Sunday, May 2, 2010

When Did You Cry Last?

When did you cry last? It’s such a simple question, but it clearly disorientated Nick Clegg. Eddie Mair threw him this curved ball on Radio 4’s PM programme. The electorate had begun to take Clegg seriously, so Mair invited him to reveal a little of his true self. It was good timing: earlier that day, Gordon Brown had shown us his real character in the back of a car in Rochdale, speeding away from “just a bigoted woman”.

Gosh, when did I cry last? When did I cry last? You could hear the cogs churning in Clegg’s brain – this wasn’t on his list of carefully spun answers. Finally he offered: the last time he cried “was to some particularly moving music”.

Mair was having none of that. Which piece exactly? At which point Clegg clammed up: “Oh, I’m afraid a lot of music moves me so if I started giving you a list we’d be here all day”. And with that he sailed back into the safer waters of liberal policy.

Now if I were a politician (God help the country, I hear you say), I reckoned this was one question I could answer truthfully without hesitation. I’m such a romantic old softie, I could cry at a poster of Four Weddings And A Funeral. As the interview droned off into political predictability, my mind drifted to which tearstained event in my life might win the most votes.

There was the death of our dog Muka. Seventeen years ancient, I can still see her big bat ears opening with surprise as the vet injected the deadly blue liquid putting her to sleep forever. On the drive home without her, the image released such huge waves of sobbing, I had to stop the car in a layby to dry off the seats. That ought to win over the animal lobby, but perhaps it sounded too wimpy?

I couldn’t break a single tear at my father’s funeral because I was too overcome by the suddenness and scale of the event. I was 20, and it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I went back to North Shields cemetery. There, despite thousands of additions to the vast maze of near-identical plots, I was drawn straight to his gravestone. At the sight of his name, years of pent up grief unleashed themselves. Too intrusive, perhaps? Would Mair have dared to pose that same question to Cameron and Brown, knowing that they have such raw memories close to home?

So after all perhaps Clegg chose well: music is a safe enough bet for a politician. Despite my love of opera, I’ve never dared go to a performance of Turandot, partly because I don’t want to spoil the images the music has conjured in my head, but mostly because I know I would embarrass myself hopelessly if I heard Puccini’s themes anywhere but in the privacy of my own sitting room. Like I did at an open-air Art Garfunkel concert on Hampstead Heath amongst 10,000 people picnicking on white wine and sausage rolls. Joanna loves to tease me about how everyone around us broke into fits of giggles at the sight of my face flooded with tears at the first bars of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Ah, that fatal combination of music, nostalgia and white wine.

At the North East Business Awards last week I tried out Mair’s question on some true professionals. A leading public relations expert immediately replied, “I cried buckets at my 5 year old daughter’s school play”. And one of the region’s top political movers and shakers, well used to being doorstepped by the press, said “every time I think of Madeleine McCann”. And as if to prove it, she immediately welled up right in front of me.

Two perfect sound bites: they should offer their services to the Liberal Democrats.

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