I wonder what Prince Philip would have made of all the fuss…

IF you are not much of a royalist, this is a weekend to suppress your feelings.

But it is fair to wonder if Prince Philip’s own “no-fuss, no-nonsense” approach to life seems out of kilter with the intense coverage greeting his death.

Yesterday, all the BBC TV channels were swept clear of anything deemed unsuitable – and that was everything, MasterChef final and all, while the corporation’s radio stations spoke with one solemn voice.

ITV tidied away the usual programmes too, leaving Channel 4 to run long tributes, before returning to normal with Gogglebox (a proportionate decision, surely).

The BBC, in particular, will never please everyone. Any perceived slight will be magnified, making bosses nervous and inclined to defensive over-compensation, hence the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling tributes yesterday.

The relentless coverage prompted many viewers to complain, and the BBC kindly provided a page for their discontent. This in turn sent the stirrers of Defund the BBC off to Twitter for a whiny tantrum: “Disgraceful! The anti-British BBC has set up a form to encourage complaints about the volume of coverage of Prince Philips death.”

In this age of culture wars and dummies spat across rooms, that one deserves a statue all of its own. The BBC covers Prince Philip’s death with slavish, unstinting devotion – and for its efforts is accused of being “anti-British”.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, stood accused of being anti-comb.

Bumbling out into Downing Street to make the expected statement, the prime minister was his usual dishevelled self, hair arranged like a mutant dandelion.

Here is your reminder that he does this on purpose, thinking it makes him a character, so we shouldn’t fall for it. Even when he is saying what the moment demands, that messy hair turns attention back onto himself.

After a short while listening to Radio 4, the coverage was all too much for me. Thank heavens the BBC hadn’t switched off the iPlayer, as it did with BBC Four, where an on-screen announcement sent viewers back to the news and that royal Groundhog Day of solemnly repeating headlines.

Today’s newspapers are filled with Prince Philip, as is hardly surprising. Take your pick depending on stamina. The Sun looks more sombre than usual, although its main headline dips into sentimentality: “We’re all weeping with you, Ma’am.”

Too saccharinely presumptive for my tastes. The Guardian is better, a full-page black-and-white photograph with the simple, factual headline: “Prince Philip, 1921-2021.”

Its coverage runs to 13 pages, one comment piece and a leader article. A puny effort next to the Daily Mail’s “Historic 144-page issue”. Historic or histrionic, you decide. The Daily Telegraph goes down the same road as the Guardian, only with a full page colour photograph.

Some commentary is deep-fried in hypocrisy. And, yes, we are looking at you, Piers Morgan in the Daily Mail. Thanks to Tim Walker on Twitter for putting Morgan’s fulsome tribute next to an earlier Philip-bashing column, as seen here…

There is no right way to do national grief but the assumption that everyone is upset seems foolish and inaccurate. Yet surely we can agree that Philip’s death, although unsurprising, is personally devastating for the Queen. That is the one important part of this story, and it’s a private weight of grief gathered at the end of a long marriage, not a public spilling of tears by those who didn’t know the man they are crying about.

Personally, I like to think of Prince Philip throwing something at a celestial TV screen, shouting: “Where’s Gardeners’ World – what have they done with Monty! This is a damn disgrace. Get me a fountain pen. I am writing a letter to the director general of the BBC. Dear pipsqueak…”

Philip certainly gave history a run for its money. Not bad for a discredited Balkan prince of no particular merit or distinction. Lest you think me unkind, that was how Prince Philip once described himself.

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The archbishop’s expensive friend… and that Covid-19 memorial wall

AS any atheistic fool knows, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven; or something.

Quite where this cautionary parable leaves a ‘critical friend’ to the Archbishop of York being paid a fortune is another matter.

The job advert mentions a “competitive salary in the region of £90,000 a year”. This appears to be more than archbishop Stephen Cottrell earns himself, according to the ‘clergy pay and expenses’ section of the Church of England website.

There it suggests that the second most important churchman earns £71,470, although I am happy to be corrected if the archbishop happens to be near, although not many archbishops loiter on this ledge.

