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Two nice surprises, sad end to day

Posted on 26 June 2009 | 9:06am

Two nice surprises yesterday, three if you include the speed with which The Spectator backed down and apologised, as per yesterday’s blog.

First, speaking at a conference I fully expected to be a bit of a drag, but really enjoying it.

Second, bumping into someone on the train back – most of you will know (of) her when I tell you who – and having a really good natter that made the journey speed by.

The conference, in Manchester, was a gathering of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Now there are a few words in that title somewhat guaranteed to make you think it could be a long day, full of moments wondering ‘why did I agree to this?’

In fact, it was a well-organised event, with a great bunch of people running it, and a lively q and a which mixed the serious and the not so serious, topped by the woman whose question was simply ‘can I have a free copy of your book?’ You have to admire the front, so I said yes. When I asked if she meant novel or diaries, she said both. On their way, madam.

These are the people, local authority finance directors in the main, who will be asked to implement some pretty tough choices in the coming years as the impact of the global financial crisies continues. They asked me to speak about leadership in tough and challenging times, and certainly the assumption was that there are tough and challenging times ahead.

There was considerable scepticism about the current nature of the cuts v investment argument. I think I was able to explain that these were the early skirmishes of a political battle in which Labour are seeking to establish key differences with the Tories, and smoke out the Opposition on policy.

CIPFA had published their own ‘manifesto’ and I snaffled a few copies to post on to Labour’s election manifesto design team. Simple idea. Square document, brightly coloured, with text on the right hand page, handwriting on the left with specific proposals, with left/right becoming right/left after the centre spread. No pictures, but that did not detract too much because the design was strong.

I know a manifesto has to stand or fall according to ideas, but how it looks matters too and the delegates admitted they were drawn to reading the handwritten printed material more than the text. Spin, or good communication?

Nice surprise two came as the train pulled out of Manchester, and actress Helen Worth (Gail from Coronation Street) sat down across the way. United in shared irritation at an Aussie businessman talking really loudly on his phone, and able to recollect the day when TB visited the Street, where later we held a Labour fundraiser, we got chatting.

Neither of us could remember the exact year, which got us talking about how long the programme had been going – almost half a century – and how long she had been in it. Here I was genuinely shocked … 35 years. I was also shocked to learn the Street stars are not allowed to do other work. Yet she still loves it as much as when she first landed the part four (fictional) marriages ago.

I have not watched the Street (you see, I go back to pre ‘Corrie’ as shorthand) regularly for a while, but I think she was quite impressed by my knowledge of characters and plot lines way back when. As Fiona will tell you, when we first met, I was a ‘never miss’ Street fan. Work and other stuff just got in the way.

She travels up and down from her home in Chelsea, and even the travel is bearable, she says, because she loves what she does, and it’s a ‘good job.’ It is great to hear that from someone who has done the same job for so long.

We talked about all sorts of things, from theatre to politics, families to books, including my next one, which is about an actress. She became the fourth person to see the draft of the cover. She liked it. I liked her.

So a good day all round, and then to bed, reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, before the texts started coming in saying Michael Jackson had died. Sad. Is it possible to be shocked and unsurprised at the same time? I think so. But it’s sad all the same.

  • Street fan Cass

    You lucky sod. I LOVE Corrie and I think Gail is fantastic, always has been. I once met Albert Tatlock coming out of the Midland hotel when we were up for a tour of the studios, but never had the chance to chat. Hope you told Helen she looked great for someone around so long

  • Charles

    Thanks for kind comments re CIPFA. Thanks also for a great speech … the brief was to inspire and uplift, and though as you say these are tough times, your principles of leadership and some of the specific situations you talked of made me at least feel it is always possible to make changes, easy or difficult, if you stick to those basics. Loved what you had to say about the Blair Ahern partnership too

  • Ged

    Is it a Diana moment?

