A year ago David Cameron was Prime Minister. Daddy was a money man, Eton and Oxford his schools, the Queen some kind of cousin, and certainly close enough for someone to make a phone call to tell Carlton TV, which he joined as his first, very first job out of uni, that a) they’d better hire him and b) £90,000 seemed about right for a new graduate. So far, it’s true, we don’t share a lot.
But yesterday David Cameron gave a speech at De Pauw. Which you’ve almost certainly never heard of before. But I have. Just like David Cameron. I’ve been there.
Once upon a time in a land long ago I was teaching kids to shoot on a summer camp up in Wisconsin. Like you do. After camp ended I bought an old Chevrolet I found in a barn and drove it down to Greencastle, Indiana, chasing a red-haired cheerleader called Nancy-Jean. Not wanting to spoil a good Springsteen theme I put my work boots on and drove my Chevy across the railroad tracks every morning to go work in the sawmill, alongside a guy who claimed lineal descent from Dan’l Boone. Because that’s how we said it in the mill, with the smell of cedar and Camels all around.
Other days I got a job working construction, but not for the Johnstown Company. I worked demolition on a post-bellum mansion that had been an orphanage. Some people said it was haunted; if it is then I know where the happy ghost walks. I found the names of the people who had worked there when the place was an orphanage, twenty years before, carved into the underside of the stairs to the basement. I discovered those big porch columns outside the front door were never marble or even stone, but made in Birmingham, England, cast out of iron. It said so on the base.
Lunch we either brown-bagged, made by Nancy-Jean’s mom in the big house with a wooden eagle over the fireplace, up by the golf course, or not often, took a trip to McDonald’s and ate a burger looking out over 150 year-old wooden houses I never got back to then or now. It wasn’t the burgers we went there for but the air-con. Summer was hot in Indiana.
But it’s snowy there now. It’s a place nothing much ever happened. Indiana never knew whether it was the northernmost state in the Confederacy or the southernmost state in the Union, which must have felt familiar to Dave.
There was a bank robbery there once in the 1930s, which might have been the Dillinger Gang’s work, but everywhere a bank got robbed people liked to claim it was one of the big name gangsters who did it. When I was there a policeman was facing jail time for shooting two men who were shooting at another police officer locked in a car boot. The problem was he’d done it with a back-up gun he shouldn’t have been carrying after the bad guys took his issue weapon.
Greencastle still has the only other V1 rocket bomb in the USA stuck on a plinth. The other one is in the Smithsonian. And it’s got a really nice old courthouse square, just like something out of a John Grisham novel. And that’s pretty much it. It’s the middle of nowhere. That’s why IBM chose it for a distribution centre. Because it was in the middle. So why De Pauw hosted a speech for David Cameron there and paid him £120,000 for it beats me. There’s a lot I don’t understand about now. Things change.
I hung up my bandana and traded the Chevy for a Saab. Nancy-Jean became a professor of story-telling, published books about swamp beasts and posted pictures of her C-section online for reasons that as Hunter Thomson used to say, were never made clear. It rather spoiled what had been fond memories of her lower stomach area. Much the same way David Cameron’s gamble spoiled a lot of things for people not called him.
But the past is a different country. They do things differently there. And that, as they say at De Pauw and the sawmill, that ain’t no lie.