It’s all over.
I’ve done that ‘spot’ on the BBC News Channel. A weird way to spend the day of the G20 summit in London.
I arrive far too early, of course, at the BBC TV Centre in West London. So I wander around the nearby Westfield Mall/Shopping Centre to kill time. It’s a vile new hangar, opened for business just as the meltdown began. I make a mental note never to patronize shops that reckon they have to be here. That won’t be difficult in ‘The Village’ - an exclusive corner with its own security guards and the likes of Prada, Dior and Tiffany’s (and, still, an ‘Opening Shortly’) that never seem to have anyone in them.
I sit for a while in an executive swivel chair, reinforced for public use, reading the London Evening Standard: ‘G20 BOUNCE!’ House prices - up! Stock markets - up! Up, up, up and away!
Outside the TV Centre is a long, very orderly queue on the pavement - the audience for a TV show. Someone says: ‘Are they waiting for their redundancy cheques?’
My heart pounds, legs a little unsteady. I’m trying to memorize a list of ‘useful points’ about the G20 I posted on my blog a couple of days ago. But I know I must appear utterly at ease, come what may. For me that means forgetting everything, which comes easily. A producer has been ringing me, asking what points I want to get across. I may well have told her something different each time.
I’m ushered into a ‘Green Room’ - a windowless cubby-hole with red chairs. There’s a young woman arranging her social life on the phone beneath a giant TV screen that shows what’s running live - Obama at his post-G20 press conference.
The young woman puts down the phone: ‘I just ADORE that man! I want to have his babies!’
She chats to the guests, puts them at their ease. There’s an academic sitting there. I say I hate doing this. ‘So why do you do it?’ he asks. Good question. ‘I love it!’ he says. ‘All my colleagues are afraid of freezing. They’ve got PhDs, for god’s sake!’
He is summoned and shortly afterwards appears on the giant screen above the young woman, who ignores it entirely. A former adviser to President Bush (‘Such a lovely, humble man,’ says the woman) materializes from the screen into the cubby-hole to pick up his Mulberry or whatever.
Might Obama materialize next?
‘The thing is,’ says the woman, ‘and I don’t want to speak out of turn. Love and communism sound nice, but they just don’t work. Hate and capitalism are so much better.’
We talk about moles, then deer - the cute things should be allowed to roam free, she says. I protest that deer tried to kill the apple trees I planted last year.
Obama keeps talking.
A make-up woman arrives with a caddy, alerted no doubt by an automatic alarm when one of the ‘boys’ turns out, like me, to be bald. When she’s finished, she pats me on the head.
My opponent, from the Adam Smith Institute, walks in. We’ve been set up. Oh yes - we should be reliable enemies. He’s young, gentle, almost human. Damn. We discuss urban foxes.
Obama keeps talking, then disappears.
A BBC reporter sums up. Has the G20 been a success? ‘The markets will decide!’ he says.
We’re on next - as if for some public execution.
We walk down corridors through security doors. One, with a bright red light above it, opens slowly from within.
We are ushered into a dark, hushed vault. Two vaguely familiar figures sit, motionless, spotlighted, on a plinth behind an alter in the middle of the room. A wild illuminated backcloth. In front of them, in shade, a battery of robots peer with hooded eyes, speak with bright scrolled text.
From time to time the two presenters, a man and a woman, say something softly, apparently unprompted, to no-one in particular, like oracles.
We are ushered to two chairs beside the man on the plinth, who shakes our hands. He looks so relaxed he may even be on the verge of sleep.
My opponent is placed, very close, just behind me - I can’t actually see him. We are plugged in to microphones.
We sit rigid, silent, obedient, and wait. And wait. Do astronauts feel like this?
The man turns to us. ‘Start with the one on the end,’ he repeats.
‘So, is capitalism finished?’ he asks the Adam Smith man behind me.
My friend, his voice suddenly trenchant, launches into a riff about down-home capitalism for the common people. Governments are to blame. Or something.
Still gazing at the man in front of me, demented blasts wafting over my left shoulder, I panic.
They don’t want to talk about the G20 at all! They want to talk about capitalism! Who’d have thought it! I’m supposed to be making the anti-capitalist case - ad lib, maybe watched by people I actually know!
Take it easy, I say to myself, just talk to the man in front of you. He’s wearing make-up too. Try falling asleep. In my head I hear that reporter saying again: ‘The markets will decide!’
Will they hell!
I have absolutely no idea what I then say. Did I say anything at all? Gone in a flash. I do recall mentioning ‘G20’ just once (‘What, after all, is the G20?’). The presenter’s eyes switched immediately to the man over my left shoulder.
Then, all of a sudden, it stops. The presenter starts talking to no-one again.
Without instructions, we sit obediently for a while. We’re unplugged and ushered very firmly away from the invisible camera sight-lines, back to our hostess.
‘Well done!’ she says.
Bet you weren’t watching!
I’m exhausted, crest-fallen, a little bit sheepish, though damned if I’ll show it. All I can think of is what I should have said, now I come to think of it.
Thus is the fate of the world being settled in the court of public opinion.