The perils of too much news… and one day we’ll be normal again

THE paintbrushes are out, the plastic lunch boxes sorted, drawers emptied. A wardrobe and a dressing table have swapped places to spacious effect in the spare room; clothes have been thrown away or sent for recycling.

If I sit too long on this sofa with my laptop listening to Ry Cooder, chances are I’ll be relocated too, or given a fresh coat of varnish. I’d better warn Ry he’s not safe, either.

“This is what you do when you can’t control the outside world,” I tell my wife. “You gain control of our small world inside this house.”

She hadn’t thought of it like that but tells me I am right. This isn’t always what happens when passing observations are made.

I am sitting down here because now the study is being tidied. That room is a shared space. One end is my nine-to-five berth; the other my wife’s studio. I claim further ownership by making sure to leave a guitar or two propped up there.

“I moved your guitar,” my wife says one day. “I was afraid I might knock it over.”

This is what our lives are like at the moment. Not only in this house, but everywhere. People are cooped up at home or heading nervously out to work. I’ve more or less lived in that study since March, doing four jobs at different times, plus spots of freelancing.

I have online meetings with people who are sitting in their study or their kitchen. Coffee or tea breaks are taken online, chatting to colleagues I am beginning to know quite well, even though we’ve never met.

Meetings are held with strangers. We peer into each other’s houses, intimate but distant. Intimate because you sit face to face while wondering about the books on their shelves or that picture on the wall behind them; distant because you are not there and they are not here.

“Is that a guitar?” they might say. Or they might if it hasn’t been tidied out of view. One time I spot a guitar in someone’s room and it turns out we’re both learning the same piece of music.

When life’s like this, does the news help or does watching and reading too much news boost anxiety and keep you awake at night? I’ve always been one to swallow large helpings of news, sometimes perhaps without chewing properly. My wife is usually more modest in her consumption; has a nibble to know what’s going on.

Lately though she’s been doom-scrolling about Covid-19, amassing more and more information, laying worry upon worry, until she wakes up at 4am in a fretful state.

“Perhaps you should stop reading so much news on your phone,” I say.

There is a point somewhere between knowing what you need to know and drowning yourself in depressing news. Little about the news is uplifting these days, aside from the orange stain being removed from the White House.

Worrying about why people believe conspiracy theories or whether life will ever again be normal is understandable, but it’s hard to find the off-switch some days; harder still some nights.

That’s why my wife tidies up and decorates. That’s why I tidy up with words, cheering the removal of that orange stain while worrying about the orange stain’s spiritual cousin in Downing Street.

The wood burner needs another log to settle its hot belly. Outside the late afternoon sunshine is slipping away. There is life in the garden, spring is uncurling its toes beneath the blanket of frost. One day the pubs will open again. Sport will be played again and lost again, or it will if you are me. Walks will be taken with friends. They’ll be no reason to wake up at silly-o’clock and the house will be tidied and decorated just because spring is on the way.

Life will be normal again.

 

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In Mr Jenrick’s history class, you will learn what you’re told to learn…

THE communities secretary Robert Jenrick has found time to write for the Telegraph an article headlined: “We will save our history from woke militants.”

There’s plenty to unwrap in that headline and the words that lie beneath. Such are the pleasing ambiguities of the English language that you can take that last sentence two ways. Those words sit underneath the headline; and they lie there too, in the sense of being misleading.

As you must surely know by now, woke is the new ‘it’s political correctness gone made’. Like its shabby predecessor, woke is dragged out as if to seal an argument by people who can think of nothing better to say. It is much favoured by right-wingers such as Jenrick.

Woke originates in the US where, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”.

In that form, woke is something admirable; later it became a self-conscious, slightly self-mocking label; and then it was wielded as a weapon by those who are proud of not being at all sensitive to issues of racial and social justice.

This reminds me to once again seek out an application for the liberal elite. I’m always hearing about this organisation and it sounds jolly fine.

Funny thing is, those who disparage the liberal elite tend to be members of that old club known as the Conservative Party. Thanks to the peculiarities of this country, they’re nearly always the ones in power; they pull all the levers and yet they moan on about the liberal elite ruining modern life.

Something here doesn’t add up. You’re nearly always in charge: so how can you blame those who rarely are?

What Robert Jenrick is doing here is waving an irrelevance as a distraction from all the bad things going on, all those wasted billions and untold deaths. Don’t look there, look over here instead.