  • uberpikey1889

    Tried to write about MJ – couldn’t be arsed in the end. Don’t care. He was a very ill man. He was also very rich. hence why he didn’t go to jail/psychiatric ward. And just so as Uri Gheller stops his beatification of MJ, he wasn’t found innocent at trial, he was found not guilty – massive difference.

  • Howard Rhoades

    As a former civil servant myself I joined the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) with the same hesitation you seem to have had at your recent conference. But I can say too that I have been surprised by how those accountants I’ve come across day to day are switched on, business and target focussed and quite humorous and personable. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Diane

    As someone who was there yesterday at the Manchester event, glad to hear that you enjoyed it. We certainly enjoyed listening to you and hearing your views. The Manifesto is a super document – good to hear you agree.

    Hope the Ventoux ride goes well. Someone died on the way down last week on the day before my husband did it, so do NOT go down too fast. Also, hope the heart rate gets down to 43 too – a new goal?!!

    First time I’ve ever replied to a blog. Sad or what?

  • Alina Palimaru

    Michael Jackson was a genius. I don’t care about his private life, the monkeys he held as pets, or the kids who slept over at his house (what about their retarded parents?!). What mattered was the fact that when he got on stage, he mesmerized, sang and danced like the music god that he really was. He was a consummate professional. So uberpikey1889, Michael Jackson electrified the world. And you did… what?

    Rest in Peace Michael.

  • Niamh Haughey

    Thanks to Twitter I have discovered your blog, excellent.
    Congratulations on The Blair Years – fantastically insightful and surprisingly humorous!

    Loved all the business about the apology yesterday (well deserved), pity I couldn’t see it in print – the downside of temporary relocation to Australia!

  • Mike

    Thanks for coming along to the CIPFA Conference yesterday, you were fabulous. Very informative and entertaining…and you met your brief in full!! Worth every penny (well we are public sector accountants, and efficiency’s top of the agenda!) and for those of us that might fall foul of spending cuts it was good to see that there is a role for unemployed anti-Christ’s!

  • CPW

    My god, man. MJ dies and you regail us with a story of Gail from Corry? Not what we have come to expect.

    I expected you to recall that time you were left holding Bubbles while TB, MJ and Bono repaired to Neverland’s God Chamber (the ante room to the Iron Lung) to sue the god of fame for world peace and an end to famine.

    Afraid you missed an open goal here, but for the consummate way you’ve managed to lever in tenous celebrity anecodetes in the past, you deserve a reprieve. Just.

  • Adrienne

    Others have commented before that one of the best things about this blog is that — unlike most of the newspaper websites — you allow on very hostile comments about yourself. But I really do wonder why people like CPW bother to read you if they hate you that much. I’ve noticed his comments here and on Facebook before and there is such an anger there that I wonder if he is crying out for help. My advice, CPW, would be try to find places you like being. This site is clearly not one of them. Or if you like the way you come over, I worry for you.

  • Harry Hillman

    I share your sadness at Michael Jackson’s death, but does the BBC reporter at Neverland really have to wear a black tie? I know he was the King of Pop, but that is not the same as the Queen

  • CPW

    Dear, only hedonists and dullards seek solely those places that make them happy. I’d concentrate on being a more rounded individual than commenting on the negative criticism. I don’t like him because he’s self-serving and deserves nothing but derision.. You who like him like him because you’re feeble, sheepish and have sensibilities that stretch as far as X factor but no farther. It’s dumbing down for the inexcusably dumb. Congrats

  • Victoria Armour

    That lady who asked for the free copy of your book, I’m sure is very appreciative of the books 😉

  • Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth Hampshire



    AC, your most touching “brief encounter” to date, and the beginning of a beautiful friendship, eh, chuck? – By heck, you chatting up that actress Helen Worth, who plays Gail (Potter) in Coronation Street, fancy

    Today of all days, a much-needed counterbalance to obituaries – thank you. For example, the news of those prematurely departed, including Michael Jackson, 50, heart attack; Farrah Fawcett, 62, through cancer

