Photograph ©David Levene
Once, whilst waiting for a train in Leeds, I sat on a bench, reading New Scientist to kill the time. Away down the platform, a knot of people in suits were talking self-importantly and loudly. In my peripheral vision, I was aware of a figure detaching himself from this group and walking over, where he sat down wearily, on the bench next to me.
I glanced up. It was Tony Benn. The party he'd walked away from was the campaign group for his son, Hilary, who was standing as MP for Leeds North-West.
I looked down at my magazine, mind racing. Here was a man who was a political hero of mine, a politician of principle and conscience, whose socialist conviction had remained strong throughput his career. I had to speak to him.
But he was obviously tired, relishing the few moments of peace away from the gaggle of Labour drones, and what would I say? "Wow! You're Tony Benn!!" a fact of which he was probably already aware. Or "You are a personal hero of mine, may I shake your hand?" Which might have been acceptable, had he not been deep in contemplative reverie, and what if he asked me "Why?"
So, I sat and read my magazine, whilst my hero daydreamed and sucked on his empty pipe, until the train pulled in and we both stood to board. As we did, I glanced at him, and he at me, and our eyes caught. He smiled, a kind little smile, and his eyes crinkled warmly, as if he knew all along what I'd been thinking.
That little glance said all that needed to be said.
RIP Tony Benn. We will not see your like again, and Britain is the worse for your passing.