and sometimes ‘frightfully nasty’. Like, where is the richness in that, dude?
Every Radio 4 listener in the country has been attending the Cheltenham Literary Festival: I think it may be compulsory. I have no book to sell but what a pleasure it is to mix with crowds of people who have a real interest in culture and politics and have no desire, in the age of The X Factor, to apologise for their higher-brow tastes. Politically the festival is fascinating. Still huge support for Barack Obama and, at a session on tax policy, loud applause for someone in the audience who suggests that all the billions in cuts could have been found from tax evaders and avoiders. This is the Authentic Voice of Cheltenham? If it is, no wonder Dave has been tinkering a bit with the core messages of his party.
My little boy suffers from an odious condition called Type I diabetes. It is incurable and nobody knows why you get it. But we do know that without great care and attention and finger-pricking and food-monitoring and insulin-injecting it will kill you. American friends were genuinely concerned, on hearing that my family was returning to Britain, that the NHS medical treatment would be poorer. Well, it isn’t. Sam is looked after wonderfully at King’s College Hospital and I write this having watched him play rugby (for the E-team!) without in any way seeming different from the other boys. I do wonder whether our generalised sense of unhappiness with modernity is overplayed sometimes. I love the modern world and modern Britain, which from my perspective, watching Sam from the rugby touchline, is the centre of a culture of life. Science and scientists (and the NHS to which my fellow citizens generously contribute) keep Sam alive and stem cell researchers will one day cure him. Power to all their elbows.