I Gave it 20 Minutes

I’m not in the habit of watching PMQ’s (Prime Minister’s Questions for those not in the UK) as I find the continual posturing, braying, shouting and paper-waving quite annoying – but today I made an exception. Having read the (very short) Sue Gray report – or what’s left of it after the MET got their mitts on it – I decided to tune in to see what happened. The report is limited but quite damning in some ways – she lists a total of 16 ‘gatherings’ which took place in or around No 10, either in the office or the garden or in the Johnsons’ flat. 12 of these events are now being investigated by the police. Gray makes no specific mention of Johnson himself but talks about the culture of No 10 and events being ‘difficult to justify.’ She makes reference to the sacrifices the public were being asked to make and is obviously quite peeved at being asked not to publish it in full. Before PMQs the BBC were outside Parliament interviewing MP’s – they didn’t find any Tories to speak to apart from one who wasn’t an MP but everyone else was unanimous in saying that Johnson was a disgrace and should resign.

And at 3.30, out he comes, managing a full three minutes of remorse. He was sorry. Mistakes were made. There will be a shake-up at No 10. He was grateful to Sue Gray for her report. He acknowledged that there was public anger. And that was that. Like a reluctant teenager forced to make conversation with an aging aunt at a party, he swiftly moved on to more pleasant things – basically, the usual suspects. Didn’t he make a good job of Brexit? And isn’t everything going to be so much better now? Wasn’t the vaccine rollout great? And isn’t it time we turned our attention to Ukraine?

It was pathetic. Frankly, it was nauseating and for once, Keir Starmer said everything I wanted him to say. Johnson is a disgrace, he has brought his office into disrepute, he has (whatever the euphemism is that you have to use instead of saying ‘lied’) and he must resign. Johnson replied, now in full fighting mode, all aura of repentance long since evaporated. Enter Theresa May. I was never a fan of hers but one of the effects of Johnson’s premiership has been to make her look like a solid and principled leader. He should have known the rules, understood the rules and applied the rules, she said. Either he didn’t, or he didn’t bother – which was it? It was a good intervention, but the SNP leader went for the jugular and ended his speech saying the PM lied. The Speaker told him to retract; he refused. Rinse and repeat four times, after which Ian Blackford came out with some convoluted form of words which got him off the hook. But he’s right. Johnson lied; and I can’t believe how long he’s managed to hold on to his office given the blindingly obvious facts. He lied.

After 20 minutes of watching this farce open-mouthed, I switched it off.

On a lighter note, we’ve discovered a real gem of a programme on BBC Scotland called Roaming in the Wild. Most ‘adventure’ programmes nowadays feature a bunch of people thrown together with elements of competition, some contrived ups and downs, an end to be gained within a certain length of time and some potential conflicts between the participants. There must be triumph and disaster, there will be manufactured tension and a ticking clock. Frankly, I’m sick of it. But this programme has absolutely none of that; it’s just two guys off exploring Scotland and having a great time while they do it. They may or may not travel the length of Loch Ness in a paddle boat (spoiler alert – they don’t), they may or may not ski across the Grampians and spend the night in a snow hole, or paddle down the River Esk or hike across the mountains in North-East Scotland but whatever they do it’s interesting and above all, fun. They have some great laughs and the scenery is brilliant. So I recommend that. It’s a good antidote to all ‘structured reality’ shows – and above all, to PMQs.

Here is the Sue Gray report and here, should you wish to subject yourself to it, are today’s PMQs.

Kirk out

I’m Scared

There’s much to be scared of in these dark days: climate change, covid, rising prices and the effects of Brexit. But the thing that terrifies me today is the possibility that after all the parties and the revelations, after all the lies and corruption, after virtually spitting on the Queen by forcing her illegally to prorogue parliament and then by holding parties on the eve of her husband’s funeral, an event at which, lest we forget, she followed the rules and sat alone: that after all these events we still might not be rid of Boris Johnson.

So far in order to shore up his position he has thrown civil servants under the bus, got MI5 to find a Chinese informant, announced the lifting of coronavirus restrictions and hid behind an inquiry into his own behaviour which is unlikely, we now hear, to be published in full. His lapdog newspapers, after a ritual excoriation, have now got behind him and published a frankly desperate photo of Keir Starmer drinking a bottle of beer in his office and are now waiting for the results of Sue Grays enquiry which they desperately hope will enable him to cling on.