He writes with unfettered pomposity, saying at one point: “We cannot – and should not – try to edit or censor our past.” Adding that he agrees with his boss that to tear down statues is “to lie about our history”.

There are plenty of stray threads to pull here, but let’s start with the statue that came down last year, when slave trader Edward Colston was dunked in the Bristol docks.

Colston transported into slavery some 84,000 Africans, around 19,000 of whom died, their bodies thrown to the sharks that followed slave ships. It had long been the wrong statue in the wrong place, and its presence affronted many in the multi-racial city.

But there is more to it that than. This statue was erected in 1895, more than 170 years after Colston’s death and more than 60 years after slavery was abolished in Britain.

It was hauled up by local businessmen who wished to paint over that shameful panel in their city’s history.

As such, you could easily say that statue was a lie that rewrote history.

The historian David Olusoga has argued that “this was not an attack on history. This is history. It is one of those rare historic moments whose arrival means things can never go back to how they were”.

Robert Jenrick seems to see history as something fixed and set in stone and marble. Perhaps there is a slogan lying around somewhere: “Get history done.”

Better, surely, to see history as an ever-evolving story, one that is constantly being rewritten thanks to new discoveries, fresh interpretations, and the different sensibilities of each age.

What Jenrick is really saying is that there is one version of history, and it’s the one that proclaims everything about Britain is and always has been marvellous and stain-free.

Trouble is, that’s not history. It’s propaganda fancy-dressed as history.

Jenrick says history should “be studied, not censored”. What does that even mean? Well, if it means anything, it means you will stick with the officially preferred version of history and not investigate the family’s grubby secrets.

Attempting to brush off slave trading or the cruelties of Empire as “just of those things than happened” – or trying not to mention those dark patches at all – is itself a form of censorship. Robert Jenrick doesn’t seem to understand that inherent contradiction.

Anyway, I’m off to discover how you go about becoming a woke militant. Sounds like it could be fun.

 

 

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Jacob Rees-Mogg and a spurious tale of fishy patriotism…

It’s been a trying week for everyone. So I was heartened to hear our fish are feeling perky about Brexit. How reassuring to know things are working out for one section of the community.

We know this because the leader of the House of Commons told us. Jacob Rees-Mogg stood up in the House and said: “The key is we’ve got our fish back. They’re now British fish and they are better and happier fish for it.”

Actually spoke those clearly deranged words out loud, while smirking at his own marvellousness. Then sat down triumphantly, having just kippered his opponents with the brilliance of his argument.

If that’s real life, no wonder satire is flapping about and gasping for air on the quayside.

Still, we can rest easy in the knowledge that Rees-Mogg will have done his research rather than having just fired off this bit of political stand-up. He’ll have been out there with snorkel and notebook, interviewing the fish and handing out union jack waistcoats by way of congratulation.

His little joke is perhaps spoilt by the fact that fish are famous for their swimming. This form of watery propulsion conveys them from one place to another, without even the need for a silly blue passport.

And I don’t wish to go all existential on you, but do you think a fish knows it’s a British fish at all? Perhaps it’s one of those mysteries, akin to whether Jacob Rees-Mog actually realises he’s a supercilious posh boy millionaire who would be better keeping his mouth in the shut position on almost all occasions.

And does the Britishness of fish apply also to birds? Much better to know that the herring gull that just shat on your head was a happy British gull and not some Frenchie interloper.

Although if any passing gulls, British or otherwise, happen to be heading to Somerset, here’s a helpful suggestion: the top of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s skull would make a splendid target.

The trouble with trying to be amusing about Jacob Rees-Mogg is that deep down, or even shallow up, there is nothing funny about him at all. What sort of a country wants a nasty right-wing millionaire crackpot representing us? But silly me. He doesn’t represent us: he represents himself and the interests of those like him.

Or so a passing fish just told me. This patriotic plaice was swimming away from our shores at the time.

To make his claptrap about proud British fish even worse, Rees-Mogg made that remark as Scottish seafood exporters discovered the not so good side to that Brexit deal Boris Johnson boasted about. Is it possible that the prime minister signed that deal without having read the small print; or even the big print?

With their catch caught up in Brexit red-tape, they face bankruptcy with only a warehouse full of rotten seafood as compensation. And as Brexit blows a hole in their livelihoods, all Rees-Mogg can do is make silly jokes about British fish.

