I met Theresa May 18 months ago.This wasn't some chance encounter lasting barely a few seconds either.
No, we chatted for several minutes about really important national issues that affected huge chunks of the electorate. Among them were the following ...
1) The future of then Southampton Football Club manager Claude Puel
OK, I've made one of those up. I didn't mention the 'B' word. Neither did she. Eighteen months on, I bet, deep down, she never wants to hear it mentioned again. I don't blame her one bit. Neither do I.
During campaigning ahead of her (phenomenally ill-advised) decision to call a general election for June 2017, Mrs May visited the Southern Daily Echo newspaper where I worked as sports editor.
About 9.30am one day, the editor came over and told me I had to tidy up my desk, something journalists generally don't like doing. On asking why, I was told: 'Because the prime minister will be looking at it in an hour's time'. I was also told I had to engage her in sporting-related chit-chat, which was only slightly more annoying than having to tidy my desk.
Before I knew it, armed police were both inside and outside the building. Sniffer dogs were soon, er, sniffing around – the one tasked with searching around my desk was pleasantly surprised to find a jolly collection of crisps, sausage roll scraps and other food detritus I had hurriedly swept from my desk on to the carpet. There was also some white powder, but I cheerily informed the dog handler it was the remnants of a Sherbet Dip Dab I had accidentally dropped a few days earlier rather than Class A narcotics.
Soon I was joined at my desk by two Conservative Party press officers – a woman who was obviously quite posh and who could have easily passed for a Sloane Ranger, and a bloke who wore a yellow shirt and green trousers. He looked, frankly, ridiculous and could only have been a Conservative supporter.
These two quizzed me as to what questions I would be asking the PM, as if I – the sports editor of a daily newspaper in Hampshire – would casually lob in a tricky, politically-motivated inquiry about whether she was a fan of Donald Trump when she least expected it.
No, I assured them, I would keep my line of questioning to what sports she liked etc. Banal stuff, basically. Jeremy Paxman or Robert Peston, I wasn't.
Then, 20 minutes later, there she was, standing at my desk as I worked on the following day's fishing page – the prime minister of the United Kingdom.
'Reece hauls in Big Girl – and Fat Head follows'. That was the main headline I used on a fishing page once, about a guy who caught two fish with strange names. Sadly, it was not the fishing page that Theresa May looked at when she glanced at my screen. More's the pity – I wish to God it could have been.
We chatted about Southampton FC and the fact they'd lost the previous night to a London club, Arsenal, and I discovered she's not a big fan of the beautiful game.
She does like cricket, though. A lot. Geoffrey Boycott was one of her childhood heroes, even though she was born in Sussex and he was the (self-appointed) King of Yorkshire.
I told Mrs May all about the fishing page I was in the process of designing for the following day's paper. As our allotted three minutes was almost up, I asked if she had a message for Saints’ fans who were starting to call, in increasing numbers, for manager Claude Puel to be sacked.
'Strong and stable leadership is what's needed,' she said, before one of her aides gently reminded her she couldn't use that answer to every question she was asked in the lead-up to polling day.
Then she had gone, whisked off to be introduced to another of my colleagues who had also been instructed not to mention Brexit.
A few weeks later, of course, the PM remained in power despite the Tories' overall majority in the corridors of Westminster being greatly reduced. She had a much-weakened mandate to govern and nobody really knew what would happen with the elephant that was perpetually in the room, the B-word. Oh well, we mused, at least by early December 2018 the situation will be so much clearer ...
Brexit. The word has dominated political discussions for more than two-and-a-half years now, and still the situation is as clear as a muddy puddle in the middle of Milton Common. Just how many million words, how many thousands of column inches of newsprint, how many hours of television schedules, has it taken up?
June 23, 2016. EU Referendum day, a date which will now forever be known as one of the most infamous in British history. Certainly in Theresa May's mind, and many others too.
