It was an astonishing feat of endurance.
Sure, the teenagers who survived for 50 days adrift in the Pacific, eating only a few coconuts and the raw meat of a single seagull (well, we don't know its marital status, but we do know that when it laid down its life it was alone) and drinking the few drops of water that they managed to capture in a tarpaulin, who were then spotted by a passing vessel whose first mate asked if they wanted help, and who replied, with impeccable manners untarnished by near-starvation, "very much so!", did pretty well, but they were Samoan teenagers. It's possible that for Samoan teenagers 50 days without meals, protection from the weather or access to a toilet is perfectly normal. No, the astonishing feat of endurance was here. In a mass display of stamina unseen in this country for quite some time, British teenagers managed, for several hours, to stand still.
Standing still was not necessarily what was planned, on the Facebook and Twitter campaigns that actually got teenagers out of their bedrooms. What was planned was, I think, quite a lot of marching up and down, waving placards saying thing like "David Cameron is a Voldemort", which didn't mean a lot to those of us who've never read a word of Harry Potter, and "I will never meet my prince at uni now", which, to those of us who think that the fuss over one prince who met his soon-to-be-princess "at uni" is quite enough for one lifetime, sounded like a blessing, and "Fine! I'll be a stripper", which sounded like a promise, but may have been a threat. And there was some marching up and down, and some dancing, and some creeping, in rather fetching leggings and hideous Ugg boots, over cars. But there was also a mass outbreak of shock.
The shock was that the teenagers were, perhaps for the first time in their lives, not allowed to do what they wanted. What they wanted was to express their outrage to a government that seemed determined to spoil things for them, but while also keeping warm, having a snack when they wanted to, having a pee when they wanted to, and going home for tea when they wanted to. When the police, who had been humiliated by their failure, a couple of weeks before, to stop teenagers from storming the British Bastille, made it pretty damn clear that nobody was going anywhere until they said so, which, out of sheer spite, wouldn't be for quite a while, the teenagers sent shocked text messages to their mums, some of whom had phoned their teachers to explain why Elsa (they all seemed to be called Elsa) would be missing double citizenship studies.
The pictures, I have to say, were rather touching. What's not to like about a group of young girls, all, apparently, with long blonde hair and film-star smiles, waving signs (handwritten! correctly spelled!) saying "We Hate David Cameron"? If they address their studies with the same precision they bring to the application of their eyeliner (which shames some of us who've been messing it up every day for years and years) they're clearly the Martha Lane Foxes and Susan Greenfields of the future and should not be allowed to slink off to work at the checkout at Tesco. One could only applaud them, too, for outfoxing Clare Solomon, the ghastly thirtysomething president of the University of London Union, whose asymmetric haircut, and belligerent performances on the Today programme and Newsnight make the Chinese approach to political dissent really rather tempting, and who tried to lead the London march, with a megaphone and the support of her far-left rabble, but found her directions overruled by teenagers whose role models tend more towards Lady Gaga than Marx.
The truth, however, is that not too many of those teenagers are likely to end up working at Tesco. Labour's abolition of student grants didn't stop the number of young people going to university from going up. It's likely that most of the people on the march who want to go to university will still go to university, and it's fairly unlikely that the placards they were waving will persuade a state-shrinking Tory-led government that university education, like air (but not water and certainly not gas, whose privatised profits have gone up 40 per cent in the past quarter) should be free.
It's a tough time to be a teenager. Children born to parents who didn't have to pay a penny for their university education, and who went on to get nice, interesting jobs, and managed, often with the help of their own parents, to buy a flat or house that didn't cost 20 times their salary, were led to expect that things for them will be similar, and they won't. The world has changed. For reasons to do with demography, globalisation and some unattainable notion of aspiration that means that a population whose average salary is £26,000 won't countenance higher rates of tax, even for people who earn £150,000, life is going to be tougher for everyone. Apart, of course, from the rich.
If a few hours struggling to control their bladders, and to silence their rumbling stomachs, has helped some of our young people to realise that the people we elect to our Parliament, unlike the people we elect out of jungles, or TV talent shows, actually have a real effect on our lives, and one beyond clever quips on Twitter, that can only be a good thing. And if they actually start thinking about how, in a country with an ageing population, in a globalised world, to create a society that works for as many of its citizens as possible, and how much tax they're prepared to pay to make it, that can only be a good thing, too.
Yesterday morning, Ed Miliband told John Humphrys on the Today programme that he was "tempted to go out and talk to the students". He was, he said, worried about the "squeezed middle". The "squeezed middle", it turned out, was about 90 per cent of the population, which sounded like a lot for a middle, but then it turned out that he was worried about the other 10 per cent too, because he was "concerned about everybody". We had, he said, "to go on a journey". We had, perhaps, to go on a march.
He sounded like a student. If this is the best that opposition can offer, those teenagers might do well to stick to Lady Gaga, or Marx.
Wrong man, wrong intelligence, wrong war
If you start a war without really thinking about how you're going to win it, and then realise that you can't, but don't want to lose face, either to the people you're meant to be defeating or to the people whose sons and brothers and husbands are dying for no very good reason, you can see why you might clutch at any straws that offered hope of some kind of, albeit profoundly compromised, peace. You can see, too, why it might be a bit tricky, when you're talking to the Taliban, to work out just who are the Taliban, particularly since they're quite keen on covering their faces and hiding in caves.
But the discovery that the man you've summoned for talks, and who you've flown to Kabul to meet the President, and who you've been throwing money at, not as any kind of bribery, obviously, but as some kind of very subtle and coded incentive, and who you assumed was a very big cheese in the Taliban, is, in fact, a shopkeeper from Quetta who may have nothing in common with the Taliban apart from a shared love of turban-type scarves, must surely be a little bit embarrassing. It might also indicate that the people who are meant to be prosecuting this war, and, ideally, at some stage, ending it, not least by supplying what's called, but clearly inappropriately, "intelligence", don't have the tiniest smidgeon of a clue what they're doing.
In the beginning was the (wonderful) word
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God." God only knows what this means, but it sure beats Sudoku as a puzzle, and it sure beats Eminem as poetry. It's the poetic conundrum that has resonated throughout our literature since the beginning of the 17th century, but in one sense, at least, it's true. The translation of the Bible commissioned by King James I in 1604, has had as much influence on English poetry, and fiction, and speeches, as the works of a certain playwright, and one whose name appears to be ingeniously embedded in its version of Psalm 46.
A very posh reception on Tuesday at the Banqueting House, attended by Prince Philip and an awful lot of men in suits, most of whom appeared to be slightly closer in age to Prince Philip than to Eminem, launched the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible with calls for it to be a key text in schools. It should. You can't understand English literature, or culture, without it. And where else do you get the erotic thrill of "kisses of his mouth" that are "better than wine", or breasts "like two young roes"?