My wife has left a Valentine’s card in the kitchen. ‘I thought we didn’t do that anymore,’ I say…

“You say that every year,” she says with a pout.

Ah, my slow brain drags itself from the soup of male forgetfulness.

It’s a tasteful little card with a mug and the words: “You’re my cup of tea.”

Last year when faced with the same scenario, I dashed out from work on a late card mission. And that’s what I do again later, diverting myself from the coffee shop (“Cappuccino man is here”) and scouring the gift shops in this tiny town.

Nothing catches my eye in the first shop, as the cards are too sickly or vaguely smutty. There is a better choice in the next shop where I am not the only panic buyer. I spot a card around the back of another late man. The card that is fine but something in the bargain basket catches my eye.

This is not meanness, honestly, just that I like the look of this card. It is a bright and colourful painting of two people in a garden. One is shyly giving the other a plant. My wife likes gardens, that could be me and her, so bingo. The Valentine’s rescue mission is a winner.

The shop owner is pleased with my choice and tells me that the artist who drew the card lives in Brighton. He does mugs too, the man says, spinning out back to retrieve one to show me. It’s a lovely mug.

The friendly man sees me off with my bargain card and we both seem happy with the purchase. And he seems very pleased that I picked that card.

In the office, I glance at the picture and think, oh, I see. I sign a few words inside, something about it being from her fond forgetful friend, adding that there is a story about this card.

Back home after work, I hand over the late card. My wife opens the envelope and admires the well-chosen card with the colourful painting. Then she says something about there being two men on the front. Ah, the nicest card in the shop was a gay card. One of the men is naked and his manhood is on show.

My wife photographs the card and sends the picture to our daughter, who is with her man for Valentine’s Night. “You can see his willy,” she messages back, adding that she is crying with laughter at her father’s misunderstanding.

“This is the best Valentine’s card ever,” my wife says.

I’m not sure if she is pleased with the card, which truly is tasteful, or with the attached story showing what unobservant twit she married all those years ago. A man who buys cards in a dash without full textural analysis.

“She says we should buy a frame,” my wife says, looking at the latest message from our daughter.

I open the wine and congratulate myself on an accidental success.

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I’ve checked and there’s no such thing as a free holiday…

This isn’t about Boris Johnson, or not really. You see people hear that name and think, good man, doing well; or they shake their aching heads and mutter, dear God, how did that happen?

Anyway, I fall into one of those categories, and if you guess correctly perhaps you will win a holiday. Or perhaps you won’t.

Boris Johnson won an election, as my aching head cannot deny. Then he appears to have ‘won’ a holiday, too. He didn’t enter a competition or anything, or not so far as we know. He wasn’t scouring the internet looking for ‘win a holiday’. One seems to have just rolled into his lap.

He probably wasn’t surprised, as if you come from his background, free stuff and holidays in the Caribbean with your girlfriend are just what you expect. Ah, thank you, waffle-waffle, could do with a break, been prime minister for all of five minutes, jolly decent of you.

At this point, we should come clean and admit that it is not known whether Boris Johnson had a free holiday reportedly worth £15,000. But that not knowing leaves a few questions blowing in the air like prime ministerial swimming trunks hanging on a line.

Labour suspects that the holiday was paid for by the Tory donor David Ross, one of the founders of Carphone Warehouse. It was said that Ross had allowed Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, to use luxury accommodation for a private holiday in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The businessman reportedly denied this to the Daily Mail, saying he didn’t own the villa on the island of Mustique where Johnson had stayed and that he hadn’t paid for the holiday. Instead he had “facilitated accommodation” (whatever that means).

We facilitated a short family trip to Poland last year, or my wife did, and two-and-half years ago we facilitated a trip to Australia. Earlier today I facilitated a return trip into York on my bike.

Being from the middling orders, I have no idea how these things work, but it seems probable that someone paid for the holiday, unless I’ve been misunderstanding how holidays work for all these years. Seeing as holidays are thin on the ground this year, I’ll happily soil my principles for a bit of sunshine in exotic surroundings.