Some minor government minister or other, and really life’s too short to find out who it was, pointed to teething troubles. As the dentist said while leaning over you in order to extract your last remaining molar.

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While we can’t put on muddy boots, Winter Walks fills a panoramic gap…

Simon Armitage on the coast. Photo: BBC

I’VE been on five lovely walks around Yorkshire in the past few days. No need to tip off the Home Secretary, as boots were not involved.

It’s early doors to pick your favourite TV programme of the year but I’d be surprised if Winter Walks on BBC4 isn’t up there.

There are many reasons to cherish this uplifting little series. Some are even slightly masochistic reasons, as you’re watching people go on the walks you’re not allowed to do right now.

The timing is coincidental as Winter Walks was mostly filmed a year ago, but mischance has given the programmes emotional resonance.

Normally we meet friends, perhaps 12 of us in all, for a walk of seven or eight miles. These outings fall at random intervals but we manage a few a year. Now we meet on Zoom. Our last proper walk was a year ago.

There are five Winter Walks, each led by a different celebrity. If that’s what they are. All are well known to a degree but none are showy, although one did once to a twirl on Strictly.

The muddy-booted quintet are poet laureate Simon Armitage, broadcaster Reverend Richard Coles, poet and writer Lemn Sissay, more or less retired broadcaster Selina Scott, and the politician Baroness Warsi.

Each walks alone, carrying a camera that captures a near 360-degree view, while being trailed by a drone that follows like a nosey eagle.

Other than that, each presenter gives a running commentary. Occasionally they stop to chat to locals or fellow walkers. A few more miles pass. Heart-stopping views of Yorkshire fill the screen, as do more local details, a babbling, water-falling brook, a stone-flagged pub, a sandy beach, a barn full of peacocks, a field packed with vintage tractors, and a man with no neighbours playing the bagpipes.

Simon Armitage follows a trail we’ve also walked along, heading from Ravenscar to Robin Hood’s Bay. He puffs up the steps from Boggle Hole, just as we did, and marvels at the distant view of Robin Hood’s Bay with its rooftops arranged in charming confusion,  higgledy-piggledy style, just as we did. As you might expect, he finds poetry in the landscape, and recites a few lines too, as they all do.

The roaming reverend walks from high on Sutton Bank to Rievaulx Abbey. Along the way he touches on ecclesiastical history, grief at losing his partner, and the almost spiritual importance of walking.

Lemn Sissay is a lovely walking companion, as he navigates the borders of Yorkshire and Cumbria on his way to Dent railway station. He too is struck by the poetry of the landscape, although mostly he is reminded of his own smallness in comparison to nature.

Selina Scott leads a gentle walk around Wharfedale in the Dales, heading from Thorpe to Appletreewick while imparting her country knowledge and chatting imperiously to the locals almost like visiting royalty.

The Yorkshire peer Baroness Warsi heads to Coneston in the Dales, and what cheery company she proves to be. You could count on the bruised toes of one foot the number of Tories you’d love to walk with, but Warsi should be among their number.

The 360-degree camera captures beautiful views but also lends a strange fisheye-lens curve to the countryside. How this technology works isn’t entirely clear. Each walker holds a stick about the size of a golf club with a camera on the top. This stick-camera isn’t visible but does cast a shadow. Perhaps it’s been edited out.

Of all the things being missed at the moment, walking with friends is high on the list. Tramping along and putting the world to rights. Politely arguing over whether or not it’s lunchtime yet (that’ll be a yes from me). Getting Yorkshire mud on your boots. And, just occasionally, going for a pint along the way.

Zoom has been our saviour but doesn’t compare to having the wind, rain and sometimes the sunshine in your face.

Winter Walks rolls up stretches of Yorkshire and unfurls them for you as you sit bootless on the sofa. It’s on iPlayer for another 11 months.

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Pants on fire all round, I fear…

Heartattack And Vine is on the CD player – lyrical happenstance for the mad decline of Donald Trump, with the title track’s opening refrain of “Liar liar with your pants on fire…”

Tom Waits is on to something here.

Before we set off along that corkscrew track, here are wise words from a sometimes darkly amused observer of modern political life. It’s Ian Hislop, editor of the veteran satirical magazine Private Eye. Here goes: “The biggest challenge is to overcome people’s relatively recent decision that anything in the mainstream media must be untrue, while anything they read online from someone’s bedroom is clearly absolute fact.”