If Johnson survives all this then I don’t know where we’re heading as a country. Johnson’s supporters are unlikely to storm parliament but in every other way he’s becoming more Trump-like by the day. And if the police and crime bill passes you can say goodbye to our right to protest about it – or anything else for that matter. Every day I get up and think, how the hell did we get here?

Kirk out

The Life and Lies of Boris Johnson

Fans of Harry Potter will recognise the title here as a parody of The Life and Lies of Albus Dunbledore by the scurrilous hack Rita Skeeter. But whereas just about every page of that book was false, accusations against Boris Johnson, that he lies almost as often as he opens his mouth, are not, alas, fabricated. The leader of our great nation has lied and lied again, not only since becoming PM but throughout his life.

I’ve been reading the work of Peter Oborne. Oborne is a much-respected political commentator and journalist. He’s politically on the right but has a high regard for truth and integrity and since 2019 has made it his business to track the almost uncountable lies told by Johnson, particularly on the subject of coronavirus but by no means limited to that topic. The Assault on Truth is a detailed and scrupulously researched book detailing the rise of Johnson and Trump and how they exemplify a particular kind of politics, one with scant regard for the truth: Matilda springs to mind – I’m working on a parody as we speak. ‘Johnson told such dreadful lies/it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes.’) To my mind it’s not a question of if Johnson goes, but when: the knives are sharpening daily, a second Tory MP has defected to Labour and the only person who can’t seem to read the writing on the wall is Johnson himself.

The best scenario for Labour would be to postpone a vote of no confidence until after the May elections. If, as looks likely, the government does badly (there are reports of activists being so demoralised that they’re refusing to deliver leaflets) that would bode well for Labour. On the other hand if they go for a leadership election sooner and elect Rishi Sunak who then gives people help with energy bills, it’s not so good. Either way it’s an interesting time. Sickening, yes. But interesting.

Kirk out

Just a Little Prick..

I expect you’re wondering why I called you all here today… well, it’s because I want to talk to you about vaccines. I’m going to be blunt; health conditions aside, I simply can’t understand why anyone would choose not to have the covid vaccine. Common reasons given are that we ‘don’t know what’s in it’ so why would we trust it? Well it’s true, I don’t know what is in any of the vaccines. But this is not some wonder drug sold over the Internet. It’s developed by scientists, researched in labs and peer-reviewed: there’s a process – and by and large I trust that process. The vaccine-sceptical are fond of justifying their position by saying that they’ve ‘done their own research.’ Oh really? So you have access to a lab? What tests have you done? What conclusions have you reached? Where are the papers published? Are they peer-reviewed? Or does this ‘research’ consist of an Internet trawl digging up a few conspiracy theories? I saw a post just today saying ‘When we buy a house we do our own research and we’re praised for it, but when it comes to vaccines…’ (fill in the rest yourself.) Yeah, about that: it’s true that we’ll look at estate agents and visit houses ourselves, but do we do our own survey of the building? Do we conduct our own conveyancing? No. Most of us are not remotely qualified to do these things. We leave them in the hands of experts, and generally we trust them to do the job.

This is getting serious. Between 75 and 90% of covid patients in hospital (depending on the area) are unvaccinated, putting a great strain on the NHS. Not only that, but some staff are also unvaccinated. If they have a valid medical reason for this, fine – but I listened to a midwife on Woman’s Hour explain why she was unjabbed, and as far as I can make out it just came down to ‘personal choice.’ This is unacceptable. Can I exercise my personal choice not to wear a seat belt, or to drive when over the limit? Of course not. We understand that these rules are in place for a reason, and mostly we abide by them.

This is not to say that I agree with the Government’s stance. Threatening to fire unvaccinated NHS staff is unhelpful and draconian, especially in a climate where the government has been seen not to follow its own rules. But I simply can’t understand why anyone without an exemption would not simply get the vaccine. Its easy: think of Boris Johnson and say to yourself, just a little prick

Kirk out

Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!

What’s the best way to start a fuel crisis? It’s easy; first you have a referendum, then you leave the European Union, then you have a pandemic and last of all you tell people there’s no need to panic. Right now we are being run by a dysfunctional Dad’s Army where Captain Mainwaring has been superseded by Corporal Jones who’s rushing around trying to keep his trousers on and telling everyone not to panic. To be fair, the great British public have no small share of blame in this, going around selfishly buying petrol they don’t need (at least unlike loo rolls, there’s a limit to what your tank will hold, though I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of a man filling his boot with bottles of the stuff, which surely has to be illegal.) And yesterday I was driving along the ring road when I fell into a traffic jam. Unusual, I thought, for this time in the morning. Maybe there’s been an accident. I should have known: as we inched closer to the scene of what I always think of as a follon – the Spanish for fuck-up – I realised it was caused by people queuing to get into the petrol station. Not only that, but someone in the other side was waiting to turn into it, a completely hopeless cause, and blocking traffic on that side. I drove self-righteously past, smug in the knowledge that I’d filled up last week. And just as well I had.

