Published on 30 Jan 2013

Syria, Europe and Uganda via the Metropolitan line

I’ve been to Timbuktu, but had never been to Northwood. Indeed, I thought it might be Norwood – a confusion of two “Nors” one north, one south of London.

Fortunately, I had the right one. As I left the Metropolitan line tube train yesterday morning I suspected I might be the willing victim of a pushy mum with an extremely able 13 year old daughter. But in the event, I was to find myself no victim.

Even as I turned off the platform I became aware of two small girls in green uniforms, quite clearly bound for the same school as I. Each clasped their father’s hand.

“Jon Snow, Channel 4 News,” cried one. “It’s him,” replied the other. They may have been twins, perhaps eight years old.

I asked their father where he came from. “Syria,” he replied. For a moment I caught my breath. He went on: “86 per cent of us want all this to stop.” I knew he was speaking of home and carnage. Here he’s a consultant at a major London teaching hospital. His wife is too. I thought what talent we have sucked from this ghastly tragedy.

Soon we were through the school gates and having pointed me on my way, we bade each other goodbye. I marvelled that the children watched Channel 4 News with their father every night. “So boring,” I ventured. “No,” they cried. “We like it, we learn about things from it, and anyway, we like your socks.”

Within a moment a ten-year-old Malaysian Chinese girl carrying a violin came up to me. “Are you lost?”, she asked. I said, “I don’t think so”. “Where are you going?”, she asked. “To the Head-teacher’s office,” I replied. “I’ll take you there,” she insisted, and she did.

My chaperone, the now 14-year-old girl who had invited me, was waiting on the doorstep. I had run into her mother at a charity fundraiser. She’d asked for my autograph for this self same daughter.

I’d given it to her on my business card. Mother and the child had used the information on the card to write an irresistible email begging me to come to assembly. So here I was.

Standing in front of 1,200 girls aged 11 to 18. Bright, diverse, and craning with interest. I talked for twenty minutes about news and current affairs and ended with my absurd account of nearly shooting the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin dead. It went down a storm.

Then to the sixth form for a politics class. Shy at first, and then a collective torrent of questions about politics both sides of the Atlantic.

I tried to interest them in Europe. They appeared completely uninterested until I asked them, did they want to stay in or out. A universal, if un-exuberant “in” prevailed. Finally, “do you think our constitution should be codified?”, asked one. “For sure”, I answered, surprised by the acuity of the question.

I left the place uplifted, but aware that I had spent two hours in a school the like which only 7 per cent of the population could ever hope to enjoy.

Later in February I shall be going to a girls school in the state sector… I shall report back.

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12 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    Hmmmm. “Northwood.”

    Now that rings a bell. Try this for some educational help on how the USA “aids” countries it doesn’t like:

    It might give the kids some perspective, instead of the daily propaganda garbage shovelled up by ms. Hilsum and messrs. Rugman and Miller.

  2. Robert Taggart says:

    Hm, so, ‘outsiders’ want Blighty to remain ‘insiders’ where ‘Europe’ be concerned ? – the enemy within ?!

  3. Bob says:

    Any tips on funding for community art Jon? Same age different demographic… I’m trying to cut through the red tape & politics where at all possible to contribute to the ‘City of Culture’ . Paid jobs are difficult to find:

  4. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Education is a perceptual thing. Many of the people I work with are classed and have salaries to reflect the same, as upper middle class, yet they can’t spell and find it difficult to move between different types of knowedge.

    Communication is changing, the 3 r’s are outmoded . If education correlates with earning potential then why bother to pay for and to be with the 7% .Answer ,, not for education , but for nepotism and money. There is too much snobbery in education and those in awe of institutions for the sake of them. demonstrate their own superficiality.

  5. e says:

    Great blog, only don’t agree the constitution should be codified! Now will you come to….

  6. NLP Inc says:

    “86 per cent of us want all this to stop.” – He should try telling that to Britam Defence.

  7. Andrew Dundas says:

    Didn’t you know that Northwood also houses the UK’s military worldwide control base buried under a hill above the town? It featured in the Falklands incident. Surely you remember that?

    On the matter of withdrawal from the EU, you should ask one of your researchers to look up John Kay’s article in today’s (30th) FT on page 11. He reminds us that the 1975 referendum (that was provoked by Tony Benn) was presaged by over-whelming opinion poll preference for withdrawal from the ‘Common Market’. Just a few weeks latter the better informed national debate led to a decisive ‘IN’ vote.

    British people aren’t mugs. We won’t be voting for an highly uncertain future.

    Nor will Scots vote for a pig-in-a-poke, either.

  8. Adam Giblin says:

    I teach at the school you visited, and wanted to say thanks again for coming in. The girls really enjoyed it. You quite modestly didn’t say in the blog that outside the politcs class you went to were 20 odd sixth-formers/fans (aka my period 1 critical thinking class) trying to catch a glimpse of you!

    Iona, the 14 year old who arrange the visit is in my form, am very impressive with her now! It’s a great message for me to be able to give to the students – take some initiative and you might get Jon Snow to turn up!

  9. Amie says:

    Jo Richardson Community School, Dagenham would be a fantastic state secondary to visit ;-) As a member of staff I am biased, obviously!

  10. Philip Edwards says:


    Would you also care to explain to the children why your puppet “international editor” and her “reporters” are using US military terms such as “intervention,” “mission” and “mission creep” instead of plain English invasion, deliberate war crime and increased invasion.

    Anybody would think your editors (and you, sometimes) have attended a press briefing a la “Full Metal Jacket.”

    Wasn’t the Vietnam war crime genocide enough for these people? And how do you look at yourself in the shaving mirror after what you MUST KNOW ARE PROPAGANDIST LIES being perpetrated in your and our names?

    For shame. Shame on you all except Alex Thomson.

  11. Bob says:

    Margaret Brandreth-Jones: your powers of observation are very sharp.
    I couldn’t have said it better. Unfortunately the superficial ‘class above’ highlight precisely a fundamental flaw of our education system… Intelligence isn’t always recognised in a system built on nepotism and old unwritten rules of class law. Let’s not get started on linguistics or politics!

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      Truthfully, I expressed myself badly.My anger caused me to spew out incoherent rubbish. I actually do mean that the way we communicate , express ourselves and put value of the things we learn, do ,understand and apply is changing, not least due to our multicultural lives.I cannot see the need to perpetuate the kind of league tables education which culminate in degrees and subsequently encourage pedantry rather than substantial information which is useful to society. By this I do not agree that qualifications which limit thought and analysis such as NVQ,s should replace present higher qualifications, but education itself needs a total rethink.
      I myself would put philosophy high on the list of educational requirements ,including social behaviour, ethics and personal responsibility as subjects which upon study at a high level might allow a person to reach a position of authority.

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