If this is virtue signalling, you can count me in…

Marcus Rashford, Man United footballer, man of the moment and the nation’s social conscience, has managed all of that by the age of 22.

Assorted Tory MPs two or three times his age have been making dreadful blue arses of themselves while explaining why they voted against extending free school meals for children into the half-term holiday for children in England.

After Rashford campaigned on this for the summer holidays, the government refused to listen, then executed one of those integrity-burning U-turns they keep doing.

At the time of typing, Boris Johnson and Co are refusing to change their minds this time. Five Tory MPs backed the Labour motion, so they are not quite all dreadful blue arses.

The government argues it has put more money into universal credit, while also sending £63m to local councils to help people in hardship.

I put those reported facts out there in fairness. Now let’s have a fool’s auction of Tory MPs huffing and bluffing about how families should feed children, not the state.

Who’ll give me what for Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, who reportedly claims many parents kept their children out of school during lockdown to they could have supermarket vouchers instead.

Or what about Mansfield MP Ben Bradley, who tweeted his opposition to Rashford’s free school meals campaign, implying that in his constituency the money would be spent on drugs instead. Bradley then spent even longer blaming that old villain Con Text, claiming that he absolutely did not say what everyone thought he said.

Government blather-person Kit Malthouse went on the radio in his role as the Minister For Whatever the Government’s Just Put Its Foot In. He has a proper title which you are free to look up. Anyway, blather, blather, you don’t understand at all, he said. Or something like that.

I think my favourite must be the Shipley MP Philip Davies, always a strong contender in any he-said-what? contest. Mr Davies criticised a constituent who got in touch to complain about Tory MPs voting against free school meals in half-term.

She pointed out to her MP: “Almost 20,000 children in Bradford require free school meals, the city in which you live, the place with constituents you are meant to be working for, and today you voted so they’d go hungry over the holidays.”

Delightfully, Davies accused her of virtual-signalling, adding: “I take the rather old fashioned view that parents should be primarily responsible for feeding their children rather than the state.”

What he didn’t know was that his constituent was a 16-year-old sixth-former. When told of her identity and age, he remained unabashed, as usual.

Incidentally, Davies has for a partner the fellow right-winger Esther McVey. How delightful. I wonder if together they might breed attack puppies, training them to nip the ankles of anyone who signals virtue. Nothing much is surprising any more, although I did just make that up (I think).

In 2017/18, the independent Social Metrics Commission calculated that there were 4.8m children living in poverty in the UK. That is a dreadful indictment of this country, whoever is in power. Or if you are Paul Scully, the Minister for Something or Other – I just looked, he’s Minister for London (lucky London) – childhood poverty is just a Big Shrug Emoji.

In a BBC interview, Scully said “children have been going hungry for years”, blaming Labour governments too. “It’s their fault too” isn’t much of a defence – especially when what you’ve said sounds as if children living in poverty is just one of those things.

Let’s brush aside those shabby MPs and wind up with the words of Marcus Rashford, who is using his fame and his own childhood poverty to do good.

And they are fine words…

“These children matter. These children are the future of this country. They are not just another statistic. And for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”

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The strange snubbing of Dr Sentamu and a Lordly U-turn…

EVEN a man without faith who surveys the world from an imaginary ledge can see that denying Dr John Sentamu a seat in the House of Lords would be unfair.

That apparent snub was reported by the Sunday Times, and then went through the U-bend of government decision making to come out facing the other way round. As so many decisions do.

There are a few aspects to this latest Downing Street whoopsie-dozy, not least whether church leaders should be in the Upper House at all. But leading clerics do sit in the Lords, so stopping the progress of the widely admired former Archbishop of York would have been petty.

Was there a current of racism in blocking Dr Sentamu? Probably not exactly, but it could be seen that way – especially as Dr Sentamu has never been afraid to speak his mind about social issues.

The argument for blocking the admirable doctor was that the House of Lords was full. What outrageously floppy flapdoodle. Boris Johnson has just ennobled a ragbag of Brexit supporters, along with his own brother – 36 new peers, the second-highest number of new peers for 20 years. That’s 36 times £300 a day, plus expenses.

If the place is chocker, that’s why.

Today’s Daily Mail kicked off with a different clerical clash, saying that the prime minister is “set for war” with the five Anglican Church leaders. This is because they wrote a joint letter warning that the government’s Brexit legislation could set a “dangerous precedent” if passed in its current form.