Some parts of the media have a share of the blame too, in spreading stories of impending shortages which then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But seriously, panic buying has to stop.

Got to go now, the tank’s less than half full so I’d better get some before it all runs out. Actually I know where to get some. But don’t tell ’em, Pike!

Kirk out

Tempus Doth Indeed Fuge…

As both I and Jeff Bezos have been discovering, time is flying and it’s flying fast. I first came across the phrase in The Phoenix and the Carpet by E Nesbit, but the truth of it has hit me only recently as I now realise it’s a whole two weeks since I last posted. I’ve got a note from the doctors to excuse me but I think it’s time I checked in at least. So… I’ve been reading Oliver Burkemans book 4000 Weeks on how to make the most of time. Carpeing the diem is in there of course but he also recommends totally wasting time; staring out of the window, watching clouds, it’s all good. Social media is not good of course as it sucks up your attention and manufactures outrage, but mainly he rails against the ubiquitous time management self-help manuals that give you 1001 joyless habits of successful people. It’s a relief. One of the books most useful ideas for me was that in choosing to do something you are simultaneously and inevitably choosing not to do others: as CS Lewis put it, you’re ‘free as a man is free to drink while he is drinking.’ You can’t drink and not-drink, you have to choose.

Don’t have a bucket list: enjoy what you’re doing now. Pay attention. Don’t fret impatiently at red traffic lights, just enjoy sitting and being.

It has also occurred to Jeff Bezos that time may one day run out for him, and so rather than spread his wealth around and help the undeserving poor he has embarked on what you might call Project Voldemort, ie the quest for eternal life. As Marina Hyde puts it in today’s Guardian, he has ‘decides that death is as inevitable as taxes, which is no say, not at all for the likes of him.’

I guess some people think you can conquer anything if you just throw enough money at it. Pity he didn’t think to throw some at his own staff.

Kirk out

Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming

That’s what I’m doing today, like Dory I’m just keeping on until something happens or I get where I’m going. Wherever that is… in the meantime I am getting seriously twitchy about the lack of holiday plans. I’m not even sure it’s sensible to go away and by the look of the travel websites millions of people will be doing just that, which makes it even less sensible. I long for a lonely beach, a quiet cottage somewhere tucked away where nobody goes, but I don’t think I’m going to find it. The trouble with lonely cottages where nobody goes is that sooner or later someone goes there – and they tell their friends about it, and their friends go there and before you know it the lonely cottage is a major destination and costs a thousand pounds a week. It’s a bit like this Dire Straits song:

Plus, everything’s expensive this year. People are desperate to go away – and I can’t blame them – and holiday companies are desperate to recoup losses from last year, and I can’t blame them either. So what to do? I’m not as hardy as Brian so cycling and wild camping appeals as much as an enema. All I want is a little self-catering place in the middle of not-quite-nowhere, one which doesn’t cost the earth. And can I find it? Can I buffalo!

Little Victoria Wood reference there for fans. Of course I have other plans; I can visit my sister in Wales and my daughter in Doncaster, I can have days out on the bike and I can do some decorating. Yesterday on freecycle I got a couple of match pots and the day before I got a pair of curtains for the living room. They fit perfectly and look great, so now I really want to decorate the living room to match. I also have to do some decorating for a friend, which has been on hold while I sort out my fatigue issues. But maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about a holiday at all – I think the government’s ‘opening up’ plans are insane and I will not be leaving off mask-wearing and social distancing any time soon. Sometimes I think they just don’t give a damn if thousands die.

Now I’ve gone and depressed myself.

After this week I shall be having a break from work so I will schedule some golden oldies for your delectation. Happy Monday and please, guys, be careful out there. Your mask could save not only your life but others’ lives as well.

Kirk out

Oh, and I cycled 17.5 miles last week. Not much to some people I know, but it’s good for me.

Utopiary

Utopiary is a word I coined a few years back to describe the kind of leaf-perfect tree-moulding that goes on in some gardens. In fact you can usually measure the wealth of a household by the amount of topiary because most of us are too busy just trying to get the hedge trimmed and the lawn cut (while also respecting no-mow May) to be remotely interested in sculpting our trees. Anyway, I don’t like topiary very much; I think trees and bushes should find their own shape rather than having one imposed on them.

