So guess what happened? Yep, I was asked to do a live broadcast this evening on a French news channel. (France 24, but it was an English-language programme.)
On a day when I wasn't hoping to clear my desk for the holidays, and more importantly when the temperature was above freezing, I might have gone home to change clothes and come back in again, though the journey is a good hour each way by public transport. But that was out of the question; likewise Anne was busy and I was not going to ask her to drop by with my suit. I racked my brains; most of my friends who I could ask that kind of favour of had already left Brussels for Christmas.
My brother-in-law. God bless liberaliser, who happens to live in Brussels barely a kilometre from my office. He is roughly my size - a bit taller, a bit thinner. He kindly came around in the afternoon with a suit and a selection of ties (and his fiancée). I had deliberately worn a shirt today that doesn't go with any of my own ties, because I didn't think I would have to wear one. Fortunately we identified one of his that went with my shirt without potentially endangering the TV cameras.
(Perhaps some of you are wondering why the suit is such a big deal. The fact is that a TV interview like this is a performance, and to perform well you have to be wearing the right costume. It helps me to get my mind focussed into public debate mode; it probably helps others to slot me comfortably into the role the situation demands. If I had not been able to get hold of a suit, I would not have done the TV show; I would be too unnerved by my own pullover, comfortable though it is. Gore Vidal famously said that one should never miss an opportunity to have sex or appear on television; I try and take a more relaxed attitude,
So I shuffled into the borrowed clothes at the end of the day. Oof, the trousers! Did I say earlier that my brother-in-law is just a little thinner than me? I knew nothing about the studio set-up, and imagined myself sitting very very still on some soft cushiony sofa, minimising both the compression of my viscera and the chance of bursting through the waistline. But fortunately once I arrived I found I was to be filmed seated behind a table. I removed my brother-in-law's trousers (and that's not a phrase I use very often) and shuffled back into my comfy green jeans. Behind the camera, of course, but in full view of the amused studio crew in the next room.
Then it was time. Sitting in the otherwise empty studio trying to address the camera as if it were a person. Trying to ignore the only visible human presence, my own image projected onto a screen high above the camera; when I look at it, I see myself appearing to cast my gaze despairingly into the heavens. I beg a glass of water from the floor manager; he puts it on a chair, out of shot, rather than on the table.
It's a peculiar programme, with the presenter and one panellist in their Paris studio and me and two others being beamed in from afar. The guy in Paris is taking one side; I am on the other. Then they switch to someone in Berlin on my side, and then to an opposing view somewhere else in Brussels. The programme is in two twenty-minute segments; each of us gets roughly two goes of two minutes each. I think my ally and I make more sense than the other two, but I suppose that is natural. My earpiece gets dislodged in the middle of the second half, but I manage to reinstall it without losing too much of the debate. (I've heard it all before anyway.)
And then, it's all over; the broadcasters spring for my taxi home, and it's the start of the Christmas holidays. Whew!
(And I will give my brother-in-law his clothes back sometime.)
Edited to add: The programme appears to be on-line here, for now anyway.