Howard Davies: Bond girls, sounding off on Twitter and sacred cows

MT DIARY: Manchester's mayoral hopeful Andy Burnham scores an own goal and Northern Ireland's Brexit-threatened Eurocattle.

by Howard Davies
Last Updated: 20 Aug 2020

People used to say that you knew you were getting old when policemen looked young. I think those were the days of Dixon of Dock Green, when Jack Warner was still saying 'Evening All' into his 70s. Now it goes without saying that, to me, constables look like teenagers on work experience. Even Metropolitan Police commissoners look youthful. Bernard Hogan-Howe was a generation or two after me at Merton College, Oxford.

But this month I have found a new, and definitive sign of advancing years, not to say senility. I spent 20 minutes at a friend's birthday party in very pleasant conversation with an actress without recalling that she had been a Bond girl. (I know it was 20 minutes because my wife helpfully timed the encounter.) She dated from the Roger Moore era, but to my eyes could have been a Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan companion. It is only to spare my own blushes that I do not mention her name. There are former prime ministers whose names escape me from time to time, but Bond girls? The shame of it.

The last time I went to the directors' box at Manchester City, I sat behind another Bond – Timothy Dalton. Dalton is a faithful Blue, and would make an ideal candidate for mayor of Greater Manchester, an important post which will shortly become available, as a condition of the Northern Powerhouse funding generously bestowed on a grateful populace by chancellor Osborne. There is a temporary incumbent in the form of Tony Lloyd, but other Labour politicians are lining up. If Dalton won't make himself available Ivan Lewis, a solid City supporter, would fit the bill, and I suppose one might even envisage United loyalists as a last resort.

But surely the declared candidature of Andy Burnham is some kind of Scouse joke. When seeking the leadership of the Labour Party – how quaint that thought now seems – he said that even if he became prime minister he would never miss an Everton game. Quite how that would fit in with the other responsibilities of the office, which I am reliably informed are quite burdensome, we shall surely never know.

What we do know is that his taste for toffee has quite recently led him into dangerous territory. When City beat Everton in the Cup this year, one goal came from a Sterling cross where some observers thought the ball had crossed the line. In fact, even City fans could see that it was in row C of the stands when he hit it, but hey. These things happen in football and we learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Not Mr Burnham. He tweeted that it was an example of refs deliberately favouring 'big clubs', an observation which would have earned him a fine if he had been a manager. And worse, far worse, was to come. Another Evertonian commented that City was not a big club, just a rich one, with 'no history' before its billionaire owners took over. Burnham enthusiastically agreed: 'Yes. If I'd thought about it, I'd have said that.' Really? My family have been supporters since the 1890s. If they were alive today, Frank Swift and Joe Mercer would be turning in their graves. Until they find some way of permanently deleting Twitter feeds, I'd rather be Boris Johnson's campaign manager for the Liverpool mayoralty than Burnham's in Manchester. He stands a better chance of replacing Roberto Martinez at Goodison. That would also discipline his tweeting.

And I am not at all prejudiced in matters of football. I can prove it. I willingly took a flight this month to George Best City Airport in Belfast, and ran through arrivals without a qualm. I was en route to the Balmoral Agricultural Show, an uplifting occasion, not least because it provides an alternative and optimistic use for the land on which the Maze prison used to sit. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that Ulster Bank, part of RBS, is the main sponsor.)

There are lovely cows in Northern Ireland, and beefy bulls too, including some Charolais and Limousins, though I am not sure what would happen to them after Brexit. I presume there will be a cull of Eurocattle, which will be replaced by anglophone steers from the Midwest or New South Wales. Ulster firms are also good at value-added chicken (chicken tikka pieces - that sort of thing). That should be safe in all scenarios, though I slightly worry about capons and poussins. They sound a bit foreign to me.

Watch Howard Davies explain why he opposes Brexit

The Northern Irish are pretty excited about Euro 2016. Everyone I met was planning to be in Marseilles for their first game. It has been a while since they went to a big tournament, so the enthusiasm is understandable.

You hear a bit less about the Euros in Scotland, oddly enough. And the economy is not in great shape either. The main cause is the basement level oil price, which has hit Aberdeen hard, and the consequences ripple out from the granite city. There is not a lot they can do about that, and I found some enthusiastic exporters keen to expand. One of them was turning Limousin hides into Aston Martin seats. Apparently they provide the highest quality leather.

After a factory tour, I can wax lyrical on how to turn a heifer into something on which a Bond girl would be proud to sit. I wondered if I could buy two Aston Martin front seats, without the car attached, as the whole deal is way above my budget. I could sit in my front room with a vodka martini going 'brrrm brrrm' and dreaming of my next mission. Sadly, that didn't seem to be on offer. A niche marketing opportunity missed.

Howard Davies is chairman of RBS. Follow him on Twitter: @howardjdavies

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