These days it seems nothing can be taken for granted, whether its simple travel plans or the fact that the Lib Dems are bound to come third. Which can be a good thing

Well it’s been quite a week. A week of uncertainty, intrigue and surprise governed by events over which we seemingly have no control. My week began with the saga of getting home from Milan when airspace was closed, seats in all trains going anywhere were reserved, all hire cars rented and ferries fully booked. Thanks to my admin team we made it back in 36 hours, arriving in London at 2am in time to say happy birthday to my son.

Much as I love Italy and being away, I’ve never been so glad to be home. We had it relatively easy but it was still an event that caused me to reflect on our lifestyle, the casual way we decide to travel, spontaneous decisions to go this way or that, decisions that have fallout we’d prefer not to dwell on.

An invisible cloud of ash that nobody could quite pinpoint and whose effect on jet engines could be catastrophic or not, was a frightening spectre. I had some sympathy for the government – who’d want to be the one to give the okay if there were the slightest doubt about the danger posed?

Then there was the fallout from the UK’s first televised electoral debates. Like the volcano, it caught everyone off guard. In hindsight, it was perhaps not so unpredictable, given that Nick Clegg is the first credible Lib Dem leader in years and has much of Tony Blair’s ease in his own skin. And maybe the ash wasn’t so unpredictable given that airlines were warned of an eruption in 2007, and so had plenty of time to put together an emergency plan and agree how to determine the effect of such geological inevitabilities. But long-term thinking doesn’t seem to figure much these days.

The debates were in my view long overdue. I don’t really understand what kept them. What were they afraid of? We know that appearances and presentation matter. We also know that ideas matter more. The two are not mutually exclusive; in fact they’re mutually dependent. It’s like buildings: the way they look is a reflection of the quality of the conceptual thinking behind them, a reflection of the struggle to control or define an aesthetic that embodies what is inside. Have one and not the other and you’re doomed.

Talk about the embodiment of ideas and presentation. Apart from wanting to be with my son on his birthday, the other imperative for getting back was to be able to give him his present – lunch with his best foodie friend at the Fat Duck. The quest, the endeavour, the desire to discover, innovate and perfect, was expressed in a magical four-hour experience. All 14 courses were perfectly conceived with meaning behind each one, unimaginable contrasting tastes, textures and sensations. The wines were chosen with an unrivalled complementary expertise and the service carried out by people with a deep knowledge and passion for their craft – impeccable but not in the least pretentious. A rare treat and a lesson in the value of excellence.

But back to the election. Well it’s game on now. Having all three party leaders stand side by side with equal airtime does make it easier to compare and contrast. As well as looking good and delivering their messages clearly, succinctly and with conviction, the leaders are there to talk about ideas. It has made them and us think harder, and it throws into sharp relief our tendency towards tribal politics. It is energising the electorate and if borrowing tips from the X Factor format is what it takes – so what? This might well be the last election under the old system because once you brand it the People’s Election (a bit odd as there’s nobody else it could belong to) you have to make every vote count and right now they don’t.

The uncertainty of outcome has rattled a lot of people. As has the uncertainty around Eyjafjallajokull and the uncertainty in the financial world. Uncertainty is difficult to deal with but the question is, can we use it to the advantage of society as a whole? Can we use it to question assumptions that might lead to new ways of doing things? Uncertainty can cause us to react in two ways – to retreat into a world that is known and safe or to rethink the future. I hope it does the latter.

But one thing’s for certain. Arsenal are not going to come in the top three of the Premiership. On Saturday on what turned out to be the first day of summer, there was a welcome ease in crowd. The singing and chanting sounded like the last night at the Proms. The pale blue shirts of the Man City supporters looked from a distance like corn flowers in a field (I had forgotten my glasses!). Gone was the tension of previous matches when we were still in with a chance, though it turned a bit nasty when Adebayor, “you’re only 5ft 4”, came on – a bit odd, that, as he’s really quite tall but as we know, names stick.

Original print headline - Choice in an age of uncertainty