Richard Reeves

A Bad Hair Day for Tony Blair

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair had a very bad hair day a week or so ago. It was Question Time in Parliament, that tradition that makes the British, particularly Blair the last couple of years, seem quicker and smarter than old colonials like us.

"Will the prime minister," began the opposition leader, William Hague, "join me in celebrating the close ties between Britain and Australia and the sacrifice made by the people of Australia in upholding freedom and democracy in two world wars?"

Hear! Hear! It was on July 5, the 100th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, the law that created Australia as an independent country. Blair responded:

"At the meeting I had with the Australian prime minister yesterday, we agreed that we should establish here a proper and fitting war memorial to those American servicemen and women who lost their lives ..."

American? Voices were raised all around: "Australian! ... Australian!"

With Australian Prime Minister John Howard in attendance, along with four of his predecessors, Blair begged forgiveness. But he was a flustered fellow after that, answering one question by indicating that his government was dedicated to "spin, not substance." Then he said of Hague, the Tory leader, "If he wants to be taken seriously, then let him stand at this dispatch box ..."

Hague, doing a double take as Blair's Labor members groaned, allowed as how he would be delighted to take over the box, which is the symbol of the prime minister's power. "I mean that dispatch box," said Blair, pointing at Hague's lesser container of royal messages.

Oh well, there's nothing like a good laugh, and few laughs are better than the ones we get when the mighty and learned stumble. A great example of that popped up on my e-mail screen just about then -- instantaneous passing along of jokes and other nonsense is a simple pleasure of the new technologies -- a long and hilarious list of actual courtroom dialogue around the country (ours) sent by a friend in Los Angeles. All, it was certified (by whom I don't know), actually happened. Herewith a sampling of the wisdom of lawyers, judges and witnesses:

"Now, doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?"

Q: Sir, what is your IQ?

A: Well, I can see pretty well ...

Q: What is your date of birth?

A: July 15.

Q: What year?

A: Every year.

Q: What gear were you in at the moment of impact?

A: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

"How far apart were the vehicles at the time of the collision?"

Q: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?

A: Yes.

Q: And in what ways does it affect your memory?

A: I forget.

Q: Can you give us an example of something you've forgotten?

"Was it you or your younger brother who was killed in the war?"

"The youngest son, the 21-year-old, how old is he?"

Q: Did you blow your horn or anything?

A: After the accident?

Q: Before the accident?

A: Sure, I played for 10 years. I even went to school for it.

"You were there until the time you left, is that true?"

Q: Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?

A: All my autopsies are performed on dead people.

Q: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?

A: No.

Q: Did you check for blood pressure?

A: No.

Q: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?

A: No.

Q: How can you be so sure, Doctor?

A: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.

Q: Could the patient still have been alive nevertheless?

A: It is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.

With the Internet, your mind can wander. I meant to write a column saying that Tony Blair has some problems, and it now seems possible he could lose to Hague and the Tories next year. Also, that may be important in the United States because Americans and the British tend to swing right and left at about the same time.

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like Richard Reeves