Body language

On Friday evening last, Charles Arthur was invited to 11 Downing Street (where the Chancellor of the Exchequer lives). While there, he chanced to look out of the window down into the garden that runs behind Numbers 10 and 11 and saw Gordon Brown talking to an unidentified man. Below is a snippet from his account

Brown listened intently. Once or twice he took a note, dragging a piece of paper from a jacket pocket. Once the other guy pulled out a single piece of A4, folded twice, blank on the back, and gestured at it as though it were a short list of things that weren’t quite right. Neither drank from the wine glasses while I was there. Brown sometimes leant forward, sometimes sat back. His body language was listening; then he began talking, and his hand movements were also shovelling, but they seemed like defensive shovelling: the palms turned outwards, as if trying to get something away from him. And then he too did the move-and-shovel routine. Take it from here, put it over there. Shovel, shovel, push and push.

There was something about the tableau that felt fragile. I could have taken a picture with my mobile, but it would have felt intrusive, rude -especially since we’d been asked not to take any pictures inside No.11. (Describing it here is different from a picture, which is just wrestled out of its context; here you have to imagine the scene yourself rather than have it presented.). It was a beautiful summer’s evening, the sun forcing through the trees wet with the heavy showers that had fallen earlier on. And two men discussed.. something, surely important…

There’s something fascinating about these details. Years ago when I was doing some consultancy work in Whitehall I went to a meeting in No 10 Downing Street. When you get into the hallway you are requested to leave your mobile phone on the hall table and given a post-it note on which to write your name. After my meeting I went to collect my phone and noticed that the Post-It on the Nokia next to it said “First Sea Lord”.