Trump and Johnson play a weighting game…

WHAT the scales show when Donald Trump steps on them isn’t necessarily the same as what the world sees.

Trump’s weight, along with that of Boris Johnson, is a political as well as a personal matter; what you or I weigh is purely personal, although dear family members might notice or pass comment.

According to the delayed release of his medical report, Trump pushes the needle to 244 pounds.

The report was due out in April but has only just been released. You do wonder if Trump, ranting about lamestream doctors and fake medical news, sent it back until his doctor came up with something less embarrassing.

According to the report, the 73-year-old president weighs one pound more than a year ago; and if you believe that, you’ll swallow anything, including that hydroxychloroquine Trump took to ward off Covid-19.

According to his slick-note, Trump took the anti-malaria drug “safely and without side effects”. Unless, that is, one of the side effects is the spouting of inflammatory nonsense and hijacking bibles.

Trump’s weight and health are political in that they frame his literal fitness for office; his mental fitness for office cannot really be measured, although we can gauge that for ourselves.

One side effect of this delayed medical report can be found on Twitter, where people are having  fun mocking the medical. Some tweets show Trump, who claims to be six-ft-three, standing next to Barack Obama, who happily owns up to six-ft-one, and they appear to be the same height. That suggests Trump’s height/weight ratio isn’t correct – even if you accept the given weight.

Other tweeters put pictures of muscled baseball players and the like who are the “same” height and weight next to photos of Humpty-Dumpty Trump on the links, golfing trousers pulled up tight over his round belly.

We should try to steer clear of anything close to fat-shaming, as plenty of people are unhappy about their weight; but at least they tell self-deceiving fibs about what they’ve eaten that week, rather than get a White House doctor to tell weighty fibs on their behalf.

If we accept that Trump is the height he pretends to be, his numbers suggest a BMI of 30.5, “which is technically obese”, according to the Daily Mail.

Those 244 pounds convert to nearly 17-and-a-half stone, and here’s a funny thing. According to a report in the Sun on May 15, Trump and Boris Johnson weigh the same, but Johnson is only 5ft 9inches tall.

Pulling myself to the full to 5ft 8inches, I’ll happily swear that just looking at Trump and Johnson tells you they can’t possibly weigh the same. One of them is telling whoppers and on this occasion it isn’t Johnson.

The prime minister is said to worry about his weight, believing that he was more badly hit by Covid-19 than “thinnies” like Matt Hancock, according to the Times of May 14.

Johnson is said to have lost a stone since being ill, but that would still leave him with a BMI of around 34 – with anything above 30 being regarded as obese.

According again to the Sun, the “NHS says that a man his age and height should be aiming to weigh between 8st 13lb and 12st 1lb”. As someone one inch shorter and a few years older, I weigh a little under 12 stone – which is too much, but that stomach has a mind of its own (is it lunchtime yet?).

Johnson decided to launch a ‘war’ on obesity after returning to work, perhaps to distract us from his government’s failings over Covid-19. Whatever, it was a typical bit of solipsism, in that he only sees the problem because he’s suffering from it.

But the one good thing you can say about Boris Johnson is that at least he isn’t Donald Trump.

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I’d consider paying the licence fee for A House Through Time alone…

As a proud son of Bristol (other locations may be involved, from Cheadle Hulme to south east London and York), I am loving the third series of A House Through Time on BBC2.

After Liverpool and Newcastle, the programme has moved to Bristol, where the British Nigerian historian David Olusoga now lives. Olusoga is happily into his stride with this lovely project.

When first met he seemed so laid back, so soothingly unruffled, that it could be difficult to concentrate on what he was saying. But he worked his presenter’s magic on me ages ago and now I willingly submit to being led through history’s dusty lobbies and kitchens by this unhurried man. I’d consider paying the licence fee for this programme alone.

Like many good ideas, this is as simple as they come: take one house and trace the history of its most significant, or sometimes most significantly unlucky, inhabitants. One house and many histories.

Number 10 Guinea Street is a Georgian house in a small row built in 1718 by Edmund Saunders, a wealthy slave-trading sea captain. As always, in the first episode we meet the present owners, in this case a couple who have lovingly restored a house that contains many original features, including a flagstone and wood-panelled hallway on which the camera often lingers. The house seems calmly set aside from the world, yet stands next to a block of modern flats, having narrowly survived wartime bombing (spoiler alert: that episode is yet to come).

