Magazine article The Spectator

Hay Notebook

Magazine article The Spectator

Hay Notebook

Article excerpt

It was my first taste of free for the brain. A first visit to what Bill Clinton dubbed the 'Woodstock of the Mind'. With just one afternoon at the Hay festival, I rolled up at the first thing that caught my eye - a distinguished prof talking about nanotechnology.

Bear with me here. I was soon learning that making things nano-sized changes their essential properties. Surfaces can be made which repel water.

A single drop can be made bouncier than a children's rubber ball. So what, you ask.

Well, we'll all soon have mobile phones which we can drop in the bath, which raises the exciting - if, perhaps somewhat distasteful, prospect of my being able to broadcast on the Today programme from my favourite place - providing I'm careful not to make splashing noises.

What I had assumed would be a simple book plug (Live from Downing Street is still available in all bookshops, now you ask) was, in fact, a testing inquisition worthy of John Humphrys. Hacks from the Telegraph sat poised to note every slip and indiscretion. Should there be more women presenters on the BBC? Of course, I replied. Should Mr Humphrys retire to make way for you?

Of course not, I insisted. No, really. Well, not for a few years anyway.

The toughest questioning focused on my decision to use the S word on the morning after the grisly night in Woolwich before. I said sorry for a phrase I'd quoted when revealing that the police, the security services and the government were treating the brutal killing as more than just a crime. I reported a 'senior Whitehall source' as saying that, according to the police, the attackers were 'of Muslim appearance'. Under pressure of a looming deadline, I focused on the fact that I was establishing that the authorities saw this as a terrorist attack carried out, as it has transpired, to 'free Muslim lands'. A glance at Twitter revealed, however, that those words - despite being a quote - had outraged some who thought they revealed a prejudice that all Muslims look the same.

One witty tweet asked if the man playing at Wembley in Bayern Munich's no. 7 shirt looked Muslim. Franck Ribery is French, he's white and he's Muslim.

The next day a new round of condemnation began. …

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