Here is another episode in that long-running saga called Julian versus the Sat-Nav…

I am driving to Masham but haven’t bothered tapping in the details. That’s because I know where Masham is. Here is the extent of my knowledge: it’s up the A1M towards Scotch Corner, but off to the left before that.

The route is a shape in my mind, and that’s enough.

This won’t be like the time I drove to Hornsea in the sure and certain knowledge that you drove to Beverley and turned off somewhere, as there was bound to be a sign somewhere.

That theory worked until I accidentally bypassed Beverley and started on the road to Hull. Nothing wrong with Hull, except that it wasn’t where I was meant to be going that morning. Anyway, I got to Hornsea in the end without being too late.

This won’t be like that because I know where Masham is, off to the left somewhere before Scotch Corner.

But for some reason there doesn’t seem to be a sign. How can that be when I saw one in my mind before setting off on this journey? And it is a journey-journey, just so that you know, not a tedious metaphor about life or anything, just a journey, just another journey to a destination of which I am certain.

As the miles to Scotch Corner diminish, I do spot a sign to Masham, but it’s on a road parallel to the one I am speeding along. That’s right, I need to be over there (gesticulates vaguely to himself in the car). It’s all fine, I’ll turn off in a minute, only those minutes mount and still there isn’t a way off this main road.

This won’t be like the time I drove to Helmsley, in the sure and certain knowledge that I knew where Helmsley was, having cycled there once. We were almost there without the help of the sat-nav when I took a left rather than a right turn onto the main road, in the sure and certain knowledge that was the way.

The human satnav to my left had her doubts but stayed quiet as I seemed to know what I was talking about (schoolgirl error there). In my defence it was very early on a Sunday morning and dark. We were meeting friends to take them to the start of a long charity walk back to their car in Helmsley. After panicked use of the satnav, we were only 20 minutes or so late arriving.

Some miles after I spot that sign on the other road, I come off and follow a dipping and diving road back towards Masham.

Why do we ignore things that might help us? It’s a mystery. Maybe men don’t like being told what to do; perhaps women think they know better than satnavs too. Or maybe it is just a boy thing.

On the way back, I press ‘home’ on the satnav. It takes me on a weird route. I ignore some of the suggested turnings – you’re sending me down there, are you kidding me, why would you do that? Then I know where I am anyway, and head for home.

 

Here is another episode in that long-running saga called Julian versus Boris Johnson…

A ‘super poll’ in the Mail asks many random questions, including whether Boris Johnson or Keir Starmer would be ‘best to go on holiday with’. I’d rather go on holiday with my wife, it that’s all right with you.

In case you’re wondering, Johnson won that one by 36% to 25%. I can’t imagine anyone worse to go on holiday with. He’d forget to book anything, drink all the wine without buying any, tell lies when it was his turn to cook, then deny it all in the morning.

Anyway, it’s a foolish question. Johnson only goes on holiday to posh places owned by friends even wealthier than himself who give him a freebie. He doesn’t go on holiday with you and me. And we surely don’t want to go on holiday with him.

Buried in all this nonsense was a question about what would happen if ‘there was a vote to leave the EU tomorrow’. This found that 36% of those taking part would vote leave and 45% remain.

For some reason this finding was not trumpeted by the Mail.

I just held a super poll with myself and can report that 100% of me still thinks that Brexit was always going to be a terrible idea, especially after Johnson got his clumsy hands on it.

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Johnson disappears on an apparent freebie at shit-hitting-fan time…

IT’S spooky how there’s always someone to carry the can or pay for the holiday when you are Boris Johnson.

Those loveable character quirks are pushed to the fore today as the damning 151-page report from MPs into what we have learned from Britain’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis is published just the prime minister happens to be sunning himself at a luxury villa in Marbella on the Costa Del Sol.

This handy and expensive hangout is said to have been provided by his pal Zac Goldsmith, who lost his seat as an MP and was instantly compensated with a comfy berth in the Lords. That seat was the gift of Boris Johnson, and now it seems that a week in the sun is the gift of Zac Goldsmith.

You would be sifting over these little details for a long time before concluding that our democracy is in fine fettle.