Of course, I no longer work at the Southampton daily paper and I no longer work in sport. Instead, I work for the Portsmouth daily paper and my responsibilities are predominantly news-orientated. In this respect, there has been no escape from Brexit as I am involved in the production of the daily letters pages.
Those should be, as they sometimes are, a platform for local people to talk about local issues – bus timetables, parking zones, sea defences, council spending – the minutiae of Portsea Island-area life.
But ever since June 23, 2016, Brexit has hijacked the letters pages. How much gnashing of teeth, how much angst and woe, has gone into writing post EU Referendum-related letters to local newspapers? Needless to say, there is no sign of this ending soon.
And at what cost to society, to democracy? British politicians have never scored highly in lists of trusted professions – in fact, they usually rank bottom, just behind tabloid journalists (like me) and estate agents. But have their standing, their conduct, their reputations, ever been lower than they are today?
After winning the confidence vote of her fellow Tory MPs on Wednesday, Theresa May talked of ploughing on with 'a renewed mission – delivering the Brexit people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that really works for everyone.' Good luck with that, for it is Mission Impossible. This country is fragmented, divided, broken, shattered – use whatever adjective you want – and it cannot be pieced together in the same way you can complete a jigsaw, take it all apart, and remake it.
One of Mrs May's predecessors, John Major, once famously spoke of attempting to build a 'classless society'.
A quick look at any high street, populated by rough sleepers and beggars, proves the folly of making such statements. The Tories are perennially out of touch with so many people in our broken country. Always have been, always will be. Yet the only other option – a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government – remains unpalatable to so many as well, especially those who remember the economic nightmares of the 1970s under their watch.
On April 9, 2013, I bought two popular newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror. They provided compelling evidence, if it was needed, of how divided this country of ours is.
Margaret Thatcher had died the previous day, and both papers devoted reams of space – more than 20 pages each – to her passing. It was impossible to believe they were talking about the same person.
One predominantly praising her as one of the best PMs in history, the other virtually celebrating the death of a woman whose policies had brought so much pain to so many. They couldn't BOTH be right, or wrong, could they?
That is the country we live in, a country of rising numbers of food banks and waterside flat developments in our major cities; a country of tower blocks (wrapped in combustible material) containing the disenfranchised and placed cheek to jowl with million pound Kensington mansions.
And when you have two such polar opposite views of the same person, you know there is no point anyone ever suggesting their aim is 'bringing the country back together'. You might as well suggest you can merge Portsmouth and Southampton Football Clubs, call the new outfit Solent FC, and no-one will bat an eyelid.
No-one can bring the country together again, with the exception of the England national football team manager if we ever won a major tournament again, but even that would only be for a brief while. No doubt about it, therefore, Brexit has only served to further underline the deep divisions which have been in our society for decades.
Anyone with an ounce of compassion in their body should feel a bit sorry for Theresa May.
She has been placed in the ultimate no-win situation, like no other British prime minister in history. She is by no means perfect, who is, yet I have no doubt she is doing her best.
Admittedly, that might not be good enough, yet I look around and see few alternatives, in either her own party or Labour, who would have fared much better.
For all the abuse, all the back-stabbing, all the negative headlines, she is paid just under £150,000. The vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth earns £120,000 MORE than the PM, and Prof Graham Galbraith doesn't have to try to deliver Brexit, let alone run the country.
A weaker woman would no doubt have walked away by now. Like weaker men such as David Cameron did on failing to win a Remain vote in June 2016. Brexit won't mean diddly squat to rich people like him and his Chipping Norton cronies in the Cotswolds, will it? He is no doubt enjoying his post-Westminster life, while his successor attempts to clear up the unholy mess he created.
There is uncertainty and concern regarding Brexit, understandably so, and Theresa May will be unable to stop that, just as she will be unable to patch her broken country back together. It might be up to our children, and our children's children, to try to remake the jigsaw.
For I'm not dealing in hyperbole when I say that's how long the aftermath of the apocalyptic, seismic events of June 23, 2016, will last.
If you don't believe that, tell me what the weather is like in Cloud Cuckoo Land.