My wife wants to introduce roadside castration for drivers who cut her up on roundabouts

Acres of newsprint have been devoted to the appalling events in New York on 11 September and their aftermath. Here in Britain, it would appear that, now the initial shock has begun to recede, certain commentators are beginning to feel it is appropriate to start carping about the way Tony Blair has handled the crisis. Why? It was clear moments after the terrorist attacks that America would want revenge on those it held responsible. On 11 September, George Bush ran away and hid in a bunker, abandoning the American people to face danger and death on their own.

I believe the world has as much to fear from the potential extremes of retaliation by a Bush administration, desperate to regain macho credibility, as it does from Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

That the American response is as measured as it has been is, in no small part, due to the restraining hand and personal courage of Blair. He has managed to forge a united response to the terrorist outrage that, while rickety, is holding. On BBC2 recently, Michael Cockerell was critical of the "presidential style" adopted by Blair during this crisis. During his programme, Cockerell complained that Blair engaged on his frantic round of diplomacy with "only" Alastair Campbell and Anji Hunter as advisers.

But in the crazy and violent world in which we live, why risk the lives of other senior members of the British government? Beside which, I can hardly envisage Gordon Brown as a willing volunteer for these trips. As I recall, he wanted to cancel this year's Labour Party conference, claiming that Brighton was an altogether too dangerous place.

Over the past few days, there has been fairly extensive newspaper coverage of Primrose Shipman and her re-quired attendance at the public inquiry into the homicidal activities of her husband, the infamous Dr Harold. As George Orwell pointed out, the English are fond of a good murder story, but what I am finding particularly interesting in this case is the role the press are now ascribing to Primrose Shipman. Her husband is a convicted serial killer, but with him safely tucked away in a maximum-security prison, attention is now focused on the unfortunate Mrs Shipman.

As with Sonia Sutcliffe, Peter (Yorkshire Ripper) Sutcliffe's wife, it seems we are unable to accept the assertion that she knew nothing of her husband's murderous activities. Why should this be so difficult to believe? It is a truism that we cannot fully know another person, no matter how close we think we may be. Perhaps it is the added misfortune of Mrs Sutcliffe and now Mrs Shipman that they challenge our cultural misconceptions about the all-knowing wife.

I hate going to the barber's and have done so since childhood, when my grandfather terrorised me with tales of Sweeney Todd. However, obeying my wife's encyclical, I recently took myself into Glossop (Derbyshire) for a haircut. The barber's chair is one of the few places where I usually have very little to say, preferring the experience to be brought to an end as quickly as possible. To be fair, my barber tends to feel the same way. However, last week she had barely picked up the scissors before beginning to express her opinions on terrorism and crime in general. I am not sure what brought on this sudden burst of loquaciousness but, once started, she warmed to her theme.

Snipping away, she told me she felt crime figures would be drastically reduced if we followed the example of certain Muslim countries and introduced "proper" punishment - chopping off the hands of thieves would be a good start. Far too craven to argue with a woman with a pair of scissors in her hand, I tried to show solidarity with her viewpoint. I explained how my wife wanted the introduction of roadside castration for drivers who cut her up on roundabouts. Deeply impressed by this barbarous notion, she stopped cutting my hair long enough for me to point out she was almost down to the wood and I would be really grateful if she would now stop. Who said women were the gentler sex?

There are rumours that, in the next education bill, the government may well extend the powers of headteachers and governing bodies. There could be serious flaws to this proposal, as the experience of our local comprehensive school, Glossop- dale Community College, amply demonstrates. The college recently experienced terrible turmoil when the headteacher was found guilty of gross professional mis-conduct. During an unsettling 18 months while the head was suspended and an inquiry conducted, the staff at the college managed brilliantly to ensure that none of this was allowed to impact on the smooth running of the school.

In contrast, I have been none too impressed with some members of the governing body. Teachers seem to manage well without heads or governors, and I am afraid they may need as much control and as many mechanisms for accountability as anyone else.

Tony Booth is an actor

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Special Report - The SAS story they want to suppress