Van the anti-lockdown Man… and conspiracy theorists on the march…

VAN Morrison fans expect a certain cussedness from their hero, a singer who can reach transcendental heights or stalk off stage in a mysterious strop after 40 minutes.

I’ve been a fan for so long, it’s embarrassing. Doubly so when Van the Man starts writing Covid-19 chunter songs.

In a new song entitled No More Lockdown, Morrison sings…

No more lockdown / No more government overreach / No more fascist bullies / Disturbing our peace…No more taking of our freedom / And our God-given rights / Pretending it’s for our safety / When it’s really to enslave…

The great man of Ulster is in a funk about the measures being adopted to tackle Covid-19. I see where he’s coming from. A world without live music is flat and empty for fans; emptier still for performers.

I don’t trust Boris Johnson’s government one tatty inch, but still. Van is in danger of siding with the conspiracy theorists who insist the Covid-19 crisis is no crisis at all, but some sort of government plot to control our lives.

I’m not sure Boris Johnson is a ‘fascist bully’, to dip into Van’s box of angry words, so much as a hopeless man without a clue about leadership, cast adrift on the raft of his own ego.

Conspiracy theorists come in many shades, from sceptical to clearly raving. A news story in last Sunday’s Observer had a striking intro, beginning…

Conspiracy theories clashed with police yesterday in Trafalgar Square in London…

I had to read that a couple of times to get a grip. People fed by lurid and potty theories on social media are actually taking to the streets. It’s like a gathering of below-the-line comments on websites made itchy flesh.

Some protesters reportedly carried banners saying “David Icke is right” (ah, so that’s why he was kicked off Facebook for spreading false health information), and “No lives matter to the elite” (ah, the elite – that handy fits-all-sizes menace).

Later in the newspaper, an excellent feature by Jamie Doward examined the right-wing cult movement based around QAnon. This wild and unfounded US conspiracy theory believes an elite cabal of child-trafficking paedophile Hollywood actors, philanthropists, Democrat politicians and Jewish financiers covertly rule the world. And only Donald Trump can bring them to justice.

In return, Trump says of this alarmingly dangerous gathering of loons that they “love our country” and “like me very much”.

Being a conspiracy theorist is, I guess, seductive in that you belong to a gang, membership of which suggests you know the truth, you’ve been gifted the one true vision. Yet at its darkest worst, as with QAnon, it’s a lethal illusion built on manipulating people’s fears and weaknesses.

Anyway, Van the Man. I do hope Morrison hasn’t gone over to the dark side, but was just having one of his grumpy turns. He has those a lot, matching beautiful songs with grumbling blues asides about how it’s a pain being rich and famous. And yet still I love the man. First time I saw him was as long ago as – coughs loudly – 1974 at the Bucolic Frolic, aka the first Knebworth Festival.

Morrison’s lockdown frustrations coalesce around the damage to live music, and to society in general perhaps. But at least he is playing again, doing five socially distanced gigs at the Palladium in London.

There is a positive review in today’s Guardian by Michael Hann, declaring that Morrison brings warmth to the cold, half-empty space. Thankfully, he kept away from his anti-lockdown songs.

Hann writes that even some of the sold seats were empty. That was the same at Holy Trinity Church in March, the last live gig I saw pre-lockdown. O’Hooley and Tidow, the Huddersfield folk duo, had been sold out for weeks, but there were more empty spaces than expected, suggesting some of those who bought tickets had stayed away.

It was a fantastic night in a cold but gorgeous old church. God alone knows where and when the next gig I attend will be.

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Down the line from hell and other Covid-19 observations on our karaoke Churchill…

BEFORE considering Boris Johnson’s latest karaoke Churchill impression, here are two asides.

First up is Emily Maitlis on Newsnight saying: “The former home secretary Alan Johnson joins us down the line from hell.”

Often it has been the lot of Hull to suffer this unkind fate. One inappropriate vowel makes a hell of a difference. Maitlis apologised for suggesting Alan Johnson was beaming in from a demonic location, and swiftly moved on. She meant well, but the road to Hull is paved with good intentions.

I’d just switched channels as Maitlis misplaced Alan Johnson. He wore a smile and a shirt that looked like pyjamas; well, it was late.

This morning Dominic Raab was on the BBC Today programme and – oh, look, there’s no need to walk off like that. His manner does the same to me, all weird robotic arrogance and leaden persistence.