Both Liverpool and Newcastle have clear links to slave-trading, and the cruelties of the past cast a long shadow in Bristol, a city much shaped and, to modern eyes, tainted by slavery. The opening episode dwells on Saunders and his slave-trading, yet also brushes past piracy, an abandoned baby, an escaped household slave, and the rise of the abolitionist movement.

Last night’s episode stepped forward to the 18th and 19th centuries, swiftly introducing new residents, including a young teacher who died in Bristol Lunatic Asylum, and a servant whose abuse at the hands of her husband garnered lurid newspaper coverage.

We also meet John Haberfield, spotted by Olusoga on the electoral roll as the 19-year-old son of new tenants in 1804. Haberfield went on to become Mayor of Bristol (six times, I think Olusoga said) and was in charge of the city’s civic response to the uprising of the Chartist movement.

The riots of 1831 are not remembered as widely, perhaps, as the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, yet were, as the historian Tristram Hunt has argued, “the bloodiest battle on mainland Britain since Culloden”.

The cause was parliamentary reform for working-class males as Bristol had only 6,000 voters for an adult population of 104,000. Such complaints causes disturbances elsewhere, but “in Bristol the fury was particularly keen”, as Hunt has put it, with troops sent into Queen Square to quell the rioters, in some case with cruel literalness. According to the government, 100 people died, while radicals claimed 250 died on the third day alone.

Olusoga swept through this episode efficiently – he does a lot of sweeping, as his historian’s broom sometimes has too much dust to gather in a short time – and referred in passing to the Newport Rising eight years later. This Chartist rebellion against authority popped up in an edition of Who Do You Think You Are, featuring the comedian Jack Whitehall and his comically grumpy father.

A House Through Time is a calmer, less messy version of Who Do You Think You Are, more focused with its attention on the inhabitants of one house, rather than chasing up the random strands of historical DNA attached to one famous person.

Last night the distant cruelty of what happened to people marching for the right to vote ran slap bang into news from the US of the Black Lives Matter over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In Bristol the army was used against the people; and in the US President Trump threatens to do the same.

Sometimes history gives a tap on the shoulder, a reminder that past horrors can be present horrors, and present horrors can find their echoes in the past.

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Tinpot Trump can’t get by without an enemy… so declares war on his own people

If you were God you’d be thoroughly pissed off with Donald Trump. And if you weren’t God you’d probably feel the same.

As the protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police spread across the US, the President retreated to his bunker in the White House and sent out vicious and inflammatory tweets. One bit of digital phlegm included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” – a clear reference to a white police chief cracking down on black protesters in the Civil Rights era.

He then held a conference call with US governors and ranted that they risked “looking like jerks” if they didn’t control the civil unrest – said to be the most widespread in the US since the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.

Today he declared himself the “law and order” president in a Rose Garden speech worthy of a tinpot fascist, swearing to set the US military on the American people to quell the unrest.

At this point, Trump grabbed a Bible bearing the words “God is Love” and hijacked the All Mighty for a photo-op.

What he wanted to do was stand outside St John’s Episcopal church, one block from the White House, the traditional place of worship for presidents. A sea of peaceful protesters impeded his way so they were forcefully parted by police firing teargas, allowing Trump to walk between the dispersed masses for his shameless publicity stunt.

Seeing the ungodliest president of them all brandish a Bible like that must surely be enough to bring on the heavenly vapours.

For if God is love, Trump is hate.

When an agnostic on the safer side of the Atlantic can feel outraged by this mugging of God, what must a religious American feel? Thankfully, another bishop is on hand to speak common sense, following our own Bishop of Ripon only the other week.

The Right Rev Mariann Budde, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, told the Washington Post: “I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop.”

She added that Trump’s message was at odds with the values of love and tolerance espoused by the church.

Still clearly annoyed when she spoke to CNN, she said: “Let me be clear, the President just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.”

You’d like to think that Trump was mutually incompatible with the teachings of anyone, divine or otherwise. We’ve had three-an-half years to come to terms with the worst man in America being elected president.

Perhaps his racially inflammatory attitude towards protest – black rioters bad, white rioters toting guns “very fine people” – will deny him a second term.

