IT HAS become traditional for American presidents, on visits to the British Isles, to go in search of their roots. Now, John Major is to go on a reverse journey in search, if not of roots, at least of seeds, writes David Usborne.
President Clinton will take him by presidential jet next weekend to visit a Pittsburgh steel mill where Abraham Ball, the Prime Minister's grandfather, cleaned blast furnaces more than a century ago.
Tom Major-Ball, the Prime Minister's father, was conceived in the foothills of the nearby Allegheny Mountains. He was born in Walsall in 1877, because his parents preferred a confinement in England. They then returned to Pittsburgh and Tom Major-Ball himself worked briefly in the mill before launching his better- known career as an acrobat.
The visit - suggested by Mr Clinton after he learned last year of Mr Major's family links with the Pennsylvania
industrial town - will be the highlight of a two-day visit to the US designed to end speculation that the 'special relationship' is in tatters.
The two leaders may tour a housing estate before flying back to Washington. A White House official explained that this would give the President 'points domestically'. Mr Major's publicity handlers will no doubt point out that the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, on a visit to Washington last month, was taken only as far as a local Italian restaurant.
What the Prime Minister will learn from the trip is uncertain. The haze over Pittsburgh's furnaces matches that which obscures the Major family history. But it is known that the American link could, indirectly, have once put the life of John Major in jeopardy.
When the family later lived in Worcester Park, south London, Tom Major-Ball's stories of gun-toting cowboys so enthralled his daughter, Patricia, that she once put a wartime issue Colt 45 - brought to the house by a sergeant-major friend - to baby John's head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, the safety catch was on.
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