The foreign secretary was deadening the airwaves while defending the new Covid-19 measures as “balanced, targeted and proportionate” or something. It is hard to concentrate as he speaks with all the declamatory passion of a bollard.

But one phrase did catch my ear. “We’ve got the full panoply of tools,” Raab said. Was I alone in chuntering at the radio – “Yes, and they all sit in the cabinet.”

I didn’t watch Boris Johnson’s speech last night but read it instead. There is only so much Boris Johnson a person can take. Sometimes lately you wonder if there is only so much Boris Johnson that Boris Johnson can take.

The man looks permanently puzzled and frazzled, as if no one had told him this was where all that back-stabbing and conniving led.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, Johnson is struggling to live on £150,000 a year, can’t afford a nanny and hates the Downing Street flat (in fairness, it does sound dismal).

That’s the problem when you’ve had life plonked on a plate. Johnson was paid nearly twice his prime ministerial salary just to write the same column for the Daily Telegraph every week (much as I am paid nothing to repeat that outrageous fact at every opportunity).

In terms of political performance, it strikes me there are two nodding dogs contained within one shambolic man.

Nodding dog one displays outbursts of chuntering optimism in which anything and everything is promised (“It’ll be over by Christmas…”).

Nodding dog two is given to thin-skinned outbursts of Trumpian populism.

There was an example of the latter grubby tendency yesterday when Johnson was asked by Labour’s Ben Bradshaw why German and Italy had far lower rates of Covid-19 than Britain.

Johnson batted away all criticism of the flailing track-and-trace system with a wave of his fist and started banging on about our country being a freedom-loving country.

This sort of Trump-lite swerve is unworthy of a British prime minister, but typical of the one we’ve got.

The Daily Express, less a newspaper than a government press release, falls behind Johnson this morning, with the headline: “Our destiny is in our own hands.”

Yeah, right – in other words, anything bad that happens is our fault. Never mind the endless roll-out of contradictory advice: have a half-price pub dinner on us – leave the pub at 10pm or else; go back to work in the office or risk losing your job – work at home again if you can.

Will the new curbs being imposed for six months make a difference or simply squash the last vestiges of what used to be our life? Honestly, I have no idea, but wouldn’t it be better if instead of chucking mock-Churchillian rhetoric at the virus, Boris Johnson showed proper leadership and involved all sides in tackling Covid-19?

Then again, this is the man who hijacked Brexit as a means of leading his party and winning an election. Why be grown up about a crisis when telling porkies wins the prize?

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How not to end a week in Whitby…

Whitby Abbey courtesy of English Heritage

It is our last night in Whitby and how we have loved this place of history and hills, herring gulls and steps, looked over by Yorkshire’s most famous ruin, etched in black against the clifftop sky.

And mostly loved traipsing up and down those 199 steps five or perhaps six times, as well as discovering another lung-stretching tipple up from opposite the marina.

Loved visiting that glorious ruin, the beach and piers west and east. Loved crossing the new footbridge craned into position last February on the east pier, a modern gangplank to the final curve of pier.

Loved walking to Sandsend for breakfast on the only grey blowy morning, as mostly the sun shone from a blue sky, more Marseilles than Yorkshire.

Loved a trip out to Robin Hood’s Bay for fish and chips and a beach walk with a clifftop return; loved visiting old friends in Scarborough (pay attention to those old friends). Loved staying bang in the middle of town in this cosy cottage so close to everything, with its sturdy door and two locks (pay attention to that door and those locks).

Another good discovery has been the Waiting Room pub at the station, a small but perfectly formed real ale bar perfectly suited to this smallish but imperfectly formed man who likes a holiday pint.

Today we have already visited the art gallery and the museum, had fish and chips at the Magpie, explored the shops, had a final holiday ice cream, before returning to the cottage for an afternoon doze.

Now it is time for a valedictory pint. I grab the keys from the mantlepiece and we step into the alleyway, both yawning.

You’ve got the keys, my wife says sleepily. I do but they are the wrong keys. Before the words are out, she has shut the door. My phone, car keys and the right keys are all inside.

My wife needed this holiday to step away from Planet Stress, and now she is back in orbit, clinging to her phone for buoyancy. The locksmith won’t come because it’s not our house; the holiday company is shut for the night and has no emergency number; and politely we are told it’s not a police matter.

So how and where we will spend the night? An online search suggests Whitby is full, and why wouldn’t it be, but bloody hell.

