That's the endearing thing about Michael Foot. Ask him to say a few words before cutting the ribbon to launch a new chain of coffee shops and you get a 20-minute resume of economic development in the Third World, personal reminiscences (his brother, Lord Caradon, was the last governor-general in Kingston) and a couple of paragraphs of the socialist manifesto for good measure. "Who is that old man?" asked the elegant young Jamaican beside me, wearing tangerine jacket, green-and-yellow-spotted tie and black velvet stetson. "Dunno. Some kinda dignitary, I guess," suggested his companion.
I've always had a soft spot for old Labour leaders. Years ago, I travelled up to Yorkshire with another one, name of Harold Wilson, then long since retired from public life but still game for an outing. He had been invited to open a new hotel in Huddersfield, complete with flag-waving schoolchildren, the full complement of civic dignitaries and a brass band. For 40 minutes he reminisced about his Yorkshire childhood, illustrating each memory with a well thumbed photograph that he carefully took from his wallet. It was almost identical to the one he'd given me on the train coming up. When at last the mayor caught his eye and nodded towards the pink satin ribbon stretched across the entrance of the Huddersfield Hotel, indicating that it was now time to cut it, Lord Wilson took hold of the scissors and said: "I am delighted to be here and now declare this hospital open."
No one could possibly accuse Michael Foot of having lost his marbles. On the contrary, he looks as though he keeps several bags of whoppers permanently in his anorak pocket. He left as he had come, on the bus, inspiring me to do likewise, which turned out to be a mistake. I was heading for Waterloo and the Portsmouth train which, needless to say, after waiting hours for the No 176, I missed.
I toyed with the idea of another cup of coffee but frankly, after Jamaican Blue Mountain, which truly is the champagne of coffee, it would only have tasted like slop. For some strange reason I was feeling elated. Maybe it was the caffeine; maybe it was the talk about democracy, freedom and human decency; maybe it was foot-rot. In the middle of Waterloo Station, underneath the clock, there was a big sign. Magic Mop, it said. Underneath the sign an elegant young Jamaican in designer jeans was showing a large crowd of people, in some cases six deep, the astonishing number of uses to which the mop could be put. Now, I have a perfectly serviceable mop at home. It's one of those old-fashioned rag jobs you have to jam head first into a sort of metal colander on top of a metal bucket to squeeze the water out. But I digress. I'm on Waterloo Station, buoyed up with Blue Mountain caffeine and stirring thoughts of democracy, freedom and human decency, and before I know what has hit me, I've handed over pounds 20 to the elegant young Jamaican in exchange for a Magic Mop.
Here's where I come clean and tell you that, until last Thursday, I hadn't had a cup of coffee for years. I gave it up as part of a 48-hour detox regime, and felt so good that I resolved to scrap it altogether. My doctor friend approved. Caffeine, he said, affects different people in different ways. It can make you neurotic, hyperactive, volatile, suicidal. My local health shop sells a variety of caffeine-free coffees made from cashew nuts, acorns, pearl barley and dandelion. The Polish proprietress recommended the dandelion flavoured with honey and goats' milk. I've tried it both ways and it's filthy. Still, it's the sort of thing Mrs Tiggywinkle drinks, or Jill Archer, both decent, solid, respectable matriarchal role models, so I persevered.
So why did I break my pledge? I'll tell you why. The invitation arrived on a cold, grey morning when I'd just finished a cup of dandelion mulch and I suddenly remembered my four days in Jamaica last September and thought, "To hell with Mrs Tiggywinkle and Jill Archer. I want to be hyperactive and volatile. I want to live life to the full. I want excitement. I want caffeine." Now, where did I put that Magic Mop?Reuse content