Seeing that job advert, I wondered for a minute about passing my own lack of religion through the eye of that needle. It does stipulate in the advert that you have to be a Christian, but times are hard for those of us without religion, too.

It’s an awful lot of money for an archbishop’s friend/chief of staff. Did no one think to say that this won’t look so good from a church that’s supposed to be big on modesty; did no one splutter out their milky afternoon tea or choke on their digestive when such a stupendous sum was mentioned?

Also, did no one remember that the previous archbishop, Dr John Sentamu, once said that top executive salaries “weaken community life”?

Speaking in November 2011, Sentamu criticised high salaries in the financial sector, saying: “Among the ill effects of very large income differences between rich and poor are than they weaken community life and make societies less cohesive.”

It is true that he was talking about company executives who wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning for £90,000 a year. But in the ordinary world of ordinary people shuffling by York Minster on whatever they can manage to earn, 90 grand a year is a fortune.

Small parish churches left to survive on a relative pittance may also be surprised that keeping the archbishop company is so handsomely remunerated.

Robert Beaumont, an old friend to this ledge, can be heard making this sensible point in articles for YorkMix and the York Press. As well as being an occasional lunch companion, Robert is churchwarden of St John’s Church in Minskip.

“Being brutally honest, I feel this is terribly ill-advised as some churches in our Boroughbridge Parish, including ours, are really struggling to survive and paying a massive Parish Share each month,” Robert says in those reports. “The C of E is weighed down by bureaucracy and has, I feel, got its priorities all wrong.”

Something else to discuss when that pandemic-delayed lunch rolls around. Perhaps we should ask the archbishop’s mate to pick up the tab.

 

SOMETIMES a cartoonist says everything you are thinking. So it is today with Ben Jennings in The Guardian.

His cartoon draws attention to Boris Johnson waving the flag as a distraction from the Covid-19 death toll. It shows the prime minister pulling a union flag over the memorial wall on which those who’ve lost loved ones have been drawing hearts.

The National Covid Memorial Wall, near Westminster Bridge, is a very affecting sight, thanks to the massed repetition of a simple heart symbol.

Thousands of red hearts have now been painted on this wall opposite the Houses of Parliament. A perfect memorial to those carelessly lost to Covid before the government got its head together. Now we are supposed only to talk of the relative success of the vaccination programme, putting the shocking toll of dead out of mind somehow.

This brilliant wall corrects the imbalance. If anyone spies a dishevelled blond man with a tin of white paint, call the police. You’ll probably find them guarding that statue of Winston Churchill, as they seem to prefer that to any other job.

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If this carries on, I might fall out of love with the BBC…

TO stick up for the BBC is to turn yourself into a human dart board and I have the puncture marks to prove it. Sadly, this week the BBC has been trying my long loyalty on two fronts: one political, the other cultural.

The political annoyance comes with the BBC’s apparent refusal to carry any reports on the Mirror’s interview with Jennifer Arcuri, who has been spilling lurid beans about what she says was her affair with Boris Johnson during his time as London Mayor.

A certain squeamishness is understandable. Some things are best not imagined, especially all that blond blubbery bouncing, along apparently with a sock lost to passion.

Andrew Marr plum forgot to mention it while skimming the front pages on his BBC1 show last Sunday. Whizzing through a newsprint sheaf, he finished with the Sunday Telegraph, keeping his hand firmly on that front page, seemingly to ensure no one caught a saucy glimpse of the Sunday Mirror beneath.

Took me back to when my grandma would hover in front of the television if she thought anything sinfully inappropriate was about to sully the screen.

Over on BBC Radio Four’s Broadcasting House – one of my favourite programmes – the newspaper review also swerved the Arcuri/Johnson story. Was this just chance or had word gone out from on high that the unseemly business had to stay under the covers? It’s barely been touched by the BBC, apart from Emily Maitlis’s sweep-up prelude about lack of political accountability on Newsnight.

It’s tempting to wonder if the new director general, Tim Davie, a Tory and a believed Johnson supporter, wanted this story squashing. The Murdoch newspapers also sat this one out, with even the Sun more or less staying schtum on what in other circumstances would be the most Sun story ever.