The timing of this newest freebie holiday raises a few questions. Was Johnson always going to be away as this report was due to be released? Or did he see the gathering clouds and ask around his rich pals for somewhere sunny to sit out the storm?

There’s always a room free at the You Scratch My Back Villa.

Anyway, that report is almost as important as trying to work out how Johnson always gets away with stuff, and always manages to duck out at an opportune moment.

One minute he was giving his ridiculous right-wing comedy turn at the Conservative party conference; the next he was dashing to the airport. Incidentally, isn’t it lovely the way certain Tories always rumble on about there being no right-wing comedians in this country when they are led by one.

Anyway, that damning report.

This morning’s newspaper headlines were shocking for the government – with the heaviest takeaway being that our early Covid response was “one of the UK’s worst ever public health failures”.

Ministers and scientists are said by the report to have taken a “fatalistic” approach that exacerbated the death toll.

Other criticisms include “groupthink”, evidence of British exceptionalism and a “slow and gradualist” approach that left the UK faring “significantly worse” than other countries.

The cross-party report is titled “Coronavirus: lessons learned to date” and was led by two former Conservative ministers, Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark.

At this point it’s worth remembering that their report was set in motion a year ago in response to Boris Johnson’s preferred official inquiry date of sometime or never.

Have lessons been learned? Well, we’ve learned again that Johnson is unlikely to be around at shit-hitting-fan time, much as he wasn’t around for five Cobra meetings about the looming pandemic because he had other things to do (finalise his divorce, dash off a book about Shakespeare, apparently).

There is praise in the report for how we introduced the vaccine, although our early bragged-about successes seem to have been overtaken by Europe, which is embarrassing for the Brexit evangelists.

Stephen Barclay, who has some third-ranking job or other (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I just checked), was chosen to do this morning’s round of interviews, chuntering on about “the benefit of hindsight” and saying that we’d stopped the NHS being overwhelmed, when it’s overwhelmed still by Covid, years of cuts and covert privatisation.

Still, at least Boris Johnson got a holiday out of it all.

The Daily Mail, usually a Tory friend, takes the line that the “Elderly were just an afterthought”. While the i newspaper says: “Government delays and blunders ‘killed many thousands’”.

Will any of this make a difference or dent Boris Johnson’s lead in the opinion polls? Will the mounting post-Brexit chaos he caused before negligently lurching into a Covid crisis dent his lead?

Some days it seems that nothing will; some days sitting here and moaning about it all in a blog seems exquisitely pointless.

But there you go.

Some of us get free holidays thanks to the moneyed grace of our friends.

Some of us bash things out on a laptop thanks to not knowing what else to do.

 

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Through the Brexit Looking-Glass… an odd sort of place

IT’S 150 years since Lewis Carroll wrote Through The Looking-Glass. Yet on any passing day, you can look at the front page of the Daily Express and step through another sort of glass, a not-looking glass, perhaps.

The other day that newspaper said Boris Johnson was ‘losing patience’ with the shortage of lorry drivers. Both the Express and the Prime Minister somehow managed to keep a straight face while rolling out that old barrel of blubber.

From this side of the glass, it looked as if Boris Johnson was losing patience with Boris Johnson, and perhaps he is, for the rest of us are. And if you’ve not lost patience with the man but have accidentally been gathered up by my Boris-sweeping brush, well, hard luck.

This morning’s looking glass treat was the headline: “Don’t blame driver crisis on Brexit”. This one was based on a few quotations from Iain Duncan  Smith – sorry, I accidentally knocked off a ‘Sir’ there. Sir Iain Duncan  Smith, knighted for services to never being afraid to blather absolute bollocks.

Perhaps if you step through that glass, it all looks different. Perhaps on that side all those European drivers weren’t sent packing and told not to come back to Brexit-land as we didn’t need them in our sunlit uplands.

Perhaps on that side of the looking glass, all those European lorry drivers weren’t stuck on a runway at Christmas, homeless, foodless and without anywhere to shit. Maybe, you never know, those lorry drivers won’t want to come back here to help us out for a few months before being told to go home again.