What the US needs at a time of Covid-19, economic collapse and social breakdown is a president who can speak to his people with calm wisdom and authority. What they’ve got is a petulant septuagenarian toddler who can only sniff potential personal advantage in any situation, however dire.

Trump may pretend to be the “law and order” president when sounding tough appears to be to his advantage, but he will never be that. He is the disorder president; the hateful president; the open-his-mouth-and-a-lie-rolls-out president.

And as the law Professor Robert Reich just tweeted: “The President of the United States is deploying the military to perpetrate violence against their fellow citizens ­– because their fellow citizens are protesting unjust violence at the hands of the state.”

Many worried Trump would want to start a war; now he seems to want one against his own people.

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Boris Johnson says move along now, Emily Maitlis takes the night off…

Only she wasn’t…

Boris Johnson always looks like he’s just been pulled through a hedge-fund backwards.

In his Zoom-funded appearance yesterday before the Commons liaison committee, he wore suit, tie and trademark smirk. As usual his hair and pasty demeanour revived memories of the last time you rolled out of bed with a hangover.

This powerful committee has the right to summon prime ministers two or three times a year. This was Johnson’s first appearance, something he only agreed to after installing the Tory MP and Brexit brother Bernard Jenkin as committee chair.

Johnson presumably thought that behind-the-scenes fix would give him an easy ride; happy to report that this was far from the case.

May, Cameron and Blair always turned up having done their homework (even lazy boy Cameron, for heaven’s sake); they all came with answers for the questions they were likely to be asked.

Johnson prepared only for a spot of improv politics – make it up as you go along, bluster, stutter and blunder, charm the pants off the boys and girls on the committee; job done, go home for a lie down. It was lamentable, careless and disrespectful.

God, and to think the Boris backers told us all how great he’d be, a natural-born charmer and wit, a spot of fun after old wooden-legs Theresa.

Turns out he’s useless, barely able to string a coherent sentence together, like the lead actor in a play who tells the director he’d not bothered with the script as learning scripts is for girly swot actors.

Johnson was asked about his shameless aide but dismissed an inquiry into the way Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules with that 260-mile drive to Durham. His response was essentially “move along now, nothing to see here”.

Cummings, given the Downing Street rose garden and a trestle table to make a statement, droned out his own version of that tatty tune: all those lies the newspapers printed about me were true but if you’re expecting an apology, you can whistle.

All hail Labour’s Yvette Cooper for accusing Johnson of “putting your political concerns ahead of clear public health messages” to protect Cummings (whom Johnson only ever referred to as his ‘adviser’: is he jealous of all the attention Cummings has been getting?).

Over at the BBC, some committee of faceless bosses issued a statement condemning one of its own flagship news programmes.

Tuesday’s Newsnight had opened with Emily Maitlis giving a crisp summary of the programme and the state of the nation, saying that “the country can see” Cummings had “broken the rules”.

The BBC said the programme’s staff and been reminded about its guidelines and added that it should have been made clear the remarks were “a summary of the questions we would examine”. The thing is, pusillanimous BBC bosses, that was perfectly clear to anyone with a few brain cells rubbing along together.

Did the BBC make this statement after pressure from Downing Street? No one is saying, but it seems likely, as this government has a Trump-like disdain for the media. Stories about the pandemic often receive what Paul Lewis, the Guardian’s head of investigations, this week called treatment that verges on “trolling via government press offices”.

Maitlis is one of the BBC’s stars and deserves better treatment than she received. Although the woman herself tweeted that she’d asked for the night off and was happy to see Katie Razzall present the show.

Surely the BBC could have quietly ticked off the show’s editor and announced that it was reviewing that edition of Newsnight – rather than rushing out a statement seemingly designed to appease right-wing commentators.

Whatever the case, I hope the BBC keeps hold of Emily Maitlis as she is a great journalist and a pin-sharp presenter. If they don’t, she’ll be snapped up by Sky or someone else.

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People are angry about Cummings and who can blame them…

In films and novels, an unreliable narrator is an untrustworthy teller of a story. In politics it’s Boris Johnson passing around a plate of inedible porkies.

His performance at that Downing Street briefing yesterday united assorted bishops, the Guardian and the Daily Mail, legions of angry and sometimes sad people on Twitter, a number of affronted Tory MPs, and my wife spitting feathers on the sofa next to me.

