Thoughts on the importance of friends (and praise for Gordon Brown)…

Even the horrible national shin-kicking squabble of Brexit occasionally gave us a break.

This coronavirus has turned us into one-track ponies. It’s easy to understand why as it’s all so fraying.

Each day brings something new to worry about, personally and more widely. I don’t wish to add to the fret pile with too many plague jottings. But some days the subject is hard to walk around.

Here then are a couple of serious thoughts, followed by a cheerful recommendation.

You really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. The one politician talking calm and authoritative good sense is Gordon Brown, survivor/saviour of the 2008 crash, yet a prime minister who eventually disappointed.

But he’s the man you want in a crisis, displaying depth, urgency and asking the right questions. And agreeing to be interviewed by the BBC Today programme.

Boris Johnson desperately wanted the job he snatched, and now he’s landed the toughest beat possible. Whether you like the way he’s handling things is a matter of taste. I’d say he looks like a man in a stream wondering why he can no longer feel the riverbed beneath his feet.

He’s not well suited to the serious stuff, being only ever one bad joke away from putting his foot in it. Still, he has the support of the more lickspittle newspapers who continue to treat his karaoke Churchill act as if it were the real deal.

The media’s job in this sort of crisis is to keep us calmly informed but also to question constantly. Slapping Johnson on the back is not helpful. Praise him where it’s due for sure; but criticise him where it’s due, too.

Jeremy Corbyn says some sensible things, but you can’t help thinking it’s a shame he’s not Gordon Brown. While also thinking, heavens, are you still here?

Trending on Twitter at the time of writing is that loathsome slump of humanity going by the name of Nigel Farage. I won’t pass on what he said about China because in times like this we need sensible words, not self-propelling nastiness from a man who really should just shut up and walk away.

And we don’t need the incoherent ramblings of his friend Donald Trump either. Honestly, I watched one press conference clip about self-testing for coronavirus and, well, it was a test of my self to not scream and bang my head against the wall. What is that man talking about?

As Gordon Brown wrote in the Guardian the other day, an international crisis requires governments to work together. The populist nationalism of Trump’s America First policy, along with those of his copycats around the globe, puts us all at risk. Cooperation is what’s needed, not selfish nationalism and blame-shaming.

Incidentally, I went food shopping yesterday and there wasn’t any. Apparently, you need to arrive at 8am to buy luxuries such as potatoes and onions. Apparently (part two), in virus-ravaged Italy there are no food shortages, no selfish scramble to pull everything off the shelves.

Anyway, I promised something cheerful. On the BBC website there is a wonderful little interview with Doreen Burns, Carol Spark and Dotty Robinson. This trio of Salford grandmothers have known each other for more than 40 years.

As they tell BBC Breakfast reporter Jane McCubbin, they’ve hatched a plan to live together when further restrictions are introduced. Wine will be involved, plus love and squabbles, and stories of divorce and survival, and a front room to hide in if they get on each other’s nerves, or a long garden to exercise in.

Honestly, they’re an uplifting hoot and a holler. A reminder that if we have good friends in shitty times, we are indeed blessed.


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