Please excuse me, for an interjection on the Tories is coming in from Miriam Margolyes – “I think they are an appalling, incompetent, corrupt shower of twats. The cronyism and the prejudice and the bullying – I have never seen such a deplorable collection of people…”

Thanks, Miriam. She said that in an interview with Eva Wiseman in the Observer the other week, and not just into my ear or anything like that. Thanks to Eva, too, for an entertaining piece of journalism.

 

It’s been amusing to watch the Brexit faithful swearing on Nigel Farage’s beer belly, or whatever it is they put faith in nowadays, that nothing bad is linked to Brexit. It’s an article of blind faith.

Sometimes their logic can be hard to grasp.

The shortage of lorry drivers has nothing to do with Brexit, yet the government is offering temporary visas to foreign lorry drivers. If Brexit has nothing to do with it, why are we bending the Brexit restrictions to sort out a problem caused by Brexit?

The knotty maze where my brain used to be is a very confused place nowadays.

Some say all those problems are caused by Covid. Yet in a sense, the pandemic has acted as a blanket for everything that’s going wrong thanks to Brexit. Covid has provided a distraction, and hardly anyone in the media – or the Labour party – can be bothered to keep an account of what’s going or gone wrong with Boris’s Big Botched Brexit.

As for fuel, when is a shortage not a shortage? If you can’t fill your car with petrol, there’s a shortage whether it’s caused by Brexit reducing the lorry-driving workforce or by people rushing to buy petrol because everyone else is rushing to buy petrol. Or a bit of both.

The result is the same.

No petrol, no motion.

We’re off on a short holiday next week for the first time in a year, or we are if we can buy petrol. The two garages I tried today in York had run dry.

I’ll tell you what: if our holiday is cancelled, I will be blaming Boris Johnson.

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Proper British TV shows, pint glasses and gallons of nonsense…

Dad's Army

Here is a reminder, Dad’s Army started in 1968 and is 50 years old!

Hello – here is the sludge from the bottom of the culture wars bin. I did have to wash my hands three times afterwards, but there you go.

Among the miasmic waste is news that public service broadcasters in the UK will have a legal requirement to produce “distinctively British” programmes. Ministers, who in general don’t watch television, are said to be drawing plans for the sort of programmes the rest of us should watch in Batshit Brexit Britain.

Fleabag, Derry Girls and Only Fools And Horses have been cited as “distinctively British” programmes that would meet this obligation.

According to a report in the i newspaper, “Ofcom will be asked to draw up a workable definition of the concept.” Good luck with that, Ofcom.

Media minister John Whittingdale told a Royal Television Society conference that Dr Who, Downton Abbey, Great British Bake Off and Bodyguard were international hits that also reflected British values. Choosing a time-travelling intersex person, some posh-and-understairs semi-historical fluff, and a programme about cakes seems random, but then this whole idea is mad and a little sinister.

Somewhere along the way someone mentions Dad’s Army because they always do. Somewhere along the way someone mentions Carry On films because they always do.

Here is a reminder, Dad’s Army started in 1968 and is 50 years old!

How right-wing governments love to tip into this controlling behaviour, stirring up a milky tea British version of China banning reality talent shows and ordering broadcasters not to promote “sissy” feminine men on television.

Here’s are some suggestions for old TV shows that could be remade…

It Ain’t Half Woke Mum, featuring unfunny stereotypes as they bungle through life, armed only with puny puns.

Don’t Love Thy Neighbour Especially If They Are In Desperate Straits And Are Willing To Paddle Across A Dangerous Channel To Get Here (not a snappy title, I’ll admit).

Dad’s Brexit Army – those Europeans don’t like it up them, whatever it might be.

And so wearily on.

It’s almost impossible to define Britishness in this context. One argument put forward by Mr Whittingdale is that streaming services such as Netflix produce generic programmes designed to sell everywhere. Up to a point, but look at the lovely Sex Education, back any day soon for a third series. That Netflix hit is both British and international (a bit like sex, really).

We Are Lady PartsMy own leftfield pick for a wonderful British series would be this year’s Channel 4 comedy We Are Lady Parts, about a Muslim punk band, which is modern and multicultural, and funny and sweet.

