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Sunday, 23 December 2007

How do you eat peanuts?

How do you eat peanuts? I’d never really thought about it before I waited upon Harold Wilson * (British Labour Prime Minister) at his Huyton Constituency. Maybe it’s just me, a careful eater, tedious, and needing to be in control of every, individual peanut; but I scoop out a handful with my right hand, deposit them in my left, then pick at them - sometimes five at a time, more often three. As you can see, I’ve thought about this.

The day I waited upon Harold Wilson, I observed how he ate his, and realised for the first time that even peanuts are political. First, he scooped his hand in the bowl in the Keyton prescribed manner, then he looked round at the working-class party workers of his Constituency and made an instant decision. He would eat as he assumed the working class ate their peanuts. He rammed the whole lot into his mouth in a single sweep of his arm.

Later I learned that the very first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsey Macdonald in the 1920’s and early 30’s had a very similar attitude when it came to cigarettes. Nothing escapes politicisation, and spin predates the wheel. He had two kinds of cigarettes: one a packet of cheap Woodbines in a cardboard packet when he was amongst working men, the other in a silver cigarette case for when he was amongst his favourite constituents - admiring duchesses. As long as he remembered which pocket they were in, he was all right.

This small revelation was followed by a military banquet. I remember silver, red coats, flushed faces, baldheads, and very loud voices. I remember scurrying around in a cheap white waiter’s jacket and realised there had to be more to life than this. It is hard to describe how desperate I was.

My first attempt at escape was a tad pathetic. The strategy was spot on, but courage was wanting. I’d get an education, a real one. Wasn’t too sure what a real education was, but it involved O levels at GCE. Wouldn’t go mad, try for English perhaps; see how it went.

Night School

I walked down a long corridor in Warbreck Moor School. It was 7.20. Pm and enrolment had begun for evening classes, night school as it was called then. I had at last determined to improve myself - beginning with an English GCSE - a fairly basic qualification. The corridor ended in a T junction, and it was approaching fast. Memories of past failures crowded in on me:

…aged eleven, walking down Hall lane and being attacked by Tony Holland, my dad on the other side of the road shouting encouragement, urging me to fight back, failing miserably, my dad’s shame - real or imagined.

At the end of the corridor I had to turn right. I hesitated, watching others walk into the English classroom. They looked earnest, a grim, unfriendly lot. A clatter of feet came up from behind - a bunch of merry, middle-aged women. One of them slapped me on the back. “Make your mind up, lad!”

“Are you doing English?” I asked.

She laughed and turned left. I followed and ended up doing a six-week course in basketwork.

Every so often my mum would ask me how the English was going…and I couldn’t find the words, until one day I brought home my first wicker basket.

Lesson learnt. If you want something, try again. Two years later I was at University.

* (Strictly speaking I wasn't actually waiting on Harold Wilson - just in the same dining room amongst a bunch of waiters)

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