Labour is chuntering about benefit in kind and so on, quite rightly, but you do wonder if they couldn’t find someone to send Jeremy Corbyn on holiday. Seeing him still knocking around is like having the Ghost of Elections Past hanging about the place, reminding everyone why they went off him.

Anyway, this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn. It isn’t really about Boris Johnson either, other than to wonder why the prime minister needed a free holiday. According to the Full Fact website, his job comes with a generous salary of £152,532 a year (plus free accommodation), or that’s what Theresa May picked up, and Johnson will be paid something similar. He also earned a fortune writing the same column for the Daily Telegraph every week, until he got demoted from that job and became prime minister.

Johnson comes from wealth, he has earned plenty, and he still earns a decent whack. So why doesn’t he pay for his own holidays? Answers on a postcard to 10 Downing Street.

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Allison Pearson and Priti Patel behind their walls…

Allison Pearson of the Daily Telegraph sticking up for Priti Patel of the Home Office hardly counts as surprising.

Pearson wrote a column yesterday under the headline, “I’m on Priti Patel’s side in the deportation row – because she’s on our side.”

The article sits behind a paywall, where it can stay as far as I’m concerned. But here is the intro: “Seventeen rapists, killers and drug dealers were deported in the small hours of yesterday morning.”

That’s one way of looking at the latest post-Windrush disgrace dished up by the government. Another might be to say that 15 black Britons who served time for the crimes they committed have been expelled to countries to which they have few, if any, connection.

Another way again might be to wonder at the double standards that apply to black people in these circumstances. Rarely do you read of white people who’ve served prison sentences being “sent back” to the USA or Australia or even Canada (although royal ‘offenders’ do sometimes take refuge in that last location).

Yet black people who have offended, and served their time, are being deported so that the government can look tough.

Rishi Sunak, chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News that all due process had been followed. Tellingly, he then said: “We have an established process for ensuring that where we have foreign nationals who have committed crimes here, they should be, where possible, deported.”

Key here is the use of “foreign nationals” to make it sound as if these are foreign criminals being sent back to where they have recently come from. Instead, they are British citizens in the main who committed crimes and were punished. To then expel them suggests black people deserve a higher form of punishment than white people.

Michael McDonald, one of those waiting to be deported, wrote a short article for yesterday’s Guardian under the heading: “I served my time in prison. So why am I being deported?”

McDonald added: “I’ve lived in Britain 20 years, raised children here and paid my taxes. In Jamaica I really will be a ‘foreigner’.”

The sentence was for drug dealing. Boris Johnson, that second-rate Churchill karaoke act with his shouting and arm waving, has admitted to having used cocaine when young. In other words, he was complicit in the sort of crimes committed by drug dealers. But he’s an old Etonian posh boy so it doesn’t matter.

The sentence has also been imposed on McDonald’s family, whose kids keeping asking him on the phone: “Daddy, when are you coming home?”

That home is in Nottingham, “But when the government talks about sending me ‘back’, they mean a place that’s completely foreign to me – Jamaica. I have no family in Jamaica; my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles all live in the UK and have British citizenship.”

That is a cruel way for a country to behave and I only feel shame.

The thought of Allison Pearson behind her paywall summons up a walled garden where the roses have more thorns than petals, as she walks about muttering that the Home Secretary is “on our side”.

Which side is that? Pearson sometimes harps on about her Christianity, but none of this sounds remotely Christian to me; but what does an old agnostic know about anything?

I don’t want to be on Allison’s side or on Priti’s side. All I want, or at least all I try to do, not always successfully, is to be on the side of humanity. Deporting Michael McDonald achieves nothing as he’s been punished already. All it does it unnecessarily punish his loved ones in the name of looking tough.

And should Priti Patel ever slip up and be threatened with expulsion to Uganda, from where her Ugandan-Indian parents arrived in 1972, I would stick up for her right to remain here, too.

And, yes, Priti Patel was born in London, but she seems strangely obsessed with punishing immigrants whose lives turned out less well.

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A trip abandoned thanks to Ciara sees us hiding in the great indoors…

We should be on the train to Manchester about now, but instead I am holed up in the storm-tossed study. Rain is being flung at the window as if from the unfurled fist of a vengeful god.

