I was so disappointed when I had to turn down an invitation to meet Nelson Mandela at Brixton Recreation Centre in 1996 but I was behind schedule with the first episode of my first radio series. My baby, a comedy panel game for Radio 4 called The Labour Exchange starring naughty but nice Rory McGrath,  had to take priority over my participation in international history;  I was, nonetheless, resentful.   After Brixton, Madiba was to go in convoy to Trafalgar Square and I wouldn’t even be able to join the 20,000 strong gathering there.  I was downright angry.
At BBC Portland Place, I was to interview one of the contestants, an elderly taxi driver, who, teamed with a comedian on the show, would answer questions about his job with hilarious consequences.  My bad mood was not helped by the old cabbie turning up over an hour late.
“Gor Blimey, “ he began on arrival at Broadcasting House, “the bleeding traffic.  Central London’s at a stand-still. Who ever had the bright idea of letting that Nelson Mandela speak in bleeding Trafalgar Square must have been bleedin’ mad! They want shooting!”
My Liberal hackles rose on the back of my leftie neck. The complainant was old; he was an east-ender; he drove a black cab; ipso facto he must be a pro-apartheid, right-wing racist, fascist.  My lips pursed.  The old cabbie continued, “Don’t get me wrong, love. Of course, he’s a hero of the working people, the greatest living statesman, the finest freedom fighter ever to lead the struggle for the rights of Man and overcome oppression and injustice with strength and dignity. But Trafalgar Square on a bleedin’ Friday afternoon! I ask yer!’
Chastened, I made him a nice cup of the tea and spent the rest of the afternoon talking to this fascinating old man, a Jew and an International Socialist who’d seen his own share of injustice and hardship.  I tried to make up for my rapid and foolish leap to negative conclusions.  I am certain our shared hero Mandela never made swift assumptions about his fellow man or he would not have been such a great leader.   I still regret not getting to shake his hand or see him do his little African dance as Coxsone Sound pumped up the bass but I did learn a valuable lesson.
Ardella Jones