What did I do to deserve this?

Being publicly praised by MPs is like being outed. I wanted to tell my parents that I've been exper

August in France, and I was sitting cross-legged in a yurt, the white canvas tent shining bright in the sunlight. The tent in turn sat in a wood at the top of the Ardèche River gorge. Outside, my son was collecting solar-powered lanterns, which had been placed around the glade the previous evening to light our way through the trees. Inside, my daughter had interrupted my plans for a day's kayaking by gently putting a monstrously large, iridescent green beetle into the palms of my hands. This was holiday bliss. I was in Observer travel section heaven - middle-class camping. This was Ray Mears meets decent coffee and duvets.

It was at this precise moment that my mobile phone vibrated to inform me that I had a text. It was from a friend. "You've got a Guardian editorial on you!" it read. "Fuck," I thought, "what am I doing in there?" Comics don't get in newspaper editorials, not unless they've smoked crack in the back of a taxi or been personally responsible for the invasion of the Lebanon. I was reasonably sure I had not done either. Debate in the yurt focused on neither of these possibilities, but on why I had left my phone on while I was on holiday.

A discreet call was made to friends. "It reads, 'In praise of Mark Thomas'," they told me. "Hang on, let me find the bit . . . blah blah blah . . . Here we go - 'The latest victim of the activist comedian's treatment is the arms trade, and today he wins praise from a parliamentary committee for exposing its dealings.'"

In January this year, I submitted evidence on torture equipment and UK arms control to the quadripartite committee (the Commons select committee with oversight on arms issues) and ended up appearing before its members. Now, months later, their report has been published, and it commends my work twice. All of which has left me feeling a mixture of egotism, pride and disquiet. Being publicly praised by MPs is like being outed. I wanted to tell my parents and friends in my own time, that I have been experimenting with reformism, but now the whole world knows.

Self-congratulatory glow

Just before we'd jumped the train to France I had been doing a mini book reading and signing tour to promote As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela, my tome on the arms trade. One particular reading had gone fantastically well, I thought. There was much applause and a long queue to sign books afterwards. I was basking in the self-congratulatory glow of smug success when the next bloke in line to have his book autographed stepped forward and said, "Could you write 'Congratulations, lucky eBayer' and then sign it, please?"

Rituals of return

Returning to London brings the rituals of putting the first batch of dirty clothes into the wash, playing the answer machine, and standing in the garden shouting "Daddy's home" in a high-pitched voice, in the mistaken belief that the cat will a) recognise me and b) care. It isn't until late evening that I get round to going through the e-mails.

Sifting through spam on Rolex watches and penis extensions, I discover a friend's son serving in Iraq has been killed in Basra in a mortar attack. He died in hospital from wounds received on 1 August, leaving a wife, Abbey, and two children, Ethan (three) and Libby (15 months). His name was Matthew Cornish. His mother, Anni Rainbow, is a peace activist and a founder of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases, protesting against the US military presence in the UK.

Finding a card to send to Anni takes up all of the following morning. The local grocer has 12 cards on racks between the pet food and the cold drinks cabinet, all of them shouting "Happy Birthday". But there is nothing for Anni, nothing that can remotely touch the sadness of her loss. All the "With Sympathy" cards feature black borders and a spray of flowers. They all seem strangely timid, almost frightened of the emotional force of grief. I get a blank card and turn for home to try to find the words to say to a mother who has watched her son being borne from the back of an air force plane in a box draped in the Union Jack.

"As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela" is published by Ebury Press (£10.99)

This article first appeared in the 21 August 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Al-Qaeda: Britain in its sights