I did a bad thing yesterday – I lied to the security forces…Oops. That’s not what we call them now, is it? The PSNI. I was in Derry doing a number of things, including checking why no copies of Tales Out of School are available in Easons and arranging for more to be shipped in quickquickquick, when a person, um, in a position of authority in the community asked me if I was going to see President Clinton give his talk at Magee College. When I said I hadn’t been invited, this otherwise respectable person immediately hatched a conspiracy whereby we would both pretend I was important and I would try to ride into the hall on the coat-tails of his invitation. For a brief few seconds it looked as though it wasn’t going to work: a young and honourable PSNI officer said I needed a letter of invitation and not just a testimonial of decency from my accompanying respectable person. Then an older, more corrupt PSNI officer leaned in and effectively said ‘Look at him – you don’t seriously think a geriatric like that is going to be a threat?’ and I was in.
The hall was bursting with bigwigs. In front of us were John Hume, Pat Hume, Reg Empey, Danny Kennedy, that young guy who’s currently Mayor of Derry, Mark Durkan, Raymond McCartney worthies by the yardful. Then the on-stage big cheeses came in – the Vice-Chancellor of UU Richard Barnett, Declan Kelly the US man, First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First but-bloody-well-co-equal Minister Martin McGuinness. Richard Barnett said he was delighted to welcome back Clinton; Peter Robinson said he’d been told to speak for no more than ninety seconds and then spoke for three minutes. Martin McGuinness recalled a happy event last week when he and John Hume (gesture towards the Nobel Laureate) were honoured to attend (look, I just report what happened, OK? I don’t write the script) were honoured to attend ‘the launch of Jude Collins’s fine book Tales Out of School ‘. I think he linked that to education and economic development but I can’t be sure – I was at the bottom of a deep tank of even deeper smugness struggling for breath at the time. What is this man McGuinness doing as Deputy First Minister? It’s past time Ireland reverted to a life-time monarchy with full book-recommending powers.
Clinton looked old and almost frail – he’s been through some tough medical times in recent years. When he started his speech was tentative and his gestures cautious, as though afraid he might damage something. Then he took the glasses off the top of his nose (it’s a lot less red than it used to look), began to speak as though off-the-cuff (although I’m sure it wasn’t) and suddenly he was, if not the old Clinton, then near enough, near enough. He was informed, clear and best of all, specific about how economic recovery here might take place, or at least begin. On the way out afterwards I told Raymond McCartney that I thought the speech should be made a model for politicians here, particularly the inclusion of specific proposals for action. Raymond nodded.
Outside, my co-conspirator and companion tapped me on the chest and rolled his eyes. “I give up. You’re the only one in the hall there under false pretences and you’re the only one in the hall who’s singled out to have his book plugged!” The feeling you get inside when you break the rules and then within minutes receive public commendation is of course a shameful feeling and, like absolute power, absolutely delightful.