piece last week about David Butler reminded me that when Arnold Kemp edited The Herald
and the paper was punching above its weight, I was sent to India to cover Rajiv Gandhi's funeral. Nowadays, journalists are lucky if they get to the corner of the street. But Arnold had decided things might get interesting in the aftermath of Gandhi's assassination and The Herald
ought to be there.
On the plane, I met an amiable Candian journalist who was staying at the same hotel and had loads of local contacts so, instead of taking myself straight away to register at the press office – the sensible thing to do – I went with him to meet his contacts. And very profitable it was too. One of them had been Rajiv's nurse. Another was a politician with lots to say. Next morning when I turned up at the press office to collect my pass, I was told I was too late for it to be done but not to worry – just get on the press bus and it would be all right.
Today, I would probably have ended up under arrest but the passes were never checked. I ended up sitting next to David Butler and we got talking as the procession crawled round Lutyen's Delhi heading for the site where the cremation would take place. Eventually he got fed up and decided to leave – I don't think he was there to actually report the event but had written about Gandhi's election and was interested in Indian politics. Before disembarking, he gave me his pass which had no photograph, so I covered the funeral rites as David Butler. I still have it.
I met him many years later. He was married to the sister of my friend Richard Evans of the Financial Times
who was having his golden wedding party. I told him about the last time we had met. What was memorable for me – going to something as somebody else – he had totally forgotten about. Arnold was, by the way, wrong. Things remained calm and after a couple of days I came home. At least I had covered the funeral and not watched it on television.
It was in Tesco, the one at Holy Corner, the hallowed spot that sits between Morningside and Bruntsfield and is so called as there is a church on each of the corners. Not one for bursting bubbles, however, I feel that I should point out that this is not strictly speaking true. Religious establishments sit on two of the corners, with another one sitting adjacent to a pub and restaurant which sits on the third corner. A coffee house is located on the fourth corner, with the church in question a further two doors down. I suppose 'approximately Holy Corner' does not really have the same ring to it. If you think I am being a bit of a spoiler, just wait till you hear my theory about Greyfriars Bobby.
I heard him, way before I saw him, it was the loud, confident pronunciation that drew me in. You know the type I mean: supremely confident, not really arrogant, you know that I know and I know that you know that I have been formally educated and therefore able to hold my own or wax lyrical on any subject, no matter my level of knowledge on the matter. Before anyone accuses me of having a chip on my shoulder, I must point out that I am a perfectly balanced individual, having massive chips on both shoulders.
I was hooked, having come across a number of such people in the past when working in London around the turn of the century. I worked with some very capable colleagues but had also encountered many who had all the style yet no substance to their assertions. This one I soon came to realise fell into the second category. I tried to zone out of the conversation he was having with a friend, however, it was in attempting this that I heard him betray himself. 'You know they literally, actually do that,' he proclaimed, I assume in relation to some issue that was annoying him. By this time, he was standing at the adjacent check-out and it took all I had not to turn around and point out his ill-judged use of language. In the end, I decided it was better not to challenge him.
The delusional behaviour we are currently and increasingly witnessing through our broadcast media has ramped up considerably more over the past few days. The symptoms of this seem to appear at regular intervals, most especially when sporting competitions are upon us. No matter how much precedence has shown that they will not prevail, our neighbours expect to emerge victorious. Aligned with this misplaced confidence is the dismissal of any rival as inconsequential and only there for the beating.
What was that phrase which was attributed to Napoleon again? I paraphrase: 'Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake'. A bit harsh in this context, I realise and I would never regard them as my enemy, more rivals, on the football field. While others may cruelly suggest that the further they progress, the higher the expectation and ultimately the greater the fall.
And yes, I did see what I did in the opening sentence, where I committed the error of placing Holy, near to Hallowed. It was intended.
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