Storm Ciara quietened a little when I went for the Sunday paper just now. On my return, and while still dressed for the not so great outdoors, I stooped along the gap at the side of the house, a place which might as well have a big sign reading “Wind blow this way”, and picked up the soggy contents of the upended bin, a dismal task.

After that Ciara blew out her skirts again in an elemental hissy fit. It is comforting to be indoors and away from all that, even if we should have been on that train.

The trip to see number two son was abandoned amid warnings of only travelling if necessary. A meal, a chat and a pint or two probably don’t count as vital, although they are being missed inside this storm-tossed hiding place. It is not the tidiest room in the house; strike that, it’s easily the messiest.

Washing hangs in front of the wet window and dries on the radiator. There is a desk for sitting at and tapping out words. A portable radiator for chilly daytime typing. A rarely used futon sofa on which there rests an electric guitar. There is a music stand empty of music, and two bookcases full of books.

At my back there is a large amplifier belonging to the unvisited son. On top of the large amp sits a smaller one, bought so that my bad guitar playing can be amplified throughout the house for the pleasure of all present.

If that sounds antisocial, playing the electric guitar mostly is a lonely sin committed in secret when home alone, although occasionally a blues riff will ring out to general delight.

There are three of us in this house as our youngest has moved back while training to be a teacher. Before that it was two plus whoever happened to be passing the night in the spare room, but we stopped the Airbnb when our more permanent guest rolled up.

Had we not abandoned today’s trip, we would have visited the Northern Quarter, as that’s what usually happens. It’s a great shame not to be seeing Boy Number Two, but it does avoid any repeat of it being my round in a craft beer bar where he suggests trying a double IPA or something that costs £13 a pint. He hadn’t noticed the price and we did only order halves.

That train to Manchester struggles on a sunny day, so it was best not to go. According to the BBC website, one problem for the trains is that debris blows onto the rails, sometimes in the form of trampolines sprung by the wind from nearby gardens.

Another problem is that all the money in this country is spent on transport in the south. And if you think Boris Johnson pretending to love the north is going to sort that out, mine’s a pint of that expensive beer.

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Ask Boris Johnson a question, and off he scuttles with his shirt untucked…

With Trump-like disdain, Boris Johnson treats journalists much as he might, for argument’s sake, an outraged husband in hot pursuit. Off he scuttles with his shirt untucked, unwilling even to utter an ahem.

Soft-pat questions from children for a TV stunt, that’s fine. Gentle under-arms tossed by a minion for Facebook, that’ll be lovely.

Annoying questions from Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC? No, thank you. Here instead is a six-year-old to ask what shampoo Johnson uses (Wash and Go for Broke, as it happens).

Ducking and diving, and hiding from reporters in a large fridge, was Johnson’s way during the election campaign. And it worked, although always being on the run from questions is poor form in a prime minister.

Especially one famed for his ‘eloquence’ – although mostly this alleged ability translates into barking and blathering sentences as ornate as they are meaningless.

On Monday, political journalists walked out of a lobby briefing after one of Boris Johnson’s aides banned certain reporters from attending. Lee Cain, a senior communications adviser, wanted to exclude reporters from the Mirror, the i, HuffPost, PoliticsHome, the Independent and others, while favouring others.

This was a pleasing display of unity from journalists, who too often tongue-lash each other in public, depending on the whims of their paymasters. Rupert Murdoch hates the BBC, so his editors and columnists tend to as well (there’s a coincidence); the Daily Telegraph disparages the BBC, so its editors and columnists tend to as well (these coincidences are catching).

Journalists should stick together more often, especially when the government is being so high-handed towards the media, refusing to talk to the BBC Today programme, wanting to provide its own footage for broadcasters – a sort of political vanity publishing.

Noises off today about abolishing the TV licence fee fall into that category, too. The knuckledusters are out, partly because the Tories nearly always dislike the BBC for ideological reasons; and partly because the BBC has an annoying habit of wanting to ask questions, and Johnson isn’t good with answers.