People often talk about the liberal establishment. I’m still waiting for my invitation to join, but fear it must be lost in the privatised post. But with this story we seem to see the traditional establishment at work, making sure that an unsightly stain is covered up.

If this was only about sex, it would simply remind us of Johnson’s famed lack of fidelity; but we knew that already. The political side to this one is that Johnson is said to have officially backed Arcuri’s business during their affair, at a time when she received a £100,000 government grant.

If any other politician was tangled up in such a sofa shag of a story, you’d never hear the end of it in the newspapers and on the television. Yet Johnson always leaps free from everything, like that last slippery sliver of soap you can never grasp.

The cultural disappointment comes with the announcement this week that BBC Four is being downgraded to become an ‘archive channel’ – a posh way of saying a repeats bargain bin. This is a crying shame as BBC Four is filled with excellent arts documentaries, music programmes, quirky comedy classics such as Detectorists, and has introduced many of us to the murky pools of Scandi noir.

What a terrible waste. BBC Four is often first port of call in this house, especially when my wife has spotted an art documentary etched into the listings.

This decision antagonises natural supporters of the BBC, and is a terrible move, even though the BBC still does many things well. Tim Davie, if this is his idea, has shot himself in the foot here. Still, at least Boris Johnson might be able to lend him a sock.

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A few home thoughts on why we’ll end up missing the office…

A FRIEND was walking past our house the other day and we had an old-fashioned, face-to-face chat. He still works in the newspaper office where I parked my Doc Martens until a few years ago. Or he does when he’s not typing at home.

Offices are under threat as companies see the economic benefits of having people working from home. Newspaper offices are endangered for the same reason, especially as too many modern press companies never turn down an opportunity to squeeze the last blood from their anaemic stone.

Reach, owner of the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express, has just told most of its regional journalists that they will now be working from home. This may appeal to some, although it’s hard not to mourn the newspaper office, that crucible of creative gossip and busily tapping fingers. That home of good conversation and heated exchanges; of parried tips and shared sources; of great annoyance and good chats around the boiling kettle.

Young reporters who sign up and find themselves confined to their home will be missing out on learning from those around them, those padded with chat and old stories. Maybe they’ll see that as a narrow escape, but they risk being isolated in a job that’s all about people.

As a nomad of the late pastures, I’ve had a few assorted jobs now, and for the past year they’ve all been done from the study. This is both socially isolating and quietly congenial. If another office job ever comes along, my rider will be that I expect to be able to pick up my guitar through the working day, for a consoling strum; consoling to the strummer, at least.

My first newspaper office was small and sat above a shop in Greater Manchester. Other than that, there is not much to say about the six months spent there.

The second was large and sat above a shop in Deptford, south east London, adjacent to the pub where the playwright Christopher Marlowe is said to have been murdered in 1593. It was also next to the station and the office window offered a panoramic view of the platform. Of people coming and going, and waiting (some since 1593).

On climbing the stairs from the street, you were greeted by the switchboard lady, through whom all calls had to pass, as she plugged you into the outside world, goddess of a pre-digital portal.

We worked on typewriters, slipping a piece of carbon paper between two sheets, and the office rang to the clatter of keys, and stank of smoke and the sweet souring of afternoon beer, lunchtime drinking being the pastime of that lost age.

The editor was genial in the morning, a cheerfulness generally dissipated in the afternoon by too much midday Guinness. At his best, he was a campaigning editor who used his newspaper to stand against the National Front; at his second best he could spot a good job application submitted by a young man sitting above a shop in Greater Manchester.

Computers came in eventually, and not long afterwards another newspaper office was added to the collection, but only on Saturdays, when shifts were done on the Observer, which sat close to St Paul’s cathedral. A classic, old-fashioned newspaper office, until the paper moved across town to something swish with glass lifts.

After that there was York and three offices for the same newspaper, the most recent being the smallest, a parable in brick for the declining state of local newspapers, sadly.

Apart from that, I’ve worked in a newspaper agency office, shared a small university office, and roamed rootless at another university, sans office. And sat at home in the study, rooted but without companions (friendly Zoom coffee breaks making for a passable substitute).