As my wife panics, and I try this panicking lark, we avoid blaming each other – one of us shut the door, one of us picked up the wrong keys, one of us insisted on visiting that bar one last time. We have to do something, I say, and suggest phoning our friends in Scarborough.

They rescue us and we spend the night in front of their log burner, chatting, eating rescue cheese on toast, drinking wine and watching music programmes on BBC4, going to bed tired and sans toothbrush. In the morning they drive us into Whitby and we get a spare key from the letting company, managing to clean and clear up before the cottage owners arrive to clean and clear up again.

In a day or so, it’s another story to tell, recounting our narrow escape. But for a fretful hour or so, we slipped through the cracks, secure one moment, homeless the next, and wondering what to do. A small example, it is true, but still unsettling.

Honestly, Whitby is great and worth more than a day out. Just don’t pick up the wrong keys.

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Which of Boris Johnson’s faces should we trust?

BORIS Johnson has two faces or maybe more. One is the shouty big-mouth politician spoiling for a fight, the other the would-be statesman. He’s much better at one than the other, and no prizes for sticking the tail on that bellowing donkey.

At prime minister’s questions yesterday, Johnson was frustrated by Sir Keir Starmer’s refusal to play the desired game. Starmer had spotted the big sign saying Brexit Elephant Trap, and walked around it.

Instead of asking about the government’s apparent wish to break international law over the EU withdrawal agreement, Starmer dedicated all of his allotted six questions to the government’s chaotic track-and-trace system.

Johnson blustered through that, then apropos of nothing started booming about the Northern Ireland protocol.

You might have thought he’d have kept his mouth zipped on that one. But he was hoping to lure Starmer into the old Brexit quagmire into which Jeremy Corbyn sank without trace.

The new line from Johnson Conniving & Co is that the withdrawal agreement was never up to scratch and was signed in a hurry. Well, yes, it was bundled through parliament on his instructions. Next he’ll be saying he missed that part because it was covered by a coffee stain. Or the dog ate his copy of the agreement.

Johnson tried his statesmanlike act later in a Downing Street press conference about new Covid restrictions being introduced on Monday. Christmas is cancelled was the verdict in today’s papers – even though only the other month, Johnson said everything would be over by then, no worries.

That’s the problem with the two faces of Boris Johnson: which one do you trust and does either tell the truth? At the press conference, he said “As your prime minister” in a way that was meant to be reassuring, but risked mugs of tea being dropped up and down the country. Oh, shit, yeah – we’d forgotten about that. He’s the prime minister, dear God.

Then he started dressing things up, busking along, the old make-it-up-as-you-type columnist in him coming to the surface. Not sure what to say? Just come up with a catchphrase. First it was the “Rule of Six” in relation to the number of people who can meet together. Unless I misheard and it was Rule of Sex.

He burbled about Covid marshals, some sort of vigilante neighbourhood watch comprised of state-sponsored busybodies, by the horrible sound of it.

After that he went for Operation Moonshot – a crazily ambitious project to deliver up to 10m Covid tests a day. Johnson does like these ridiculous names. Operation Moonshot? How about Operation Crash Landing In A Muddy Field Again?

“We expect everybody in the country to obey the law,” Johnson also said – apparently forgetting that his own government was thinking of ignoring international law. Oh, and that his own adviser, Dominic Cummings, refused to apologise for flagrantly breaking lockdown restrictions.

Rarely before has it felt so obvious that rules are for the little people. And to Johnson and Cummings, that grim right-wing comedy double act, we are all little people, to be pushed out into the restaurants for a cheap meal, bundled onto the trains to travel to work, ticked off for wanting too many Covid tests, then told there will be millions more tests soon; bullied into the shops, then ordered to stay away from each other.

No wonder people are confused and anxious. Turns out having a Brexit-brained government in charge of a public health crisis is the worst possible idea.

As the Irish man asked for directions in a classic, if caricatured, joke says… “Well, sir, if I were you I wouldn’t start from here.”

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A few nuanced thoughts on Extinction Rebellion blockading newspapers…

I DON’T have strong opinions about Extinction Rebellion blockading printworks to prevent the distribution of newspapers. These few thoughts aim to be nuanced. If you find no nuance here, that’s fine.

The protests last weekend halted the delivery of newspapers in parts of the country.

The inked part of my soul clings to newspapers in the spirit of foolish romanticism, and a belief that when done properly, a newspaper is a fine creation. Knowing the hard work that goes into producing a paper, I was to an extent sorry to see those newspapers stoppered like that. Then again, the Observer turned up just fine, so I was happy.

