About hebe in dc

British Girl in Washington DC @hebeindc

We’re Only Trying To Help Poor Fat People Stop Being So Gross, Say Republicans

When the United States lost the race for the Most Offensively Fattest People in the World to neighbours Mexico earlier this year, the Republican Party, far from being furious that America no longer ruled the globe by girth alone, decided that maybe the right to bare forearms without all that disgusting skin hanging down, ugh gross or what, wasn’t such a bad idea so hey, America, we’re gonna save you from your lardy self.

This week the GOP put their plan into action to wean decent, hard-working Americans off their addiction to spanx but there was a huge fuss and people got all mad and instead of being grateful that someone was literally looking out for your fat ass, America, folk got all sniffy about it.


But why else would Republicans in Congress slash the food stamps budget by $39 billion if not to ensure that the 47 million poors who rely on them starve for long enough to get into their skinny jeans?

And for what other reason would Republicans attempt for the 42nd time to defund Obamacare if it wasn’t to encourage millions of lumpy people to lose all that disgusting weight when they fall ill because they can’t afford health insurance or medicines or other stuff that would keep them all bloated and healthy yuk you lot make me sick.

And hey, the Republicans are surely workin’ it so hard right now so that America might default on its debts and the Government will shut down and millions of workers will go unpaid so that you, Chubster Government Worker, yes you, can totally forget about taking the missus out to the all-you-can-eat-until-diabetes buffet at Olive Garden and stay at home instead with a celery stick and a raft of unpaid bills because we all know that worry is the best diet because Your Republican Party Loves You but loves you better when you are thin.

But ha ha the joke’s on you, America, because it’s highly likely that when the Bills To Gut Your Gut hit the Democratic-led Senate, they’ll be blown away faster than your boyfriend when he sees you getting all nasty and fat again.

Poor, sad, misunderstood Republican Party. Such a shame, when all they are doing is looking out for America’s health and well-being. And – *UPDATE* – now we’re in shutdown! Thanks Republicans! America thanks you for being total dicks.

(I got that right, yeah? Politics is just so baffling!)

But here’s a Thing: it has been scientifically proven that being fat and poor is often better than being dead or maimed.

In 2010, there were over 19,000 firearm-related suicides in the US, and over 11,000 firearm-related homicides. Over 73, 000 Americans were treated in hospital for non-fatal gunshot wounds.

Just think what the Republicans could achieve if they channeled their raging energies into gun control instead of trying to give Obama the finger.

sad obama

Garden and Gun

“Your Father and I have been thinking,” said my Mum, “and we wondered if you’d like to have your wedding money for your 40th birthday instead.”


My reaction:

1. You have wedding money put aside for me? Ah that’s so nice.

2. Oh shit I’m going to be 40.

3. Um hang on a sec. You don’t think I’m ever going to get married?

I gave my poor Mum a good couple of minutes of major ‘I’m going to die alone’ whiny, sad-face teenage action before yelling “Kidding! Am gonna get me a garden!!” Finally I could afford to sort out the drippy bit of lawn at the back of my recently-bought house.

I love gardens. I love gardening. I love looking at gardens. I love reading about gardens. I love smelling gardens. I love touching gardens. I love gardens like Joe Biden loves trains.

Gardens are pretty much the only places where it’s acceptable to touch something and then sniff your fingers afterwards.


My new garden’s first winter witnessed a battle of epic proportions against squirrels looking for food, and foxes looking for the toilet.

Think back to the worst thing you have ever smelled in your life, something that made your eyes water and your stomach crawl halfway up your throat. Now imagine that vile stench has been wrapped in the frothing skin of a recently-dead badger, then set on fire. Now take a deep breath. That’s how bad fox shit stinks; it will literally flay the nose right off your face.

I became obsessed, checking the garden first thing in the morning and last thing at night, flashlight in hand, obscenities and shit shooting over the garden fence as I discovered the latest violations. The sweet smell of my eventual victory was somewhat tempered by the rendering of the garden into an episode of Tenko, complete with bamboo sticks and about six metres of chicken wire.


The next summer I sat with an old college friend in her kitchen, drinking red wine and talking gardens and leafing through seed catalogues and slowly becoming more and more horrified as we realised that twenty years earlier we’d been sitting drinking pints and talking about boys and now we were talking about SEEDS and BULBS and holy shit what happened to us oh fuck no.