Above the Daily Mail leader column, of all the unlikely places, you will find the headline: “Show you believe in the free Press, Boris.” With a flourish of optimism, the Mail writes, “As a career journalist himself, Boris Johnson knows the essential value of an independent media to our democracy.”

Well, the mistake made there by my long-distant ex-colleague Geordie Greig, editor of the Mail, is to call Johnson a “career journalist”. Nope, he’s a career Boris Johnson; a task to which he has devoted every trick in the book, and a few that weren’t in any book.

Yes, there has been journalism, including making up scare stories about the EU for the Telegraph 30 years ago; and the editorship of The Spectator.

Yet mostly he has been a celebrity columnist, which is easier than being a real journalist engaged in research and checking all those bothersome facts. Nice work if you can get it; and much of Johnson’s journalism was breezy top-of-the-head stuff (as is this blog in a minor league way).

Incidentally, and I do like a good incidental, Boris Johnson stood at the despatch box in the Commons earlier today and shouted: “I am a journalist.” Perhaps he’d forgotten about his new job, or maybe he was looking for an excuse for an early drink, not that journalists have time for that anymore.

There are complicated arguments to be had about the future of the BBC, and about whether not paying the licence fee should be a criminal offence. But they shouldn’t be made by a government wanting to slip the dagger in for self-serving reasons in under cover of what will hopefully be a short honeymoon.

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Beginnings and endings, TS Eliot and margin notes from long ago…

“Rise and shine… it’s a glorious new Britain,” says the Daily Express. Having just been out for a run, I’d say it was dull and chilly and the same old Britain, although the sun did shine briefly.

Running generates thoughts as well as sweat. God, didn’t I used to be fitter than this was one. Another was inspired by the loss of Terry Jones – “He’s not the prime minister, he’s a very naughty boy.” That cheered me up for a moment.

I was also thinking about TS Eliot, not in a deep way or anything. It was Boris Johnson blathering on about Brexit not being an end but a beginning.

No, it’s an end and a beginning, as are most things and all days. There’s not a lot more to say, as everything else is hopeful hot air or pointless moaning. Not that I’m against a pointless moan; pointless moaning got me where I am today, you might say. But I am against all that hopeful hot air.

As my feet hit the pavement, and the pavement hit my feet back, I thought yes, that’s The Waste Land, isn’t it, all that in our end is our beginning stuff?

Back home I pick up the Collected Poems (1909-1962). University days for me spanned 1975 to 1978, so this book with its browning pages and brittle strips of sticky tape as improvised binding was bought two or three years after we joined EEC, as it then was.

Turns out it isn’t the Waste Land, with its famous opening line, “April is the cruellest month…”, always handy for teasing my wife, whose birthday falls in that month. Anyway, February seems crueller this year.

It’s The Four Quartets where the beginnings and endings overlap. The phrase “In my beginning is my end” repeats throughout and wraps up the poems, too.

Before that closing line, you will find: “The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters/Of the petrel and the porpoise.”

Well, no, me neither or not ‘now me’. Young me drew a red biro arrow from petrel to the scrawled words, “Any kind of genus Procellaria – akin to albatrosses and fulmars – so there!”

How strange to read notes scribbled when young and understanding of nothing much; and to read them again when old and understand of nothing much and wonder at how smart you were then.

As for the headlines today, I like best that on the front of the Guardian: “The day we said goodbye.” Simple, sorrowful and to the point. The Sun’s “MAKE LEAVE… NOT WAR” seems one weak pun to many, as is often the case in that paper nowadays.

The Daily Mail leads off on the coronavirus, but hilariously gets in on the tea towel act – “WE’RE OUT! FREE* BREXIT TEA TOWEL”. *£2.50 P&P required… while stocks last…”

First the Tories now the Daily Mail – what is it with the tea towels? Those who wished and wheedled for Brexit now own it. If it’s a success, they have permission to gloat; if it’s not, I will be bringing out my own tea towel bearing the words “You made this mess…”

Putting TS Eliot back on the shelf now, to sit with all those other university books with notes scribbled in the margin by a bright boy I once knew.