What Extinction Rebellion did was to cleverly remind everyone how our newspapers are owned and run. Nothing will change, but they did throw a spotlight on an industry that doesn’t appreciate being asked tough questions about its own conduct.

The Mail on Sunday, Sun on Sunday, the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times contained angry comment from those paid to write angry comment pieces by the press barons who own their newspapers.

For the Telegraph, Camilla Tominey called the protesters “eco-fascists” and said their the demonstration showed “how anti-democratic” Extinction Rebellion are as they only want a press “that always agrees with them”.

Much as the owners of the newspapers only want a press that always elides with their beliefs, politics and business interests. And a press that mostly supports the Conservative Party come what may – even if what may come is the chaotic and hopeless government we are now saddled with.

Boris Johnson, the columnist prime minister, tweeted that a free press was “vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change”.

As Johnson’s government has boycotted Channel 4 News, Good Morning Britain, and BBC2’s Newsnight, that seems a stretch. Oh, and don’t forget the “media freedom alert” issued to the government by the Council of Europe for threatening press freedom after it blacklisted a group of investigative journalists from Declassified UK.

As you may recall, not that it made any difference to the results, during the election campaign Johnson cravenly refused to be interviewed by Andrew Neil – and hid in a fridge to avoid questions from Piers Morgan, while ordering a ban on ministers appearing on Today on BBC Radio Four.

What Johnson and other ministers desire is a pliant press that reports the news in a way they find flattering.

The BBC2 documentary The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty (still on iPlayer) provides a sombre reminder that Murdoch has long leant on British life, with a case to be made that he swung the election for Tony Blair and ushered in the Brexit shitshow.

As I am aiming for nuance, it is only fair to point to Murdoch toadies such as Kelvin MacKenzie who dismiss the documentary as a put-up job.

To go again with the grain of that nuance, Murdoch deserves praise for investing in British newspapers; without him, the Times and Sunday Times would have sunk long ago. Those who hate newspapers, and they are numerous, will see his investment in papers as only a bad thing; those who believe in newspapers, whatever their faults, will see some good here.

I’d like to have read what Philip Collins of the Times had to say about all this, as he’s always an interesting read. Or he was. Sadly, the Times has pushed him out, apparently because he wasn’t supportive enough of the government.

Here’s what he said in a parting tweet:

“My last word on the subject. The Times is more right-wing than it was; my departure will make it more so. Its comment pages remain, even so, the most balanced around. It has some fine writers of all shades. That balance is the best thing about it and it’s stupid to threaten it.”

I have no inside knowledge at all, but is it fanciful to imagine Rupert Murdoch being displeased that one of the best writers on the Times had opinions of which he disapproved?

Newspapers should he painted in all shades of opinion – and not just in Owner’s Revenge Grey (a colour Farrow & Ball have not yet come up with).

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Brother Walter and his life of solitude somehow fits the moment…

As a man in danger of being admitted to the Accidental Brotherhood of Hermits, I was pleased to discover the Hermit of York.

For ‘discover’ you may read, stumbled on something others already know while half-listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4.

Brother Walter Willman was interviewed in 1961 for the Tonight programme on television. The interviewer was Alan Whicker, whose three-decade run of Whicker’s World began there as a segment. The clip is available online and is worth five minutes of your time.

Whicker is brusque, with a military bearing he never lost (during the war, he was an officer in the Devonshire Regiment, before moving to the Film and Photo Unit, according to Wikipedia). He may bark out his lines, but he is empathetic and asks good questions.

Brother Walter lived for 30 years in a tiny room in All Saints Church in York. If he’d had a catchphrase, it might have been I’m not so pious as all that, something he said in the interview, speaking slowly and carefully, each word popped on the scales before being allowed out. No saint about me, was something else he said, another catchphrase, this one suggesting levity behind his considered manner.

Whicker talks to Brother Walter in his world’s orbit, a tiny medieval space, ten foot by eight and no room to swing a gargoyle, with a window into the church known as a squint. He asks why Brother Walter chose this solitary life. “Well, I don’t know that I’ve chosen it,” he say. “I’ve been sort of drafted into it.”

Brother Walter moved in 30 years previously, when he was aged around 40. That’s not old, Whicker points out with a twinkle behind his glasses. Although he doesn’t mention the fact, Whicker was 40 at the time of the interview.