I spent the next couple of years moving plants around my garden, discovering which preferred shade or sun, experimenting with colour and texture and scent, accumulating pot after pot of annuals and succulents. I’d go to my local garden center and buy the most pathetic looking plant to see if I could bring it back to life; watching something grow and become strong and beautiful is enormously satisfying.

I may not have known the Latin name for every plant in my garden, but I learnt that my agapanthus preferred its roots to be contained; that some plants like the tips of their leaves to be gently stroked and others love a good root-soaking; and that weeding on a sunny summer afternoon, with the radio on and a beer to hand, is the best form of meditation, when your mind simply dissolves into the cool earth.


It was a wrench to give up my little back yard when I moved to D.C. Now I have a tiny balcony where I’ve grown tomatoes, herbs and lettuce in pots, watched tulips and daffodils bloom, trained a clematis and a thunbergia to cling to the balustrade, and created a tiny meadow garden in an old scotch whisky crate.

It’s not quite the same as home but the city goes some way to make up for it. Washington D.C. is a leafy, green city. Trees line neighbourhood streets, providing shade in the searing summer heat, while downtown the sidewalk flowerbeds reflect colour and movement in the steel office buildings. Gardens like Dumbarton Oaks, one of my favourite places, and the many gorgeous creations hidden behind the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall are a welcome sight for sore city eyes. And just this week, the city announced plans to “restore and animate” Franklin Square, a five acre ‘urban park’ behind my office building.

Walking through a beautiful garden gives me butterflies, little bubbles of happiness inside that make me feel quite stunned with joy. The French poet Pierre Albert-Birot wrote:

“Gardens are poems,

Where you stroll with your hands in your pockets.”

This summer I visited Monet’s garden in Giverny, and it was like walking in the heaven of my imagination.



Flowers have been used over the centuries to symbolise human emotion such as happiness, love, sadness and sympathy. Yellow roses, for example, are supposed to signify true love. In some countries, white chrysanthemums are symbolic of death. Over the coming weeks, thirteen families of thirteen people who worked at Navy Yards in D.C. will choose the flowers for the funerals of their loved ones.

Yesterday’s horrific incident was the nineteenth mass shooting since President Obama took office. The nineteenth. Here’s the list. It is heartbreaking.

Last Thursday evening, I popped into my local wine shop. Thirty minutes later as I sat at home, bottle open, I watched police cars speed down my block. There had been a shooting. A man had been injured, and a bullet had hit the wine shop. This was one of ten shooting incidents in D.C. that week, leaving a total of two dead and thirteen injured.

And I sat there and shrugged. Oh, another shooting. I SHRUGGED.

“There’s something wrong here,” Dr. Janis Orlowski, Chief Medical Officer of the Medstar Washington Hospital Center said yesterday. “I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots. Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.”

The gun control debate is on life support; with each new gun massacre comes a spike of vital signs, but it’s pretty much flatlining.

Obama’s press secretary said yesterday that it would not be appropriate to discuss gun control, given the early stages of the investigation into the shooting. If we can’t talk about gun control now, after a mass shooting in the capital of this country, when can we?


** Update. This evening I heard 8 to 10 gunshots fired at the end of my street. They were so loud, I actually ducked behind my bookcase. I’m not shrugging now.

Garden & Gun


The findings are in.

My exploratory yet exhaustive qualitative research into the state of the UK-US Special Relationship, conducted over the past few days under a number of strict scientific guidelines (“I will buy you a drink if you answer my question” – “Fine”), resulted in an overwhelming:


The question being: do you think, following the Government’s defeat last week over Syria, that the UK is no longer America’s closest ally and friend?

The initial reaction of “Well, that’s just dumb” was followed by an envious respect for a parliamentary process that allowed for a binding vote on the issue of military action.

front-page-8-30-2013The data collected from the sample during the latter, significantly more boozy, stages of interviews served only to confirm what I have thought all along: that the Special Relationship is generally beloved of Americans, in the same way that they might adore a particular Great Aunt.

Those I spoke to – the sample, I should point out, was taken from age groups 20 to 29 and 30 to 39, educated to degree level and in employment – were rather astonished at the suggestion that the relationship between our two countries could be damaged by the intrigues of the past week. Most believed that the UK had done the US a favour by pushing Obama into seeking a Congressional vote on military action and, whilst acknowledging that this may have caused a fairly decent diplomatic version of brain freeze, they saw no reason to drop the UK from their in-case-of-emergency list.