Mistrust of the mainstream media can have many causes, some deserved and others not. Donald Trump didn’t invent this mistrust but he weaponised that lack of trust. And he was aided and abetted in that task by super-partisan news outlets such as Fox News in the US and almost any newspaper marked by Rupert Murdoch’s thumbprint. Incidentally, how did Murdoch manage to jump the vaccine queue well ahead of the Queen, Prince Philip and my mum?

Somewhere along the way, news as told by such outlets stopped being a report of something that had happened and became instead a blatantly one-sided telling that suited the teller; or suited the owner who paid the teller.

That, surely, is one of the reasons we ended up with Brexit, with so many newspapers blindly toeing the Leave line, their editors ordered in that direction. Too many newspapers told obvious lies about Brexit, while the fair-minded BBC did us a disservice by elevating Nigel Farage in the spirit of hearing both sides.

That, surely, is how the world ended up being misled by slogans – “Make America Great Again”, “Take Back Control”, “Get Brexit Done”.

That, surely, is how we were blindsided by meaningless catchphrases designed to make us look to the imagined blue yonder rather than at what we were about to tread in.

And that, the more you look at it, is why Trump and Brexit are twins, Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the neo-liberal nursery rhyme of modern life.

Trump made lying the new political truth. A four-year experiment in telling nuclear whoppers ended last week when an armed mob of right-wing loons invaded the US Congress to stop Joe Biden’s victory being certified. They were urged on by Trump, who hymned them as “patriots”, before later condemning their actions in a robotic statement he’d clearly he forced to deliver.

Just think of that: the departing president fomented a riot that looked like a coup – and all because he won’t admit that he lost the election.

Towards the beginning of Trump’s tawdry reign, I was teaching journalism at university. One line I trundled out about Trump was that the ‘fake news’ he decried was only fake when it declined to flatter him. Fake news that flattered him would have been fine to Trump.

Looking back, I was right and wrong about that. It is true that Trump wanted the news to serve only him. But there was more to it than that.

For Trump, undermining journalists was just part of his assault on established systems; traditional politics, science, social equality – all were smashed by the malign me-me. A madly egotistical wrecking ball destroying everything in the hope it would make himself stronger.

The world is well shot of him. But too many people will still believe what they “read online from someone’s bedroom”.

On a cheerier note, I do love the way assorted Tory MPs and ministers are furiously backtracking after previously having expressed sick-making admiration for the way Trump operated.

Never forget the self-basting words Trump spouted when Boris Johnson was elected prime minister – “They call him Britain Trump.”

Well, we call him many things nowadays. But I reckon ‘Britain Trump’ is one that should stick around, especially when his pals in the right-wing media are busy bashing out comment features insisting that Johnson is nothing like Trump.

Pants on fire all round, I fear.

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Time for a sober pause and a few thoughts on things old and new

IF you were wondering how Yorkshire folk of old referred to their more sozzled compatriots, the word you need is ‘crambazzled’.

Thanks to Susie Dent on Twitter for disinterring this piece of 19th-century Yorkshire dialect for “looking prematurely aged from excess drinking”.

Last night was my last ‘crambazzle’ for a month as I’m doing dry January for the first time. More of that sobering diversion in a moment.

The old year is out on its mean arse and the new one has poked a toe through the door. We spent New Year’s Eve on the sofa, doing a Zoom quiz with friends we would normally be seeing in person. A socially distanced laugh was had, but as a bunch of proud Europeans, we Zoom-mourned our official departure from the EU for a minute or two.

Probably at about around the time the editor of the Daily Express was writing his front-page headline for today – “Our Future. Our Britain. Our Destiny”.

Away from magic Brexit-land, where tattered old slogans float like deflating party balloons over Nigel Farage’s overflowing ashtray, plenty of us are still wondering what we’ve got ourselves into.

Still, just when you thought the country had been sold down the river by a right-wing clique who want to put our rights through the monetarist shredder, Boris Johnson is on hand to calm our nerves by celebrating our “amazing” future. It’s a good job that man’s fluid and floaty promises aren’t written on the back of a crumpled copy of the Daily Telegraph, or we’d all be in the shit.

