There was a quote from Davos that caught my eye. It caught my eye rather than my ear because although it was uttered on air, it was on a channel my TV fails to recognise: Sky.
The wall of my house is stubbornly dish-less so I read it in a newspaper. It was uttered by Adam Parsons and what he said was this: “Davos is a weird place to be, a ski resort where nobody goes skiing. It’s hard to pinpoint anything concrete that has ever been achieved at Davos. But there is something useful going on – the old-fashioned concept of people talking to each other.”
Damned with faint praise, I hear you cry, and in one way you’re right. For all that those national budgets cough up for jets, helicopters, limos, security staff and their guns, set-piece dinners and whatever it is that people have instead of beer and sandwiches in smoke-filled rooms, the support mechanism needed to sustain today’s government leaders and their ministers through the days and nights of Alpine luxury scarcely has the reek of value for money.
But in another way, you’re completely wrong and Mr Parsons is right. The old-fashioned concept of people talking to each other is the only thing that has ever changed society for the better or ever will. I was in the Swiss Alps once. I stood on the summit of the Shilthorn, at around 9,000 feet, leaned on the railings of the terrace outside the revolving mountaintop restaurant there watching alpine swifts and alpine choughs, and I think Adam Parsons was on to something.
For in the 28 intervening years since that breathtaking moment, I can’t say I have thought of anything concrete that happened in the week I was there.
And, if I might make a kind of over-simplistic parallel, the trouble with sending a bunch of journalists in 1986 or a bunch of world leaders in 2018 to the Swiss Alps and expecting any kind of meaningful outcome, is doomed from the very outset by the venue.
And what I do remember is that every now and then during that week as a guest of the Swiss Travel Service, a significant thought would occur to me; I would turn to one of my colleagues or a Swiss man or woman I had just met to give it voice but as soon as I turned, there would be the Eiger, the Jungfrau, or the Monch or all three of them at once, and I would completely forget what I was going to say. And when I tried to remember, the thought had dissembled into so much powder snow.
I remember Lake Thun in tinted September splendour, and my first glacier (until then I had no idea a glacier grumbled to itself incessantly, like Donald Trump), my first river of glacier-green meltwater (the colour is indescribable but is there a more beautiful shade of anything than that?).
There was a defining moment after arriving at Interlaken at the end of Lake Thun and boarding a steamer. As she left her dock, she sailed out of sheltered waters and turned into the open lake, and there were my first Alps.
I had already seen them from the aircraft, of course, and nothing shrinks the significance of the Alps like a jetliner. But seeing them from water level, looking up (and because my eye was only ever conditioned to the dimensions and scale of Scottish mountains), I finally tumbled to the realisation that what I thought were white clouds were just the heaped-up ridges and spires of more and yet more mountains.
In the entire five days I was embedded in their company, I never for a moment grew accustomed to such mountains. And there is the dilemma of Davos. Nothing concrete will ever happen there because the Swiss Alps will not permit it. It is a place where nature silences all arguments. The best we can hope for from our politicians in such a place is that they talk to each other. It’s not such a bad outcome.
There is always the hope that in 2018 the UK politicians and political journalists who were there will understand that central truth a little better; and that for all its complexities and its cumbersomeness, the EU remains one of humankind’s better ideas in Europe, because it is based exclusively on the concept of talking to each other.
Conversely, a future in which Britain no longer participates in the conversation our neighbours are having on a daily basis, is one of the worst. We should talk about that some more.