Late Life Crisis - February 2021

Beginning of the month. I am missing Trump. I am missing that there was always something to write about him. With the new incumbent, there is just not the same buzz in speculating on whether the President enjoyed a refreshing afternoon nap.

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In January's Late Life Crisis I described two pictured individuals as women. According to certain protagonists in the trans/gender debate I ought to have described them as menstruators. This immediately raises, and I am not being entirely flippant here, the question of how to describe someone who might no longer be menstruating. It is like the problem of whether in France to use the address Madame or Mademoiselle.

Alleluia! There may now be less to write on over Trump, but the language of gender is going to provide a rich substitute.

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Now above I wrote 'menstruating', but could I have written 'menstruatin', adopting Priti speak? I have reflected for some time on the peculiar violence that the Home Secretary does to the present participle, but it was the Times sketchwriter Matt Chorley who got in earlier with an article mercilessly lampoonin Ms Patel over her pronunciation in this area of language. 

However, I would like to go a stage further and research who else in the public domain does the same, and why do they do it - anyway, what else is there to do during Lockdown Indeterminate End? 

The only other politician I can immediately identify is Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. One first goes to education. The web says that Patel attended Watford Technical College before going on to Keele University, and that Lewis went to The Forest School and then the University of Buckingham. That blows the first theory, that both had state education, as The Forest School is independent. Even if both had done state secretary, that could not be the answer: your correspondent went to grammar school, and I am pretty certain that we were not taught to drop the 'g'. 

Then at the other end of the social scale there is the 'huntin shootin and fishin' brigade, but the clipping off of the 'g' for these folk feels different. And no, it is not the same as general Cockney squashing of consonants - Ms Patel and Mr Lewis are perfectly sound in articulating here, although the former does have some strange turns of phrase.

Hours of pleasure on this lie ahead. By all means message me thoughts via the Contact page of the site.

Priti Patel

Is she smirkin, or is she not smirkin?

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Moving home day. Little left in the fridge, but from the remnants surely an excuse to garner energy with a bacon sandwich for breakfast....

...Ali and Lucas appear, in good spirits possibly as my lovely neighbours had enabled me to clear a space for their van directly outside. An efficient loading process...

...My solicitors phone to say that completion of the sale has happened. My lawyer brain kicks in. I must now give vacant possession. What if the purchase does not complete? Sod it, we will sit tight until the next phone call...

...Which comes in just over an hour. Bye bye, Crouch End, after more than 30 years. But I already plot for a return to its restaurants once possible...

...Ali and Lucas unload me efficiently into Kentish Town. Someone had already questioned why I was moving out of London. I shall have to ramp up my local history knowledge. But for starters, think Kenwood not Kent.

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In the absence of anything dramatic to write about the new POTUS, commentators are falling back on Bidenisms, the gaffes that give us joy. It would be lazy to trot out a list of these, but this on the then new President Obama deserves mention: 'I mean, you've got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy'. Classy.

Bojo has his own language quirks, but on many counts is not likely to be labelled as 'Britain Biden'. However, grammarians might have noticed a comment where he used the adjective 'practical' instead of the adverb 'practicable', as in "It would not be practical to [do something]'. Yes, I will have to do better than that to lift Boris up anywhere near the heights of Uncle Joe.

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Overheard on Hampstead Heath: 'I went for the part of the third man. I didn't get it'.

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'Emeritus Professor', a term usually applied when the venerable academic office-holder retires but is allowed to retain the title. However, apparently it was applied contradictorily to the retiring editor of the Sunday Times, Frank Giles, in 1983. The proprietor, one Rupert Murdoch, kicked Giles upstairs after the paper had been duped into publishing the fake 'Hitler Diaries', but gave Giles the title 'Editor Emeritus'. I had no impression of Murdoch possessing a sense of humour, but the story goes that he told Giles that the 'e' stands for exit and the 'meritus' stands for deserved. Ouch.