Not everything is good about the office, but mostly it seems beneficial to be working away from home, to be mixing with your colleagues, to have someone to talk to who doesn’t have their looming Zoom face on.

 

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Flagging up a problem with the way they carry on…

YOU can’t move without tripping over union jacks on the TV news these days. No ministerial Zoom call is complete without a flag the size of the average duvet.

All this is just another round in the culture wars. If, as Samuel Johnson suggested, “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, there are a lot of patriotic charlatans around at the moment. When they’re not changing the law to protect statues, they’re flapping flags and suggesting that anyone who disagrees is some category of traitor.

The writer of this blog would like to make a confession. While typing this I am not wearing union jack underpants. Feel free to sue my unpatriotic arse if you wish.

An asinine row broke out last week after TV presenter Naga Munchetty “sniggered at the union jack”, according to a report in the i newspaper. She was later coerced into apologising for liking “offensive” tweets criticising a government minister for being surrounded by flags in his office.

If you keep your sensible head on, you will see that Munchetty was sniggering not at the union jack but at ministers wrapping themselves in the flag at every opportunity.

According again to that report in the i, BBC News bosses were angry that such sniggering “undermined the corporation’s major initiative to appeal to working class viewers”.

Oh, they should get over themselves and grant those working class viewers with a bit of nous. I am sure they can see when the union jack is being waved in their faces as a political distraction from other matters.

The BBC running scared of flag sniggering is run by Tim Davie. On Google, “Is Tim Davie…a Tory?” is the first suggested search. The answer is yes, he is a former Tory councillor.

In a surprise turn-around yesterday, the rightwards-tilting new director general was confronted by an indignant Tory MP during a bizarre Zoom exchange about the BBC’s annual report.

James Wild, possibly the oldest 43-year-old in the country, demanded to know why the BBC annual report featured only one or possibly no union jacks (honestly, I refuse to pay too much attention to such a twerp).

Davie pointed out reasonably enough that the union jack flew over Broadcasting House, adding that the lack of a flag in a report was “a strange metric” by which to measure patriotism.

You can be proud about your country without turning your face beetroot-red. And to be proud of your country in a sensible manner, you have to accept the bad along with the good. No country is 100% good and shouting that we’re the greatest is just puerile – and, if you ask me, not very British.

Then there is vaccine nationalism, using the union jack as a convenient sheet to pull over 130,000 deaths so far during the pandemic.

All this anti-Europe shouting has validity only in so far as the EU is being deeply inept in trying to come up with a vaccine policy. Our successful roll-out is a tribute to the NHS and to clear thinking very late in the afternoon. It doesn’t wipe away all the terrible errors. This nation, to quote from last Sunday’s Observer, “verged on criminal incompetence over its attempts to control the disease”.

What the world needs now is global co-operation and no sneering at the neighbours. To borrow a much-abused phrase, we’re all in this together, and gloating over the garden fence, or the English channel, doesn’t help anyone.

We’re not out of this until we’re all out of this.

Oh, and performing well on vaccination doesn’t suddenly make Brexit a good idea. That will still be a stinker long after we’ve waded through this pandemic.

 

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Walking the irony plank in Johnson’s £2.6m press briefing room…

ALLEGRA Stratton, Boris Johnson’s extravagantly paid press secretary, sure has to walk the irony plank. Perched there the other day, she came up with a good one about her boss.

“In the months and years ahead, as he perhaps rearranges his top team, he will be mindful of making sure that that cabinet looks like the British public,” she said.

On those grounds he’d be turfing himself out of his own cabinet. One thing you can say for certain about Boris Johnson is that he has zero resemblance to the great British public.

On the same occasion, Stratton also floated the charming idea that Johnson is a ‘feminist’ – a claim that allowed columnists to pull out a few of his greatest hits, including: “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts.”

Perhaps he’d been quoting Germaine Greer or something.

Have you seen the new briefing room in which Stratton will strut her irony stuff? It is said to have cost £2.6m, a remarkable sum for a room that from the early photographs looks like the most expensive village hall in the land after an ill-advised, faintly fascistic makeover. I’d heard that Changing Rooms was coming back to TV but hadn’t realised the series had already started.

