• Author:Ben Jones
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My letter from America- part three

Another flight, another blog post. And another pomposly-titled ‘letter from America’.

I am a huge admirer of Alistair Cooke and his brilliant series on America so this mini series of mine was meant as a tribute from a fan not as a comparison! His work remains as fresh and incisive as ever- some of it over fifty years old.

I start my scratchings just a few minutes into our flight home (and can post them through the wonders of onboard Wi Fi)- after nine wonderful days in this wonderful country. I write just as our two fellow passengers in the row in front have fully reclined their seats as soon as humanely possible. I know this is a reasonable thing to do- especially as we contemplate an evening flight- but it still annoys me a little. Despite this setback, I will push on.

The last few days- the days we have been in Boston- have been glorious. Great weather. Great city. Great food and great times with my amazing wife. Our love for Boston grows with each visit. We have officially declared it today our favourite US city. This accolade sadly carries no trophy, monetary value, or great prestige but a firm place in our hearts.

Angelina Jolie’s health news revealed in a well written piece in yesterday’s New York Times has captured the headlines and it seems the hearts of the nation over the last day or so. There has been much talk of her using this “platform” to inspire women across America. This cliche was a little over-used on TV but the message resonates; one advantage of this world of celebrity we live in- and I can’t think of too many- is that awareness can be raised around such issues by the mere fact of a famous person is associated with them. Let us hope this silver lining develops now and of course that her health remains good and her treatment works.

OJ Simpson is back in court and taking the stand- something the US networks appear to be fascinated by- as he appeals his 33-year sentence handed down four years ago. The networks could not help but point out the obvious- OJ has not been spending much time in the prison gym! His re-emergence- at least in my mind- prompted a rapid search on YouTube for clips of his most famous (infamous) moment, when acquitted of the murder of Nicole Browne Simpson in 1995. The first thing that struck me was how long ago that was- and how old it made me feel! I was also struck by the extraordinary passions the case stirred at the time, well beyond the facts of the case but touching on the very fabric of US society with questions raised about race, police corruption and the cult of celebrity. Looking back, I guess the idea of a black man being President within a decade or so would have been mostly unthinkable then.

We were not alone in Boston. The Prime Minister was there too- promoting British business- and paying his respects after the Boston Bombings. We too stopped in Boylston Street to take a look at the memorial that has developed. I was struck particularly by the simple tributes people had left- many of whom had clearly competed in the marathon. Many left their running shoes, vests or running numbers. Some had written messages. Some left hats, scarfs or other symbols from their home towns. Much of it was very simple. Much of it very moving.

Returning to the Prime Minister for a moment, it seems that my Party back home is going through one of its wobbly spells- trying it seems desperately to alienate the electorate- most of who give Europe no more than a passing thought- hand marginal seats to Labour and the Lib Dems via the protest vote of UKIP and throw away any chance of victory in the next General Election. We appear to be locked in a permanent abusive relationship with the European issue- one from which we are not able to escape. The only winner in the long run will be the Labour Party- certainly not the country.

There is no doubt that many Tory members and supporters, and many Tory MPs, feel strongly about Europe and have deeply held and principled views on our future with the EU. But I can’t help but think that much of this current outbreak of self harming is driven more by strained relationships between the leadership of the Party and its backbenchers- it feels as much a question of trust and respect than one of policy. I fear that whatever the Prime Minister does on this issue he will continue to experience these bouts of unrest. It appears we have not learnt from the mistakes of the past and that he is unable to build the bridges necessary to have the whole Parliamentary team facing the same direction. A dangerous mix.

As our flight continued on its way back to the UK I became aware an entertainment phenomenon. Perhaps this is just me, but my boredom (mixed with occasional fear) levels are pretty high when flying, especially across the Atlantic. As a result I make use of the shuffle function on my iPod more in this setting than anywhere else. The spectacular smorkesboard provided so far by the big Apple in the sky have included Joni Mitchell, the Beatles (this is not that big a surprise given everything they have ever released is on it!), Richard Burton narrating part of the War of the Worlds, Oasis and Russell Watson! Diversity or what?!

One brief incident I have so far omitted to mention from our trip was a passing meeting with Sir Clive Woodward in New York. I say meeting, it was more of us both using a revolving door in a hotel at the same time. That said, it was Sir Clive and we were just yards apart. I’m counting it! This chance encounter- with a man who enjoyed incredible success with England peaking in that never to be forgotten moment as Johnny Wilkinson “drops for World Cup glory”- came the same week as another sporting Knight, Sir Alex Ferguson, announced his retirement. This got me thinking about great coaches/managers from different sports. Here’s one or two more of my favourites to join them as I sign off (knowing that as subjective judgments go this is right up there!); Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley (obviously!), Brian Clough, Jose Mourhino, Jock Stein, Bobby Robson, Duncan Fletcher, Tony Jacklin and Aidan O’Brien (I know, not technically a coach or manager but it’s my list!).