A quick recap of the tear-stained reaction from the popular press back home (‘Twelve Reasons We Totally Just Got Dumped’) was met with further quizzical looks and some amusing drunken listicals of just how much us Brits are adored: “You have a Queen! I love your accent! Churchill! The Olympics! The prime minister’s question thing in the Parliament!” History, it seems, weighs heavier than current events, and the will of the people is powerfully attractive. Fret no more, UK. We’re still BFF’s.


This past weekend we celebrated Labor Day, a public holiday established by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor in 1887 and dedicated to the ‘strength and esprit de corp of the trade and labor organizations’.

My earliest awareness of trade unions came from my mother, who recounted stories of my grandfather, a coal miner, enjoying paid holidays for the first time in the 1940’s. Thus I have a sentimental attachment to the organisations that fought for better pay and conditions like sick pay and maternity leave. It has been an eye-opener to me that, here, unions are scarce to be found in the private sector, and those that are active in the public sector are apparently mistrusted because ugh unions, you guys holding the economy hostage with your shitty wage demands and your defence of workers’ rights and your *shudder* collective bargaining ugh shame on you.

Ok, ok so some unions these days keep a closer eye on their own preservation than on the interests of their members. Meanwhile, here in my little corner of the non-unionised private sector, the concept of being ‘employed at will’, with little or no recourse should I be fired, has gone some way to curtail my daily swearage quota, cursing being rather frowned upon in the workplace. By the time I return home at the end of each working day, my little body is bursting with pent-up profanities, and the slightest annoyance – a misplaced book, a dropped spoon – is met with a stream of “fuckshitbollockfuckarse”.

Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes.

Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes.

Labor Day is of course a decent excuse to mark the last gasp of summer and get together with friends to drink beer and cook giant slabs of meat on bbq grills the size of my first flat. It is also when public swimming pools are open for one final weekend – for humans, that is. After Labor Day, D.C. enjoys the charming tradition of turning some pools over to dogs. Doggie Day Swim gives dogs a day of their own for fun and games in the water.


The weeks leading up to Labor Day often see employers inviting employees over to their homes for an evening of drinks and forced bonhomie, a social occasion to rally the troops for the hard work to come in the autumn.

It’s a nice and generous gesture, certainly. But bosses often live in suburban areas outside D.C. – Maryland or Virginia – and with little or no access to public transport, employees must car-share there and back. I don’t drive, and I would rather eat a herpes sandwich than get in a car with someone who has been drinking. So when the invitation came, I checked if anyone was intending to stay sober (nope), made my excuses and skipped the evening.

Drink driving is a thing here. In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes; that’s one person every 51 minutes. The US has some way to go until it reaches the zenith of smuggery we enjoy in the UK, where drink driving is seen as a crime so heinous it’s up there with kicking puppies. Blind puppies. Wearing tiny hats.

A co-worker once defended her practice of drink driving by telling me “Well, you smoke!” Yes, love, but I’m only killing myself.


While on the subject of horrific ways to die that leave families destroyed and communities devastated, here’s a fun fact for you. Maryland Police have received 85,000 gun-purchase applications this year so far. That’s an increase of 15,000 on the number of applications they received for the whole of last year.

Why the sudden rush? In a direct response to the Newtown school shooting, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley introduced tough new legislation aimed at preventing gun violence. The law will come into effect on 1 October and will, amongst other things, limit handgun magazines and add over 40 guns to a list of banned assault weapons.

Of course this has caused a bit of a kerfuffle with the gun lobby. The NRA plan to challenge the new law in the courts, and a local sheriff, suggesting the law is unconstitutional, has said he will refuse to enforce parts of it.

Possibly the best response came from a hilarious pro-gun advocate who applauded the declaration by the naughty sheriff by comparing him favourably to the blind loyalty displayed by Nazis working in death camps ha ha stop me if you’ve heard this one before.


Finally, an apology. It has been a few months since I updated this blog. Frankly, the political world hasn’t been much fun recently (also, the new season of Masterchef started). But in the spirit of Robert the Bruce, I thought I’d give it another go.

Comments welcome (also, drinks and gifts of money).

a Washington D.C. diary, of sorts

There is a man who walks very slowly down my street every morning. He never walks on the pavement, always the road, keeping close to the parked cars. I spotted him once downtown. He’s not hard to miss. Dressed completely in black, he has a large sports bag slung across his back and a scarf wrapped around his head.  He walks with a gait that suggests he is listening to a particularly mournful Billie Holiday song; perhaps he has earphones on under his scarf. He looks like a weary ninja.

Never on the pavement, always the road. I want to stop him and ask, why do you never walk on the pavement?


I generally try not to think too much about paths, and choices. I rarely look more than a few months ahead. I fall into jobs. Trip into relationships. Stumble over music and literature. I like to think this is because I am the right-handed child of left-handed parents; my sense of direction is so skewed that I am happy to let the waves of life push and pull me every which way until they dump me where they think best.

If I am to be honest, I’m a lazy toad who can’t be arsed to make decisions and would much rather someone else make them for me. Particularly because then I would have some other fuckwit to blame when things go wrong.

Interestingly, I suppose, this is not a true reflection of my behavior once I have started a job into which I have fallen. I am rather decisive then. I have had jobs where the decisions I made, had they been the wrong ones, could have resulted in major pointing-and-shouting fuck-ups for the entire world to see. But that’s work. This is life.

So. I continue to take small hops from pavement to road to pavement.


Moving to D.C. was a classic Hebe hop. Two years on, it has proved a pretty epic leap.

If the great Ed McBain were alive today, and so minded, he might describe D.C. thus: the city is a woman, envied for her beauty and her history, despised for her politics, smothered by the constant attention of opinion. In the game of ‘shag, marry, murder’, D.C. is the woman men want to sleep with solely for the satisfaction of bitching about it afterwards.

A few months after my arrival, standing smoking in the street, I thought ok city, here I am: do your worst. Moments later, as I bent down to put the cigarette out, I got whacked in the face by an angry, ranting homeless man wielding a piss-stained blanket.


My current job is not as stretching as my last. This enormous change in circumstance, with its sudden abundance of free time, was not unlike a baby discovering its feet for the first time: what the hell are these and what do I do with them? So I walk. And walk. And walk.

This city was built for walking. Tree-lined streets and wide boulevards lead to monuments and museums, galleries and gardens and parks, bars and restaurants and roof-top terraces, theatres and clubs. And stretching above, unmarked by skyscrapers, the vast, forever-blue sky.

My favourite walk, the one I insist all visitors take with me, is along Q Street from 14th all the way to Wisconsin Avenue, block after block of beautiful row houses, higgledy piggledy with turret windows and French slate and verdigris, all shades of pink and cream and brown and lemony-yellow. With the advent of spring, the tiny front yards are filled with pansies and hellebores and tulips, the pavements sticky with browning magnolia petals.

Of course it’s not all pretty. The city has its problems, as all major cities do. The homeless guy who loiters on the roundabout near my apartment, bawdily wishing me a good evening as he pees into a trash can (I am always amazed he can do this hands-free). The panhandlers, standing wearily with arms outstretched on the corners of cross streets, the invisible lines encircling them drawn by the passersby – we, me – who give them a wide berth.

The underfunded public transport system, the lack of decent housing in poorer neighbourhoods, the reliance on cheap, unhealthy fast food for want of fresh fruit and vegetables, the city’s constant struggle for power over its own budget, the disenfranchisement of the entire population and the battle for statehood … I could go on. You get the picture.


Where else but in this small city of 600,000 people, where inhabitants change from year to year as jobs reach the end of contracts, would I meet and become friends with people far removed from my usual group? In London, you have your friends. You don’t need any more. Here, you are open to widening the circle. “My blog,” I told a departing friend, “is called ‘New Friends, Better Friends’, not ‘New Friends … Oh Fuck Off Then’.”

I have even made friends through social media, something I would never have done back home. “Do not,” warned someone as I went to meet a couple I had chatted to on Twitter, “go back to their apartment. They might want a threesome.” My new friends were forever after known as The Thruple.

As for dating. Well. I live in a gaybourhood where the only single, heterosexual men in my age group are homeless. This is a young person’s city. A badly dressed young person’s city.  Take a walk downtown on a Saturday night if you fancy a little DIY retinal surgery.


Although no longer employed in the world of politics, regular readers of this blog (er, there’s an email sign-up button, yeah? USE IT) will be aware of my continuing fascination/borderline stalking of all things political.

Exchanging one capital city, with its petulant, shouty politics, for another with a political system more baffling than a denim two-piece and the kinds of personalities you might meet in a focus group on a Saturday night, has been revelation. Not perhaps on the scale of the Second Coming, fair enough, but there are parallels with the struggle between good and evil. Also, a necessary reminder that politics doesn’t have to always be serious. Because, Newt.


I love this city. It has helped me to understand that whether you walk on the pavement or on the road, the main thing is to keep going. There’s probably a bar somewhere at the end of the block.

The Republican Party: dead or still twitching?

Less than three in ten Americans view the Republican Party in a favourable light, a CNN poll found this week. And in other breaking news, I’m still flat-chested.

Timed to coincide with the publication of the GOP’s 2012 election ‘autopsy‘ (their word – because why wouldn’t you name your report into what went wrong with the term for a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the manner of its death?), the CNN poll came a day after the end of the party’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual national gathering of key figures and activists.

If GOP Chair Reince Priebus needed further evidence to illustrate his autopsy findings that the party is “scary“, “narrow-minded” and “out of touch” – other of course than the 65 million two-fingers the party received in November – the conference provided him with a laboratory of living, breathing examples that may prove that Mary Shelley was right all along.

Giving a platform to the likes of professional lunatics Sarah Palin, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and Donald Trump (and it doesn’t matter that Trump spoke to an empty room in a graveyard slot, the fact that he was invited while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was not speaks louder than a tourist on the metro) was like poking a corpse with a stick. Yep, it’s still dead.


Rand Paul departs the Capitol after his filibuster by @Dharapak

Or is it? The conference didn’t serve just to amplify the death rattle. The ‘future’ of the GOP, Senators Marco Rubio (for the young ‘progressives’) and Rand Paul (for the awkward squad), gave rousing speeches although neither said much of great interest; it is far too early for them to do anything other than give their supporters a little cheer to show the party hasn’t completely flatlined. Rand was the winner of the CPAC straw poll, the end-of-conference indicator of conservative feeling, although this was off the back of his impressive 13-hour filibuster over drones, so an unsurprising victory.

There are parallels with the Tories in 1997. Deeply unpopular, the party faced an overwhelming battle after it was dumped out of office to prove it was in touch with an electorate that considered it nasty, uncaring and old-fashioned.

The difference here is that the Tory party recognised this and worked to incorporate compassionate conservatism into its narrative; the GOP as it stands now seems too in thrall to its financial backers, and either oblivious to, or too frightened to acknowledge, the significant changes in the social issues important to the country in which it lives, a country recognising, for example, the rights of people to legally declare their love, the unfathomable power of the gun lobby, and the rights of women to have control over their own bodies.

Perhaps I am being unfair. Indeed there has been an encouraging softening by some in the party of the once-rigid opposition to citizenship for undocumented workers, and the autopsy report reflects this. And perhaps it is too soon. It is, after all, a mere four months since the election. The GOP autopsy does at least hold a mirror to the face of the party.

The GOP has an opportunity to apply the ideals and values that once made it a popular and respected party to the brave new world that it aspires to lead.  If the party doesn’t have the courage to ruthlessly jettison those who are determined to keep it strapped to the gurney – and that includes its current leadership – it will remain encumbered by restraints, seeing just one thing from the low point afforded by its more extreme base.

Good view from back there, yeah?


By Pete Souza


I originally wrote this post some time ago, but recent events mean it is time for an update.

So. A wee bit of sheep offal and some oats and they shit themselves.

You can buy a hunting rifle and a pound of bath salts off some bloke down the high street, but can you get any haggis here? NO YOU CAN’T. It is banned.

Robbie Burns Day without haggis is like the nativity without Jesus. Clearly I can’t just pop out and pick up a bag of offal, so making my own is out of the question (the question being, can I cook? no I can’t).

look. at. that.

fuck yes

A ban on food made with sheep lungs has been in place since 1971. The BSE crisis in the late 1980’s confirmed American opinion that any meat products coming out of the UK were patently oozing with uppity maggots. For forty years, expats in the US have been denied the right to a proper Burns supper followed by a wee spot of haggis hurling. They could, I suppose, make do with a popular American dish called chitterlings, which is steamed pig intestines that have to be cooked with half an onion to mitigate the unpleasant odour.

Something else that has been denied to a large number of people for many years is the right to vote in Washington. Yes, 600,000 people are disenfranchised in the nation’s capital. You can pick up your jaw from the floor now.

Residents are allowed to vote in Presidential elections every four years (the recent election saw a 92 per cent turnout), but they do not have voting representation in Congress. This is because, for various historical reasons I won’t go into for fear of getting it wrong and looking like an arse, D.C. is not a State.

