MR ANTHONY BENN, Secretary of State for Energy, and British Minister for This, That and the Other over the years, seems to be regarded by most political commentators as an amiable but slightly dangerous nut: a sort of wellmeaning dog who knocks over your best china when he wags his tail.
I fist met him when broadcasting was part of his ministerial territory and, mightily impressed by his technical knowledge, said so aloud.
"Nonesense. The man is a fool," was the first of many similar reactions. And so it has gone on over the years; and, while I can see how irritating it must be for experts to be talked to smugly by someone they know cannot possibly be as expert as he sounds, surely a man who keeps getting these important jobs can't be all idiot?
What brought it to mind was reading about a paper he has circulated called "Civil Liberties and the Security Services," which is apparently concerned with ways of making Britian's espionage and counter-espionage services more accountable to Parliament and the public without jeopardising national security.
Maybe, like me, Mr Benn, has been watching on television that chillingly efficient and fascinating series "The Sandbaggers" or perhaps "The Professionals," or any one of the who-dunnits which seem to indicate that these kind of people do take the law into their own lethal hands.
I don't suppose Mr Benn will get anywhere. Armies and navies
and special branches always seem to be untouchable in their own day.
It is only after a decent blurring of time that we are allowed to be told that not all officers were gentlemen and that for generations incompetent buffoons have been sending men and women to their deaths for no reason whatsoever and without any challenge other than from history.
Since nobody dare name these kind of lethal peacocks while they're in power, it seems odds on Mr Benn will be dubbed an idiot yet again.
Don't be fooled by appearances
I USED to think I could tell a person's character from his face until I had my pocket picked by an angel, my bicycle borrowed permanently by a saint with clear blue eyes, and my wife was sold a five-year subscription to a non-existent magazine by a student who was clearly going to become a latter-day St Francis.
Now there are surer ways of testing character. Watch a man driving a car. Make him a door man, a car park attendant, or a captain, or observe, as I did at London Airport the other day, how people react to the very civilised but recently arranged system whereby, on local flights, seat numbers are issued so that you know in advance where you're going to sit when you get into that aeroplane. Some far-seeing man or woman must have assumed this would do away with the famous tarmac sprint. Not on your life. Red-necked men with lethal parcels crash past women and children to get earlier to a place already reserved for them, and that will not move in any direction until the whole planeload is seated.
Deceptive old ladies, already clutching their seat numbers, trip and stab even older ladies in an effort to get somewhere first. Young pin-stripped businessmen men lower their heads and pretend to be thinking of the Financial Times Index when, in reality, they are using their shoulders and their brollies to get there first.
No room for the Minister
THE Multi millionaire Garfield Weston died the other day and left unchanged one tiny corner of his empire known as the Bailey Restaurant in Dublin.
The restaurant, as many a local and visiting gourmet will know, specialises in fish and infinite variations on the oyster.
I can't be sure whether the old boy chuckled with amusement or growled with rage when, last week, a potential customer was rejected because he hadn't booked a table in advance, and left, heading for the Hibernian Hotel around the corner.
The potential customer was Mr Brian Lenihan, Minister for Fisheries!
Sniping at the Royal Family
I AM THINKING of running a competition, tentatively call
ed "Embarrassed Nationalities." It might even be re-titled a little more strongly "Ashamed Nationalities". In other words, what is it about one's fellowcountrymen most likely to make you go hot under the collar?
I pause over us Irish only because the list offered to me is not exactly short — our use of violence; our contempt for cleanliness where cleanliness costs nothing; our doubtful record for hospitality. despite our international reputation, when it comes to rogues and vagabonds and honest Men of the Road.
For the Scots, it might be drinking with as much finesse as a car taking on petrol. For the Welsh, using 22 words instead of two. For the Americans, being louder than the loudest caricatures. For the Germans, being even louder.
None of these may be within a pebble's throw of accuracy but, if I were English, I feel sure I would be more than humiliated by my fellows' attitude to my country's royalty.
Quite apart from the well-paid Willie Hamilton, MP, I mean the snide sniping about the whole family, their money, their tastes, their abilities and, recently, whether Elizabeth should be
I would have much more respect for the subscribers to
these opinion polls if they marched down to Buckingham Palace or across the river to Windsor and hanged the lot of them from the nearest telegraph pole. exchanged for Charles, as if they weren't even people, never mind mother and son.
Why not have a Vice-Pope?
AMERICA'S Time magazine has devoted a great deal of space to all that has been happening in the Vatican since the death of Pope Paul.
Even their letter columns have been bulging, and I am sure no ecumenical offence was intended by the shortest letter of all from a Jane Keckeissen from North Caldwell, New Jersey, who simply wrote: "Why not have a Vice Pope?"
I fee this was a reference to succession rather than ministry.
Quick with a quip
IF DAVE ALLEN ever runs short of scriptwriters maybe he should pay a visit to Our Lady and St Christopher's Church, Cranford, Middlesex.
Dear Dave, the anonymous author (the parish priest perhaps?) of the parish newsletter is quick with the quip if the one edition I have seen is anything to go by. It's a welcome leavening of what otherwise is bound by its nature to be a fairly starchy diet of obligatory information. I offer you this one sample.
"Swallow your pride occasionally. It's calorie free".