It’s not often you’ll hear me say this, but today’s Mail splash nails it. Beneath a sub-heading speaking of Johnson “brazenly” backing the “sevegali” who flouted his own strict lockdown rules, the headline asks: “What Planet Are They On?”

Johnson twisted morality and logic to support his abrasive adviser Dominic Cummings. There we all were thinking that breaking the lockdown to drive 264 miles from London to Durham in search of childcare was a shameful betrayal of the rules imposed on everyone else – often at great emotional cost.

But, no, our unreliable prime minister tells us Cummings acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity” – words so far from everybody else’s lips, they might as well be on the moon.

Just as you are thinking that Cummings driving 264 miles from London to Durham after suspecting his wife had caught Covid-19  was wildly irresponsible, here’s Johnson saying the exact opposite. What’s this, some weird new word game – Unreliable Scrabble in which all the words you use must mean the exact opposite?

As it happens, Cummings’ wife did have Covid-19, he caught it too – so why not do a spot of uncaring and sharing around Durham?

Johnson also insisted Cummings had been following his “instinct” as a good father to a young son. That parenthood line as a supposed clincher seems horribly cynical. Sure, Dominic Cummings would be worried about his child – but so was everybody else with children, parents, friends; worrying about those you love is natural, but it should never be a free pass to behave as you wish.

To give this a twist, last time I looked having a child doesn’t get you off a murder charge – or even possibly a hefty speeding fine.

That responsible parent line makes their child more significant than all those other children being cared for, possibly by single parents trapped in tower blocks – single parents who may have caught Covid-19 and have no escape at all.

Those rules should apply even if your parents have a huge house outside Durham and your wife’s family own a castle in Northumberland.

I watched this story develop on Twitter, where angry tweets assembled into a disbelieving chorus. First up government ministers tweeted the official line: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime”, a slippery ball set rolling by Michael Gove, the most slippery bowler of them all. Other ministers piled in with blank-eyed loyalty, under orders to tweet – but from whom, Johnson, Cummings himself?

There is not space on this ledge to include all those tweets about people who couldn’t visit loved ones as they lay dying; parents who couldn’t comfort dying children, and other stories too awful to contemplate.

Here to represent them all is Kate Bottley, the vicar who used to be on Gogglebox: “To the man who’s wife I buried, who wasn’t allowed to hug your daughter at her mum’s funeral. To the mum who had to FaceTime to see her daughter’s coffin. To the son, who wanted to shake my hand but didn’t, after you said goodbye to your mum. I’m sorry.”

But let’s not leave without this observation on Johnson from his days at Eton, seen before but shared again by ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who digs up a letter a master at the school sent to Stanley Johnson about his son… “Eton spotted it in 1982: ‘I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else’.”

Unreliable then, unreliable now.

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Journalists do ask questions… as too do bishops and bloggers…

Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley (picture from Twitter)

Bishops and bloggers find common cause in disliking the language used to talk about Covid-19. Helen-Ann Hartley, the common-sense propelled Bishop of Ripon, popped up on Twitter yesterday to tick off Boris Johnson’s boast that the UK will have a “world-beating” virus tracing system ready by next month.

“Why do we need a ‘world-beating’ anything?” Bishop Hartley asked in a tweet. “If we’ve learnt anything in recent weeks it’s how important collaboration is, between communities and nations. It takes humility to work with others, grace and wisdom to know when to ask for help…”

Boris Johnson’s government is far too keen on such Brit braggadocio, rummaging through the dressing-up box of old uniforms and dragging out Second World War metaphors by the scruff of their khaki collar.

As Bishop Hartley says, we don’t need a world-beating anything. More important, I’d have thought, to have a Covid-19-beating system. ‘World-beating’ means nothing, but is the sort of empty boastful phrase some politicians cannot resist.

The Daily Express, a newspaper that seems to live in that dressing-up box, is at it this morning with a splash story bearing the headline: “We must win obesity war for the sake of the NHS.”

The paper maintains the prime minister is leading by example as it features a photo of him in “workout gear” – otherwise known as shorts and a T-shirt. He also appears to be carrying a laptop, so whether he is working out is open to question.

Whatever, drop the war metaphors. You can’t have a ‘war’ on obesity. Instead, to use the modish phrase, you nudge people towards making better choices; it’s a long slow process of gentle education, not a bloody war.

