It must have felt great and also rather frightening to have been Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, yesterday when he addressed to Houses of Congress in Washington D.C.
For a moment he was free from the tensions and strains of domestic politics where his advisers are continually telling him to be careful over this or that.
Yesterday, he could address the big issue of how to sort the World’s economy and also fulfill a dream. Whatever the truth, it must have been a great event for such a convinced fan of the United States to receive what appeared to be recognition on the “shining city upon a hill” .
So he was nervous, for sure, but he must also have felt free. Liberated to have his moment in the sun knowing that, before long, he will go the way of all politicians.
Enoch Powell, a politician who would prove the truth of his own words, once said that all politicians’ careers end in failure.
I am not a Prime Minister, never was and never will be, honestly, read my lips.
But I too had a moment of freedom yesterday.
I went to the park.
I told you on Monday how my Kung Fu instructor gave me a one to one lesson there and we devised the idea that I would go back every day to practise my ten patterns but with applying no impact and making sure I did not raise my heart rate.
On Tuesday I just was not well enough to go but yesterday I started the new regime.
With my seven and a half foot staff over my shoulder, I set out for the park, a mere five minutes walk from my house. The sun was shining, as it should be on such occasions, the birds were singing their pick-up lines and I felt liberated – free from the safety of home.
It is too easy not to do things and to stay within your own comfort zone.
I know that if I am to continue practising Kung Fu, which I certainly want I do, then I have to get moving again and get back into doing those patterns every day.
I want to get my fitness back; to loose those bony shoulders, to regain those disappearing muscles and to eliminate that growing stomach.
I have been to this park so many times – practically every day for over a year now until my brain haemorrhage four months ago. Today it was a different place. Not so much a familiar environment as a hurdle. No House of Congress for sure, but in its own way, it threw out its own challenges.
For a start there was no one there – a big green space with not a soul in sight.
The inevitable thought had to be faced: what would happen if……..?
Well, you are in your own hands now. In so many ways we always are but seldom take the time to realize it.
I took a deep breath and began the first Kung Fu pattern. It felt so good, that combination of co-ordinated moves and fresh air. No problem except that inevitable feeling of giddiness.
I took my time and some more deep breaths. Once more I looked around me just to check. No one, just an inquisitive over-cautious squirrel.
And so it went on…all the way through my patterns. Not always as good as I would like them to be, of course, but I was back in action, back in control.
On the way home, I passed two mothers with small children, one a piece. They were holding them carefully by the hand, taking them to play in the park. We exchanged smiles. They probably just wondered why I was carrying a long pole but I was thinking how wonderful, even if only for a short time, to be free from guiding hands, no matter how generously and lovingly they have been proffered.
I hope Gordon Brown had even half of that feeling of exhilaration when he stepped down from that platform in Washington yesterday.
He is only the fifth British Prime Minister to be so honoured.
Winston Churchill was first, just after Pearl Harbour, when he knew that if the war against Hitler was to be won, then American help was essential. He was invited back twice just because he was Churchill, the great orator and international hero.
Then came Clement Attlee, with his head full of plans to revolutionize Britain’s welfare state and knowing that it could only be done with American dollars and a few prayers. He came to Washington to deliver his thank you note.
The third Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, who in 1985, sought to re-ignite the Anglo-American relationship, at least ostensibly, to form a strong alliance against the Soviet Union which, maybe against all expectations, collapsed a few years alter. Her tough international speeches were not as influential as the impossibly spiraling costs of the Soviet nuclear defence system, but she was certainly there saying the right things as far as the United States was concerned. Her project was to make Britain, at least, seem great again. Great and influential – it is a matter of debate whether she succeeded or not.
Then, of course came Tony Blair in 2003, just after the Iraq War. The “great” partner helped President Bush make the Iraq War look like an international project. For once, the Americans seemed to need Britain, if only to get politics’ great Public Relations man on board in that most bungled and, in my opinion, unnecessary wars.
Gordon Brown must feel some pride in his place on this role-call no matter how cynically one assesses his predecessors. Certainly the economic crisis facing the World is every bit as serious as any of the other events that brought our Prime Ministers to that “shining city upon a hill.”
I wonder what the Americans really thought though – were they bothered? Did they notice? Or do we, as a nation, grossly exaggerate our own importance on the international stage?
I know the dangers of over-estimated the impact of one’s own public announcements.
Some time ago, I found myself, with friends, in Philadelphia on the 4th. of July.
We were larking about in a park, not deserted this time but crowded with holiday folk on this great day of independence.
I was persuaded to address the nation standing on a bench.
It must have been my British accent because I attracted a small crowd of interested passers-by.
I announced to the assembly that Britain held no ill feelings towards the United States for its Declaration of Independence but, if it ever wanted to return to the Empire, it would be very welcome.
I won a standing ovation, well they were already standing, and not a few cheers.
Within minutes I was a hero, a band struck up a jazz march and a formation of low flying jets came over our heads spouting red, white and blue smoke.
Later that day, the reunited Beach Boys played in Philadelphia’s closed off main thoroughfare.
I had changed the course of history.
Well maybe not.
Enjoy your moment in the sun Gordon but don’t over-estimate it.