I WONDER whether I am physically and mentally
fit enough to live in Tony Blairís brave new Labour Britain. It takes
strength of body, depth of character and sharpness of mind, and after
what the Queen is alleged to have said to Paul Burrell, Princess Dianaís
bastion of a butler, I fear my mental powers are still reeling under the
strain of trying to decipher her cryptic observation: "Take care, Paul,
there are powers at work in this country of which we have no knowledge."
How does she know that they exist if she knows nothing about
them? Nevertheless, the phrase is redolent of intrigue, national and
local, political and non-political, spiritual and temporal, possibly
involving faceless, stripe-suited, sharp-lapelled men and women in
Parliamentary power corridors, spin-doctors injecting mind-numbing
misinformation into the national consciousness, global mandarins of
commerce and industry, the new, covert rulers of Britain, meeting
secretly in windowless offices in obscure suburbs to increase their
stranglehold on our economic jugular vein by regulating prices in burger
bars, discos and lap-dancing clubs and a small but powerful group of
politically-motivated people seeking to subvert all that Britain holds
dear such as the National Lottery, Blind Date, salt and vinegar crisps,
warm beer and, in an island stricken with work-excusing afflictions, an
ancient but healthy suspicion of foreigners.
The phrase is almost straight from John Buchanís African novel,
Prester John, in which equally cryptic words, "The blesbok are changing
ground", was tossed like a balloon at a childrenís party and bafflingly
indicated an imminent native uprising.
Its true progenitor, however, is the authorís novel, Greenmantle,
in which the hero, Richard Hannay, is told: "There is a dry wind blowing
through the East and the parched grasses wait the spark. And the wind is
blowing towards the Indian border. Whence comes that wind, think you?"
Search me. All I know is that, after hearing Mr Blairís and Bin
Ladenís terrorist warnings, I can say, in non-cryptic terms, that Iím in
danger of getting the wind-up, and blow me if I donít suspect that the
rest of Britain feels the same way.
I might have felt less edgy if I knew the Queen had told Mr
Burrell: "I want you to fly to the nearest Black Sea port, mingle with
pedlars in South Russia, Afghan horse-dealers, Turcoman traders, sailors
in coasters, sheep-skinned Mongols, Hindu fakirs and Greek merchants,
and get to the Teahouse of the Tired Turk at the Street of Old Bathrooms
in Bokhara. There, you will meet one who will reveal the secret of the
dark forces operating behind the smiling visage of Blairís Britain."
Burrell, his butlerial braces buckling and his arches aching
after standing for three hours, would have undoubtedly smiled bravely as
the Queen went on: "I may be sending you to meet, who knows what, under
circumstances about which I cannot even begin to guess; but what do I
know?; Iím only the Queen. You are going on a rough road, but it goes
straight to the hill-tops. OK? Push off then; Iíve got to take the
corgis for a canter."
That would have been a slug of vintage Buchan - the stiff, upper
and lower lips, determined eyes, unswerving chin and clipped tones, and
thatís the Queen talking to a fearless, upstanding flunkey entrusted on
a mission for his monarch.
What have we got? Tony Blair warning us that terrorists could be
everywhere, gassing us, blowing us up with "dirty" nuclear bombs, unlike
the decent, clean ones the Ruskies might have dropped on us, poisoning
our water supplies, and maybe even playing on golf courses and not
replacing divots, thus making life in striking,
train-service-inefficient, road-traffic-gridlocked, NHS-sagging,
war-contemplating Britain even more uncomfortable than now. Like Dadís
Armyís Corporal Jones, we are told, "Donít panic".
Help, however, could be at hand. A shop in New Yorkís Manhattan
is selling survival equipment for the terrorist times - gas masks, body
armour, anti-radiation tablets, as well as parachutes, so useful for
leaping from air-liner-damaged skyscrapers. Similar shops will doubtless
open in Britain.
Meanwhile, I am not panic-stricken. I am simply going to lock my
front door, pile the furniture against it and have a glass of tonic
sherry and a charcoal health biscuit. Would Buchanís heroes have done
more? If so, donít tell me.