Charles Nevin: If only the meek had inherited the earth


Being of a kindred temperament, my sympathies are presently spending time with Sir Menzies Campbell and the 21 Vietnamese oil executives who face suspension after failing to take part in karaoke at a contract-signing ceremony near Hanoi.

Sir Ming was in a dreadful state at Question Time last week, fiddling, smoothing, adjusting, checking, and any other participle you might care to dangle that suggests high anxiety. Not surprising, either, given the hard time he's been given over past performances. In the event, he swallowed hard and triumphed. Not so the 21 oil executives, who didn't, and now await their fate, with a defence of doing it their way unlikely to impress. But I know how they felt, and perhaps you do, too. The world divides broadly into the ones who had their hands up at the panto and the ones who were sitting on them, minging.

We're supposed to find the hands-uppers the preferred model, and a fortiori if, like Sir Ming, they have faced down their fears, but I wonder. There he is, at his age, still fighting himself, which gives the lie to those motivators who say it gets easier the more you do it. Wouldn't the more mature thing be to accept one's limitations? I know I have.

I've always been backwards at coming forwards. There was one worrying moment, during my extremely short career as a war correspondent, when I found myself enjoying it as the road we were on was bracketed (as I believe it's called) by mortar fire, but exposure to a front-line artillery bombardment soon put a stop to that. Otherwise, the sweetest words I have ever heard were in another war zone, Ikea, Croydon, during some rapidly escalating tension over a parking space: "Leave him, he's not worth it."

This is why I can vouch for the US-Australian study showing that while our ancestry has left men with a finely honed ability to spot that another man is angry, women are better at identifying subtler emotions, like fear. But I refuse to feel shame. Who has caused more trouble in the world, do you think, the brave or the cowardly? How did we all, for example, survive the Cold War? What did Dr Johnson say? I know because I've just looked it up: "It is thus that mutual cowardice keeps us in peace."

No, the world today shows that bravery is outmoded - I enjoy watching men doing what they have to do in movies, but come on, that's what we've got Sir Ian Blair for now - and encourages male posturing, from invading to carrying a knife, cycling on the pavement, and attempting to take my Ikea parking space. The very least that history teaches us is that being led by people compelled to keep demonstrating their fortitude is highly dangerous, as it often involves using us to do it. It's also undemocratic, as we far outnumber them.

The terminology is not helpful, either: I wouldn't care to repeat some of the words Roget uses in connection with cowardice, when "sensible", "sensitive", "realistic", "amenable", "pragmatic", "self-aware", "placatory", "threatened" and "rapidly disappearing" would be far more accurate, kinder, and exemplary of the higher civilised values to which we aspire. Actually, the Greek for rule by us, deilocracy, is quite good, don't you think?

So I'm, well, right behind the Hanoi 21 and would be out there supporting them, if it wasn't for my problem with flying. And that's another thing: if it had been all right with everyone else for the meek to inherit the earth, we wouldn't have made such a mess of it.

Return of a feathered friend

The nation sighs with relief: yes, Emu is back! Public life has become all too complacent since the tragic demise of the great Rod Hull knocked the stuffing out of the old bird. So it's splendid news that Rod's son, Toby, is lending a hand, as there's not been much else since, apart from Satire and the odd squirt from a water pistol. Even Chris Morris can't compete with an Emu attack. The fierce inner struggle between self-regard and appearing a good sport involved in the fierce outer struggle with a man's arm covered in feathers was a special joy, and would, I feel, make a valuable contribution to Question Time, Late Review, and Thought for the Day. But most of all, Toby, I would like you to apply for a job with Sir Alan Sugar.

* Imaginative solutions to disorder are not confined to Forest Gate. A Gloucester man in a rooftop protest is sent up Kentucky Fried Chicken; in Sydney, as you'll have read, they're piping Barry Manilow at loitering teenagers. On the Tube, at the Co-op and Beverley bus garage, they play Mozart; in Tasmania and Woolongong, Bing Crosby. Uncannily, although my last KFC was not recent, the others are all favourites.

So, with our local authorities now working on a youth deterrent playlist, duty demands my top delights: 1. Sparky's "Magic Piano". 2. John Cage's "4'33" ( No 2)". 3. "The Wigan Butcher", G Formby. 4. "Dame Kiri Gets Down". 5. "Let's Have A Tiddley At the Milk Bar", Nellie Wallace. 6. "A Summer Place", Percy Faith. 7. "Pale Hands I Loved Beside The Shalimar", R Valentino. 8. "Guitar Boogie Shuffle", Bert Weedon. 9. "Nobody Loves A Fairy When She's 40", T O'Shea. 10. "Honolulu Baby", Laurel and Hardy.

Marvellous. You will get me hanging round, though.

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