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It is doubtful whether commenting on other people's pandemic misery does much good for those who hear it. But you can't brush aside the following from GP and writer Dr Max Pemberton. A woman came to his surgery and asked that her three children be taken away from her. She explained that the family lived in two rooms, sharing a kitchen and bathroom with another family. One of her children had autism; another had behavioural problems. She had no family in this country. The day centres were closed; the drop-ins were closed. She had not seen her social worker for months. Support from the community mental health team was now limited to the occasional phone call. Day in day out she sat in the room while her children screamed.

I feel uncomfortable about a moralising nark over the middle-classes complaining that Zoom keeps playing up. But it is true: we should realise that there are a lot of people who have been put into a very bad way mentally and socially by Covid.

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I have received a LinkedIn invitation from an American University:

'Your background and skillset stood out as a potential applicant for our Online LLM in US Law at [            ] School of Law'

It is heartwarming that anyone should think that I still have professional development and/or career potential.

But also, analyse that sentence. The subject is is 'background and skillset'. So they are saying that it is my background and skillset that is the potential applicant. Interesting,

I am contemplating the following response:

"Your facility with the English language stood out as a potential applicant for my online remedial English grammar course'.

PS For those minded towards the 'OK clever clogs you do better', the answer is simple: 'Your background and skillset stood out as making you a potential applicant.....'. Just two words.

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In the wake of Will Knowland's sacking as a Master at Eton following his promotion of 'robust' critical thinking teaching, and word of his threatened Employment Tribunal case against the School:.....

'.....So Damian, having watched Mr Knowland's YouTube video, take me through your views on heteronormative orthodoxy......

.....Damian, you are not taking this seriously. You are supposed to be cultivating your powers of free speech and inclination to provide a counter-intuitive response to the dominance of the woke narrative......

.....Believe me Damian, this topic could easily come up at interview......

.....Yes, Damian I know that you are being interviewed for Eton Pre-School.....

.....And no you cannot go off and play with your police car until I have an answer.....'

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A piece on how we treat the word 'spaghetti' (Italian plural) as a singular reminded me of the Government's travails with 'data", which is strictly a plural (pieces of fact combined together) but is commonly used in the singular, whereas the singular should be 'datum', except you would sound a prat using the word. Scientists and medics led the way with the careful usage of 'The Covid data show that....'. Politicians followed, although I sensed a self-consciousness in their needing to be grammatically accurate coupled with a wish by them simultaneously to show off language expertise but not be seen as arrogant.

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Mrs Margaret Scroggins, and her husband Harold, of East Cheam, are delighted to announce that Margaret is pregnant with their second child.

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The Chief Hobbit at the Department of Transport, Grant Shapps, has said that we should not be booking holidays. Mr Shapps must be a clever person to hold the Secretary of State role, but he seems to be unaware of, first, the psychology of booking a holiday in hope but knowing that you might not be able to take it and, secondly, common arrangements called cancellation rights. 

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Also in January's Late Life Crisis I promised a note on the Spectator piece 'Getting coronavirus does not bring clarity', written by Mary Wakefield (wife of Dominic Cummings) after the escape to Durham. It is best that I merely precis the relevant paragraphs:

5th para: Early onset Covid suffering MW was pleased that her workaholic husband would have to come home.

6th para: He came home, but within 24 hours fell ill. He stayed like this for ten days.

7th para: After a week, he was still unwell, but symptoms not clear enough to warrant definite need for hospitalisation.

8th para: She wrote: 'When Dom finally made it to the kitchen....'. No indication of location, but assumption that they were still in London.

9th para: Dom feeling better, but Boris heading to hospital.

10th para: For completeness. MW discussed faith at time of churches being shut.

11th para: I must quote exactly the opening sentence: 'After the uncertainty of the bug itself, we emerged from quarantine into the comical uncertainty of London lockdown'.

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I will leave the deconstruction/discussion of all this to next month. And through laziness/lack of time I have not yet mapped the chronology against reported travel and other events over the relevant period. Until then, not a word about economy of truth.

