PRESIDENT Obama arrived here this week with an entourage of at least 200 secret service personnel which might seem excessive, even for an American.
Our own dear Gordon Brown can barely muster a handful of men in suits and sunglasses when he travels.
But then we don’t have a history of taking pot shots at our premiers.
The Americans have good reason to be protective of their presidents as they’ve been extremely careless in the past, making assassination attempts on 10 out of the 44 men who have taken office.
Quiz goers might like to know that the four successful attempts – if one can call them that – killed Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F Kennedy, in that order.
In contrast, only one British prime minister, Spencer Perceval, from a total of 52 has fallen to a bullet from an ill-wisher.
Statistics can, of course, be used to prove anything, but it just may be that the prevalence of presidential assassination attempts could have something to do with the fact that the American constitution gives all of its citizens the right to carry firearms and ours doesn’t.
The G20 summit must be a logistical nightmare for security people from all nations, but the Americans have many years of experience of doing things bigger and better than the rest of us.
Back in 1976 I was one of a team of reporters on the Sunderland Echo who were ‘checked out’ prior to a presidential visit to Washington, Tyne and Wear, by the then president, Jimmy Carter. Washington was the ancestral home of the famed Washington family – hence the reason for the visit.
Our offices on the bank of the River Wear were visited by men in black who looked just like the earnest clean-cut Mormon missionaries already familiar to residents of the town, but smiled less.
The Mormons were sent over from Salt Lake City to convert the heathen natives of Sunderland where they had chosen to build a massive church with its own basketball court and full-immersion baptism baths. I guess they must have found it heavy going preaching teetotal God-bothering to a bunch of hard-drinking North Easterners.
The advance party of CIA agents wanted to know where we’d been born, who our parents were, where they’d been born, what organisations we belonged to and what we ate for lunch. I made that last bit up, but, suffice to say, the questioning was thorough and it was clear that background checks would be made.
Consider that this was at a time of heightened tension between the Eastern block and the West and Communists were still seen as a threat to capitalist supremacy.
The ‘Axis of Weasels’ of the time had quite a different profile from that of today. There was no War on Terror, just a Cold War.
For Obama’s visit, the president’s men had already made a number of trips over here to clear the territory. These days, however, they have access to all the latest electronic and digital wizardry and the power of the internet. Back in the 1970s they had to rely on walkie talkies and a sharp pair of shades.
In the end the Carter visit never happened, leaving a lot of journalists with specially-issued press passes that simply became keepsakes.
It was all a great disappointment, but an experience that none of us would forget.
Reading about a presidential visit and watching it on television is probably the closest I’ll now ever get to a real American premier. And there can be no doubt that the coverage has been entertaining, just from the statistics from £300,000 for a Kevlar-coated car to carry the president to the fashion critiques on what Michelle and Sarah have been wearing.
The president of Argentina, Cristina Fenanadez de Kirchner, has added a splash of glamour and the protestors have given the police and security services something to do other than fret about Obama.
The speeches might have been dull and the banking crisis too complex for we mere mortals to grasp – I never could understand how banks could pay telephone number salaries and bonuses with their customer’s money – but it’s been a great show.
Expensive too, I should think. Which is kind of ironic.
But, hey, it’s only money.