This is dedicated to all those London cabbies who took pity on me as I tried to hail them with one crutch, while leaning on the other – and especially to those who didn't treat "Are you OK getting in?" as a rhetorical question until I had inelegantly crawled inside. Having a broken foot, I learnt, may not be wonderful for walking, but it's brilliant for taxi conversation.
What you first realise is the educating influence of David Beckham – clearly an under-used resource. Every cab driver is an expert in metatarsal injuries; from which is the worst to break, to how long it should take to mend (mine, alas, has been slower). Every other driver seemed to have broken a foot himself. "You know how I did it? I have a caravan, and I was getting out of it in the dark, and some tosser had taken my steps away." Another told a convoluted story of how, in the small hours, he struck a stag – "you know, antlers and all" – on the M4 near Swindon, ended up with his car facing the wrong way in the fast lane, managed to steer to the hard shoulder in one piece, but then fell into a ditch as he got out to answer a call of nature ...
A fair number related, shamefacedly, how they had broken limbs playing football beyond an advisable age. Others vouchsafed wisdom acquired from passengers: "You know what one doctor told me? Most people who do their back in do it tying their shoelaces." There's also something of an anti-ski club among cabbies on the Gatwick run. "You see them come back, every day. They've got legs, arms, you name it, in plaster, sticking out all angles, in a terrible state. It's not worth it."
Wielding crutches turns out to be a common experience – almost a life-skill, you might say. "Have you noticed?" one driver hazarded almost before I was seated. "They just don't get out of the way; they waltz along, all together or yacking into their phones, and they can knock you over." Which is true. Your average pedestrian hasn't a clue that you can't get out of their way. The obstacle-strewn world of hospital out-patients is a particular threat. Even nurses don't seem to understand that they'll have to move out of your path, or their metatarsals risk ending up as damaged as yours.
The good news is that I have now graduated from crutches to a walking-stick; the bad news is that the cab conversation has dried up. A stick just doesn't have the same cachet.
A lesson in interviewing from the old master
My late father had it in for David Frost. He couldn't abide the man. He found him, I think, arrogant, louche, coasting along on a wave of celebrity (and cash) that he had put no hard work into earning. I inherited that view. So when "Frostie" was recruited to the London start-up of Al Jazeera television's English service, I silently joined the chorus of those who saw a rather sad, tired star in the descendent.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera has, rightly, received plaudits for its coverage from the shifting conflict zones of the Maghreb and the Gulf in recent weeks. But Frostie deserves his war medal, too. I've caught by chance a few of his Frost Over the World programmes. One included an adviser to the Libyan opposition, Omar Turbi, and two Conservative MPs on either side of the Libya debate: John Baron, one of the few who voted against intervention, and the ubiquitous ex-Afghan regional governor Rory Stewart. This turned out to be a hugely civilised, informative and thoughtful discussion. Frost gave his interviewees time; he made no attempt to provoke a fight, and he listened. You realised that there really is another way of conducting interviews than the wham-bang pugilism now in fashion.
It's said that they are looking for more star power to help out Newsnight on the evenings Jeremy Paxman is off-duty. How about making this old Frostie's last gig?
A BBC appointment that should be questioned
The BBC has strict rules about who can enter its competitions. They include a clause such as, "Entrants must not be BBC employees or their close relatives ..." So why doesn't the same apply to, say, membership of the licence-payers' watchdog? I only ask because Diane Coyle, an economist and former Independent colleague, has just been named deputy to Lord Patten, the new chairman of the BBC Trust – and I think this is wrong. The recommendation, by the Culture Secretary, must be confirmed by the Queen, but there is no mechanism for anyone to voice objections and no reason why her nomination would not succeed.
My opposition has nothing to do with Coyle's merits, which are many. (One of the more pleasurable interludes from my 1990s stint in Washington was a couple of hours spent shooting the breeze in a London wine bar with Diane, among others, exchanging views about the transatlantic culture and economy gap). It's because the BBC Trust is supposed to be the public's watchdog and Coyle is married to a member of the BBC staff – the journalist Rory Cellan Jones. This is just how social mobility – promoted with great fanfare by Nick Clegg yesterday – stalls.
Coyle quite properly declares her relationship in the list of members' interests. It was no disqualification when she first became a trustee four years ago, and it is not against the rules now. But it should be. Of 12 members of the BBC Trust, there are two – the other being Dame Patricia Hodgson, a former senior BBC employee and recently much else, who, I imagine, qualifies for a BBC pension – with close connections to the Corporation. That is two fewer trustees who might be seen as genuinely representing us.