In a comment piece, the Mail asks “what on earth” this has to do with the Church, suggesting clerics should stand for election if they want to dabble in politics.

It’s a point – and one sometimes muttered in the corner of this ledge. But if assorted prime ministerial pals can be shoved into the Lords as part of the chumocracy, without a vote but a flexible flick of the back-scratcher, it’s hard to see that the archbishops shouldn’t deliver the occasional unflattering political sermon.

When the clerics agree with governments, minister say how much they appreciate the heavenly good sense; when the clerics turn turbulent, they shout disgrace.

While the House of Lords is constructed as it is, knocked together from glittered scraps of history and shabbily bestowed privilege, I can’t see a problem with archbishops having their say.

It would be better to have an elected second chamber, rather than one packed with the chums of assorted prime ministers. Until that happens, which it won’t ever, let the archbishops speak. And let Dr John Sentamu speak. He won over many in Yorkshire during his spell as archbishop. Even a man without faith who surveys the world from an imaginary ledge will happily admit that.


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A short stumble from Savile Row to the Oxfam shop… the art of political photography

I KNOW a few underemployed photographers. Perhaps they will be interested to learn that the Cabinet office has a job at around sixty grand a year.

An initial misreading of this story left me thinking Boris Johnson wanted a photographer to take more flattering photos.

He usually looks shiftily dishevelled in news photographs. Most men are smart in a suit even if they’d rather not wear one. Johnson contrives to be untidy in suits that never fit, bunching up in the wrong places, the trousers too long (or the legs too short; an affliction I share), the jacket buttons awkwardly skew-whiff.

A short stumble from Savile Row to the Oxfam shop.

Photographs of political leaders can themselves be political. Not so much in the shooting as in how they are used. A news photographer will fire off in rapid succession, hoping to catch the moment, combining their skill with a sixth sense for what might be about to happen.

Which photograph to use is then an artistic choice or a judgment about how the photograph fits the story. Or the decision will itself be political, as pictures can make a leader look good or bad, flattery or insult delivered by the same lens, seconds apart.

That’s what I thought was happening here, Johnson wanting someone to do a bit of brown-nosing with a camera. But I’d forgotten he already has a personal photographer in the shape of Andrew Parsons.

It’s surely a vanity project for a PM to employ his own photographer. It’s also pointless, unless he wishes to ban all other photographers.

Such a decree seems unlikely, although in truth it would no longer tick the box marked: “Well, I wasn’t expecting to discover that.”

Especially when you consider that Boris Johnson has just appointed his own press spokesman, the job going to the political journalist Allegra Stratton at a reported £100,000 a year.

A lot of taxpayers’ money for a spokeswoman to understudy the prime minister. Why can’t Boris Johnson just speak for himself? At a guess the foot-in-mouth potential explains that one.

Anyway, the Cabinet Office photographer is reportedly being hired to “promote the work of ministers and the wider government visually”.

If the photographer is too controlled, this risks being  another political vanity project. If they are allowed to photograph whatever they want however they want, the results could be interesting. But how likely is such freedom?

It is interesting how leaders worry about their image. All those photographs of Johnson looking dishevelled and knackered are not flattering. But they tell the story. They flatter not him but the moment – far more than a stage-managed shot of the Bumbler in Chief pretending to be statesmanlike. The strain is part of the story.

In the US, photographer Pete Sousa worked with the Republican Ronald Reagan and the Democrat Barack Obama. He expresses horror at the tawdry soap opera of Donald Trump’s White House. Interestingly, he also claims photographs of Trump working in hospital after testing positive for Covid-19 were “obviously posed pictures”.

Souza says that in one designed to show the President working hard while ill, he appears to be signing a blank sheet of paper. The photographer who took that was contriving in a lie as plain as the orange tint on Trump’s face.

Then again, Trump reportedly claimed $70,000 a year on hairstyling in his tax-avoidance wheeze. Even a reluctant baldie can see that’s quite a spend for hair seemingly spun from a bag of spilt sugar.

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All points north… unless you’re sitting in Downing Street…

JUST where the north might be is a debate waiting to be joined by a Bristolian Mancunian from York via South East London.

My claim to be a northerner is one of geographical accident rather than legacy or lineage. But I have spent more time in the north than anywhere else. I even own a flap cap, although it is a Peaky Blinders-style baker boy cap, rather than a proper flat cap.

Hardened types from further north probably regard York as being virtually in the south. Such regionality even breaks down to parts of Yorkshire. One of the sub-editors at the Yorkshire Post, who I know, sent me an email regarding a feature I’d written about a furnituremaker of Husthwaite. He said it was a “lovely read (if a bit North-non-proper-Yorkshire)”.

