By Kenneth Roy
It was suggested here last week that Sir Fred had apologised for the fine mess he had got us into and that this historic moment had been captured on video. I have had an opportunity to view the footage in question and can report that Sir Fred did not apologise.
A shareholder asked him to say sorry. Sir Fred then used the word ‘sorry’ or ‘very sorry’ a number of times. But the vigilant observer would have noted that Sir Fred was merely sorry or very sorry ‘about what happened’.
I too am sorry about what happened. Very sorry. I’m a customer of his bank, after all. I expect that you are sorry too, possibly very sorry. We are all still living with the consequences. But neither of us, I suspect, feels any sense of personal culpability for what happened; and that seems to be Sir Fred’s position too.
I thought I had better clear that up before I turn to this week’s apology, which is a personal apology to Simon Jenkins – Sir Simon as we must learn to call him. I apologise on two main grounds:
a. For being Scottish;
b. For putting him to so much needless inconvenience.
Regular readers will recall that Sir Simon has recently published a history of England which dismisses the Industrial Revolution in a few lines and describes Scotland as a country with an ‘unrivalled capacity for causing trouble’. I am happy to accept this high compliment on behalf of the people of Scotland, including many who were not born here and many trouble-makers as yet unborn.
With a name like Jenkins, it is possible that Sir Simon has some Welsh blood in him. His wife, an American actress called Gayle Hunnicutt – she was in ‘Dallas’ once – they might be divorced by now – said she was attracted to him because he was the son of a Welsh minister. ‘I was with someone who had been brought up with the same values,’ she said mysteriously. Elsewhere, I have read that Sir Simon is the son of a Welsh doctor. Perhaps in Wales there is a tradition of polymaths and his father was both a minister and a doctor. At any rate, he seems to be a bit Welsh.
A bit Scottish he isn’t. I met him once years ago, spending an hour in his company. I was received courteously. There was no hint of antipathy, no suggestion that I was in any way linked to a country with an unrivalled capacity for causing trouble. But I did chortle when he assured me that his then proprietor Rupert Murdoch (Jenkins was editing the Times at the time) never interfered with editorial policy. I like to think that my irreverent response might have been a source of his antipathy to the Scots.
His latest broadside is perhaps the fiercest yet. In his Guardian column, he accuses us of mass slaughter because of our insistence on putting the clocks back. Sir Simon claims that when Harold Wilson experimented in the late 60s with standard time, between 1,000 and 2,000 lives were saved in England (and his native Wales, presumably). There is an alternative explanation for the sudden drop in road accident fatalities which occurred during this three-year period: there had been a change in the law on drink driving. Even Sir Simon is prepared to admit that this could have been a factor. But his concession to such logic is a momentary one.
From Sunday, for the rest of the autumn and the whole of winter, he will be getting up at 4.30, lambasting the accursed Scots at a more fragile hour than usual.
The Scots lobbied successfully to have the experiment ended on the basis that more people were being killed on the roads north of the border in the early morning. Sir Simon thinks the evidence for this is ‘suspect’ and that what the Scots were really doing was ‘punishing the English for making them live so far north’.
He maintains that, when the clocks started to go back again, the killings on the roads of England resumed and that ‘the slaughter was regarded by the Scots as a necessary blood sacrifice to the forces of Presbyterian gloom’. The Scots preferred lighter mornings to lighter evenings, ‘when there was a danger of such licentious behaviour as people walking in parks after work, playing football or enjoying the open air’.
It may be, however, that Sir Simon’s hostility to the Scots has very little to do with the mass slaughter of English and Welsh motorists or his perception of us as a sad collection of Free Kirk adherents with a poor view of the simple pleasures of life. It may be that it has more to do with Sir Simon’s nocturnal habits.
Finding sleep difficult, he usually wakes at 5.30 – ‘earlier than I like’ – and does two hours of uninterrupted work ‘before the day begins’. From Sunday, for the rest of the autumn and the whole of winter, he will be getting up at 4.30, lambasting the accursed Scots at a more fragile hour than usual. He finds 4.30 unreasonably early. He has informed his Guardian audience that it is ‘crazy’. Cressy, Mr Fawlty, cressy.
I am sorry, very sorry, about all this. I am in broadly the position of Sir Fred when the bank inconveniently ran out of cash – sorry, very sorry, about what happened. The slaughter on the roads of England and the irritating changes to Sir Simon’s working arrangements are no doubt deeply regrettable. But a return to the early mornings of the Wilson years when Scottish children went to school wearing fluorescent armbands would not be welcomed by many of us joyless Free Kirk adherents; nor the suggestion that we should simply send our children to school an hour later.
It was once said of Sir Simon that he was so grand he ought to be bought and preserved by the National Trust, in this way allowing successive generations to admire the exquisite furniture of his mind. How appropriate that he is now chairman of the National Trust. Perhaps, in the coming winter, he will be so unhinged by a succession of 4.30am rises that he will insist on a conservation order being slapped on himself.
Meanwhile, let us admire the exquisite furniture of his mind and his inspired proposal that, if the Scots continue to insist on putting the clocks back, we should have own own time zone. Think of him at 2 o’clock on Sunday morning, as you do the dirty deed.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review