SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: '˜I am sorry. I made a mistake.'

When off my knees, the people to whom I should apologise most are my wife and children. In the past, I could also say sorry to those trying to teach me and to bring me up.

Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Peter Bottomley

The great divine, the Reverend Harry Williams, retired to the monastery of the Community of the Resurrection in West Yorkshire after holding the responsibility of being my moral tutor.

At his funeral or his memorial service, the preacher said that his arrival 30 years before had been like a star rugby player parachuting into the middle of a soccer game.

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I would write to him with occasional news from the London Evening Standard, sometimes with views attributed to one of his more successful pupils, Prince Charles.

In response to my repeated shame at my idleness and general worthlessness at university, he instructed me not to mention it again.

He wrote that he naturally shared pride in the achievement of those who used their talents and opportunity to do well at their studies and afterwards; he added that of the rest, I was the one with whom he was most pleased.

Perhaps that was politely indicating that he was pleasantly surprised that my life had somehow found rails and purpose.

Nowadays, perhaps always, I work for a life, not just for a living.

Free enterprise has two meanings.

Without economic freedom, with whatever sensible limits and balances, our standards of living would be worse.

As important, many people all their lives and most people some of their lives use their talent and initiative to achieve good results for others with no financial reward.

I think of the care that one of our neighbours has given for years to her sickly twin brother after giving her earlier life to caring for their mother.

I think of Miss Jacobs who, for decades in the organ loft, kept us all roughly in time and on key during the hymns and psalms.

I think of my close friends in Worthing and Arun who, way past paid employment retirement, go on to work non-stop in a variety of community roles.

I try to keep in touch with colleagues, friends and contacts who have been convicted of criminal offences.

Most were guilty as charged.

I recall the expression: “Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.”

Easter week is a time to recall the failures of St Peter until after the Resurrection.

My hope is that when anyone apologises to me, I accept it with grace.

When I make a mistake or I offend unintentionally, that someone kindly tells me, and that the short two-sentence answer I gave in Hansard when serving as an employment minister will be a part of me in life and in death.

Stephen Hawking asked that his memorial stone should be engraved with his formula; perhaps mine could read: ‘I am sorry. I made a mistake.’?


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