“You don’t recommend your type of life for anybody else?” he asks.

“Oh, certainly not,” says Brother Walter. “Very few people would be suited to it.”

The programme on the radio, A Short History of Solitude, was made by historian Thomas Dixon to reflect the ways in which we all have become isolated to different degrees thanks to Covid-19.

Not as isolated as Brother Walter, whose story is featured, but separated from normal life for sure. Isolation comes in shades: wanting to be alone, not wanting to be alone, or at work a world in which the rules have changed and nothing is quite the same.

My own office life/university life has disappeared and the four walls of this study have moved in, while I plot what happens next, in the crime novel I am writing, and in life too. That novel is made up as it goes along, as is this life.

Working from home is now so familiar it has its own acronym, WFH – a little close for comfort to WTF, although perhaps that is not accidental. Plenty of people WFH might think WTF happened to my life. Others might enjoy this aloneness.

As Coleridge observed of his fellow poet Wordsworth – “He is a man of whom it might have been said, ‘It is good for him to be alone’.”

Whether it’s good for the rest of us, whether it was truly good for Brother Walter or Mr Wordsworth, it is hard to know.

Being alone isn’t the same as being lonely, as you can be lonely in a crowd or content with your own company. Or you can return home from work tired to your core, and have to listen to the evening wittering of a man who has spent too much of the day by himself in the study.

That’s the cross my wife sometimes has to bear. Still, at least we’ve just discovered Young Wallander on Netflix, so we can be companionable watching that.

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Time to play Woke Bingo… double points for ‘woke wet BBC’…

Let’s play Woke Bingo. The rules are simple: every time someone says ‘woke’, feel free to shout ‘bollocks’ (you’re almost certain to be on the money).

You could start playing with last weekend’s edition of Mail on Sunday – “Top Tory launches TV rival to ‘woke wet BBC’.”

Sir Robbie Gibb is a former adviser to Theresa May (terrible Tory PM but a sight better than the one we’ve got now). Before that, he worked for the ‘woke wet BBC’, where he was in charge of the political programme output.

Any argument can be made into a plank with which to beat the BBC.

For instance, the fact that a noted Tory ran the political output of the BBC adds ammunition to those who see the BBC as a right-wing conspiracy organisation.

Gibb is now part of a media consortium behind GB News, which dismisses the BBC as “the most biased propaganda machine in the world”.

The BBC doesn’t do everything right and sometimes its behaviour seems designed to bring about its own downfall.

One of the chief architects of anti-BBC feeling is former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, the nation’s least favourite toad (happy to show bias on that one).

Farage was too often given undue prominence by the BBC, especially on Question Time, in a misguided attempt to counter allegations of anti-right bias – How can we be anti-right, here’s Nasty Nigel again.

Same case with Andrew Neil, a prominent voice on the right who was gifted a lofty platform on the BBC. Now Neil is reported to be joining Toad Master Farage in a separate right-wing news TV platform from Rupert Murdoch.

The template for both of these new ventures would be Murdoch’s own Fox News, the highly profitable American channel filled with opinionated ranting of the sort we don’t see here on TV.

Our broadcasting rules on due impartiality prevent a news channel from showcasing the one-sided opinion merchants you see on Fox. So it is likely that these would be opinion channels rather than news channels, although the edges will be muddied.

New channels cover most topics as and when they happen, and make editorial decisions that leave them open to accusations of bias. Opinion stations just jump onto their soap box and shout, lacking any wider responsibility.

The BBC has many enemies. They include free-range extreme right-wingers, disgruntled left-wing followers of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, conspiracy lovers of all political stripes who believe Covid-19 is a state-create myth propagated by the BBC, and self-serving media barons who stir up nonsense stories about Land of Hope and Glory.

I’d say the BBC is not truly biased or woke or wet, although it does tie itself in knots trying to please all of its critics, and consequently risks pleasing no one.

‘Left-wing BBC comedy’…

Also in the news this morning, the Daily Telegraph reports that new director general Tim Davie is threatening “to axe Left-wing BBC comedy” which he sees as too anti-Trump, anti-Tory and anti-Brexit.

Whether this is true remains to be seen, but surely it misses the point that satirical comedy tends to aim upwards – and as the Tories are nearly always the ones in power, they are rightly the butt of many jokes.

Have I Got News For You is one comedy show likely to displease Mr Davie (if that Telegraph story is true). Well, it’s past its best but still rises to the moment on occasions, and I watch out of mostly happy habit.

