The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Friday The Villa Recta Digitale, near Volterra

I am on the pavement, outside a cafe, sipping espresso and reading the English newspapers. The sun slants across the old town hall, picking out the coats of arms. Backpackers and older tourists in white, floppy hats sit on the steps reading guidebooks or resting their purchases of the local alabaster on their knees. This could be any moment in the past century.

Far away, in the land I help to rule, we are up in the polls again. The free fall that began with the Dome and the NHS flu crisis has stopped. The papers and the BBC are tired of the "Blair in trouble" stories: just how many dustbins full of panicky memos by people like me can the public be interested in? In any case, many voters already suspect that we steal all their taxes and murder babies at midnight. To discover that we spend our time worrying too much what the electorate thinks is not, in their eyes, the worst sin a politician can commit.

Even so, here in the shadow of antiquity and permanence, you do wonder exactly what it's all for. I know we're lavishing all this dosh on vital services, and we're doing sterling work in getting the balance right between public and private, and we're solving problems and all that. But I didn't think, when I was young, that my mission in life would be in getting balances right. You can't put "Right Balances, In, In, In" on a placard. Even if, in reality, it's the best that can be done.

So how does The Master cope, given that he is a religious bloke, and keen on the sense of history, destiny and all that? Cherie must help. She has a kind of certainty about her that is reassuring. On the few occasions that I have met her, she has impressed me. But I am a man for pregnant women and new mothers, and - I must confess - since the news of her pregnancy with Leo, I have found myself troubled with dreams in which Cherie comes to me, undresses, and discusses the European Charter of Human Rights in a soft, passionate voice until dawn.

So different from my own Cheryl, beet-red and harrumphing through the latest Pilger collection, while the bambini riot over gelati and Cokes. So secular.

Sunday Outside the church of Santa Maria e Angeli, Mirabira, Tuscany

Home tomorrow. I sit on the steps in the shade of this Romanesque glory, and wonder whether I haven't found The Answer. Just minutes ago, I found myself at the back of a small congregation of worshippers, listening to a service I didn't understand. No, that's not right. I didn't understand the language - I did understand the service.

As the priest spoke and the people prayed, I looked around at the pious pictures on the walls - the saints and martyrs - and felt a sense of continuity. Could it be that I have been looking for too much out of politics alone? Is it possible that my brief flirtation with the Anglican church back in 1996-97 failed because it was the wrong institution at the wrong time? And was what I was now feeling not possibly some kind of call? And was this - just conceivably - the call that The Master and Cherie had also heard?

The choice of Joe Lieberman as Al Gore's running-mate in the States suggests that left-of-centre politics does not rule out a spiritual dimension. And something is definitely happening to me. I look at the sky and feel tears in my eyes. A hand rests gently on my shoulder and I look up into the brown eyes of a young monk. "My son," he says in soft, accented English, "I notice you. You have need. Perhaps we talk?" Perhaps we do. Perhaps we do.

This article first appeared in the 04 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Cheated of their vodka and cake