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Have you ordered your Boris Johnson tea towel yet?

I see that the Tory Party has launched some official Brexit merchandise. Prominent among the charming offerings is a tea towel bearing the slogan “Got Brexit Done”.

This plonks Boris Johnson above a Britannia shield and next to a Union flag. The price for this astonishingly tasteful memento is £12, a packet for such a racket perhaps, but you will be able to push the prime minister’s mug down into the depths of your favourite tannin-stained, coffee-crazed mug.

“Got the wiping up done,” you’ll be able to say. “And I got Boris Johnson all wet and crumpled in the process, not that he looks any different.”

Using this tea towel may even prove psychologically comforting to all those Remainers crying over their washing-up bowl. I worry that the target market may already have dishwashers (either automated or human), but I am sure these things have been considered.

It is hard to see how Johnson’s supposed desire to bring us all together fits with selling such triumphalist tat. But if you’d like a magnet for your fridge, or another mug to wipe, Conservative Party HQ should be your shopping venue of choice.

Unless this is all a joke, but honestly nowadays it’s difficult to tell what’s true and what’s satire. But my research suggests this tea towel is indeed kosher.

Perhaps the Labour Party should get in on the act by marketing a Jeremy Corbyn pan scourer modelled on the dear almost ex-leader’s frown. Or the Lib-Dems could produce Jo Swinson Vanishing Cream, as that’s what she did after her hubristic tumble.

The ‘Whatever Nigel Farage is Calling His Party Right Now’ party could sell Nigel Farage odour eaters, as that man seems to be able smile and talk shit above any bad smell. Even ones he made himself; especially those he made himself.

I’d say he bears a hefty responsibility for the bad smell drifting over modern British life. But if you told him that, he’d only grin and look pleased with himself.

As for those tea towels, the sight of them is oddly depressing, and further proof that we must all be more divided than we thought. Do I really live in a country where ‘proud patriots’ would willingly shell out 12 quid for something so ridiculous?

Still, if the quality is good, they may last long enough for an as yet unborn child to one day ask when helping with the washing-up…

“Grandma what was Brexit and how did it get done?”

“Oh, dear, now you’re asking. It was all everybody talked about for years and I can’t rightly remember. My mind’s not what it was, but it was something to do with leaving the EU and fashioning a proud new future for ourselves.”

“How did that work out, grandma?”

“Oh, heavens – ask me again when you’re all grown up. It’s too soon to say yet.”

“Grandma…”

“What now?”

“Did the Honey Monster get that thing done?”

“Well, that’s what he’d like us to believe…”

Perhaps we should have some new T-shirts printed – “My country was sold down the river and all I got was this lousy tea towel…”

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Morse and the Oxford comma join men going on about sport…

Let us talk today about Oxford commas and men banging on about sport. Without Inspector Morse, I would not have known about the Oxford comma. In an episode once, the grammarian cum solver of murders took time out from bloodied pondering to lecture his sidekick Lewis on its proper use.

This pernickety comma is inserted after an ‘and’ or even an ‘or’ in a list. Its failure to appear on the Brexit day 50 pence piece has caused the sort of row that Colin Dexter, the novelist who created Morse, would have enjoyed.

The back of this coin reads “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations” – a ridiculous sentiment of itself, but controversial also to some for not having an extra comma after ‘prosperity’.

The author Sir Philip Pullman has attacked that missing Oxford comma, also known as a serial comma. Other authors disagree and say that this extra comma is what you might call an opt-in grammatical convention.

Never mind Pullman, Dexter and Morse, the Oxford comma is but a pedant’s pause, a killjoy comma, a slows-down-your sentence comma and a comma that ought to be put into a coma. I won’t be using that fussy comma, although I do share Sir Philip’s Remainer sympathies.

Seeing as we’ve already minted and melted a consignment of 50p pieces that bore the wrong date of departure from the EU, it is an absurd expense to mint a fresh batch – with or without that extra comma.

Still, arguing about a missing comma is more interesting than going on about Brexit. For the next few days, those of us who voted to remain will have to keep our heads down while all about us the Brexit braggadocio erupts, before fizzling out and leaving a damp blackened stump like a morning-after firework.

