My girlfriend was trying to be helpful when she offered me a small glass of rum. I was nervous. I was about to meet her father for the first time. She couldn’t have known that I would neck it like a shot, or that I would finish the rest of the bottle.
This is a nerve-wracking experience for any young man. But it was especially difficult for me because her father is a public intellectual with an international reputation, and I left school at the age of 14. Oh, and I was about to argue with him on live television. About nuclear weapons.
By the time he arrived I was very happy. Introductions were made and we skipped off to the studio together. Well, I skipped. He probably just walked, with gravitas. I molested his daughter in front of him, because I’m an amorous drunk and I forgot he was behind us.
In the greenroom (that’s what television personalities like me call a waiting area) I ate an entire bowl of fruit and drained the contents of a water jug. The last time I’d been this drunk I’d fallen asleep in the door of
The presenter introduced himself, and asked me which side of the debate I was on. ‘I’m totally against nuclear weapons,’ I said. No, that’s not right. I’m here to argue for them. Shit. I burped on him and he walked away, repelled. I must have smelled like the floor of a provincial branch of Wetherspoon’s.
The audience was arranged in a crescent shape behind the panel — in this case a group of politicians, academics, thinktank spivs and me. I took my place at the very edge, and the presenter started to rehearse. He talked about the dangers of alcoholism. He asked all the other panellists for their thoughts on the subject. The room was spinning, and I was concentrating quite hard on making it stop. So hard, in fact, that I failed to notice that the live recording had started. For the first ten minutes I gazed into the distance, wondering when it was all going to kick off. It slowly dawned on me that it already had.
I tried to follow the debate. Through the alcoholic fug I remembered that I had lots to say. I was very well prepared. I’d been researching the subject for weeks. I would have defended our nuclear deterrent against anyone. Citizens of Chernobyl. Hiroshima survivors. Greenpeace types. I was so ready.
My constituency MP was speaking. I inter-rupted him. ‘Are you saying you trust the Russians more than our own government?’ I asked. No, of course he wasn’t saying that. The presenter reminded me that we were talking about the Soviet Union. He gave me a look. Shut up, you drunken fool. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.
A while later my girlfriend’s father was talking about the impact that disarmament would have on jobs. Here’s my chance to impress her, I thought. She’s sitting in the audience behind us. I have to win his approval by outsmarting him. ‘This isn’t about jobs. We’re talking about nuclear weapons. ARMAGEDDON.’ I said. The audience clapped. The sound hurt my ears. I was a hero, a man of the people. I’d also forgotten which side of the argument I was supposed to be on, again.
I was very thirsty, so I stood up and went to retrieve the bottle of water I’d left on the edge of the set. There was a horrible screech as my microphone pinged off my collar and hit the floor. Incredibly, when I came back, I was able to replace it without much fuss. I made another couple of points, but nothing that will make the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. When the show ended, the producer asked me what had gone wrong. ‘I think my first mistake was agreeing to appear on your show.’ It was the most intelligent thing I said all day. My girlfriend and her father assured me it hadn’t been as bad as I imagined. I don’t know, because I’ve never watched it. Mercifully my first — my only — TV appearance isn’t on YouTube, so you can’t either.
As I sobered up on the train afterwards I remembered every argument I wanted to make in support of Trident. The rousing speech I never gave came back to me, four hours too late. The moral case. The financial argument. The quotes by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire and Basil Hume. I spent the rest of the day hoping for a hideous accident at Faslane, something so awful it would force the BBC to cancel regular programming for a week at least.
Are nuclear weapons ever justified? Who knows. I accepted the invitation because I’m a shallow media whore, not because I know or care. In fact I’d probably do it again, if only to prove that I’m not always a drunken fool.