From that sludge in the culture wars bin also is to be found news that Boris Johnson is to announce the return of imperial weights and measures. This would make it legal for market stalls, shops and supermarkets to sell their goods using only Britain’s traditional weighing system.

Wow, what an achievement in appeasing one or two recalcitrant market stall holders who object to using “foreign measurements”.

I am 64 and have lived most of my life using sensible metric measurements rather than complicated imperial measures.

Thanks to the weights and measures inspector Pippa Musgrave for pointing out on Twitter that: “The UK agreed, when it signed the OIML treaty in 1856 to move to a single system of measurement (S.I. units). Metric measures have been lawful in the UK since 1875…”

So, it’s nothing to do with Brexit.

Also in that bin are reports that our British pint glasses can once again carry the Crown stamp. Wow, what a freedom that is. A pint glass is and always was a pint glass, but now it can have a little Crown on it again.

A Brexit triumph, according to the increasingly potty Daily Express. Frankly my Brexit dears, I don’t give a damn what’s etched on the glass, so long as it contains good beer (British, continental, American – not fussed if it’s decent).

Once again, in looking forward we gaze over our shoulders, turning nostalgic about gallons and ounces and proper British potatoes sold by the muddy pound.

What a weird country. Still, at least grumbling about it all is thoroughly British.

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An axe? Some days Johnson looks as if he could barely wield a custard spoon

I’VE never seen the point of reshuffles, which is strange as my wife likes to play that game. Mostly she reshuffles furniture and kitchen cupboards.

Blithely choosing to sit where a chair is usually to be found is no guarantee you won’t end up on the floor.

“There was a chair there yesterday,” I might complain.

“It looks better over there,” she might riposte.

My wife likes to change rooms, putting familiar things in unfamiliar places, and prime ministers like to reshuffle their cabinets, putting familiar faces in unfamiliar places.

The ins and outs always exercise the media in a lazy, routine way.  Tired old metaphors are dusted off, allowing the Daily Mail to swing the one above – “At last, Boris wields the axe.”

The Times puts an axe in his hand too. Yet some days Johnson looks as if he could barely wield a custard spoon, never mind an axe.

Meanwhile, the potty old Daily Express blusters: “PM’s ruthless cull to deliver Britain’s future.”

Ah, yes that future, those sun-lit uplands. And another brick in the slogan wall, this one embossed with: “Build back better.”

You may have heard those words fall from the mouths of hapless ministers, shuffled or unshuffled, as they talk about anything and nothing. They probably say it over breakfast, muttering that they are building back a better breakfast with their cornflakes, or something.

It’s fair to guess that Dominc Raab won’t have been impressed about being removed as foreign secretary, especially on finding that Liz Truss got the job.

“Liz Truss! Are you f****** kidding me!”

Whether or not a hole was punched through the Downing Street wall is open to speculation, but Raab does appear horribly cross nearly all the time. He always looks one twitch from fury as his frown darkens and a blood vessel in his forehead throbs like an angry worm.

After Raab went on that holiday to Greece, having been warned Afghanistan was about to fall to the Taliban, he was hauled off the beach and later pictured at his FO desk holding a phone. And when I say ‘holding’, I mean grasping it with such determination he appeared to be weighing up its potential as a murder weapon.

Gavin Williamson was sacked as education secretary, an ejection thoroughly deserved – but how come he was allowed to hang on for so long? His replacement is Nadhim Zahawi, who steps over from a short spell as vaccines minister, coupled with being the go-to minister to appear on the media and bore everyone half to death.

Oliver Dowden is out as culture wars secretary, replaced for reasons of what – mischief, spite, just for the hell of it? – by the reliably appalling Nadine Dorries, whose brief will include the BBC and privatising Channel 4 (a terrible idea she will pursue alongside slagging off snowflakes and so on).

As for Liz Truss, she seems to have been promoted for trundling around the world and bragging about post-Brexit trade deals that were there already but have had a new label slapped on.

Michael Gove, a sort of cut-price Machiavelli in an M&S suit, has been pushed sideways by his old frenemy Johnson to housing, communities and local government, and has responsibility for the “levelling up” agenda, whatever that might be.