Incidentally, ‘braggadocio’ was carefully chosen to annoy Brexiteers because it sounds suspiciously ‘foreign’ and possibly Italian. The word is generally thought to have been coined by the playwright Spenser to name a character who is a braggart. The Italian connection lay in the addition of ‘-occio’ to the name, a suffix denoting something large, as in a big Brexit braggart (this suggests the Tory twerp MP Mark Francois, who is in fact small but generous in circumference).

In the office the men come and go, talking about last night’s sporting imbroglio.

Ann Francke, head of the Chartered Management Institute, yesterday told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that men should be prevented from talking about sport at work, as such chatter alienates female staff.

Her comments are picked up today by The Times with a front-page story. The Daily Star joins the party with its customary understatement – “WORLD’S GONE MAD… DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR TACKLE AT WORK.”

Francke is clearly behind the times. We live in an age of equal opportunities when women are also able to bore on about sport should they wish.

Yet her comments about men are sexist in a sense, or reverse-sexist or whatever, as they assume that all men talk about sport at work. This man never has done. Talking about sport is not my thing, although I might lob in a passing observation about the tennis once a year.

But if you would like a run-down on how to be a rubbish squash player who runs around the court to little effect on a wing and a swear, I’m your man for that conversation.

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Cummings and his accidental behind should be kept out of BBC’s business

PHOTOGRAPHS of Tory political aide Dominic Cummings show him dressed like a middle-aged teenager. A recent one captured his arse hanging out of his jeans.

This is true and not an attempt at satire, as we seem to be living in the Land That Satire Forgot.

Once the great cartoonist Steve Bell could portray John Major with his Y-fronts on over his trousers, Superman-style, and we could all laugh. Now the most influential man in the country can scuttle into Downing Street while giving his cheeks a public airing and our eyelids remain unbatted.

Cummings can’t see something without wishing to smash it up.

We’ve all had bosses like that, whizz-kids who blow in to tell the was-kids why they’re wrong about everything.

The ‘decision’ to move the House of Lords to York sounds like a Cummings plan: good headlines, a nod to the north, and yet impractical and never likely to happen.

Whatever you think of having a non-elected second chamber, the Commons and the Lords work together, and shoving one House 200 miles away in York is plain daft. And I live here and love the place.

Cummings has long disliked the BBC. No surprise then that when director general Tony Hall said he was off Cummings’s tail was up (perhaps it could be seen at the back of those jeans undone by gravity).

As long ago as 2004, his think-tank, the New Frontiers Foundation (yawn) called for an end to the BBC in its current form. He also said the Beeb was a “mortal enemy” of the Tory Party.

As we know to our undying cost, the Tories won the election, and the right has for too long been winning the cultural war, shoving all debate in a narrow frame.

That was one problem with Jeremy Corbyn (hasn’t he gone yet?): whenever the Tories went low, Corbyn sighed and looked disdainful, saying that he wouldn’t be playing that game. And look where that got him and us.

Anyway, the BBC. When it was announced that Hall was going, ITV’s Robert Peston tweeted that Cummings and prime minister Boris Johnson wanted a say in who would be the next director general.

Downing Street backtracked a little from that position, although Peston did pass on the thoughts of “a well-placed Downing Street source” (quite possibly one with his arse hanging out of his jeans).

Below is what Peston wrote in his TV blog… For clarity, David Clementi is the chairman of the BBC, and James Purnell used to be a Labour minister and is now BBC’s director of radio.

“…if the BBC’s board and Clementi try to put someone like Purnell in [as DG], we will put in a chairman whose first job is to fire him… The likes of Purnell [would be] ‘dead on arrival’.”

How reassuring to discover that Downing Street sources talk like Mafia dons.

The BBC is rarely out of the headlines. This morning those headlines concern the shocking decision to drop the much-admired Victoria Derbyshire current affairs show.

The Guardian’s leader sees this move as a direct result of an “orchestrated campaign by politicians, corporate rivals and the right wing think tanks – in a war against the BBC”.

