However, national awards, wrongly in my view, do not recognise the gaffe of the year. And since I have been overlooked by this year's journalistic prize-givers, I have decided to go for a literary prize. I am encouraged in this as many of these prizes are awarded for introducing local subject matter into a literary work. Living in Pinner, a suburb already immortalised in verse by Betjeman, the opportunities are endless. Betjeman seemed to be engulfed with suburban angst when he wrote:
"Dear Charles and Carrie, I am sure,
Despite that awkward Sunday dinner,
Your lives were good and more secure
Than ours at cocktail time in Pinner."
But now that we have learnt Betjeman was a wartime spy, all becomes much clearer. The awkwardness must have referred to his Sunday debriefings. Perhaps he had infiltrated one of the six (I kid you not) local tennis clubs and divulged the top- secret minutes from the committee meetings. The cocktail time had long puzzled me; but who knows what hidden speakeasy the late poet laureate had discovered at the back of the Love Lane Tearooms. Add some love interest with the girl guide leader's moonlit walks with the stockbroker in the memorial park; and all the ingredients of a blockbuster are there.
AN EVEN better setting than Pinner for a novella, or better still a play or film, would be the Liverpool Institute school in the 1950s. The school at that time contained Peter Sissons, who went on, of course, to become a newsreader, Derek Hatton, who became a leading firebrand with the Militant Tendency, and Paul McCartney who went on to become Sir Paul McCartney. Peter Sissons once told me that Hatton had accused him years later of bullying him, a vision to boggle the mind. Surely there must have been a rainy afternoon when the three gathered in a deserted classroom and discussed their aspirations. Perhaps Hatton and Sissons were offered drums and rhythm guitar respectively in Paul's new group but were too immersed in school politics and journalism to be interested. It has all the makings of a Tom Stoppard script. And if Sir Tom is worried that there is one ingredient missing for an Oscar nomination, then no doubt there was a scouse school matron perfect for Gwyneth Paltrow.
EASTER IS a time of quiet reflection, unless you are a teacher - when it is the one time of year you can unwind from weeks of having to be a role model and yell abuse at a cabinet minister. The conferences of the teachers' unions are bizarre rituals that I used to cover when I was an education correspondent. What used to puzzle me most, as I studied train timetables to get from Scarborough to Bournemouth then nip across to Oxford via Harrogate, was why there needed to be quite so many teachers' unions (half a dozen or more) and why teachers, who are bright about most things, didn't realise how that fact diminished their bargaining power. And the nomenclature was all but meaningless. You might have thought that the one thing that distinguished the Secondary Heads Association from its rival headteachers' union, the National Association of Headteachers, was that it had more secondary heads. Not a bit of it. It had fewer. And the poor classroom teacher always had about five different unions trying to recruit him or her. The first day in the staffroom must have seen more bullying than in the playground. Some of the more exotic names have disappeared, alas - The Association of Assistant Mistresses could set the pulse racing. But despite amalgamations there are still too many teachers' unions. What's more, the different union conferences always had nearly identical agendas, the Secretary of State for Education would attend all of them and make virtually identical speeches.
My favourite was the late Keith Joseph, who would effortlessly quell even the rowdiest NUT audience by asking them to put their hands up. He'd say something along the lines of: "How many of you teach history, how many of you do after-school sport" etc. He must have sensed that teachers have an uncontrollable reflex resulting from years in the classroom. When asked to raise their hands they immediately stop heckling and do so.
AT THIS time of year I grow antagonistic towards Nick Hornby. It is the climax of the football season and I should be experiencing a private delight in the discomfort of my fellow man, as my team, Arsenal, are in with a shout for the league and cup. But Hornby's wretched book and movie has made supporting Arsenal irritatingly fashionable. When I was a boy and a supporter of the then-boring - and usually losing - club it was something you kept quiet about. They had no style, no stars, and the nearest thing to a celebrity supporter was Pete Murray, a decidedly untrendy disc jockey. But being in a small unfashionable minority gave you a sense of perverse pride. It was a rite of passage. Now the combination of Hornby and a continental manager and players means that every tom, dick and literary editor you meet follows Arsenal. I even find increasing numbers of arty young women claiming allegiance. A Royal Academy staff member told me she fitted in seeing exhibitions around the demands of her season ticket.
And worse, whereas we Arsenal supporters used to be independently minded with a talent for witty, risque, provocative and filthy terrace songs, a large screen at the ground now instructs supporters not only when to sing but what to sing. The anodyne "Come On You Reds" is flashed up at regular intervals with a giant computer graphic of two hands clapping for those with reading difficulties. The crowd never fails to take its cue. This is Orwellian football supporting indeed, with Big Brother now a cheerleader. I can comfort myself only by imagining what graphics such a screen might have contained in the more anarchic days when I first started going to Highbury. Perhaps a simulated pitch invasion, or the referee's parents declaring they really were married.
A FASCINATING experiment is taking place at my local theatre, the Palace in Watford. Harold Pinter, who is directing a play by Simon Gray there, has decreed that the theatre stop selling sweets as the noise of them being unwrapped could detract from "the delicate atmosphere of the play". A notice to that effect greets everyone entering the building. It is a laudable precedent. But I fear it does not go far enough. I would like to see two doctors with stethoscopes at the entrance to every auditorium barring the way to the bronchial cases who like to spend their evenings in the warmth of the stalls.
Audiences have had it too easy for too long. Film directors should be empowered to decree whether popcorn can be munched in the cinema. Novelists should be entitled to a view on whether their book loses something by being read on a crowded train. And while we're about it, owing to the delicate nature of this article, it should not be read with the television on, with children in the room or by anyone sitting opposite a genuine purchaser reading the front page.
John Walsh is awayReuse content