Alistair Beaton: Personally, I think we've all been a little hard on power cuts...

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The Independent Online

Horror in middle England. A power failure at the BBC takes the Today programme off the air. Suddenly, we are bereft of the interviews and the packages that define the political discourse of the day. Instead we get some nice music. A terrible thought creeps into my consciousness. Power failures are becoming more frequent, aren't they? What if other Radio 4 programmes were to be hit in this way? Imagine a world without Quote Unquote, a world without The Archers, a world without Veg Talk, a world without Alistair Cooke's Letter from America. Suddenly, I'm in favour of power cuts.

My worries about the Prime Minister's health have been eased by the way the NHS swung into action to look after him. Having felt sick just after the Queen's Speech (didn't we all?), Mr Blair found himself being attended by two doctors, one a specialist. All in the comfort of his own home, and all because of a few stomach pains. They even popped back the following day just to make sure everything was hunky-dory. What a marvellous service! It's a great comfort to know that if any member of my family goes down with a sore tummy, a team of highly qualified doctors will be at our door within minutes. Round where I live people wrongly assume you need to have lost both your legs in a combine harvester before you can get a doctor to visit you. How refreshing it will be to put them right. It will be my idea of a Big Conversation.

Actually, I've decided it's time I had a Big Conversation with the Prime Minister directly, as he is inviting people to do. I've already tried his funky new Big Conversation website, where citizens can fill in an electronic questionnaire expressing their concerns.

It asks you quite a lot of questions about your voting habits and your lifestyle, which I ignored. What interested me was the chance to express my concerns. I found a box for "local concerns" and a box for "national concerns", and nothing else. So in each of the first two I replied, "I am concerned that you provide no box for international concerns." So far, I have received no reply. Could it be that Mr Blair wants us to forget about his triumphs in Iraq? Surely not.

The Evening Standard Theatre Awards are a benign experience, even if you're not a prize-winner. Theatre people know how to front up for the cameras and conceal their rage at the unfairness of things. In this respect, the much-maligned "luvvies" are a much pleasanter bunch than the producers and execs you encounter at similar awards for television, where the competition is red in tooth and claw and it's definitely about the winning and not the taking part. But that doesn't mean you should go completely mad in your enthusiasm for actors. This year we were told by Dickie Attenborough that the acting profession is "a profession that is second to none anywhere in the world". So there you are, teachers in Colombia, nurses in Cuba, aid workers in Ethiopia, and bus drivers in Birmingham; now you know your place. The Attenborough statement belongs to a category that can only be described as "knee-jerk hyperbole". Many public figures excel at this. At the first sign of mad cow disease, MPs were trundling around the television studios proclaiming that British beef was the best in the world. And let's not forget that famous conference speech from Blair, where he declared that he wanted to make Britain "a beacon for the world". Personally, I'd settle for a country with a railway that works. Second or third best in the world would be just fine. Even fourth.

For most of the week I've found myself on a different planet from the rest of the population. Every time I open a newspaper or switch on the television I find yet more coverage of some bloke called Wilkinson who scored some kind of goal or other in some kind of sporting event in Australia. Anyhow, I gather that England is now the world champion at something and that we're very, very pleased about it. The men who won all seem to be clean-cut, white, and very large, so perhaps this arouses in the English populace an atavistic urge for Empire. Folk memories of a whiter, simpler England are perhaps at work here, a nice England without footballs yobs and lager louts and upstarts like Benjamin Zephaniah who refuse to accept an honour from the Queen. I fear the celebrations are not yet over. I can only pray that when there's another cringe-making interview with Wilkinson it will be on the Today programme. During a power cut.

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