Living in fear of Michael Howard

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The Independent Online
My mailbag is full of letters from people desperate to know what they should do if they meet Michael Howard unexpectedly. Should they have a go? Should they notify the authorities? Or just ignore him?

To take just one example, I have received a letter from one old lady living in south London who says to me: "These days I am absolutely terrified to go out in the streets in case I should be approached by the Home Secretary, or someone looking like him. I feel I would be in danger of my life.

"I can't quite pin down my worries, but don't you think there is something a little terrifying about that smile? Something just a little manic?

"I would be worried stiff that he might ask me some question that I couldn't answer to his satisfaction, and that he would go berserk and do something unpredictable, or even worse become very oily and smug and do something entirely predictable.

"Of course, I do take elementary precautions. Each time I go out I make sure I have left all my money and valuables behind and I never talk to strangers and I don't take sweets from politicians and when people talk to me, I say demurely, `Please don't talk to me because I am a little old lady and easily frightened, and if you lay a finger on me I will scream blue murder, also I am well armed and will drill you full of holes till the life juices run out on the floor,' and generally this works well enough, as people tend to avoid me after that, but I am not sure if this would work on the Home Secretary, who seems to be a peculiarly persistent sort of gentleman.

"I mean, he goes on with ideas long after everyone else in the world has given them up, so he is clearly not amenable to rational argument, and I expect he still thinks that prison works, even though nobody else thinks that prison does very much for anyone, it is obvious to anyone with the meanest intelligence that nine-tenths of the British prison population shouldn't even be in prison, but maybe Michael Howard doesn't have the meanest intelligence, that would certainly explain a lot.

"What I am driving at is, if I were approached by Michael Howard in the street, should I try to keep him talking until help arrived, or should I pretend I didn't understand him and hurry on?

"I can see risks in both approaches. If I tried to keep him talking I might not be able to resist clouting him with my handbag at some of the twaddle he talks. If, on the other hand, I pretended not to understand him, he might think I was an immigrant of some kind, and try to have me deported on the spot, and then I might clout him with my handbag and be in trouble again.

"I take great comfort in knowing that I am not alone in this. My cousin Agnes agrees with me. So does my nephew Bob. So do most of the judges on England, apparently, as not a week goes past without one or other of them standing up in court and saying that Michael Howard holds crazy ideas.

"Of course, they don't say straight out that Michael Howard is crazy, because he might do something really out of order then, like sue them all for libel, but reading between the lines that is what they are saying.

"In other words, we are in a situation where half my family and a lot of judges and most of the media and all the opposition are saying that Michael Howard is a menace, so you can understand why a little old lady like me is afraid to roam the streets when he is still at large, and why I am turning to you for help now.

"I have written to the Ombudsman asking for advice but he is no good, all I said was, `Dear Ombudsman, What should I do if I meet Michael Howard in the street?' and he wrote back and said, `Dear Madam, I only deal with specific complaints so this is out of my ambit, however if you bump into Michael Howard between you and me I would go for the goolies and break his glasses as he bends over in pain, yours sincerely', and what kind of advice is that to get from the Ombudsman? Well, quite good, actually, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this as well.

"yours etc ..."

Well, Mrs Peters, I have been in the writing game too long not to recognise a leg pull when I see it. Your letter is a complete sham, and I wouldn't have even printed it in my column if I had had time to write something of my own.