The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Sunday "Daaaaad! I want to go to the riots! I'm an anarchist! I have rights!" Thus Neil, just 13, announces for the first time that he, too, is a political being. Roy, his twin, snorts into his Shredded Wheat and gives his opinion that Neil is just trying to get to snog Amanda Plummer, who doubles as school radical and heart-throb.

I contemplate my son. Of course he can't go. Apart from anything else, it's a school day. Also, it might be dangerous and violent, and even Slippery is telling everyone to have nothing to do with it and handing out warnings that would have done credit to a 1950s Tory home secretary. He'd have to be accompanied by an adult, and I obviously couldn't go, being a potential target of the protesters; and the thought of Cheryl being nabbed just before the election campaign, and staring out at the world from the front page of the Daily Mail, is too awful to contemplate. I open my mouth to deny the lad's request, but Cheryl herself forestalls me.

"Darling," she tells him soothingly, "you know that I am opposed to global capitalism. Even your father was once opposed to world capitalism. But Tuesday is a school day, and the mayor of London - whom I campaigned for - says to stay away. I wouldn't be able to take you because I have a Unison women's aggregate in Northampton. And besides, I can't see that the demonstrators have a clear class-based strategy for the replacement of capitalism by a workable green, feminist socialism. So the answer is . . ."

The devil is in me. "The answer is that I'll take you," I interrupt. "Honestly, Cheryl," I reprove her. "I bet there won't even be any violence. We used to go on demos when we were young. And as for it being in the school week, well this could be an education in civics. If Neil is interested, then he should go."

I look up and have the incredible satisfaction of seeing Cheryl, open-mouthed with horror, gasping for words to describe the pain of being so comprehensively outflanked to the left. It feels good, but there is always a price to be paid for gestures such as this.

Tuesday "What if the false beard comes off?" asks Neil, as we make our way by Tube towards Piccadilly Circus for the street theatre in the shadow of Eros. I feel the fuzz on my chin, but it seems secure. In jeans and a fleece, I pretty much blend in, and the appropriation of the beret was a master stroke.

On the streets, London is eerie and empty of traffic, but the police are absolutely everywhere. I have the creepy feeling that, in some police control room, the Witchfinder General is looking at banks of monitors and can see me vainly looking for the demonstration. We find it near Oxford Circus. But now the main danger is from the hundreds of journalists, many of whom I know, who are mingling with confused anarchists. It starts to rain hard. Whistles are being blown, people are shouting and Neil tells me that he's bored and wants to go home. We make our way to the police lines and I ask to go through. "No," says the copper. "You can't."

I am taken aback. "Look," I tell him, "I have my son with me, and I need to leave." An inspector arrives. "You wanted to come here," he says, "and now you can stay." I begin to tell him, crossly, that this is a peculiar strategy, when he spots that my beard is beginning to detach itself from my face. "Come this way, sir," he tells me. We walk through the cordon, and I am promptly arrested.

After I have spent an hour in the police station, 10 Downing Street is finally contacted. A senior officer ushers me to an office and hands me the phone, saying: "Bit of an embarrassment all round, sir. Less said, soonest mended."

I pick up the receiver. A familiar voice speaks. "Campbell here. One word. Berk." And the line goes dead.

This article first appeared in the 07 May 2001 issue of the New Statesman, John Prescott: sinking fast