You may have noticed, incidentally – and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in York certainly has – that levelling up doesn’t count for people on universal credit who are about to have their £20-a-week uplift removed by Boris Johnson, who seems grotesquely pleased with this cruel move.

Anyway, according to his Twitter account, the prime minister and his reassembled pieces of cabinet furniture will be working “tirelessly to unite and level up the whole country”.

Oh, and yes, they’ll be building back better too, meaningless slogan by meaningless slogan. So that’s all right.

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Old family tales contained in A Century Of Detective Stories…

Spine of old detective book with noirish drawing

THE spine is frayed with age and tattered shreds remain from the book it once supported, A Century Of Detective Stories, with an Introduction by GK Chesterton.

This relic of a book, brown to start with, browner still with age, otherwise features a noir-style drawing of a detective wearing a trilby and holding a gun, and the name of the publisher, Hutchinson.

The gun is a puzzle in a way, as the owner of the book, my grandfather Bill Cole, was a peaceable man, a Methodist who spent the Battle of the Somme toiling through blood and mud as a stretcher-bearer.

Quite why a religious man who survived all that would have owned  a book of detective stories adorned with a man carrying a gun is one of those little mysteries, akin perhaps to how his equally religious wife, Eunice, loved the wrestling on TV. Just because you like one thing, or live one way, doesn’t mean you cannot like another.

When my grandmother died, we were asked by my aunt if we would like to take something from the house in Southampton.

We chose a rose from the front garden, successfully transplanted to York but long since withered and died, two small and roughly carved wooden figures of a man and a woman, bought by my grandparents on a holiday to somewhere, Switzerland or Austria perhaps, and still on a shelf, and that old book.

Many of the writers are forgotten to time, although some are indelible: Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, and Chesterton himself.

The titles are great: The Avenging Chance, Superfluous Murder, The Case Of The White Footprints, The Other Hangman. A story entitled A Lesson In Crime is by a couple called Cole – GDH & M Cole. GDH is described as a writer of economics “who has produced many novels and short stories in the detective vein. He is also a poet and a contributor to a number of important journals”.

Of his wife no other mention is made.

Still, it is pleasing that a man called Cole owned a book containing a story written by a man called Cole, and that his grandson called Cole would grow up to publish a couple of novels featuring detectives too.

I’ve owned this now spineless book for years but haven’t read all or any of the stories. Maybe I did but forgot, and it is past time to do something about that.

Our daughter has left home again and has her own house now, so we’ve been having a sort out (or my wife has, with variably able assistance). Now she has her own studio, I have my own study, and on the wall before me is the spine of that book. I’d been meaning for years to do something with that fragment, then my wife found a frame and popped it in.

The important things we keep from previous generations are often not the ones you imagine, the old furniture or whatever, and never mind what Alan Clark once damningly said of his fellow Conservative Michael Heseltine, that he was the sort of man who “bought his own furniture”. Don’t we all? Better that than inherit mouldy old furniture.

An online search of second-hand bookshops suggests this book is a 1935 edition which, if in good condition, is worth £37, and contains 45 stories of mystery and intrigue by the foremost mystery writers of the period.

My time-weathered copy is worth everything and nothing, and anyway it’s not for sale.

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It seems that telling whoppers about building new hospitals is written into government comms policy

FEELING cross about Boris Johnson is a waste of angry breath, but don’t let that stop you.

We are used now to his chicanery, charlatanism and his carefully cultivated clownish image, the hair mussed up, the suit ill-fitting, and his posh, barking intonation, where the words crash into each other like cars parked without a care on a steep hill.

And then there are the lies, the cheap bricks on which he stands and bellows. Johnson was sacked from The Times in the late 1980s for making up a quote. Rather than act as a deterrence, that dismissal seems only to have emboldened him.

Sometimes it seems deliberate; sometimes he just can’t be arsed remembering whatever damn thing it was he said last time. It’s as if he exists in a continuous dishonest present, in which nothing he has said, or ever will say, really matters so long as he continues to shuffle down that corridor. Either he is lying, or he has weaponised forgetfulness, or a mash-up of both.

Thanks to the Health Service Journal, we now have evidence that this habit appears to be written into government communications policy.

