It was Friday morning and the phone rang at 7am, waking me up. When I wake up, I never know where I am, who I am, where the door is, or where the bathroom is, even after 53 years in this house.
“The van’s here,” said a voice. I thought of John Lennon’s line from “I Am the Walrus”: “waiting for the van to come”. It was originally “waiting for the man to come”. I misheard it. I told John that when I was a lad in Carlisle, we used to say “waiting for the van to come”, meaning to take you away, certified. So he changed “man” to “van”.
Then I remembered. The previous evening, I’d had an email from the Today programme. Would I come to the studio? On your bike, I said, no chance.
Most folks think that you get a good fee for going on the Today programme, or any other radio programme. You get nothing. If you’re plugging a book or something similar, you are prepared to trail all that way. Otherwise, why do it?
They rang back to say: all right, we’ll send a van at seven.
I put my dressing gown over my ’jamas, got a mug of tea and went out into the street, hoping that it hadn’t parked miles away. In the old days, the BBC radio van was like a tank. It put up a monster aerial, about 20 feet high. The neighbours feared that it might be a TV detector van, coming to arrest them for not having a licence.
These days, the radio van is dinky and nondescript, about the size of an Addison Lee taxi, but with one-way windows. You can look out at people scurrying along the pavement to work, as you sit waiting in the bijou studio in front of a bijou microphone, but they can’t see you inside. Used to be a two-man crew. Now the driver is also the sound engineer.
It was the day of the England-Scotland match and I was there to blather on about the game. I know from experience that none of the Today presenters has an interest in sport, except perhaps for Jim Naughtie, but he was in America. It was Justin Webb who got lumbered with me. Also on the line, from somewhere in Scotland, was Val McDermid.
I did my bit, chuntering on, which is all they want you to do, before they return to the real news of the day – when I thought of a funny connection.
“It has actually been a good day for Scotland so far,” I said. “Getting someone in the White House who is half-Scottish . . .”
I was about to go on, but Justin broke in with a boring story about talking to Donald Trump about his Scottish mother. And then I was cut off.
Since then, and after Scotland’s 3-0 defeat, I’ve been thinking that if Trump had never been a politician, never served in the army, yet got to be president, why can’t he go on and play for Scotland? He’s clearly qualified through his mother.
He would, of course, demand the number 1 shirt. Being big and fleshy and bossy, he could make an excellent goalie. And he couldn’t do worse than Scotland’s present one.
“In goal for Scotland, Trump!” His name sounds plausible. There’s a long tradition of goalkeepers having names that mean other things, such as Banks, Seaman, Hart, Swift, Green, Woods, Gunn, Ditchburn. I could go on, but I’ll save it for when I can’t sleep.
Why is Scotland so rubbish at football at present? At one time, every top English club had loads of Scottish stars. Liverpool had Dalglish, Hansen, Souness. Leeds had Bremner, Gray, Lorimer. Nottingham Forest had Gemmill, McGovern, Kenny Burns. Spurs had Bill Brown, Mackay, John White. On I could go, but I’ve got enough for two sleepless nights now.
I can’t think of a team in the top six in the Premiership today that has even one Scottish player. There aren’t many English players in our top teams either. What’s noticeable is that among the few half-decent England players there are many black or mixed-race players – Sterling, Sturridge, Rose. Such players are generally lacking among Scottish players.
So, if Donald Trump is ever to make Scotland great again, he’ll have to change his tune. More immigration, please, not less.
This article appears in the 16 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump world