This is just a short one; and is really just an anecdote and not anything important.
But the most random, odd thing happened to me a couple of weeks back. It was on the day my grandfather passed away – in fact, it was just a few minutes before my grandfather passed away and it took place in the hospital.
A number of family members and extended family members were gathered in the Whittington Hospital in North London. My grandfather was on life-support and we were told he was unlikely to last the day. My mother and I decided that we would stay the night with him so that everyone else could eventually go home. I had spent the last year-and-a-half or so living in my grandfather’s house and attending to him in the night hours, so it felt only natural that I would stay the final night too.
So my mother and I, my sister, and my father left the other family members in the ward and we intended to drop my father back home and then for me and my mother to collect some overnight things and return to the hospital.
As we came out of the elevator and started walking across to the entrance, I was in a distracted state of mind, suspecting (correctly, as it happened) that I might’ve just seen my grandfather for the last time.
Lost in my thoughts, I barely registered someone saying, “Is that Jeremy Corbyn?”
I looked up and saw the famous Anti-Semite, terrorist and threat-to-national-security walking towards us from the entrance. For a moment, I thought it must’ve just been someone who looked like him. But no, the closer he got, the more obvious it was.
It was already in a daze and this felt surreal, like a glitch in The Matrix.
He only had one other person with him – there was no entourage. I smiled at him and he smiled back. I briefly thought about shaking his hand and having a word – had the circumstances of the day been different, I certainly would’ve done so: but, as it was, I was too absent-minded.
Then my mother – before I could ask her not to embarass me – blurted out to him “My son’s a big fan of yours!”
Corbyn paused and smiled. My mother nudged me to go talk to him. Before I could do so, my father (a man whose sense of etiquette is highly questionable at the best of times) seemed to be motioning towards the Labour leader with outstretched arms. I wanted to stop him: wanted to tell him, “You can’t just go up to the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and bear-hug him! He doesn’t know who you are!”
But I didn’t have time to say any of that.
Instead, I watched in nervous slow-motion as my father put his arms around Corbyn as if he was greeting an old friend. I watched Corbyn closely, worried he would be uncomfortable with this or feel threatened.
Not only did Corbyn seem to reciprocate the hug, but he then started chatting amiably with my father, randomly talking to him about football and cricket. I wondered afterward if perhaps the Labour leader had mistaken my father for someone he knew: if perhaps my father’s unusual over-friendliness had tricked Corbyn into assuming they must’ve met before.
Either way, what struck me is that Jeremy handled it very well, very naturally, without ever seeming uncomfortable, inconvenienced or annoyed at the invasion of personal space. When my father was done, I shook Jeremy’s hand. And then – seeing as how my father had already violated his personal space and ignored basic etiquette (you don’t hug strangers) – I decided to go for a hug too.
Corbyn then asked us what we were in the hospital for. We explained our situation and he offered his sympathies. He then explained to us that he was here to visit a friend who had just had a baby; I think my mother then said something vaguely philosophical about a life always starting when another life is ending.
It was the nature of the encounter – and the timing of it – that made it feel strange. I’ve encountered famous people before, including high-profile politicians before, such as Ken Livingstone: but those tend to be fairly dry, spiritless affairs. A girlfriend of mine from when I was a teenager met Tony Blair and in fact interviewed him: she thought it made her a big-shot journalist (it really didn’t). In fact, she’d forgotten about it within a month, so it clearly made no impression.
It occurred to me days later that it was the informality of running into Corbyn in that sort of environment that made it register so strongly. It wouldn’t be that easy to just randomly go up to any other major political leader, hug him against his will and have him seem perfectly okay with it. I can’t imagine it would’ve gone so amiably with any previous Labour Party leader, or with any leader of the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. You would almost forget that he’s the leader of the major opposition party of Britain.
This happened also at the same time as the Anti-Semitism ‘crisis’ was flaring up again a few weeks back, so Corbyn had also been the major television news item for a couple of days (in fact, what was also odd was that I had been writing a draft of an article on that very subject the night before).
I have to say he didn’t seem stressed or bothered by any of that negative media coverage.
With hindsight, I should’ve had a more serious chat with him about things. Or craftily put a couple of intelligent questions to him that I could’ve then reproduced his answers to here. But I wasn’t in that frame of mind. And it probably wouldn’t have been nice to take advantage of his good nature.
In the car, I chastised my father. “You don’t just go and put your arms around someone like that! What if he had reacted badly?”
My father simply said he’d been excited to see him and he did what came naturally. I told him he’d probably just bear-hugged the future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
On a different note, it occurs to me that it would be very easy for someone to do harm to Jeremy Corbyn if they wanted to. The man seems to have no security. Though, if anyone did ever intend harm to Mr Corbyn, it is unlikely it would ever be a member of the public.