Who knew that so many union flags could be squeezed into one place? Like a fool I always thought that flag belonged to the country, but the Conservative Party appears to have bought the franchise when no one was paying attention.

How Johnson enjoys spending other people’s money on vanity projects. Two point six mill is an astonishing sum to splurge on one room so that Stratton can spin-wash the stains. Truly she is the biological washing powder of politics, guaranteed to remove all the mendacity skid-marks.

If you’re wondering how one room cost so much, that’s just how it is with Boris Johnson and money. Someone is always there to pick up the tab. His partner, Carrie Symonds, is reported to have blown £200,000 on decorating a flat in Downing Street – a pound or two over the usual £30,000 budget for prime ministers. A secret whip round among Tory donors is reported to have quietly sorted out that one.

Then there is the new Boris Bunker, a situation room for national emergencies that will come to a reported £9m. Clearly a bargain, as the only added cost will be a Winston Churchill fancy dress outfit in which Johnson can wander around pointing at things.

And while you are digging down the back of the national sofa, could Johnson please have £20m to investigate building a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Or how about the failed garden bridge project across the Thames, dating from his days as London Mayor? That span to nowhere cost you and me £43m, according a BBC report of February 19, 2019.

And did someone just mention £37bn on a test and trace system that seems to have been of little real benefit? Perhaps the blowing of such an incomprehensible sum explains why there is nothing much in the kitty to give nurses a decent pay rise.

Here, to close, is a trailer for another money-spraying venture. This is the No 10 documentary being heavily trailed on social media with the movie-like tagline: “Extraordinary. Unexpected. Fantastic.” A Beacon of Hope: The UK Vaccine Story.”

Does that sound like a white-washing exercise to remove all memory of all the earlier pandemic mistakes and one of the highest death tolls in the world, while washing away all talk of a public inquiry?

Over to you, Allegra.

 

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If only the ‘vengeful Left’ was a bit less rubbish, Mr Littlejohn…

YOU have to feel for those poor right-wing newspaper columnists, forced to toil unnoticed as an unfeeling world does them down.

Please lend your pity to Richard Littlejohn. All those years of ranting away in the Daily Mail and other unseemly locations. All those years of the world being against you. Just the other day, Littlejohn could be heard complaining again about that rotten left-wing plot.

“The vengeful Left is cynically using a rift in the Royal Family to launch an all-out assault on the British Press,” ran the headline above his column.

To misquote Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo, “infamy, infamy, those scheming lefties have all got it in for me”.

Just imagine the torment of being a right-wing columnist for all those years. Your side wins the elections, pulls the levers of power – and yet still those devious lefties want to spoil your fun with their liberal establishment and their wicked woke ways.

In this instance, the leftie avengers had ganged up on the misunderstood chief of the Society of Editors, Ian Murray. This is a journo-centric matter in a way, but stick with me. After Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which they accused the British press of racism, Murray issued a tin-eared rallying call, declaring that there was no racism in the press.

Assorted journalists – many black, but by no means all – protested about this statement; assorted editors – some vaguely left-wing, but by no means all – protested about this statement. And Murray stepped down, clearly having erred.

Yet he was the victim of his own actions, not of the vengeful left. It’s telling the way right-wing columnists play the poor us card in order to make themselves the victims. They wilfully exaggerate the power of the lefties and the liberals, conjuring up an enemy far more powerful than the puny reality.

As for what Murray said, the newspapers don’t get to decide if they are racist. That’s for others to say. And the same observation does royal service with the Duke of Cambridge who, when ambushed by a reporter’s impudence, declared: “We are very much not a racist family.” What else could he say? Not much, but again that’s for others to say.

In case you should be wondering what a right-wing columnist might make of last night’s appalling scenes on Clapham Common, think no more. Sarah Vine is on hand in the Mail on Sunday to give her view on the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard, a death that lies heavy on the heart of York, where Sarah grew up.

To be fair to Vine, her column would have been written before last night’s appalling scenes in which women protesting about violence against women found themselves being manhandled – a word used advisedly in this context – by police officers.

But still…

“How wrong for Sarah’s death to be hijacked by men haters,” runs that headline. As for what lies beneath, I’ve not read it and have no intention of doing so. But I did read Littlejohn’s efforts, so feel free to cut me some slack.