None of which is what I was going to write about today. I’m in a real short story phase right now and I’ve started another one which tells the story of a stoning from the point of view of a man waiting to take part in one. I was shocked to discover that this barbaric practice is still legal in fifteen countries of the world, even if it doesn’t always take place. Sometimes there is no legal process whatsoever; the poor woman (it’s usually a woman) is simply sentenced to death for some alleged crime and in Pakistan since adultery is hard to prove the courts are able to ‘use their instincts’. In a deeply misogynistic society you can just imagine how that’s going to play out.

The story was inspired by an article in the latest Granta magazine which plopped onto my doormat this morning and was eagerly snatched up. Wimbledon being over, we’re back to doing the digital detox thing from Friday night to Saturday dinnertime, so I really needed something new to read. The theme of the issue is Interiors and it begins with A Series of Rooms Occupied by Ghislaine Maxwell who, in the absence of Jeffrey Epstein, is waiting in a detention centre to be tried for the crime of supplying young women to be raped by him and other men. I’m not saying we should go easy on Ghislaine if she’s guilty of these crimes, but growing up with a father like Maxwell can’t have been a picnic, and according to this article the place where she’s detained, the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn, is ‘the largest and most dysfunctional’ in the US. I’m not saying our prisons are exemplary but they seem so much worse in the States.

Anyway, I’ve sent off a couple more stories this week, keeping the momentum going, and another one or two will be ready in the next couple of weeks. I’m finding that the momentum is more important than the results, in a way. I’m going to sit in the sun now – for once we have a hot sunny day here. Yay!

Kirk out

It’s Coming Home – It’s Going Away –

So once again, at 5 pm, our esteemed leader is due to make a pronouncement on Covid regulations. We’ve had the heats and the semi-finals and now it’s the final: ‘Freedom Day’ (aka ‘freedom to catch Covid day’) is supposed to be Thursday; the day when the government washes its hands of all responsibility for public health and leaves it to us. Will it or won’t it? Today it’s decision time because basically the result was a draw: Covid hadn’t won but it hadn’t lost either. We went to extra time but nothing conclusive happened so there’s going to be a penalty shoot-out; and the result will probably be that we should wear masks but we don’t have to and that we should just generally – you know, be careful out there.

You can just imagine how this is going to go when, say, an anti-masker goes into a shop or a pub and is asked to put on a mask. People were stroppy enough before but now they’re going to say ‘Boris says I don’t have to, so there!’ It’s just going to make things ten times harder.

This government is definite on points where it should be nuanced and vague when it should be clear. I despair; and in the meantime I’m going to carry on wearing masks and socially distancing. And that’s my choice.

Kirk out

You Socially Distance if You Want To

This is going to be a football-free post, so if you want euphoria about things coming home you’ll have to look elsewhere.

It seems we now have a government which is socially distancing from its people. From July 19th – less than 2 weeks away – we’ll all be able to do what we jolly well like and if lots of people die it’ll be Our Fault for not being more responsible. Apparently it’s fine for mask-wearing and social distancing to be a matter of individual responsibility; I’m waiting for the relaxation of rules on traffic lights, seat belts and driving while drunk… yes, the government has finally given in to its lockdown sceptics and put the economy first. Though what the economy’s going to do if thousands of its workers die, I don’t know; there are already serious employee shortages thanks to Brexit. But seriously, when is it going to occur to them that you can’t run an economy without people? The news makes such grim reading nowadays (I nearly typed ‘grim reaping’) that I’m tempted to bypass it altogether.

Thank goodness for Wimbledon, where in the mens’ quarter-finals Djokovic beat the Hungarian Fucsovics, though not without some great rallies and multiple-deuce games – and almost unthinkably, Federer was out in straight sets, beaten by Polish player Hurkacz. We’ve seen this happen over and over, when a seemingly unbeatable player simply comes up against someone much younger. In the other matches, Italian Berrettini and Canadian Shapolavov were the victors. Today will see the women’s semis; Ash Barty against Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova against Sabatini. I’ve almost enjoyed the women’s draw more than the men’s this year, I’m not sure why.

I also watched some doubles, which is always fun, and I’ll try to catch some of the wheelchair tennis when it comes on. In other news, I finally managed to get an appointment for more blood tests and managed to dodge the very heavy showers to get out for a bike ride. And that was Wednesday.

Kirk out