Waiting for a match to begin at the gloriously situated Recreation Ground — home of Bath Rugby — I take a moment from shouting ‘Come on you Bath’ at the top of my voice, to consider wider issues. Rugby Union, for instance: the game is a civilising influence like literacy or clean drinking water. When it is played and appreciated, so is toughness of body and spirit, generosity and camaraderie. Some ugliness has accompanied its transition into the world of professional sport — that was unavoidable I suppose — but in the city of Bath the game is still played with a smile. It is also a better game than it was: cleaner, sharper, more exciting to watch. I bumped into John Horton at Bath last week (he played at ten for England a few times in the 1970s) and he told me — I think rightly — that modern professional players are no more skilful than they were back when they would have been solicitors or bricklayers or policemen with a night a week to train. But, he said ruefully, they are fitter, and much stronger. Horton said he was 11 and a half stone when he played for England.
I have become a heart patient. I have a stent inside me — a tube keeping an artery open. It is little bother. But one of the side-effects is that people are constantly expecting you to die, suddenly, on their carpet. They kick away obstructions lest you should bump into them and motion you towards chairs on even the shortest visit. A BBC boss (not mine I should say) with a sense of humour tells me he knows exactly what I am going through. When he got a sudden promotion — during the recent Savile événements — he said friends would grip his arm and ask with pained solicitousness, ‘Are you all right? How are your family taking it?’
As a nightworker (virtually) and a traveller on public transport, I have real sympathy for David Miliband, who was photographed the other day on the London Underground apparently asleep, with some of his clothing unbuttoned. When you live life to the full, and cram every hour with activity, a bus or train ride can often be too soothing for sleep to be resisted. My friend Jeremy Bowen, during a brief stint presenting morning television, found himself in central London after an enjoyable lunch. A 176 bus — which goes past our south London homes — was passing; Jeremy hopped on. Hours later, he came round on the top deck. It was dark. He was alone. He found himself to be in Penge bus garage with no way out. It was in the days before mobile phone cameras, so he was safe from public ridicule, though I think he had some explaining to do when he got home.
My children think south London is on the up. Eldest daughter Martha came home from school with the news that the Beckhams have moved to Kennington. Try adding an ‘s’, Martha. An ‘s’ and a million or two. Having said that, Kennington is on the Northern Line and there are some rather grand Georgian houses you could live in without fear of mansion taxes, and it’s closer to France as the crow flies than W8.
Will America ever have another white male president? Eventually perhaps, when white people become a minority (roughly in 2050) and gain kudos thereby, but before then I wonder whether both main parties are going to be tempted simply to reinvent the Obama appeal again and again, even if the man himself disappoints. Hillary Clinton will run for the Democratic party nomination in 2016 but I reckon two black men, Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, could give her a run for her money. And on the Republican side, Marco Rubio, a Cuban American senator from Florida, will be a frontrunner, as will Governor Bobby Jindal (of south Asian extraction) from Louisiana. America has truly changed. Though the colour of someone’s skin does not, of course, tell the full story about them. When Obama was anointed leader of his party at the convention in Denver in 2008, I was in the crush in the middle of the hall, with my nose pressed into the back of the greying head of a mature black gent. I decided I should ask him, when we shook ourselves free and I could see his face, what was going through his mind when Obama was officially declared the presidential nominee. Did he remember oppression? Did this make up for it? Did he ever think, back in the days of separate water fountains, that this could happen? It took a while for us to get to the doors, but we finally did and I tapped him on the shoulder and he swung round. It was Sir Trevor McDonald.