And long-delayed payback for George Osborne’s dodgy footwork as Chancellor, when he forced the BBC to pay for free TV licences for the over-75s – in effect a huge cut to the BBC.

That argument doesn’t wash  in the Sun, which accuses the corporation of axing the programme “because the more visible the cut, the easier it is for luvvies to pretend that the BBC is the blameless victim of evil Tory austerity”.

Almost unnecessary footnote: the Sun is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has spent much of his long life denigrating the BBC and pouring poison into the ears of receptive Tory ministers.

Incidentally, dismissing those at the BBC as “luvvies” is a small but typical example of that all-out cultural war, conducted with a yobbish sneer.

The licence fee may be an anachronism, but it gives the BBC independence. And while the BBC isn’t perfect, I don’t resent a penny of that fee.

And Dominic Cummings and his accidental behind should be kept out of the BBC’s business.

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Oh, don’t listen to Laurence Fox on 1917 (or anything else)…

Stupid remarks from actor Laurence Fox arrive like buses. But you don’t want to hop on board. First there was his ill-graced outburst on the BBC’s Question Time. Then he wrote in the Sunday Times that he won’t date woke women (encouraging news for woke women, I’d say).

Now, Fox has a go at director Sam Mendes for including a Sikh character in his magnificent war movie 1917.

I have gathered you here to discuss that film, and not the latest puff of petulance from Fox. But let’s stick with him for now.

As reported by Mail Online, Fox criticises Mendes for including a Sikh soldier in his First World War drama.

Ignoring all the many fine aspects of this film, the actor instead picks out a small scene in the back of a jolting truck. Among the squashed-in soldiers is Sepoy Jondalar, played by Nabhaan Rizwan.

The Mail quotes Fox from an appearance on James Delingpole’s podcast (Delingpole is a right-wing commentator and editor of Breitbart London) – “It’s like, ‘There were Sikhs fighting in this war’… OK now you are diverting me away from what the story is. There is something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way.”

There was me thinking Sikhs took part in the war, joining the western front as early as September 1914, and playing a crucial role in the first battle of Ypres – a role that was not acknowledged afterwards.

If Mendes has played with history, it is in the representative sense of placing one Sikh soldier in that truck, rather than alongside other Sikhs. It hardly matters.

This film is an epic, a rush of unrelenting motion. It is beautifully made and completely immersive. The acting is note-perfect, especially from George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman, the two unknown actors playing young soldiers who attempt to make their way behind enemy lines on April 6, 1917.

Their mission is to deliver a message that will divert a regiment from going over the top and into a German trap. It is not possible to give further details for fear of letting slip a spoiler.

Mendes gives 1917 a sense of unstoppable propulsion by using the single continuous shot (as he did earlier in the memorable Day of the Dead opening sequence in the Bond film Spectre).

Cinematographer Roger Deakins adopts that technique here. Segments are captured with a single continuous shot, then stitched together so seamlessly it is impossible to see where the filming stops and starts.

It’s a little like being in a computer game: you are right with the characters, you step where they step, you fear what they fear.

As the story hurtles, slips and slides on, every moment is vivid. One bullet comes so close you feel yourself duck. A dogfight in the sky above a muddy field suddenly descends to horror; a tripwire in an underground trench ratchets up the tension horribly.

The design by Dennis Gassner is so convincing, you can almost smell the mud and all that deliquescent flesh, feel the breath of passing rats. A great score, too, from Thomas Newman. Much is barely music at all, merely gathering tension made edgy sound, only then to soar and swell beautifully.

In that computer game analogy, we are swept along through bombed-out farms, pass among the bricks of a shelled-out town at night, the danger forgotten for a second in the enchantment of a fire-red sky.

Towards the end we emerge from a river swollen with rotten bodies to end up in a wood where a British soldier sings The Wayfaring Stranger unaccompanied to his fellow troops sitting on the ground: a deeply affecting moment in a film of unquenchable spirit.

Sam Mendes apparently didn’t respond to the Mail Online’s request for a comment. Perhaps he was happier counting his awards, including ten Oscar nominations.

A truly great film; do go and see it (on the big screen, please).


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