I’m guessing West or South counts as more ‘proper’.

In a wider sense, the north is just that bit up there, you know, beyond the pale and too far away to notice properly. Or that’s the impression lately, especially when newspapers are tipped off about new government lockdowns or restrictions, saying that they will be happening “in the north”.

Perhaps we northerners (and fake northerners) can be picky, but narrowing that down a bit might help. The north is a wide geographical canvas made up of regions, cities, towns and villages. The people living in those places might like to know if this affects them.

Then again, Boris Johnson’s government doesn’t seem in a hurry to keep local politicians and council leaders in the know. Regional leaders from little-known corners of the north – you know, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds – say they aren’t kept in touch at all. The first many knew about the looming new restrictions was when they saw those geographically unhelpful headlines.

As Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, said on Question Time last night: “It does feel increasingly to people that we’re being treated with contempt in the North of England.”

The latest restrictions will see the forced temporary closure of pubs, bars and restaurants in coronavirus hotspots. Maybe this is sensible (doubts are permitted), but shouldn’t local politicians and local people be involved in the process, rather than receiving distant diktats from London?

On Twitter, the editor of the Yorkshire Post, James Mitchinson, said that we need to “confront the London mindset and embed a culture of national inclusion”.

In August in that newspaper, the veteran columnist Bernard Ingham, a man with whom it is almost impossible to agree, said something sensible when he described the government’s new post of Downing Street press secretary as a “constitutional outrage” designed to side-step Parliament.

You can see why the newly announced appointment of Allegra Stratton in that role appeals to Boris Johnson. It’s flashy and American-style and stops him having to address Parliament so often.

Bernard Ingham was once the thunderously displeased press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, so he should be listened to on this matter, if not others. Oddly, both Ingham and Stratton once worked for the Guardian.

Despite her spell on the Guardian, Allegra Stratton is well connected in Tory circles, being married to James Forsyth, political editor of the Spectator.

Still, having once worked on the Guardian, at least there’s a chance she may locate the north on a map.

As for this Bristolian Mancunian from York via South East London, I love the north and wouldn’t live anywhere else.

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The story of Sir Harold Evans and me, a whale and a minnow in an inky sea…

A young man turned up at a newspaper many years ago, carrying a letter of recommendation from his headmaster.

That letter described him as “a boy with very lively intelligence, possessing powers of original thought along with a very retentive memory. He is perhaps too impetuous at present, but will outgrow that…”

The newspaper in question was in Ashton-under-Lyne and I can still remember, if only dimly, the office above a rank of shops.

That bright boy was not me but Sir Harold Evans, the feted editor of the Sunday Times, who has just died. But the newspaper was the same, something I didn’t know until reading last Sunday’s Observer.

My spell at the Droylsden Reporter began after two interviews in Ashton-under-Lyne. I didn’t arrive with a letter from my headmaster but, on a Saturday shift, sat at a typewriter to bash one out to an editor in London. This was for a job on the South East London Mercury, close to where I’d studied at Goldsmiths College.

The editor later said it was the best job letter he’d ever received. His advert was written in the style of the Chas and Dave song Gertcha, so I wrote my letter that way. A good trick, but only used the once.

Anyway, that all happened at the dusty end of the corridor, long ago.

My journalism career started after I advertised myself in the UK Press Gazette trade magazine. The advert ran along Catch-22 lines. How does someone without experience get some, basically. That opened doors I didn’t want opening, then some I did.

Here are my papers and places. The Ashton Reporter, the Mercury, the Yorkshire Evening Press (later truncated to the Press), the Press Association, Leeds Trinity University and York St John University, plus freelance feature writing for the Yorkshire Post (the cherry on a now almost gone cake).

To that list can be added the Observer for three years in the mid-1980s, but only on a Saturday, when a senior colleague wangled me an invite to the editor’s lunch, where wine and cheese were served. The man in charge at the time was Donald Trelford, always portrayed in Private Eye as “small but perfectly formed”.

Trelford wrote a touching appreciation of his rival in his old newspaper last week, headlined, “The Harold Evans I remember was a great craftsman, a crusader… and a rival without peer.”

It wasn’t easy being the editor of the Observer when the Sunday Times was captained by Harold Evans, as Trelford mentions. Despite the inky rivalry, or perhaps because of it, the pair became great friends. Sometimes they were mistaken for each other, both being short working-class northerners.