The Obama administration attempted in 2009 to legislate to enfranchise D.C. residents, but couldn’t get the votes needed after the Senate adopted a Republican amendment to the bill to repeal, amongst other things, the ban on semi-automatic weapons in D.C.

Oh yes. Votes for guns. It would be like adding an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill stipulating that a surgeon must get his entire head inside a bong for at least half an hour before scrubbing in. He’d be asking the nurse to pass the biscuits rather than the scalpel.

But things could be changing. President Obama has signaled that he may use his second term to right this wrong. His first step has been to add D.C. license plates with the city’s slogan ‘Taxation Without Representation’ to the fleet of presidential cars. The White House said in a statement: “President Obama has lived in the District now for four years, and has seen first-hand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children and pay taxes, without having a vote in Congress.

license platesThis has given statehood advocates fresh hope, and lawmakers have introduced bills to make D.C. the nation’s 51st state. Senator Tom Carper said that D.C. citizens “serve in our military, fight in our wars, die for our country, and pay federal taxes. But when it comes to having a voice in Congress, suddenly these men and women do not count. … It is incumbent upon those of us who enjoy the right and the privilege of full voting rights to take up the cause of our fellow citizens here in the District of Columbia and find a solution.

In the UK we take for granted our right to parliamentary representation. There are few things in life that I get rather uptight about, but the failure to take part in the democratic process is one of them (other things guaranteed to drive me to a seething fury include people who wear sunglasses on the Metro – can i give you a hand? oh sorry, you’re not blind – and Kay Burley). I love voting. My nose gets all crinkly when I walk into a polling station. I remember sitting in my parents’ car when I was little, waiting for them while they voted and having that deliciously shivery feeling that something very important was happening.

Voting provides you with the opportunity to influence long-term political direction and as a massive bonus it gives you the right to have a bloody good rant about the government. What, you didn’t vote? Well shut your pie-hole, then. You are hereby considered mute.

Unless of course you live in D.C. where you don’t even have the choice. No vote, no voice, no haggis. Not yet, anyway.

glowing in the dark

6.30am on Monday morning, and the temperature was at freezing point. I had lost all feeling in my toes and my face was numb. One of thousands of volunteers at President Obama’s inauguration, I had been on the National Mall for two hours, shivering, hopping from foot to foot like a penguin, willing the sun to come up and give me the illusion of heat. The organisation of so many volunteers that morning had been a somewhat haphazard affair and I was, to be honest, a tiny bit fractious.

And yet.

I am just so goddamn happy to be here!“, exclaimed the woman, clutching a large American flag to her chest, smothering the Obama and Biden badges pinned to her coat. I pointed her towards the entrance.

I can’t believe it! I’m here! I’M HERE TO SEE MY PRESIDENT!” She yelled the final words, tipping her head back and waving her flag skywards.

Imagine you are that woman. You have travelled for two days to get to your nation’s capital. You have shelled out to pay for an expensive hotel room you will barely spend time in. It’s cold and dark, and the only warm place within reach is a portaloo. The badges on your coat are the only things that are stopping your heart from bursting out of your chest.

Now replace the word ‘President’ with the words ‘Prime Minister’. Can you imagine feeling such utter joy at the prospect of witnessing your elected political leader take office?

A presidential inauguration may be what Tony Blair might like to call ‘the people’s coronation’, and of course the President of the United States is also the head of state and we have one of those too; indeed the sight of Obama and the First Lady dancing at the inaugural balls was not unlike the tradition from centuries past of the monarch eating dinner as hundreds of ordinary people filed past to gawp at him or her.

But what I saw on Monday morning was a different kind of patriotism, one owned and not bestowed. Fought for, not inherited. Perhaps layer upon layer of British history had made me blasé, arrogant even, about our political system. Perhaps my time spent working in the center of power had diluted the awe and wonder I should feel at a process so precious, so personal to millions across this country.

The tens of thousands of people who stood between me and the President on the National Mall couldn’t block my view of a country that retains a youthful exuberance and fierce pride in its elected leaders and the system that elevated them.

The woman with her flag and her badges – I didn’t catch her name – took my weary, cold cynicism and punched it in the face. And while my toes continued to burn in the dipping temperature and I eventually lost all feeling in my nose, I had a little glow for the rest of the day.

inauguration II