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Anxiety dreams. Here is one from me that is printable and is a variation on the familiar. I arrive at an event to deliver an after-dinner speech. My 'notes' comprise two scribbled on pieces of paper. The words are illegible. I sit down at the top table and wonder what I am going to say. My thoughts while trying to make conversation with the table companions veer from thinking I can busk it, to terror over standing up and being...speechless. 

The twist is that everyone in the room is a foot taller than me. Good material for my therapist, if he or she existed.

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Sat on a bench near Dartmouth Park and had a hot chocolate and cannoli from Roni's. God, life is exciting.

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It is said, and I may be on thin ice here, that the Welsh are sensitive to being made fun of by others. We are on the edge, maybe, of a slow return to a more normal life. One of the early steps might be allowing households to holiday in self-contained accommodation. The First Minister of Wales has discussed this. Now those who take to a caravan for a holiday are often negatively stereotyped, so I wonder whether the following statement from Mark Drakeford is a gaffe:

'...I know that that [being able to holiday in Wales] would be a big boost to the industry [tourism] and a big boost to hundreds of thousands of families in Wales for whom going down the caravan for a few days for a break would be a very welcome prospect'

The press report possibly missed a 'to" (giving the benefit of the doubt to Drakeford). 

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In the interests of balance, I should point out some casual stereotyping words from journalist James Forsyth. In a piece mainly concerned with the strains on the Northern Ireland Protocol from the Brexit trade agreement (eg easier now to buy flowers from Dublin than from the UK mainland), and in the same vein concerning problems sourcing English sausages, he opens a sentence: 'In a place where the regional speciality is a cooked breakfast...' Arlene Foster must have been retching over her cholesterol tablets.

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Parliament Hill Fields

I am not much of a photographer, but occasionally a photo works.

Here, Parliament Hill Fields and the City.

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From next month I will start some commentary on the residential conveyancing process. Pieces may come in separate articles. I am going to (1) use my previous experience as a commercial property lawyer and one who has very occasionally conveyed residentially and (2) try hard to be dispassionate and balanced. But as a teaser, I reckon that residential conveyancing lawyers are underpaid (and no, I am not toadying to friends and connections who do this type of legal work).

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Boris Johnson is the striker who has had an indifferent game, spurning chances in front of goal, but who has scored the winner late in the second half and who as a result has been hailed as a hero.

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Charles Moore (Telegraph; Spectator) is upset that the Times is changing its approach on description of people with titles. The change is not now to have the courtesy title applied at second mention. So Lord Smith, at second mention, will simply be referred to now as Smith. This can have nothing to do with the fact that Lord Moore of Etchingham has recently been ennobled...

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In an emulation of the Government's communications strategy on lockdown lifting, train operators will be revising timetables so that for illustration we will now have the 'not earlier than 8.14 Surbiton to Waterloo'. 

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To finish:

I had a new dishwasher installed by John Lewis. Overall very good experience, but I had to endure the pre-installation phone call. Highlights below:

JL: 'Can we have your full name?'

Me: [Advised. But they know my name.]

JL: 'Can we have your address?'

Me: [Advised. But they know my address.]

JL: 'Where is the stopcock?'

Me: [Advised. But they will bring a specialist installer, so they should be able to work it out.]

JL: 'Are we removing the existing dishwasher?'

CD: [Advised. But I have paid for the old one to be removed.]

JL: 'Are we installing a full-size or slimline dishwasher?'

At this point I politely cracked, and pointed out that I had ordered a full-size dishwasher and that this should be clear to the person on the phone. The defensive answer was that they knew, but that their procedures required them to ask these questions and all the other questions I did not report above. 

Is this part of JL's mission to maintain full employment for its staff during the pandemic? I was conjecturing like hell. What could come next? Maybe, echoing the enhanced fraud protection that the banks are now adopting, a question on whether I had been coerced into buying the dishwasher.

So, for this part alone of the 'customer experience':

'John Lewis: Never Knowingly Underidioted'.

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The author is a writer, speaker, historian, occasional tour guide, and former Managing Partner of a City law firm.