War metaphors are easy, and war is a typographical convenience, a very short word for something that often takes a long time.

Still, my attempt to shed a measly half-stone or so looks set to take as long as a war, as three runs a week are making little impression. And bless my legs bishop, but those runs take longer than they used to.

Sometimes it is the job of bishops and bloggers to point these things out. More widely, of course, it is the job of journalists to point these things out, although the government and its supporters aren’t at all happy when journalists start asking awkward questions – even though that is their job.

In Ireland they call this self-serving call to put country first “putting on the green jersey”. It refers to Irish governments covering things up with that patriotic jersey.

Boris Johnson tends to pull out a union jack jersey, and a hurt face, whenever journalists ask penetrating questions. Donald Trump shouts “fake news” at reporters and calls them horrible people.

Both leaders use chaos and distraction as a way of diverting eyes from difficulties. Trump’s favourite method is to come out with some outlandish statement – “I am sticking golf balls up by ass to guard against Covid-19”, or some such – so that all the journalists run off and write about that instead of whatever monumental cock-up he has just made.

The Tories have in the past used what is known as the “dead cat strategy” when a minor distraction is introduced to turn eyes from something important.

Attacking journalists is understandable sometimes, especially when partisan political editors invent bogus stories about Labour leaders, as explored here the other day.

But in a broader sense, journalists are working tirelessly in this crisis, producing newspapers, TV news shows and radio news magazines under tricky circumstances.

Politicians such as Boris Johnson might not always like the questions reporters ask, but they’re only doing their job. As too sometimes are bishops and bloggers.

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Mail on Sunday goes after Keir Starmer’s donkey field… Hockney has another rant about smoking…

Is the Mail on Sunday off its rocker and can smoking offer protection against Covid-19? The connection here lies in newspapers.

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday carried a supposedly damning report about Sir Keir Starmer, headlined: “Man of the people? New Labour leader owns land worth up to £12m”.

The story begins: “He was always been keen to play down his privilege and play up his working class roots…” but Starmer owns “seven acres of land that could be worth up to £12m, The Mail on Sunday can reveal”.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal what it likes, I guess, but that ‘could’ is a giveaway. It provided the hook on which to a hang the story, written by Ian Gallagher and Harry Cole. Incidentally, deputy political editor Cole (no relation to deputy ledge dweller Cole) is said once to have been in a relationship with Carrie Symonds, who is now shacked up in Downing Street with Boris Johnson.

That last fact is mere tittle-tattle, but does suggest movement in certain circles.

The greenbelt land in question lies behind the Surrey house where Starmer grew up. He bought the field in 1996, according to the MoS, when he was working as a human rights lawyer.

It turns out that Starmer acquired it as a home for donkeys his parents rescued and looked after. When his mother became disabled, losing the ability to walk, the donkeys were moved to the field so that she could still see them.

The supposed value of the land is purely notional as it has no planning permission, and Starmer reportedly has no plans to sell, although he is selling the house and a small strip of land.

So the gist of this story – supposed socialist is a hypocrite owner of land worth millions ­– is a malicious little fiction, as without planning permission that land is worth nothing much.

The undercurrent is a real shocker: what a bastard, Sir Keir Starmer buys a field so his disabled mother can look after rescued donkeys.

As an attempted stitch-up, this grubby little effort backfired on that detail. At a socially-distanced glance, Boris Johnson probably contains more scandal in his little finger than Sir Keir Starmer does in his upright body.

Incidentally, according to a Sunday Times report of February 16 this year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, married to the daughter of an Indian billionaire, owns at least four houses, including a mansion here in North Yorkshire. Sunak and his wife, Akshata, both 39, “share a property portfolio spanning the UK and America that is collectively worth about £10m”, according to that Sunday Times report.

Surely, plenty of Tory MPs own lots of houses, as do some Labour MPs. Owning lots of houses seems to be an incidental benefit of representing people who own one house or none.

But that MoS story was nothing but a grubby little stitch-up.

David Hockney is almost as famous for smoking as he is for his art. Journalists sent to interview him sometimes come away having learned almost as much about tobacco as painting.

