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.
Oh, and I cycled 17.5 miles last week. Not much to some people I know, but it’s good for me.
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!
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.
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.
It’s bad enough being Andy Murray in your 20s, but being an eighteen year old who has barely played in tournaments before, going out on a show court as the last Brit in the championship, was one step too far for Emma Raducanu. It was a shame; she seemed to love her previous matches but there was so much pinned on this one that it became too much and she succumbed to what appears to be a panic attack. Everyone was very sympathetic including her opponent, though John McEnroe has apparently been criticised for saying she found it ‘a little too much’, which seems to be basically what everyone else is saying so I don’t really see the problem. I’ve always liked the way the mature McEnroe (not the young brat) tells it like it is; the world of tennis is generally tactful to the point of saying virtually nothing, so his views are usually a breath of fresh air. The match was on quite late as well, and that may have had an effect. Anyway, she’ll be back. Meanwhile we are down to the quarter-finals. You wouldn’t get long odds on a Federer-Djokovic final and I’m going for Ash Barty-Angelique Kerber in the women’s, though that’s more open I think.
So what else is new? The government continues its assault on the people, producing a draconian Policing Bill to outlaw annoying protests (that’s the point of protests; no-one takes any notice otherwise). This administration seems to value old statues more than living people and the latest rhetoric about mask-wearing becoming a ‘matter of individual responsibility’ is just about the worst move they could have made; it means that loads of people won’t bother and it will make enforcement in pubs and shops etc much much harder. It will also shift the blame for any rise in infections onto ‘irresponsible’ members of the public, which I’m sure has been their aim all along. And who thought Sajid Javid was a good idea as Health Secretary?
Can I emigrate yet?
Anyway, here are some life tips from Peanuts for when nothing goes right.
I had an unexpectedly good weekend, considering the weather. On Saturday I went for a walk round Watermead Park with a friend; it’s a lovely backwater just North of Leicester comprising the river, the canal and several lakes including King Lear’s lake (King Lear is supposed to have been buried nearby, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth.) I also attacked the bindweed with the strimmer; I tend to get a bit vicious with this as the bindweed has been particularly prolific this year so I swing the strimmer in a wide arc shouting bastard bastard bastard and not stopping until it surrenders. On the Sunday I had my second jab (yay!) then went to visit mother-in-law, pick up a very intrusive chair she’d been wanting to get rid of for ages, and deliver it to a friend of Daniel’s who is in need of just such a chair; all of which was surprisingly satisfying. I wouldn’t have minded having the chair here but it’s a big bastard, one of those chairs that takes up far more room than it should considering only one person can sit in it. I didn’t go for a bike ride over the weekend but I will today I expect.
Politics has become slightly interesting again – as opposed to merely depressing. Cracks are appearing in Johnson’s hitherto teflon surface; not only from Cummings – which may not have much effect overall – but John Bercow, the former Speaker who has now defected to Labour, and most of all the Amersham and Chesham by-election in which the Lib Dems gained a significant victory. There may have been local issues involved, but it’s clear that they don’t like Johnson – and if they don’t like him, who else doesn’t like him? It’s interesting to see that it isn’t all one-way traffic and that the blue wall can look as vulnerable as the red wall.
We’re very up-to-date with the news in this house because over the weekend we bought not only the Guardian but also the Observer. On the whole I prefer the Observer to the Saturday Guardian; on the other hand I like doing the Prize crossword by hand and reading all the supplements (apart from what we call the ‘handy throwaway sections’ – sport, cooking, adverts) as it gives me something to do on a gadget-free Saturday. Speaking of which I found it pretty dull this time, especially on the Friday night; not having TV or radio or phone or music is a bit trying especially if you don’t have anything to read (as my current books are audio books on my phone that was out.) In the end we played pen and paper games like hangman and boxes, like I remember doing on a dull and wet Sunday afternoon, and went to bed early. Still, there’s no doubt it is good for us to have a digital detox; it kind of re-sets the brain.
Years ago OH and I tried to make a series of these jokes, such as ‘Pretentious – moi? Pedantic – I? Repetitive – me myself personally? and so on. It was necessarily quite a short series but it amused us for about five minutes.
Then this morning I was wondering what it must be like to be privileged; to have doors open for you, taxis waiting, queues jumped, money always available and waiters jumping to attention. I can’t imagine it. And then I thought, what about the kinds of privilege I have – like education, race, class and so on? And I guess the answer is that when you have privilege you don’t notice it. I don’t notice that I’m driving and NOT being stopped by the police, or walking down the street and not being abused, or not being being able to access certain classes or join in certain discussions; not being able to climb steps or negotiate kerbs. When you have privilege it’s like the air you breathe; you don’t notice it till it’s not there.
From time to time there are people – usually journalists, sometimes politicians – who deliberately put themselves in the place of the less privileged; sometimes to make a point, sometimes just to find out what it’s like. George Orwell did this when down and out, doing some of the worst jobs and living in the filthiest holes in London and Paris; Polly Toynbee (in Hard Work in Low-Pay Britain) did some of the worst women’s jobs in the country and from time to time politicians have tried to live on the dole for short periods; the one I remember most is Matthew Parris who thought he was going to save £3 a week and ended up sitting in the dark for three days because the meter had run out. But noble as these efforts are, they are transient; at the end of it you know you’re going back to your old life and even if you don’t, you generally have the safety-net of family, friends, contacts etc who are all likely to be well-off and able to help. You have hope; more than that, you have a time-limit when you know you’re getting out. You may be in purgatory but you’re not in hell.
I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, except that when people like Lawrence Fox say there’s no such thing as male privilege, I think ‘how would you know?’ Because basically unless you’ve had your oxygen taken away, you don’t know what it’s like not to breathe.