You may recall that last week the health secretary, Sajid Javid, boasted about opening a new hospital in Carlisle. He faced much online criticism for this, as it wasn’t a new hospital at all but a new cancer centre in the Cumberland Infirmary.

As he headed north for the opening ceremony, Javid tweeted that he was “Looking forward to opening one of the new 48 hospitals today” – pledging to open that number of new hospitals by the end of the decade being a Johnsonian wheeze.

What the HSJ has uncovered suggests that telling such whoppers is now official policy. The journal has discovered a communications ‘playbook’ for the government’s NHS building programme. This orders health trusts that major refurbishments and new wings or units which are part of the scheme “must always be referred to as a new hospital”.

This is astonishing, or it would be under any other administration, but this tatty lot regard telling the truth with the disdain that their boss holds for his comb.

The HSJ prints this telling paragraph from the comms policy: “The schemes named in the announcement are not all identical and vary across a number of factors. However, they do all satisfy the criteria we set of what a new hospital is and so must always be referred to as a new hospital.”

Johnson made this barmy pledge, and now the comms policy is being wrestled into a shape that fits his narrative, if not the poor, downtrodden truth.

Part of this is just crazy. I don’t know if the government has realised, but people live locally and tend to notice things. They’d certainly clock if a new hospital was being built, as hospitals are often huge and employ many people.

It’s not as if you wander around your area and suddenly notice a new hospital that wasn’t there before. People will notice and they should call out this nonsense when they see it.

The odd thing is, the new units or whatever that are being built are a good thing, so there is no need to wrap them in Brexit-style whopper-tape.

Incidentally, Brexit seems to be collapsing all around us, causing food shortages and other forms of pre-told misery, only hardly anyone at the BBC has noticed.

Perhaps a memo has gone out about that too – “The sunny uplands of this new arrangement satisfy the criteria we set of what getting Brexit done is and so must always be referred to as a great British success story.”

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Cancel culture war as John Cleese prepares to have a grouch…

How delightful that John Cleese will present a series for Channel 4 about cancel culture. You can never get enough of grumpy old comedians grouching on about stuff.

According to a report in the Guardian, John Cleese: Cancel Me will explore “why a new ‘woke’ general is trying to rewrite the rules of what can and can’t be said”.

There are a few problems with the notion of ‘cancel culture’, but before we put a toe in that stagnant pool, here’s a WhatsApp exchange with my mother …

“We have been wondering what woke means. Can you tell us!”

“It started in the US as a way of describing liberal people who are sensitive about how others feel. Now it’s been turned around as an insult for liberals. It’s basically become a lazy shorthand used by right-wingers to be rude about anyone who disagrees with them.”

I hope that’s roughly right, as it can be hard to keep up.

My mother isn’t alone in being in the dark. According to a YouGov poll in May, most Britons (59%) don’t know what woke means. And yet the media is obsessed with something their readers half understand at best.

Such phrases are a cultural tic and can be horribly addictive. Just think of how ‘political correctness’ put on big boots and stomped all over the world, before finding its life partner, “gone mad”.

You could put a cigarette paper between ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘wokeness’. Or you could if you could find one. Perhaps we need a new measure of ideological thinness.

As you will recall, to be politically correct suggests using words that avoid insulting or offending people who belong to oppressed groups. A decent desire, you might have thought, but soon everyone was chuntering about ‘political correctness gone mad’ before they tired of that and switched to droning on about ‘wokeness’.

Such responses become a reflex, so instead of pausing to think about something, you just hit the buzz-phrase of the moment. Trouble is, these phrases – could we allow the neologism ‘tongue-jerk’ phrases? ­– take on a life of their own to the point where what they are complaining about becomes more myth than reality.

And that’s the problem with ‘cancel culture’. That and the possible double meaning in those two words. Is this an instruction to ‘cancel culture’ or a description of an alleged movement that wishes to cancel all debate?

Well, it’s the second, in theory. But cancel culture, along with its fellow under the tangled bedclothes ‘culture wars’, seems to be mentioned all the time with few actual examples of what is happening.

There is a weird victim culture wrapped up in this, whereby the Conservative Party (nearly always in power) and their friends in the media play-act being poor, defenceless waifs in the face of a mighty left-wing gale. Only it’s more of a breeze at best.

