In the old Tramshed, Prince Charles proves surprisingly unstuffy. Not good for one's republican principles

Domed out by Lord Falconer as he makes successive appearances on Channel 4 News, showing a combination of straight drives, late cuts, leg glances and a carefully raised bat that allows several deliveries to go straight to the boundary. He's perfectly happy to debate live with the Tory shadow culture secretary, Peter Ainsworth, the next night, only to repeat the performance, adding a few skyers, which get spectacularly dropped somewhere in midfield.

We're into cricket on Channel 4 these days, that and Big Brother. Our own big brothers, the ITN bigwigs, are looking for some rational explanation as to why our viewing figures have gone up by 19 per cent over the past three months . . . "surely not the content!" My editor generously points out that I was away for one of the three months.

To the Tramshed in Shoreditch, EC2. Doreen and Neville Lawrence had asked me, as a trustee of the Stephen Lawrence Trust, if I could think of someone to give the first of a series of annual lectures in Stephen's memory. They founded the trust to try to enable other black students to pursue the career that their son was so cruelly denied - architecture. Given the fantastic start-up opportunities the Prince's Trust and Business in the Community have given so many young black entrepreneurs, and given his well-known "carbuncle" views on modern architecture, what about Prince Charles? So I wrote and asked him, and suddenly here he is, in this old oiling shed, talking of Stephen and giving the architectural Establishment a good kicking in their self-aggrandising skyscrapers. He proves surprisingly unstuffy, well briefed and nicely close to the wind. Perhaps that's why some of the Establishment are so anxious to skip his kingship; he just might prove to be a usefully good king, to their own detriment. Not good for one's republican leanings.

I should mention the music, too, from the sensational London Community Gospel Choir, who rock even HRH's socks off, and a stunning, multi-ethnic scratch string ensemble. They give the first performance of an elegy written in Stephen Lawrence's memory. Philip Herbert, the young organising tutor for music at the Richard Attenborough Centre, Leicester University, and himself African Caribbean, has composed it. He has conjured a haunting, lyrical piece that has the Tramshed awash with tears.

Lunching in judgement over this year's student media awards for the Guardian, I sit betwixt Alan Rusbridger and Piers Morgan. I anticipate grave disagreement between us, but we settle easily on the winner. The otherwise depressing lack of attitude and rebellion on campus is more than made up for by the Mirror man's larger-than-life performance at table. Alas, despite his best efforts and loud bellowing, I tell him that he remains a sheep in wolf's clothing.

The new fountains at Somerset House are at full spout for Hezza's rumble in the jungle to launch his aptly titled book. I spot only two frontbenchers - George Young and Damian Green. Otherwise, it is a gathering of the socially excluded, quaffing champagne. The Tories have split before our very eyes.

To Portsmouth on the 7.22am from Waterloo, to prison. At the adult learning awards of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education in early summer, one group of winners turned out to be serving time in Kingston jail. Given the wholesale destruction of prison education by Conservative and new Labour governments alike, this was more than an achievement. Given that this is the only prison in Europe that houses "lifers" only, the governor was understandably coy about letting any of them out to collect their prize. So, in a rash moment, I had said I would take it to them.

On the way, I muse about leaked accounts of Lord (Harry) Woolf's highly critical internal speech to judges. "When I did my prisons inquiry," he said, "there were 42,000 people in prison, today there are 67,000." The statistics are even worse for women in jail - more than 7,000. Our abject failure to heed Woolf's original report will come back to haunt us. (And by the way, the new Lord Chief Justice is a man to watch - his intellect and humanity have forced the authorities to appoint the man most likely to visit on them the error of their ways.)

South West Trains are spot on time; the prison is classic Victorian stone, housing 200 (presumably) murderers. I meet Chris, Ian, Derek, Andy and many more from the drama group. They'd got the award for a stunning Ayckbourn production. I meet Judith, the tutor, an amazing woman who has inspired these toughies to risk epithets of "Nancy boy" to act on stage. Chris had adamantly refused. He confessed that, when he finally did it, he said and did things that he could never have done "in real life". He seems to have been positively liberated by it. Before the visit is through, I find myself playing the part of a tyrannical Yorkshire prison officer in a reading of a play by Ian. A fabulously well-observed and funny piece from a man who was never taught how to write.

Is this globalisation come to visit us? Oil prices and French resistance, stirred by instant, 24-hour news access, seem to have tutored battered British farmers and road hauliers into collective action.

To add to the global atmosphere, the Chancellor calls from Vienna, and Blair calls for protests to be directed not at him, but at Opec. So we don't like demos against the World Trade Organisation, but when it comes to the berobed titans of oil production, "Go for it, boys and girls"!

This article first appeared in the 18 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Let the poor seek a place in the sun