Occasionally I find a message has been sent to this website from an unexpected source, and curiosity gets the better of me. A while ago I was invited to a conference in Kazakhstan to a debate on the world economy with John Bolton, the man with the bushy moustache who was chief of something or other for George W Bush. This was so magnificently surreal that if I didn’t have a family or a radio series to attend to I’d have been straight over there, hastily swotting on the effects of the free market on Tanzanian farmers as we chugged over a desert on whatever spluttery contraption was offered as the pride of Kazakhstani Airlines.
A few weeks ago I was invited to speak to a group of humanists in the Isle of Man, and there was an offer to debate that men were better than women on Qatari television. So at times my messages appear to be the transcript of a dream. I wouldn’t be surprised to find one saying “Dear Mark, my name is General Custer and I would love you to knit a sweater for my porcupine as it got eaten at the battle of Little Big Horn. You’ll recognise me as I look like your old headmaster.”
This morning I find someone called Richard Waghorne has written to me “I am getting in touch from the Daily Mail and I am hoping to speak to you about your Glastonbury appearance in 2005.”
Anyone with a notion of common sense would have immediately deleted this message, gone to make a pot of tea and forgotten it had been sent by the time the kettle boiled. But that bastard curiosity got to me. What can have emerged about my show from five years ago at Glastonbury festival that has upset the Daily Mail? Are they under the impression my show was a diversion so we could use the tent to smuggle in 150,000 Lithuainian asylum seekers who posed as the audience? Have they been told my show included a series of extended pirouettes and yet at the time I was claiming invalidity benefit?
So I rang Mr. Waghorne, told him I was calling as he’d asked me to ring and he said “Ah, remind me what it was about. I’ve been rather busy today.”
“Glastonbury”, I said, “You asked me about my appearance at Glastonbury in 2005. I’m intrigued as to why this is of any interest.”
“Oh yes”, he said, “You were on a platform with Derek Simpson of the Unite union were you not?”
This changed matters for several reasons.
Firstly I can only vaguely remember being on some sort of panel in the Leftfield tent, which I think was organised by Unite Against Fascism but I’m not sure, and have no idea whether Derek Simpson was there or not. And secondly because huge beeping noises and red flashing lights went off in every corner of my head while a blinding neon sign screamed “DAILY MAIL – UNIONS – DANGER – GET OUT NOW!”
And also because I wanted to scream “Why are you only interested in that event – I did an hour to a packed crowd that year and went down a storm as I remember, you cruel beast?”
“I really don’t recall much about that event”, I said cautiously but honestly, “And I have no idea whether Derek Simpson was there or not. Why do you ask?”
“I’m writing a piece about the UNITE union”, he told me, and I notice they have held events where they’ve tried to appeal to young people.
In my head I see an article that starts “Holiday-wrecking cabin crew union leader once appeared at hippy festival at which drug-taking and sex has taken place and layabouts openly admire long-haired heroin addict Jimi Hendrix who famously killed himself with drugs and is a favourite of people who claim housing benefit.”
I didn’t answer, so he said “Can you tell me what sort of an event this was?”
I said “Are you asking what sort of event Glastonbury was?”
“Well I’ve, I’ve er heard of Glastonbury”, he said, and I wondered whether I could wind him up. I could probably have told him Derek Simpson played guitar that year for Janis Joplin, and the Yorkshire Ripper was his backing singer and their encore was their hit single, that goes “My life will be complete when you’ve booked your airline seat, but you can’t even leave your street ‘cos I’ve fucked your trip to Crete.”
“But I’m especially interested in this event with Derek Simpson”, he persisted. I told him again that I couldn’t recall anything about it and he said “Really?”
“Well it was five years ago”, I said, “And you couldn’t remember what you’d asked me in an e-mail you sent an hour ago.
“Hmm” he said sheepishly. And then he asked again what sort of event it was, and how many people were there and how many of them were young people and I wouldn’t have told him if I could remember but I honestly couldn’t anyway. So I told him I felt certain he was trying to write an unfair piece denigrating the union and he told me I’d been very useful, which was slightly disturbing, and we parted company.
A brief inquiry alerted me to how Richard Waghorne, on his own website, tells us he works for Joint Force Quarterly, a journal of the US defence department, and while he greatly admired President Bush, he became frustrated at his work in Washington on privatising social security as his schemes moved too slowly.
So my guess is that soon an article will appear in the Daily Mail that informs its readers of the history of the UNITE union, which will amount to an incoherent series of concocted tales, one of which will be that, in an effort to seduce young people into their wicked trade union plot, they sent Mr. Simpson to peddle his extremism amongst the dope-addled gullible youth of Glastonbury.
Then in five years’ time I’ll receive a message from Mr. Waghorne, asking “Mr. Steel, I’d like you to contact me with regard to an invitation you once received from a bunch of humanists in the Isle of Man.”