Also, this government seems keen on cancelling those who disagree with them, by pushing anyone presumed to be left-wing from museum bodies (as banged on about here previously more than once), while packing institutions such as the BBC with its own supporters. Richard Sharp, the multi-millionaire who says he has donated around £400,000 to the Tories, was Boris Johnson’s choice as chairman of the BBC.

Sir Robbie Gibb, a member of the BBC’s governing board and formerly director of communications to Theresa May, seems to be behind attempts to block Huffington Post UK editor Jess Brammar from taking up a senior editorial role at BBC News.

This has led to hysterical reporting in the Mail and elsewhere about why such an alleged left-winger shouldn’t be allowed to have such a role.

And you could call that cancel culture.

As for John Cleese, maybe he will discover something interesting as he sets out to meet those who claim to have been ‘cancelled’ for their actions and statements. The show’s not even been made yet, so we should give him a chance.

But I can’t help worrying it will be a dreadful exercise that could have been more interesting with another presenter. But the choice of Cleese got everybody talking, I suppose.

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If we’re a ‘big-hearted country’, someone forgot to tell Priti Patel

Are we really a “big-hearted country”? Foreign secretary Dominic Raab made this claim while addressing the Afghan refugee crisis.

Rumour has it he’d just been hauled back from Greece, to where he’d fled days before Afghanistan was about to fall to the Taliban.

No one saw that coming, apart from everyone not called Raab. And apart from the civil servants who told him to unpack the swimming trunks and stay at home.

Anyway, the papers are divided on the size of our heart. The loyal, never less than slobbering Daily Express has the front-page headline: “Big-hearted Britain to take 20,000 refugees.”

More sceptical, the Daily Mirror says this isn’t enough as only 5,000 will be admitted this year – “SAVE THEM” its headline pleads.

I’m with the Mirror on this one, but let’s rewind a moment.

Yesterday, Raab said that he and home secretary Priti Patel know from experience that Britain is a “big-hearted country”.

In his case, this refers to his Jewish father who came to Britain from Czechoslovakia in 1938, aged, six. For Patel, this dates to 1972, when Idi Amin expelled all Ugandan Asians, and Britain accepted 28,000 refugees displaced in this cruel fashion, including her parents.

Raab and Patel, then, both have family reasons to admire Britain’s openness, although only when it suits them.

Patel’s family background has, for whatever reason, made her mean-spirited towards refugees. She has been happy to out-Farage Farage by exaggerating the problem and following his nasty pointing.

Now the unrolling mess of Afghanistan has forced Patel, Raab and Johnson to don the T-shirt of quick compassion. Much like that time the clown who isn’t really called Boris dragged an England top over his shirt and tie when football was fleetingly his thing.

Pretending to care about football, pretending to care about refugees – it’s hard to keep up.

In interviews, Priti Patel has said “we cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go”.

Funny, that – perhaps she should check in with 1972.

Patel also declined to say when the first refugees would be rescued: “I’m not going to give a date, to pluck one out of thin air.”

Funny, that – as thin air is what she relies on for most of her opinions on refugees.

Not all Tories agree with the government’s approach. Former Cabinet minister David Davis, always the maverick’s maverick, said we should accept “north of 50,000” Afghan refugees. Tobias Ellwood, a former Army captain, told the Daily Mirror: “This is a woefully inadequate response given the scale of the refugee crisis we are about to face as a direct response to our withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Those of us who celebrated Joe Biden not being Donald Trump are now left scratching our heads. Was the sound of banging doors in Afghanistan as the US scrambled out and the Taliban rushed in what we’d hoped to see? All right, it was Trump’s plan, but did Biden have to adopt it so wholeheartedly?

Parliament has been recalled as I write, so that the size of Britain’s heart can be examined. Johnson & Co are left in a bind by this situation, as the number of Afghan refugees we are prepared to accept is determined not so much by compassion as by what Tory backbenchers will tolerate.

Still, let’s end on a positive view of Britain, taken from Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island. A lovely, hilarious, grumpy and wise book which I have just read again.

