Saturday 12 September 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: I'm sorry, but all these apologies are ridiculous
Gordon Brown has followed Tony Blair's example and taken to apologising for things that he had nothing to do with. In Blair's case it was the Irish potato famine; with Brown it is the suicide of the brilliant wartime code-breaker Alan Turing, a homosexual who killed himself after being convicted of gross indecency.
This could be interpreted as a cynical attempt to appeal to the so-called gay community. I prefer to see it as a sign of insanity on Brown's part, he (like Blair) regarding himself as a kind of Christ-like figure who can take upon himself the sins of the whole world.
As for Turing, it is interesting to realise that it was only quite recently that his wartime achievement has been recognised at all. In my old edition of the Dictionary of National Biography published in 1975, the entry on Turing says simply and misleadingly that "during the war he worked for the communications Department of the Foreign Office".
And while he was on the subject, Brown might also have apologised for the fact that at the war's end, which Turing did so much to bring about, this mathematical genius was rewarded with a humble OBE.
All this had nothing whatever to do with anti-gay prejudice but with the understandable desire on the part of Churchill and his warlords to play down and if possible to keep secret altogether the achievements of the code-breakers.
After all, if people were aware that thanks to Turing and co we knew in advance what Hitler was going to do before he did it, then Churchill might not seem quite such a brilliant far-sighted war leader as he would like us to believe.
So much for our rainy summer
We have had a washout summer. Those foolish weather forecasters promised non-stop "barbecue weather", but instead the rain has poured down in a non-stop deluge. Gales have battered the coasts. Almost every day the papers have carried pictures of shivering holidaymakers huddled on the beach trying to make the best of their seaside vacation.
So why, in the light of the above when I try to do a bit of weeding in the garden do I find the ground rock hard – so hard I can scarcely get my fork into it?
Another intriguing point. People keep asking me if I've been abroad and, if so, where did I go. The reason is they see that I have a very deep suntan – something that could have been acquired only in an exotic faraway location. I haven't. I've just been sitting in my garden whenever I had the chance, enjoying the sunshine. But how was that possible when everybody knows the rain has been bucketing down non-stop?
One explanation for these apparent discrepancies is that it wasn't a washout summer at all but, as summers go, rather a good one – including two weeks of Wimbledon with scarcely a single drop of rain.
But that would mean that all those stories about a washout summer were wrong, which in turn would mean that the people responsible for keeping us informed about what goes on in the world are so unobservant that they don't even know what kind of weather we're having, and is that possible? I'm afraid it is.
Someone must have lost the plot
Only once have I been on the judges' panel of a book prize. It was in 1992. Graham Lord, then literary editor of the Sunday Express, had had the commendable idea of launching a new prize, a rival to the Booker.
His thinking was that the Booker Prize tended to go to rather pretentious overwritten books. In contrast, the Sunday Express prize would be awarded to a book which was considered by the judges to be simply "a good read".
A shortlist was duly drawn up and we, the judges, all assembled for our final meeting which would precede the award ceremony. To the relief of all of us, there was general agreement that the prize should go to Robert Harris for his recently published thriller Fatherland set in an imaginary post-war Germany run by a victorious Hitler. If ever there was a good read, this was surely it.
However, that left some time to fill before the result was due to be announced. The discussion now turned to some of the other contenders for the prize. One of my fellow judges mentioned how much he had enjoyed a novel by Hilary Mantel called A Place of Greater Safety. There were murmurs of approval but not from me. Mantel's book was about the French Revolution. It was quite long, involved a large cast of characters and I had got stuck about a quarter of the way through. I sensed, however, that, for whatever mysterious reasons, the judges were going to ditch Harris and choose Mantel. And that is exactly what happened.
I mention all this only because I notice that on the Booker shortlist announced this week there is another very long book by Hilary Mantel. Wolf Hall, like its predecessor, is a historical novel, this time about Henry VIII's evil henchman Thomas Cromwell. If I were a betting man I would put big money on it to win but nothing will persuade me to read it.
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