But now I’d like to raise a glass to what I’ll not be drinking. It is for others to say whether I’m in danger of looking ‘crambazzled’. Not from a safe distance would be my hopeful guess.

Some people clearly drink too much, some hardly drink at all, and some drink at the weekends and abstain for four days in a row, glancing over the alcohol-free days for a heartening glimpse of a waiting bottle or two.

Drinking is a treat, cake at the weekends, a notification of cheerful difference. I don’t worry about my drinking, but have been doing it since entering a pub at the age of 17 and now I’m 64.

I’ll be happy when February shuffles along and will drink a celebratory pint in our local bar. That’s if the lovely little refuge is open again by then.

Here’s hoping for a better year than the dispiriting stretch of days that assembled themselves into 2020.  Today is a hinge between what’s gone and what is to come, and we need the hinge to swing in our favour right now.

Happy New Year to friends seen and unseen; to those lost in lockdown and to those who still insist Covid-19 is a plot and some elaborate put-up job by a controlling state. We are, as the cliché of the age puts it, all in this together, even if some us of us won’t stop arguing about what this is or why we’re in it.

Here’s wishing every member of the quarrelling congregation has a better one in 2021.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like a service station car park in the rain…

IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas 2020 at the services on the M62. An exchange of presents is taking place in the rain, bags being moved between cars. A grandfather stoops into his boot and lifts something out.

I have parked here after swapping presents at my father’s house nearby, staying only five minutes as he’s 88, vulnerable and worried about the new strain of Covid-19.

The plan had been for a coffee and a chat with my dad and his wife, lunch at my mother’s in Knutsford, then staying the night before driving home for Christmas Eve. Boris Johnson kiboshed that by cutting Christmas from five days to one in his last-minute special offer.

That’s why I’m sitting in the car in the rain, listening to Keith Jarrett being a piano wizard. The CD is The Koln Concert, recorded in 1975 but new to me. This reminds me of another pianist I love, a Cuban whose name is just out of reach. I’ve seen him twice and have three or four of his CDs; how can that name just disappear?

After a while my mother and her partner turn up in their car, with bags of presents to swap for the bags of presents in my boot. We go inside for a coffee. It’s a Costa, enough to sink the heart of a coffee snob, but the cappuccino isn’t that bad, and it’s a comfort to sit and chat. Not as good as lunch in their house and drinking wine in the evening, but even in dismal surroundings the chat lifts things, in the way family chat does if you are lucky.

We talk about this and that, touching on why it’s a relief my brother didn’t come over from Hong Kong for Christmas, as planned. He’d have been quarantined halfway to next Christmas if he had. We touch also on my other brother, who lives in Barnsley, generally a less troublesome location and mostly without the geopolitical complications.

Now we are outside in the rain, swapping presents as that family had done earlier. An icy wind is lending a hand to the rain, so the parting is swift, nudged elbows with my mum’s partner, a sort of fist-bump instead of a hug with my mother.

It doesn’t stop raining on the way home. Never mind driving home for Christmas, how about shuttling across the M62 in a sideways gale. The wind off Saddleworth always seems to come from the side. That farm stuck between motorway lanes like a traffic island is barely visible today.

The Keith Jarrett CD is back at its beginning, so I switch to the news on BBC Radio 4. Thousands of lorry drivers are stuck in Kent, desperate to get home; some are shouting at the police. It’s a spectacular mess all round. They’re not all in Kent though, as plenty are on the M62, spraying water everywhere.

Back home I unload the presents and my daughter the teacher arranges them neatly around the tree.

Before switching the kettle on, I go to the CD rack. Ah, yes, Roberto Fonseca – glad to put a lens on that mental blind spot.

Now I am writing this by the light of the Christmas tree and it does feel a bit like Christmas. Everyone is making strange accommodations this year. If I were a vicar appearing on Thought for The Day, I would probably point out that Christmas began with strange accommodations in that manger in Bethlehem.

But I’m not, so I won’t.

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A few merry thoughts on the man who cancelled Christmas…

Does it get us anywhere, all this hanging about in social media bubbles exchanging like-minded bitchy comments about Boris Johnson. A futile habit but one hard shake.

You tell yourself to go and do something useful instead, and then up he pops, hair all over the place, words all over the place, another reveal in the most crap advent calendar ever. Every single window has Johnson with his thumbs up or perhaps trying on a frown for size but ending up with a smirk.