This comes towards the end…

“Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realised what it was that I loved about Britain – which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad – Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying ‘mustn’t grumble’ and ‘I’m terribly sorry but’, people apologising to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays – every bit of it.”

Those of us fortunate enough to have been born here should remember that our presence on this small island was a matter of luck. Never forget that when thinking of those in trouble who need shelter here, stinging nettles, Marmite and all.

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A few mostly kind thoughts about Dolly Parton writing a novel…

Dolly Parton with James Patterson

Dolly Parton and James Patterson Photograph: Courtesy of Dolly Parton

Country singer Dolly Parton is writing a novel, news to dampen the soul of struggling writers everywhere.

Yet publishing is an industry whose product happens to be books. And if you want to shift books, getting Dolly Parton to write one is a smart move.

Getting her to write one with James Patterson is an even smarter move.

Patterson is a one-man publishing industry, a mega-selling thriller writer who seems to enjoy these collaborations. Among many such side projects he has co-written two political thrillers with former president Bill Clinton.

Parton is a debut novelist, although she has written several memoirs, including Songteller: My Life In Lyrics. The many country-pop songs she has ‘told’ include Jolene and 9 to 5.

Her novel is called Run, Rose, Run and is said to concern a young woman who moves to Nashville to pursue her music-making dreams. Barely a skip from reality, but same goes for the Clinton/Patterson show.

Easy to feel sour about this, but pointless. Besides, Parton seems to be an admirable person, from what you can tell. She donated $1 million to the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. That makes her a modern heroine, although anti-vaxxers may disagree, as they like doing that.

Other causes she has supported include her own Dollywood Foundation, which aims to cut high school drop-out rates. Under the same umbrella, probably a frilly one with a cowboy-boots motif, she set up the Imagination Library to send one book per month to every child in Sevier County, Tennessee, from birth until their first year of school.

The list of her good deeds is too long to tote up further, but literacy is a common thread, inspired by her father, who could not read. A woman who wishes to use her power, influence and money to help tackle illiteracy is hard not to love.

Parton grew up “dirt poor”, as she has put it, and ended up a multimillionaire singer. It’s quite a tale (not a ‘journey’, for God’s sake, not one of those). As she is doing good with what she has squeezed from life, it’s hard to quibble.

She is knowing about the self-creation that is Dolly, a cheap and gloriously tawdry creature who enjoys her own brashness, while being astutely aware of what she is doing under that persona.

This self-awareness is clear from one of her best-known quotes – “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” If her book contains lines like that, perhaps it will be worth a read.

There is a trend for famous people writing books, with the publishers knowing they are likely to be on to a good thing. Richard Osman shows that, with The Thursday Murder Club.

I’ve not read his novel, a crime book at the cosy end of the spectrum. It’s super-successful, there’s a sequel (The Man Who Died Twice), and the publisher who had that idea hit gold.

Osman seems to be a witty and likeable man, so it’s hard to resent his success too. But if you wished to pucker your mouth, you could say he’s had all this laid on a plate.

My wife read The Thursday Murder Club and wasn’t that impressed, feeling it was only published because of the writer’s name and fame. A book-mad friend of sound judgment told me she enjoyed Osman’s novel. That isn’t enough to make me want to read it, but I heartily thank this same friend for also recommending Slow Horses, the first book in Mick Herron’s series of novels about a bunch of disgraced spies. It’s wonderful.

I had two crime novels published a while ago, and ever since have toiled on without a deal, happy to write, sad to see no printed book afterwards.

If Dolly and Richard have the world sewn up, maybe I should give up. Then again, no. Always writing, always hoping. Two novels are being written now in tandem. Perhaps one – or both! –will come to something.

Here is my favourite Dolly story. This concerns how she wrote two big hits in one day, Jolene and I Will Always Love You. Search online and you will find many people quoting this story. It’s a good tale, after all. But is it true?

One ‘fact-finding’ site gives the story a big tick, yet in a fans’ interview Dolly herself said she couldn’t remember. Years after the songs were released, she found the demos on the same cassette tape in her basement or somewhere. She thought it might have been the same day, week, or month. She couldn’t say for sure.

That story will probably stick around anyway, whatever Dolly remembers or doesn’t.

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