Peter Rhodes on a national gem, a motorway sit-down and discovering 'Bin Laden'

Twenty years ago this week, journalists everywhere were digging up as much as possible on this shadowy bunch of mass murderers known as al Qaeda. Hours after the Twin Towers fell, I was trawling through our digital editorial archives looking for any previous references to “Bin Laden.”

Emma Raducanu - too good for tennis?
Emma Raducanu - too good for tennis?

I didn't find anything about the guerilla leader, but the computer found a solitary reference to “bin laden.” It came some years earlier when the former Northern Ireland secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, describing the latest bomb outrage in Northern Ireland, told MPs that the device was “a wheelie bin laden with explosives.”

Mayhew was the longest-serving NI secretary, serving from 1992-97. I interviewed him during the '97 election campaign. He was a most unusual politician, with a straight answer to every question and no illusions about the ultimate price he might pay for his involvement with Ulster. He accepted without question that wherever politics took him, for the rest of his life he expected to be accompanied by an armed police officer. He died peacefully in 2016.

What sort of hare-brained idiots can work themselves into such a frenzy over something as boring as home insulation that they decide they are entitled to block the M25? Monday's sit-down at five motorway junctions by Insulate Britain (which sounds more like a DIY advert than a war-cry) was a shameful attack on the freedoms of ordinary people. Those who do such things are no better than naughty boys throwing half-bricks over a wall, unheeding whether they break a window or kill a child. The moment demonstrators block a road, they reveal a wanton disregard for the consequences. They neither know nor care how many appointments will be missed, holidays ruined, families separated, patients kept away from their medications. All that matters is that they get their silly faces, and their even sillier message, on the news. And while they may proclaim they are saving their planet, all they are really saying is “Look at Me! Look at me!” If only we could be insulated from such clots.

Her mother is Chinese, her father Romanian and she was born in Canada but is as British as Yorkshire pudding. She has brains, education and charm and to hear her addressing her Chinese fans in fluent Mandarin was enthralling. Emma Raducanu is a national treasure and a superb global ambassador. Should she really be spending so much time whacking a ball about?

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