Somewhere along life’s twisting path, Johnson adopted the moto If It Isn’t Smirking It Isn’t Working; never mind the occasion, a joke or silly metaphor is always hanging from his lips.

That man is addicted to foolish optimism. As a foolish optimist myself, I understand. But I’m just Mr Nobody sitting on a ledge while pontificating; he’s the prime minister, and he can’t keep making grand sweeping promises and then tearing them up.

This was all going to be over by Christmas, he told us in one of his lying Tigger moments. Just last week he was standing at the door, carolling us with Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, before shuffling off to annoy the people next door.

And then yesterday he did a reverse Santa and cancelled Christmas because a new coronavirus variant was “out of control”. This may well be a perfectly valid reason, although we’ve been spun so many varieties of the truth by now we don’t know what to believe.

It comes to something when you’re told of a lethal new variant of a potentially deadly virus, and all you can do is shrug and say but is he flourishing another whopper?

We needed a serious man for serious times, instead we got a grandstanding buffoon. Gordon Brown was on the radio earlier as we drove around delivering Christmas cards. He sounded sensible and prime ministerial – labels that never stick on Johnson.

Anyway, Christmas. The government should not have promised us that five-day holiday in the first place. Most people were resigned to a quiet one, then Johnson told everyone that Christmas was on again. He did that because he didn’t wish to be remembered as the Man Who Cancelled Christmas; and now he will be.

Yesterday’s announcement about the five days becoming one, and London and the south-east going into lockdown, had a consequence all to easy to have predicted: half of the capital rushed to the station, jostled in long queues, and crammed onto trains with no hope of social distancing.

It was almost a perfect plan, if you were an opportunistic virus looking to hitch a lift north.

According to the front page of the Sunday Times today, “Christmas is cancelled by surging mutant virus” – a headline positioned above a picture of Boris Johnson. This led to lots of amusement in those social media bubbles. Yes, he’s a useless posh scruff but it’s a bit mean to call him a mutant virus.

The only message this battered optimist can offer is to have the best Christmas you can muster, with loved ones or without; with plum pudding (a big yes from me) or without.

I saw an optimistic bus in York yesterday. On the front it bore a message about how 2021 will be better.

Maybe that bus is more trustworthy than the prime minister.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

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By jingoism, what have we done to deserve this crumpled fate?

Whatever you think about David Cameron, and he won few plaudits on this ledge, at least he knew how to wear a suit and look prime ministerial.

True, he was another old Etonian toff – but would you look at the state of the old Etonian toff we’re lumbered with now.

Boris Johnson rolled up to Brussels last week wearing a suit seemingly made for someone else. He gave the appearance of a man who’d slept in the bath after a domestic dispute, stumbled up in the morning and headed off for an important business meeting, saying to the closed bedroom door: “Just you wait – I’ll knock this one out of the park.”

The meeting in Brussels led nowhere much and Johnson returned saying that the no deal he’d promised was never on the cards might happen – but never mind for it would be ‘wonderful’. Reducing the nation to one of his ex-wives having to hear the same old lies over and over again.

At least Johnson was supported in Brussels by Lord Frost, Brexit adviser and fellow struggler with a shirt button. Frost and Johnson were photographed alongside the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen and Michel Barnier; the juxtaposition didn’t flatter, as the Europeans were trim and professional, while the Brits resembled two drinking buddies who’d stayed too long at the office party.

All of this is mightily depressing. All that lying Leaver talk of sunlit uplands, the easiest deal in history and an oven-ready deal that it turns out is nothing more than a half-remembered recipe for patriots’ pie scribbled on the sleeve of Johnson’s crumpled white shirt.

Remember too how the never less than knowingly duplicitous Michael Gove said we hold all the cards and can chose the path we want. Turns out we hold one rumpled joker and all the paths are shut.

Perhaps it is pointless, but as we slide ever closer to leaving without an agreement it is hard not to worry. And don’t fall for all that ‘Australian deal’ trickery; a no-deal is still a no-deal whether or not you stick a can of Fosters on top.

Do not be seduced either by talk of gunboats to protect our fish. That is an irrelevance designed to distract everyone from the mess the government has made of the negotiations.

What Johnson is pursuing has been called by some, including the former Tory MP turned top-notch columnist Matthew Parris, English exceptionalism.

