Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I seem to remember a time when you felt you could trust those in positions of authority – academic experts, company directors, even bank managers and politicians – to take questions seriously and to tell the truth. Granted, it might have been the truth as they saw it, but the truth nonetheless, bolstered by the weight of their learning, experience, even wisdom.
Now I can already hear cynical sighs as you turn the page of your newspaper, and perhaps there never was such a time. I can't pin down exactly when my own disillusionment set in, though training as a Kremlinologist might have brought out a cynical side early. Yet it is only since returning from the United States eight years ago – and not only because of government dossiers peddling the mortal danger of Iraq's non-existent weapons – that I feel more and more interviewees set out with manipulation aforethought rather than a desire to impart real information.
On yesterday's BBC Today Programme, I heard Pamela Taylor, chief executive of an organisation that rejoices in the name Water UK, insist that Thames Water should be both believed and not believed when it said that a tiny reduction in what we used to call the water rate would mean a halving of its improvement programme and a complete halt to plugging leaks.
Worse than this big chief lobbyist's desire to have it both ways, however, was the cheery laughter that prefaced several of her replies, and a mock-helpless "James, stop it", when the admirably persistent interviewer, James Naughtie, would not accept ambiguity for an answer. Ms Taylor, it turns out, is a former corporate affairs director of the BBC, which might explain the chumminess on her side, but it hardly inspired confidence.
Of course, Ms Taylor has a job to do. But so does everyone else. And I have recently been cocking an ear for some of their top-quality information. A couple of weeks ago news bulletins led with the splendid news, courtesy of the Ministry of Defence, that more helicopters were on their way to Afghanistan. Yet the further into the reports you got, the clearer it became that there was just one helicopter, that it was arriving in pieces, would need assembling, then testing, and might just be ready for operations late in January. A few more Merlins might, by then, be on their way.
Then, also courtesy of the MoD, we had the appalling details of the capture by Somali pirates of Paul and Rachel Chandler from their yacht. I wondered at the time why there was such certainty, so soon, from such a remote area. Well, it now turns out that a Royal Navy ship was "forced to watch" as it happened; not, you understand, to intervene, which was judged too dangerous. How long ago was it that the dastardly Iranians captured 15 of our sailors, who were innocently patrolling far from Iranian territorial waters? Except that, when it was all investigated, the border had mysteriously shifted.
Back in the here and now, we have had the climate scientists at the University of East Anglia who chose to keep inconvenient data to themselves rather than explain why their models and the real live global weather might have diverged. Then only yesterday, in the Commons, David Cameron made a huge fuss about a particular Islamic organisation and schools funding, only to admit later that some of facts were wrong. At least he did that – though I wonder how many of those who heard his impassioned accusations have now filed them away in the "unfounded" section of their memory box.
And they all wonder, affecting an injured tone, why our trust has run out.
On wings of ingenuity
I doubt now that it will be in my lifetime, but I remain convinced that one day we terrestrials will be pulling on the power-boots or strapping on the backpack or attaching the jet-wings and flying to where we want to be. We'll probably never fly long-haul under our own steam. But across a city, into town from a suburb, to another transport centre, surely it will happen. Jams will become a thing of the past, as we learn to negotiate our fellow fliers as expertly as we negotiate urban traffic today.
Which is why I have so enthusiastically followed the exploits of Yves Rossy, the Swiss "jetman", and why I was as disappointed as anyone this week when his wing malfunctioned and he plunged into the sea between Tangier and Gibraltar. Fortunately, he was fished out unhurt. But Rossy's experiments in personal jet-propulsion are to be wondered at, even if they do not in fact herald the next stage of human progress.
A former military pilot, he lives and breathes flying, making minute calculations to prepare his wing. And after his successful crossing of the English Channel, I well remember the transparent delight he showed in his achievement, his account of steering with small turns of the head, and his forecast that one day people might fly "a little bit like a bird". Let's hope he harnesses his ingenuity, exactitude and elegance for another attempt.
Has he got strikes for you – but not this Christmas
Well done, Bob Crow, for adopting the ways of the post-industrial world, and bidding farewell – if only temporarily – to mass meetings, banners and braziers. The quintessential Old Labour activist, former communist and current boss of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, will tonight become the first trades union leader to appear on television in anything more entertaining than a news programme.
It's almost six months now since the strikes that brought much of the London Underground to a halt. Could it be that he is tiring of his reputation as a villain and a throwback? You can just imagine the conversation. Bob Crow asks his PR people how, in the credit-crunch world, he can still win friends and influence people. They cast around. The selection for Strictly Come Dancing has come and gone. The celebrities are already being got out of the jungle, and the X Factor is probably not quite Bob's thing.
So it is that Bob Crow will make a guest appearance on Have I Got News for You and show his kinder, softer, funnier side. We can only hope that the news he has for us is seasonal peace and goodwill, and not a Yuletide strike on London Transport.Reuse content