Nothing is normal about the week in which I saw someone die

A woman with the statue of Chuck Berry in University City, Missouri.
The Chuck Berry statue in University City, Missouri. ‘If people like your music, they will ignore a lot’. Photograph: Michael Thomas/Getty


The deaths of Martin McGuinness and Chuck Berry have left me with troubling questions of legacy. While there is no doubt of the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland’s importance in the peace process, when it came to the truth and reconciliation process, he seemed keener on reconciliation than truth . He consistently refused to admit to any part in any terrorist killings or to provide information to the relatives of any victims. The location of a shallow grave would have been a good start. McGuinness clearly didn’t feel that confession was particularly good for his soul. With Berry, many people were so keen to extol his musical virtues that they were willing to overlook his conviction for a sexual offence involving a 14-year old girl. It made me wonder how the death of Bill Wyman, the bass guitarist with the Rolling Stones, will be reported. Mandy Smith says his sexual relationship with her started in the early 80s when she too was 14. My guess is he will get the same eulogies as Berry. If people like your music, they will ignore a lot.


My mother was stationed in Portsmouth while serving as a Wren in the second world war. One night she was on her way back to barracks when a Messerschmitt strafed her. Machine-gun bullets danced off the road on both sides of her as she ran for shelter; she made it to safety but couldn’t stop shaking for the rest of the night. It was a defining experience for her – as was her brother being badly wounded in the Battle of the Po – and she still talks frequently about the war. Not least because one of its lasting legacies was to make her passionately in favour of the EU. She believes that, whatever its faults, the EU has been central to guaranteeing a lasting peace in Europe for 70 years. Not everyone feels the same way. This week I attended the European scrutiny select committee where the eurosceptic chair, Bill Cash, still had it in for the Germans who killed his father shortly after D-Day in 1944. When the subject of how much money Britain should pay the EU as part of a divorce settlement came up, Cash was adamant that this country should pay nothing because we had let Germany off all its war debts back in 1953. He sounded as if he was still bitter about it.


I was halfway through writing a sketch on prime minister’s questions when a Bloomberg reporter burst into our Westminster office to say someone had been shot outside in New Palace Yard. I ran into a nearby room that overlooked the scene and saw two bodies lying near the entrance. I watched for about 20 minutes as armed police officers and paramedics performed CPR on both men. One, the terrorist later identified as Khalid Masood, was taken away by ambulance and died in hospital. The other, PC Keith Palmer, was pronounced dead at the scene and his body was placed in a white bag where it remained for the rest of the afternoon. The experience was simultaneously distressing and numbing. My brain was processing the information but my feelings were somehow disconnected. Almost as if I had been watching the whole thing on film. It was only an hour or so later that it dawned on me I had just seen someone die.


In her statement to parliament, the PM insisted that the commons was meeting as normal. It was a nice sentiment but not entirely true. When I got to work just after 8am, Parliament Square was still cordoned off and a forensics team was doing an inch by inch search of the crime scene. A plastic tent still covered the spot where PC Palmer had been killed. Nor was there anything very normal about what was happening inside the commons. The highlight of most Thursdays is ministerial questions for one of the least glamorous departments, such as Transport and Defra, an occasion that most MPs seem to find entirely resistible as the chamber never has more than a few dozen people in it; not all of whom are necessarily awake. Today there was a record crowd of several hundred MPs in to hear Liam Fox answer questions about international trade. Even more disturbing was that MPs were falling over themselves to be unfailingly polite to one another. Normal service was only properly resumed later in the afternoon when next to no one bothered to attend an adjournment debate on Ratty’s Lane incinerator in the Hertfordshire town of Hoddesdon.


I try not to bear grudges but I’m nowhere near as forgiving as David Cameron, who was seen this week having dinner with Boris Johnson in New York. Call me petty, but I find it hard to imagine any part of their dinner conversation that can have gone well. But there again ...

Boris: Good to see you, old boy. Look I’m really sorry for what happened last year. I know I said I was going to support you in the remain campaign but I got a bit cheesed off with the Gover – now there’s a real snake – and one thing sort of led to another ...

Dave: To tell you the truth I was getting a bit bored with being prime minister. Far too much like hard work and it has allowed Sam time to develop her fashion range. So it’s all turned out for the best.

Boris: That’s the spirit.

Dave: Shame about what’s happened to the country, though.

Boris: Yes ... still, can’t have everything.

Caption: “A sight so touching in its majesty.”

Digested week, digested: In cold blood