That’s an accurate label, but it’s even worse than that: this is an old Etonian exceptionalism; this is Johnsonian exceptionalism, the belief that only he is right, even when in his secret heart he surely knows he’s making an utter bollocks of this.

Two contrasting newspaper front pages tell different sides to this story today. On the Observer, long my Sunday read, you will find the headline: “Tory grandees’ fury over PM’s ‘nationalist’ no-deal Brexit”. This reports that Johnson faces a rising tide of anger from senior Tories and business leaders, dismayed by his chaotic handling of Brexit (you know, the one he got done).

Over on the Mail on Sunday, if you can bear to look, you will find the disgraceful headline: “Merkel wants Britain to ‘crawl across broken glass’”. This shameful piece of jingoism is based on what is called a “Downing Street source”. Oh yeah? What’s the betting the source of that quote is a man who makes an expensive suit look like a bin bag?

Over the Atlantic, Donald Trump is shaming his stained presidency by fruitlessly dragging the election results through the courts. And on this side of the channel, Boris Johnson is shaming the country by dragging out the Brexit talks and blaming everyone else but the obvious culprit. The one he looks at in the mirror every morning while wondering where he put his comb, and then not bothering anyway.

 

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Betting the house on a midnight game of craps in Downing Street…

I LIKE to think when running. Sometimes what I’m thinking is, didn’t this used to be easier? Slowed down as I am by creaking joints and an unwanted half stone that on an honest day might be promoted to a whole stone.

For the past four-a-and-half years, while plodding around York, I’ve also been thinking about how to address Brexit in this blog. Previously on Man On Ledge: Brexit is a terrible idea, that’s all you need to know.

But what are we to make of the sorry shitstorm now it is about to hit us face on?

This morning’s Sunday sheets were full of Brexit stories. The Sunday Telegraph placed the headline “Final throw of the dice” above a hammily staged photograph of Boris Johnson. This showed Johnson lit by a desk lamp while trying to look resolute. Tiny upright print at the side of the picture gave the game away: it was taken by the Downing Street photographer.

No self-respecting photographer would offer up such an image. A good photographer would, as many have already done, capture a more honest moment, with Johnson looking stressed or crumpled. And an honest newspaper wouldn’t use propagandist images supplied by Downing Street, but we are talking about the Telegraph.

You could argue that this doesn’t matter, but sadly you’d be mistaken. It matters because Brexit always has been buttressed by lies, slippery promises and bull-headed assumption.

A year ago, Johnson won a handsome majority by saying that he’d “got Brexit done” and promising that he had an “oven-ready deal” with Europe.

Yet in 12 months we’ve gone from Johnson having an oven-ready deal to him trying to work out if he can get away with popping a frozen turkey in the microwave. And another problem for me with this cooking metaphor is I keep thinking Boris Johnson’s never been near an oven in his life.

In one long and wearisome year, we’ve progressed from fake promises reeled out by the yard and blithe lies about “the easiest deal in history”, to standing on the no-deal cliff edge and shouting at the French while rolling dice. Nine cabinet ministers are said to be ready to back Johnson’s potential no deal – but then they were only chosen for their blind fealty to Brexit and Johnson.

No one has yet given one convincing concrete reason for Brexit – and that’s because there aren’t any, but here we are, stuck like lorry drivers trying to get out of Kent and worrying about where to take a piss.

And please let’s drop all that fishy bluster. Sadly, the fishing industry is more or less irrelevant in the grand scale: it’s a Brexit smokescreen put up by Johnson and co. It has nothing to do with anything, and also if I hear anyone say sovereignty one more time, I may have to swallow a kipper whole.

It’s like a weird game of Top Trumps, where spouting sovereignty wins all arguments, even though no one has a sensible, everyday definition of what that means.

Last week, Brexit-addled Tories led by Jacob Rees-Mogg were even putting it about that Britain was only able to win fast-track approval of a Covid-19 jab because of Brexit. In fact the approval came under existing European law: another fat fib from the jar of tooth-breaking Union Jack mints.

These vaccines have, in short, been produced around the world by scientists collaborating and competing; and the slightly earlier arrival here of a vaccine made elsewhere hardly merits letting the patriotic parrot out of its cage.

As for that last throw of the dice, well that’s great. Let’s compare this country’s future to betting the house in a midnight game of craps.

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