According to my long-ago colleague Geordie Greig, once a trainee on the South East London Mercury and now editor of the Daily Mail, Hockney claims he wrote a letter to the Guardian saying that smoking offered protection against Covid-19, using as an example Greece. Deaths there have been low and this, according to Dr Hockney, is because lots of people smoke in Greece.

He told Greig that the Guardian refused to print his letter, although the Guardian said it never received it.

David Hockney’s art is invariably uplifting; his unfashionable views on smoking less so.

According to the World Health Organisation, smokers are in fact more likely to be at risk from Covid-19 as their lung health may be compromised. Looks like Hockney is wrong on this one, but his pro-smoking rants are almost an art in their own right.

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What those redacted pages might signify to writers…

One of the more helpful pages from that government report

This isn’t about politics or the plague, or plague politics or whatever. Just a few thoughts inspired by a page from a government report released to answer criticism over lack of transparency about Covid-19.

Please feel free to place your own words into that black hole.

Scientists on the Sage committee were said to be furious that parts of the report were redacted. We shall leave them to their on-point anger for now, as something else struck me: those blocked-out words represent what it feels like to be a writer.

This may be as an occasional writer of published novels few people read, or a persistent writer of novels yet to be published (guilty as charged on both counts).

Or a poet or scribbler of any creative scrawl. Or a feature writer honing a perfect piece.

Other forms of wordy frustration are available (recipes must be tricky, at a guess).

Writing is hard, they say. Oh but when those fingers dance over the keyboard, writing is easy as words queue into sentences, those sentences cluster into paragraphs, and the paragraphs crowd out pages. What can be hard about that?

Should you be innocent of the crime of writing, here’s how it goes. In a burst of creativity one day you sit down and write 500 words, a thousand words, or perhaps a few diamond sharp paragraphs that glint in the silt of your mind.

The next day you sit down to read over your brilliant words, only to discover they are no good at all. Nothing hangs together and those taut sentences have gone limp as last week’s lettuce at the bottom of the fridge. What you were trying to say is reduced to – what was I trying to say?

Every misplaced mark is hateful, all those perfect words are crossed out and you are left with a redacted page from a government report.

You may wonder why anyone bothers to write at all. But they write because people who write wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t write. Much as my gardening wife wouldn’t know what to do if she didn’t garden.

What happens next is you write more words and perhaps some of them will be good enough not to be scribbled out, and in the end you achieve something, a novel if you stick at it for months or years, or a blog if snacks have more appeal.

My first draft of the moment is a crime novel partly about mourning the famous, and partly about adolescent friendships gone bad 20 years later. Or maybe it’s about something else altogether, as you never can be sure.

Here’s a tip recently stumbled across. If writing in Word, remove the annoying spell/grammar check and go for it, free of bossy hindrance. Easier to write that way. And leave out all those annoying quotation marks for now, as the dialogue flows more easily. Or dispense with them altogether – Ali Smith gets away with that brilliantly.

Of course, another lesson in writing is that you are not Ali Smith.

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Stuck in the muddle with him…

You needed sunglasses on to protect your eyes from the optimistic glare of those newspaper headlines last Thursday.

Then Boris Johnson delivers his speech. Do go out but don’t go out, go to work but don’t go to work, meet your friends but don’t meet your friends. Go to work if you can’t work at home but don’t take public transport. Don’t stay home but stay alert, do stay home

Not so much Happy Monday then as Muddle Monday.

Fifteen minutes of fist scrunching as Johnson again drags out his karaoke Churchill act – “We will beat this devilish illness…”

So what have you got for us, Boris? Ah, for you I have the shape of a plan, the first sketch of a road map… God, but you wouldn’t want to be asking that man for directions to somewhere important.

That road map isn’t encouraging. Still, it fits the scribble on the back of a fag packet done when the virus was first putting its dirty running shoes on. You know, back when things that weren’t done should have been done.

The only safe response is to keep asking yourself what’s he telling us here? And to put on your lie-detector glasses, the ones you hardly ever take off nowadays.

“I have consulted across the political spectrum, across all four nations of the UK,” Johnson says early on.

It soon turns out that consulting across the four nations doesn’t include bothering to tell the leaders of the other nations.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon says the found out about changing the slogan from “Stay Home” to “Stay Alert” in a newspaper headline – and she didn’t agree.

So Johnson’s plans apply to the whole country, apart from those bits that intend to ignore his suggestions.