But just imagine, if only we could think of a right-wing politician who used an appearance on HIGNFY to burnish his popular image and twice went on to host the show.

And who was promoted in this disgraceful way by the woke wet BBC? Yup, Boris Johnson, Tory stand-up comedian and part-time prime minister.

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Harry Horton and the art of persistence in the face of Liz Truss…

HARRY Horton is the political correspondent for ITV’s Calendar programme in Yorkshire. I usually watch the other side, so sorry about that, HH.

A clip Horton put up on Twitter shows him interviewing Liz Truss, the international trade secretary.

They are standing in a Yorkshire field with cows in the background. Those large domesticated ungulates munch grass while no doubt thinking, what is this woman on about – you get more sense from a daisy.

Horton asked Truss about the reported appointment of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a UK trade envoy for Brexit – an idea so criminally bonkers, it removes any breath you may have left in your tired lungs.

Still, appointing Abbott to speak up for post-Brexit Britain does sit with the sheer reckless abandon of heading towards the No Deal cliff without a plan. And Boris Johnson refusing to budge an inch while also being determined to blame the EU for the mess he’s making of Brexit (they started it, it’s not fair).

Here is your occasional reminder: Brexit didn’t get done, we did.

Anyway, Abbott. A man ill-famed for his blatant sexism and so abrasive he could put sandpaper out of a job. He once called climate change “absolute crap” and likened climate action to “killing goats to appease volcano gods”.

Horton wondered why a man known for being sexist, homophobic and a climate-change denier should be thought suitable to represent Britain around the world. He also asked how Truss could accept such an appointment, especially as she doubled as women and equalities minister

Truss looked surprised at being reminded she had that other job, too. Why had no one told her? How could she be in two places at once when being in one place was always such a stretch?

She declined to answer, so Horton asked again. And again. And again. He was annoying in that way a good reporter should be. Truss looked displeased at being confronted by a journalist who dared to do his job. She flustered, said the same thing again and again.

She didn’t confirm Abbott’s appointment, but instead unpacked the usual old flannel about Abbott being a principled politician, a champion of free trade and a huge champion of the UK.

What a great idea – as the Brexit bus clanks towards those cliffs, let’s appoint a former Aussie prime minister that even most Australians can’t abide as one of our representatives.

As if to offer reassurance, Truss reminded Horton that she would be in charge of representing Britain. At which point any sensible person keeled over with a groan.

In this government of Brexit toadies and yes men/women, Truss stands so far back in the group photo she can hardly be seen.

Other Australian prime ministers haven’t been impressed with Abbott, although Aussie politics can be a bit of a bear pit. Julia Gillard, who suffered much sexism during her tenure, once delivered a righteous speech that rugby-tackled sexism and Abbott.

Kevin Rudd’s reaction to news of Abbott’s possible appointment was: “Is the UK joking?”

Sadly, Mr Rudd, it’s hard to tell nowadays.

But well done to Harry Horton, both for your splendid alliterative name and your persistence.

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The thin beef paste of patriotism in Boris Johnson’s sandwich…

Boris Johnson has something he wants to get off his chest. And it’s not that over-sized checked shirt he wore on his Scottish holiday.

The man who is actually the prime minister, heaven help us, has joined in the latest empty rattle dominating the headlines.

Perhaps you have had your head in a box, or perhaps you ignore the news when it becomes silly. Anyway, the papers have been crammed with potty outrage about how the BBC has ‘banned’ the words of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory, those dirges sung at the end of the Last Night of the Proms.

This bonfire of inanities was lit by a report in the Sunday Times that these dusty old tunes could be dropped from annual classical music event because of concerns about imperialism and the lyric “Britons never shall be slaves”.

The BBC responded that the works would be included this year in instrumental form but without lyrics, partly due to the lack of an audience to sing along. Next year, it promised, everything would be back to (dreary) normal.

At which ‘news’ the usual right-wing BBC bashers rattled their trays, spilt their milky tea and called for matron. This non-story appeared on the front pages of the Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Mail, and Sun.

The Sun, you will be flabbergasted to learn, chose a groan-worthy pun for its headline – “Land of woke and glory”.

Should you not be up to speed in the lingo of cultural scorn, and who could blame you, ‘woke’ is the new ‘political correctness gone mad’.