Evans had a long career of journalistic greatness, notably his exposure of the thalidomide scandal. Trelford remembers his opposite number’s journalistic credo, and it is a good one: “Keep digging, the truth is down there somewhere.”

At Leeds Trinity, where I taught journalism part-time for four years until the contract shrivelled and died, I introduced the topic of investigative journalism, and gave honourable mention to Evans.

Well, we Ashton-under-Lyne old boys have to stick together.

Actors are said to be ‘resting’ when they have no work. Perhaps something similar should apply to journalists. Not that I am resting, having just finished my first week in a new full-time job that runs until May. Nothing to do with journalism and that seems odd.

I’ve enjoyed the training so far but won’t be saying much about the role as it’s the sort of job where you have to be more guarded than I am used to.

So, there will be less time for this ledge, but I don’t intend to stop altogether. You can take the boy out of journalism but you can’t take the journalism out of the boy, or something like that.

So that’s the story of Sir Harold Evans and me, a whale and a minnow in an inky sea.

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Why BBC bias is in the eye of the beholder (or shouty person)…

BBC bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Although you may wish to substitute ‘eye’ for ‘shouting mouth and sweaty face’.

Tory MP Theresa Villiers was poking the BBC yesterday while appearing on the BBC (how kind of them). On Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, my favourite listen of the week, she said we needed a wider spread of opinions on the left-wing BBC, or some such flapdoodle. Thus undermining her own argument by freely expressing right-wing opinions on the BBC.

Accusations of BBC bias come from both ends of the muddy field. Plenty of Jeremy Corbyn supporters still blame the BBC for their hero’s demise. This is a dead argument and one not worth pursuing, except to point out that Corbyn surely shares some of the blame for two election defeats.

Mostly, the anti-BBC voices are now from the right. This vendetta, never dormant for long, was revived with the arrival of Boris Johnson and his basement demon, Dominic Cummings, who have long had the BBC in their sights.

The corporation had a ‘good’ pandemic early on, providing the quality journalism needed at a time of crisis. Unless you persist in believing Covid-19 is a put-up job and a conspiracy, in which case you may blame BBC news for reporting deep-state propaganda, or something equally potty.

At a time of crisis, the BBC is still seen as the national broadcaster, so Johnson and Cummings stepped away from the fight. Rumours that two former right-wing editors may be appointed to prominent broadcasting roles suggest they are back on the attack.

Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, is being touted as a possible BBC chairman – a worrying choice as reportedly he doesn’t watch television and won’t pay his TV licence fee.

Paul Dacre, former editor of the Daily Mail, made that newspaper especially right-wing, and served up endless hostility about immigration, while forever bashing the BBC. His reward is to be touted as head of Ofcom, the media regulator. If so, a flagrantly biased man would be in charge of determining bias in others.

Culture wars secretary Oliver Dowden said in media appearances yesterday: “I think everybody is getting a bit ahead of themselves with this.”

Dowden is right in that applications for both jobs aren’t open yet. But his accompanying remarks about “genuine impartiality” and his insistence that the BBC should represent all parts of the nation, “not just narrow, metropolitan areas – London, Bristol, Birmingham and so on”, suggest such appointments may well be made.

Representing the nation is a no-win game for the BBC as every time it reaches out to the regions, somewhere else pops up on the map to moan that it is being neglected (What about Little Piddle On the Wold?).

Have I Got News For You, the BBC panel show that is attacked for being anti-Tory (despite helping to promote Boris Johnson early on), fears it could be a victim if Moore were appointed, tweeting that today is the anniversary of its first show.

“So that’s 30 years then, but if Paul Dacre and Charles Moore take those jobs we’re unlikely to see another five, and nor is the BBC.”

Thirty years is a long run and that show is tatty on the edges now, but I still watch, through habitual fondness.

Also on Twitter, the writer and director Armando Iannucci tweeted: “The BBC isn’t perfect but it’s one of the most successful British inventions ever, enhancing our profile round the world and bringing quality drama, comedy, knowledge, analysis and comfort to millions at home. Seeking to destroy it is political self-harm.”

Sounds on the money to me, but Iannucci was pebble-dashed with abuse from the usual right-wing suspects.

BBC News will always face accusations of bias, sometimes fairly, sometimes not. Mostly, for all its occasional faults, it sticks to the middle of the road, with a tendency to tip to the right/establishment view.

At least, that how this beholder’s eye sees it.

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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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