    There’s nowt like Gail, though. I wondered, do you realise how lucky you struck? Reflecting on former Corrie cast members, say from days gone by, those you might have found yourself sat opposite and got lumbered with. By heck again, chuck

    Guesting on a tv chatshow, socialist and Corrie Street fan, Mr Roy Hattersley, waxed nostalgic and mourned the passing of a bygone era, the earlier Street format, storylines and original characters he much preferred, now sadly long since gone

    Still, how I fancied AC sat on the train opposite Corrie’s bygone era actresses: a dreaded line-up of three jugs of milk stout, one each for cast members Ena Sharples (Miss Violet Carson), the acid-tongued, headstrong, busybody-cum-battle axe, and self-proclaimed moral mouthpiece of The Street

    … Aye, lad, I’m beginning to build a portrait of your role models in your formative years, already …

    More milk stouts, one each behind Ena’s ever-present cohorts, two old dears – bespectacled Martha Longhurst (played by Lynne Carol) and timid Minnie Caldwell (Margaret Bryant) – an uncompromising trio sat comfortably in the Snug Room of The Rovers Return. Grand stuff

    Remember, it was Minnie Caldwell who immortalised the line ” … that chubby, chubby Cliff Richard”

    See, in the early 60s, Sir Cliff had a touch too much puppy fat and slight double-chin. Not one 1960s popstar wished to be labelled “fat” and thanks to Minnie Caldwell’s scolding criticism, Sir Cliff of Weybridge has remained an exemplar to all of us with weight control issues, ever since. Credit, where it’s due

    Even comedy legend, Mr Ken Dodd, of Knotty Ash near Liverpool, still claims he once auditioned for a part in Coronation Street – as Albert Tatlock’s stuntman?!

    Trevor Malcolm

  • Katharine T.

    I had to laugh in irony sir, that you so willingly gave a free copy of both your books to an accountant who probably makes easily 3 times what I make in a year, and I just dispensed literally and figuratively the last 20 dollars to my name to buy your diaries. (please don’t inform my bankers. They won’t be pleased, but, my Canadian library in my small town unfortunately does not find English politics worth carrying as a subject) So excuse me if I find it highly rude that a person with probably so much would be so base.

    Am a big Corrie fan, and even if I think Helen Worth’s character highly annoying am sure she is probably a delight in person. (Don’t spill any beans, in Canada we’re 9 months behind the English…in all things LOL)

  • gary Enefer

    My family and I mourned the loss of Michael jackson last night by watching his music videos and tributes.

    I would say his was one of the three best concerts I have ever been too(the others being Neil Young and the Rolling Stones).

    Coincidentally , Neil Young was rockin it out at Glastonbury yesterday and,on learning that MJ has pobably taken an overdose of prescription drugs,was struck by NY’s words – ”I’ve seen the needle and the damage done,every junckie is like a setting sun.”

    As the sun went down on your life yesterday rest in peace Micheal.x

  • Jane A

    Others looking for FREE copies of *both* of AC’s books, in hardback, and signed, might be interested to know we will be auctioning these, plus a signed LRF T-shirt, to benefit the Henry Hodge Big 5-0 fundraiser for Leukaemia Research. Auctions begins tomorrow (Sunday at 8pm BST) and I will post what’s involved and how to take part tomorrow AM. Bids will be routed into a dedicated email address, and will be welcome from anywhere in the world. If you want to know more ahead of that, please email Thank you!

  • william beeby

    ALL the media is totally filled with the sudden death of Michael jackson.Yes he was a very good singer/performer,mostly I think in his earlier work,OFF THE WALL for example.But he was also an extremely flawed man and I believe he would have been jailed had it not been for his money and notoriety, if he had been a poor black man he would not have stood a chance in the American legal system.I am 56 so just 6 years older than MJ at his death so I have followed his music first hand and yes very good but there have been many others with equal or more talent than him.
    Some people seem to be suggesting that his troubles were caused my media interest ( if only they`d left him alone ) but I totally disagree the man was a freak.