Home secretary Priti Patel might say “questions need to be answered” over the police handling of that vigil in Sarah’s memory. But a wider question needs to be asked about her new Policing Bill that aims to extend temporary pandemic restrictions on protest marches.

Sadly, Patel is intolerance personified. She is also a publicly alleged bully whose reportedly intolerable behaviour cost the government – in other words, you and me – £340,000 to settle with ex-Home Office chief Philip Rutman.

Still, there’s probably a right-wing column to be written about how the ‘Pritster’ – to borrow the prime minister’s absurd nickname for her – doesn’t deserve any of this and has been set up by vengeful lefties.

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One man, two guvnor laptops…

PERHAPS one day all this will be over. Perhaps it already is and no one thought to tell me.

And maybe one day the memory will fade of trying to set up an online work meeting on two laptops at the same time.

The cause of this act of juggling is no longer worth recalling. Just imagine if you will a man watching himself on two separate screens, each capturing a different unflattering reflection, as he bobs between the computers.

It is rumoured that this man goes out running three times a week. If so, the belly captured on one of the screens seems unfortunate. No, really, that can’t be a true representation. It must be the angle of the screen or something.

For reasons best known to themselves, the two laptops are screaming at each other in a feedback shout-off. The man ducking between the two computers, while trying not to notice his belly again, decides the only thing to do is switch off one of the laptops.

Silence returns, there is only one of the man again, a definite improvement. Then the man realises he’s turned off the computer that made the invitation to the meeting, and now he won’t be able to let anyone in.

The past year or so has been like that for many of us, the office swapped for the study; human company replaced by the rattle in your own head. At least those of us with grown-up children haven’t had to home educate for great stretches of time, a free pass worth having.

But still, all this staying at home is kind of weird. The same four walls, the same two computer screens (plus the trusty old laptop with the sticking keys on which this is being written). The same two work phones (plus the personal mobile).

The office long ago rattled to noisy typewriters and chatter and smelled of smoke and afternoon beer. All that years later has been replaced by these four walls and the occasional smell of coffee.

At the time of tapping, I have done three different jobs within these walls. At least there is a window with a hopeful view over the garden, trees greening, the birds singing. And the bloody cat sitting on the printer yet again. Oy, missus, vamoose. Some of us have got what now passes for work to do.

Which laptop needs turning on first?

 

 

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I belong to Team Big Shrug… and a new motto for Boris Johnson…

ACCORDING to the front page of the Sunday Times, a newspaper which once filled that slot with proper news, the Queen “won’t watch the Harry and Meghan circus”. You and me both, Your Majesty.

It’s common to ask whether or not you are “Team Meghan”. For the record, I am Team Big Shrug. My shoulders have been raised for so long they seem to be stuck.

In this country it’s not always easy to say you are not bothered about the royal family, but that’s the way it is. Not republicanism so much as a long, whistling sigh of, “Here we go again” as the Windsor Waltzer spins off, this time for Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, showing in the US first and airing on ITV tomorrow (although not at Buck House or in this house).

All this takes up so much national headspace. It doesn’t help that royal reporting is mostly assembled from shoddy scraps of nothing. The patron saint of this thankless art is the BBC’s Nicholas Witchell, who pops up on the evening news as if he’s just burrowed into the studio, shaking earth off his nose as he opens his mouth to relay hardly anything at all.

He was at it when the Duke of Edinburgh went into hospital, suffering from heart problems. Witchell knew nothing more than we did, which was that an extremely elderly man had been admitted to hospital again, but there he was, sharing his frown and the little he did know.

The headlines are filled with the royals at the expense of so much else, avoiding the need for proper reporting or investigation.

Yet even a member of Team Big Shrug can see that Meghan and Harry appear to have been set up as convenient media villains, and her more than him, as she ‘stole’ the good prince, and because she’s American, an actress, a woman in her own right, and a black or biracial woman in her own right, too (the nerve of that woman).

Nice, conventional Kate had none of these problems when she married William, the less troubled prince, slipping straight into the dutiful mould prepared for her.

