Opening the front door the other day, I heard a susurration. It was the sound of distant boots, hoots and chants. ‘Quick, it’s the students,’ I told my wife and family, and we rushed out to see them, streaming along Vauxhall Bridge Road.
My children are nearly of protesting age, but not, perhaps, ones to go with the flow; I won’t say who thought it might be amusing to put on a top hat and march beneath a placard reading, ‘Fair deal for bankers: abolish the 50p tax band.’ The irony might not have been appreciated. Although this protest was hardly on a Tunisian scale, it was uncomfortably near home.
My imagination may have been quickened by a visit to the Napoleonic Collection at Bowood House, Wiltshire. It arrived via a daughter of the Comte de Flahaut, who married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne. De Flahaut had been a natural son of Talleyrand; his nominal father lost his head to the guillotine, and his mother, Adélaïde, joined the dishevelled émigré circle at Juniper Hill in Surrey, desperately trying to laugh off the blow fortune had dealt them; she made her living by writing novels.
No doubt these survivors of the ancien régime would have annihilated our shambling student demonstrators with their witty aperçus. Still, I was pleased to reflect that our windows have wooden shutters.