This morning’s newspapers are more circumspect than last week, with the cheer-leading Sun confining itself to “Ready, steady, slow”, while the Boris propagandising Express opts for “Boris: our route to freedom …in baby steps.”

Ahem, we’re walking to freedom in baby steps following a sketched-out road map that might not lead anywhere.

Of all the confusions rolled up in that tatty magic carpet of a speech, the work/don’t work advice is the most dubious: go to work if you can’t work at home, but don’t take public transport. So how do you get to work if it’s an hour’s commute away; how to you get to work if it’s too far to walk or cycle and you don’t have a car or you live in a crowded city where driving is impractical or even discouraged?

Not a clue was offered.

It is telling that this address was recorded earlier. This suggests cowardice on the part of Boris Johnson’s handlers, who don’t trust him to do it live – and also something lacking on his part, as leaders should be able to speak to the nation live.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – interviewed on the BBC live straight after the recorded speech – came up with a decent Johnny Nash line about there being more questions than answers.

Incidentally, did you enjoy hearing Boris Johnson interviewed live everywhere this morning to explain his speech and stir up courage in the populace? Of course you didn’t as others were sent to do the job for him, as always.

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Zooming along with the old crew… and lockdown thoughts…

It was like the old days but different, the four of us sitting and chatting around the features desk, touching on life and politics and, you know, stuff.

Only this was a Zoom gathering of the depleted few, two redundant (nearly five years for the inhabitant of this ledge), one furloughed and one still on the newspaper fulltime, but working from home at present.

The old habits were there, some of us talking more than others, some of us content to marble roll the odd remark. It was a happy little assembly, not like the old days, but good to connect.

We are said to be growing weary of Zoom, but at least it offers something. My own lockdown conversations include chatting to my mother as she goes chinless and half-disappears from view; giving tutorials to students; discussing a project with an occasional colleague; chatting to a group of friends; and having guitar lessons remotely.

Our features quartet clocked up years together on that newspaper and it’s heartening to keep in touch, even if it’s not like a real chat around a real desk or talking in a real pub.

As a group we are in our fifties or early sixties, although this ledge scribbler will only be able to lay claim to that ‘early’ for another year or so. According to an IPSOS Mori survey reported by the BBC today, nearly 80% of people aged 55-75 believe the virus is a threat to them.

One of our number, the second oldest, worried in our chat about the restrictions being lifted too soon. This morning’s newspapers won’t make him happy as most rattle with noisy optimism.

Here are some headlines: “First steps to freedom from Monday”, “Hurrah! Lockdown freedom beckons”, “Magic Monday” and “Happy Monday”. Only two papers abandon the government-issue buoyancy aids – “‘Landmark’ test target that keeps being missed” in the Guardian and, most sombre of all the Metro’s “30,076 killed by virus as tests fall to only 69k a day”.

There is a middle-ground somewhere between wanting all this to be over and worrying that the lockdown is being abandoned too quickly to accommodate Boris Johnson’s blustering optimism.

As a taster for today’s headlines, which anticipate announcements about the lockdown, yesterday’s news was dominated for a while by the story of the lockdown professor who resigned after ignoring the government’s own safety rules. Prof Neil Ferguson admitted to an “error judgment” in allowing a woman he was said to be in a relationship with to visit him at home.

On one level, this was an old-fashioned newspaper scoop exposing unfortunate hypocrisy in someone who should know better. No arguing with that as such, but there were depths here, too. The story appeared first in the Daily Telegraph, which is extremely anti-lockdown, so going after the professor whose advice led to the lockdown was a good ideological fit.

Yet, logically, just because he betrayed his own rules doesn’t mean that the lockdown itself is necessarily wrong; even if it would be good to see it all end.

The woman involved with Prof Ferguson, originally tarred as his “mistress” (how old-fashioned and moralistic), is reportedly married to someone else. She was splashed all over the front pages and exposed to all sorts of lecherous tittle-tattle on social media. A heavy punishment for a lapse in personal judgment, but that’s how it goes.

Unless you are a middle-aged prime minister who divorces his wife who’s had cancer so you can shack with a much younger woman and have a baby. No moral outrage there, just plenty of oohing and aahing.

Anyway, it was good to catch up with the old features crew; whose turn is it to make the tea?

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