*******

BECAUSE I am kind like that, here is a new motto for Boris Johnson: accept the praise but never the blame.

That seems to sum up his chaotic, self-centred approach to a life in which nothing that goes wrong has anything to do with him. So it is that he wants full praise for the vaccination programme, and not a whisper of blame for one of the highest death rates in the world, and the endless billions spent on a track and trace system of dubious benefit. Endless as in, at the latest count, £37 billion. How on earth is such a mind-boggling sum even possible?

Why is ‘NHS’ often shoved in front of track and track, while it is the government’s vaccination programme? The vaccination programme shows the NHS working at its collaborative best, and the NHS should own it.

After being half-asleep at the wheel, after being too distracted to even bother attending the first five Cobra meetings on Covid-19, after boasting a year ago about shaking the hands of coronavirus patients, after chucking out PPE deals without regard to the usual rules, Johnson eventually grabbed the steering wheel.

But all he did was start doing his job a little more properly, and he doesn’t deserve praise for that.

*******

IN explaining away the government’s insulting 1% pay rise for nurses and other health workers, health secretary Matt Hancock blamed “issues of affordability because of the consequences of the pandemic on the public finances”.

I am confident we will see a lot more of this, with the pandemic becoming a handy get-out clause for everything. Blaming the pandemic is convenient because the pandemic can’t exactly answer back. And it avoids taking any responsibility for the spending of extra billions that perhaps didn’t to be spent so freely.

How long before “the consequences of the pandemic” are blamed for bringing in even more privatisation of the NHS?

Still, £3.50 a week for nurses – that’s almost what it said on the side of that bus.

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Plenty of things the jab won’t inoculate me against…

The Queen last night, encouraging people to have the jab

THE jab is booked for Monday, but I’m feeling worried. Not about anything going wrong, though.

No, I’m worried about the things I’ll never be inoculated against, such as hating Boris Johnson. Or the nasty suspicion that Matt Hancock will escape having been censured by a High Court judge for breaching the law by failing to publish the details of those hastily arranged Covid-19 PPE contracts.

Or a lingering doubt that Sir Keir Starmer will never hold Johnson properly to account, what with not criticising the government over the pandemic, and shoving Brexit under the carpet instead of pointing to the awful mess on the floor.

And, oh, I’m worried that it won’t inoculate me against feeling cross about things over which I have no control, or guard against becoming over-heated when thinking about politics.

So perhaps I should just enjoy the jab. Good for me and, as the Queen said last night in a Zoom meeting, good for society.

It’s certainly the talk of our WhatsApp group. Stories swapped about who’s had it and who hasn’t. In life’s long arc, teenage worries about who’s had it and who hasn’t are replaced by excited chatter about who’s had the jab.

As I’ve not yet been inoculated against worrying about the news, here is the not-news. That story about Matt Hancock disappeared under a dreary deluge of coverage devoted to a year-old story about Prince Harry not being allowed back in the Royal Family. He was in Windsor quarantine for a year, now he’s off (which he was already).

Down the noisy corridor in Twitter-land, people were ranting about how a non-story had hidden a real story. The BBC didn’t report the story at all, they grumbled – not quite true, but its coverage was subdued, and it seemed to slip off the main TV news altogether.

This government has nearly all the newspapers on side, and if the BBC doesn’t report stories embarrassing to the party in power, who will? Words can have two meanings, and this story was covered in the sense of having something put on top of it.

There followed a spot of Twitter ping-pong with a fellow journalist (if that’s what I still am).

That story’s been muted.

No it hasn’t because muted means an absence of sound, and the story was reported.

Having not yet been inoculated against looking up the meaning of words, I muttered to myself that muted means muffled in musical terms, or not expressed strongly or openly in general terms.

Perhaps after Monday’s encounter with the needle, I’ll be free of such concerns.

My parents, long since separated but united in peering over the fence at 90, were inoculated a while back, and now the jabs are being lined up for youngsters of 64.

Some are suspicious, but we have to put faith in inoculation, as it looks like the best way back to some sort of a life. And the best way back to a much-delayed pint in a pub, seeing live music again, watching a film in a cinema, and a walk with inoculated friends.

They’ll be plenty to talk about.

 

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