Yesterday Boris Johnson, perhaps forgetting that he is no longer a Daily Telegraph columnist, launched into a small outburst by saying: “If it is correct, which I cannot believe that it really is…”

Hang on there a tatty second. If you cannot believe this is true, why are you banging on about it? Surely the prime minister should know whether or not something is true before he opens his mouth? Oh, hang on another tatty second, I forgot for a moment who we have for a prime minister.

Then Johnson got to the meat in his limp Downing Street sandwich, the thinly spread beef paste of patriotism. It was time “we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general fight of self-recrimination and wetness”.

He added: “I wanted to get that off my chest.”

Pardon me while I walk around this damp fire about nothing set smouldering to draw our eyes from conflagrations raging elsewhere.

The Mail, now an unpredictable friend to Johnson, elevates this faux-patriotic claptrap to its front page under the headline: “Boris blasts ‘cringing’ BBC” while the Express limps behind with: “Enough! Hands off our heritage.”

The people who get so worked up about these irrelevances like to dismiss the young as ‘snowflakes’ for being over-sensitive. And yet here they are, melting all over the shop.

Have we always been so prone to blowing our kettle lids in this country? Perhaps we have, but I can’t help feeling that the endless shouting match over Brexit made this tendency so much worse.

As to our history, that should be open to interpretation, not set in stone in the preferred no-questions-asked version. There’s nothing wrong with being embarrassed about parts of our country’s history. It no longer washes when considering slavery to brush it off with a shrug while saying, “Oh things were different back then.” Isn’t history a constant process of evaluation rather than a story with a full-stop?

When it comes to those temporarily unsung lyrics, I’d happily never hear them again.

Mind you, we could always rewrite the opening to one…

“Rule, Britannia! Britannia, waive the rules!
Patriotic Britons always, always, always shall be old fools…”

This isn’t to disparage our country, merely to rub from the window some old patriotic dirt.

As for the Proms row about nothing, I’ll end by passing over to the writer Irvine Welsh, who tweeted with his customary directness to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, “Nobody gives a fuck mate.”

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Here are my DIY tips… don’t expect any more soon…

DIY is not necessarily my forte. This is partly down to my long-held belief in LYWDIH (Let Your Wife Do It Herself).

This either makes me a feminist or a lazy man and I couldn’t possibly comment. Let’s just say that I am good at talking about doing things; my wife is better at the doing part.

Occasionally we unite and get the job done, with me acting as builder’s mate.

Here, then, are my tips for putting up shelves in the study.

First, buy a wooden bed 30 odd years before you intend to put up those shelves. Sleep on this for ages, then replace with a larger bed and store the wooden slats and stumps beneath for many more years. They might come in handy one day, while also providing a home for the under-bed dust collection.

We bought that wooden bed in the mid-1980s for our flat in south east London. The shop is still there in Hackney; the flat is still there in Lewisham too and worth a sight more than our house in York (but that’s another story).

At the time, Litvintoff & Fawcett (“making quality beds since 1979”) swore you could take any of their beds home in your own car. Luckily, I’d moved on from the MG Midget, as that might have strained their theory, to an MG Metro.

We drove to the East End and returned with the bed on and in the little black car. Mattress strapped to the roof, wooden slats and struts placed at an angle from back to front, with my wife cowering behind the passenger seat where she normally sat. A good bed, but eventually we wanted a larger one.

The study is my haunt for writing or working from home. Or writing and not working much in my present under-employed condition. Although previously tidied up and decorated, it had become a dumping ground, dominated by a Futon sofa bed we never used. That sofa bed was donated to our daughter’s friend, unlocking the mess and giving my wife the idea for her studio at one end of the room.

Yesterday we cut up the old bed and rested the planks on metal brackets made by a firm found on eBay.

We had a few wobbles along the way, but by the afternoon we had two new shelves fashioned from our old bed. A shorter shelf above the wordy desk; a longer shelf above the arty table.

Already there are small splashes of paint on the wall above her desk; there are no word splashes above my desk, although you should see the inside of my head.

Fearing eviction from this pleasant new space, I further claim squatter’s rights with two guitars and an amplifier.

When we moved to this large garden with a smallish house attached, it had three bedrooms and we had three more or less grown-up offspring still at home. We slept in the front room until we could afford to have a bedroom put in the attic. For a short while, our eldest son had what is now the study. If memory serves, he slept on the bed that has now been turned into shelves.

So, there you have it. DIY tips from Man on Ledge. Don’t expect any more soon.

j j j