Who do you think you are?

My parents were both public workers of modest means, who seem to me to have depended on the good graces of others for a living. From them I learnt a litany of mantras for survival: Work hard, so no one can take issue with your performance and your presence. Butter your boss — and your colleagues, because one of them may one day be your boss. Leave the politicking and the bright ideas to others better suited to the task. Value tact, discretion, silence, smiles, the white lie. Roll with the punches. Mean well. Know your place. Keep your head down. Cultivate the unassuming cunning of prey, and live another day.

To be successful and to be outstanding are not necessarily compatible goals. When I began to show up in the local papers from time to time, they were vaguely proud but also bewildered, disconcerted. To them, to do well is to attain a certain cloistered invisibility; obscurity as a form of protective colouration. They have no appetite for fame. Or perhaps they have been uncertain about the price of its delights.

They taught me little about power: how to acquire or to wield it, what it could be for. Theirs has been a class less outspoken than spoken for. They have voted only one way all their lives: Until the last election.