One privilege I shall definitely enjoy soon is Wimbledon. It’s late this year, presumably because of Covid, not starting till June 28th but I’m looking forward to it. Andy Murray has a wild card so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do.
Have a good weekend. We’ll be doing the non-Sabbath thing tonight and tomorrow so I’ll be incommunicado for that period.
I should also add that today is Jo Cox Memorial Day. Downing Street’s recently-quit race advisor Samuel Kasumu has opined in the Guardian, ‘People have already forgotten Jo Cox,’ but I don’t think that’s true. I think her sister standing in Batley and Spen has refreshed memories, if people had forgotten, but I think we are frequently reminded – as we should be – about what happened. Her murder was instrumental in confirming OH’s opinion about Brexit and was a horrible sign of the spirit that would be unleashed if we voted to leave.
Many – though not all – of these fears have been realised, though of course Brexit is not ‘done’ but is a grotesque juggernaut that continues to trundle on scattering debris in its wake. I loathe the spirit of flag-waving nationalism that’s been unleashed by this disastrous process; surely it was this kind of patriotism which Dr Johnson was referring to when he said it was ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ Certainly fits another Johnson we know…
Enough ranting. Let’s take a moment to remember a promising young woman murdered just for doing her job.
I thought I’d scheduled this post for yesterday afternoon but it didn’t come up, so here it is. I’m happy to report that energy levels increased after a bike ride along the canal; the weather has also improved, so that’s all good. And… the Hay Festival has begun. I’ve never actually made it to the physical festival but my sister lives not too far away so I have hopes of going next year, meanwhile this year’s festival is all online and free. I kicked off with a conversation between Michael Rosen and a hospital doctor about his near-death experiences and the values that underpin the NHS; it was very heartening.
Thinking a little more about fatigue though, I’ve decided that there are other factors involved: the first of which is caffeine. It’s impossible to get this right: caffeine, we are told, gives us a false energy which has to be paid back later like borrowing money. Caffeine will keep you going for a while but in the end makes you tireder, not least because it can keep you awake at night. Recently, more or less by accident, I’ve almost given up caffeine; I couldn’t stomach it when I was ill and when I got better my tolerance had decreased along with my desire for the pots of hot, strong tea which kept me going every morning. So I’ve reduced my consumption to one cup a day made with a tea bag which as everyone knows is not nearly so strong as leaf tea. The problem is that this lack of stimulants could be what’s making me tired. Maybe I just have to persist? Maybe it gets better? But OH once gave up caffeine for FIVE YEARS and was permanently exhausted for the whole time. So what are we supposed to do?
But going back to climate change I think an important factor here is the action – or inaction – of governments. Johnson talks green but does nothing; in fact his actions are positively detrimental to the environment; approving coal mines,relaxing the planning laws, giving HS2 the green light – it’s all greenwashing and like everything else he says, he doesn’t mean a word of it. But what right-wing governments generally do is to place all the onus for action on the individual. Can’t find a job? Nothing to do with us mate – it’s down to you. Can’t afford to buy a house? Tough; you should have made more money. Finding it hard to go green? Don’t blame the government, just try harder. We’ve seen this with the coronavirus, how they fudge the advice and then blame individual citizens when things go wrong.
I get a dozen requests every day to sign petitions, write letters, lobby my MP or email the Prime Minister about something. There’s too much to oppose and the Labour Party aren’t doing it. So maybe that’s why I’m exhausted. Although actually today I’m not feeling too bad.
I think we’ve had enough cold, wet weather now. It’s nearly the end of May, for xxxs sake, and it’s nine degrees and raining. Nine! Temperatures will reach a high – if you can call it a high – of 13 degrees today and I am Not Happy. I mean, I can take a joke but this is ridiculous. I demand that something be done about the weather NOW!
Governments are a bit like the weather, in a way – just as it rains on the just and the unjust, so a government governs all, whether you voted for it or not. It’s only been 18 months and I’m already sick to death of this one; they go from bad to worse. The high spot of this government’s programme is – actually there isn’t one. It’s all rubbish and I demand that something be done about the government NOW!
And what’s going to happen in Scotland? The weather there may be worse but the political climate is loads better, and now they’ve got another stab at independence. Since the main trigger for this is Brexit, and since many pro-independence voters want to be allowed to rejoin the EU as a newly-independent state, this looks very hopeful. It also looks impossible; not because it won’t happen – it’s looking more favourable than at any time in recent years – but because of the border issue. If Scotland rejoins the EU there will have to be a ‘hard border’ between England and Scotland. It’s my guess that this government will stop at nothing to prevent it, otherwise Hadrian’s wall will have to be rebuilt – and they’ll make Scotland pay for it!
How much damage can one man do? This is all down to Cameron’s arrogant decision to throw a referendum to the discontented populace like lobbing a bone at a dog, saying he’d deal with the consequences only to flounce off the moment the result was announced leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces. Of course many others, not least Johnson, have to answer for the mess we’re in but if it hadn’t been for Cameron it would likely never have happened. Meanwhile over the pond Trump continues to dodge bullets like some orange Rambo whilst lobbing more and more grenades at the democratic process, and in Belarus Lukashenko’s refusal to quit power has led to him hijacking a Ryan Air plane and kidnapping one of his rivals. And don’t even get me started on Bolsonaro. These are just the latest, democratically-watered-down versions of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. What is the matter with these people? Why do they want power so much? Why don’t they see the consequences of what they’re doing? I don’t think I’ll ever understand it but I guess it comes down to the fact that power corrupts. In a small way, we’re seeing that with Keir Starmer too; they should have listened to me and voted for Emily Thornberry.
In the meantime, how will today pan out? Will I manage a bike ride in between the showers? Will I actually write anything? And what will OH be making for dinner? Find out in tomorrow’s thrilling instalment of…