Late Life Crisis - January 2021

The Great Waitrose Sprout Scandal, Part 2

The Waitrose Sprout Scandal, Part 2. December's Late Life Crisis tells the story,, but the summary is that Waitrose substituted a bag of sprouts with a single sprout in an online shop, and then charged £0.01p for the sprout. 

Friends are there when you need them. Some offered sprouts to make good the shortfall. Another friend conjectured that the remaining sprouts might be stuck on a lorry and would be arriving some time in January

In meantime, the plot with Waitrose has thickened, or maybe boiled. A Tweet elicited a response from Jaz in Customer Service: 'Hi Colin so sorry to see this, thank you for letting us know.', and a more traditional email to Customer Service resulted in this: 

The Great Waitrose Sprout Scandal, Part 2

The pulse races with anticipation. When will the £0.01 be credited to the credit card account? What will it cost Waitrose to effect this reversal? How much do we really like sprouts? Why do we love these distractions at a time of gloom all around us?


For What's App neighbour groups there is no problem that is insurmountable: 'Hi. Has anyone got a spare drinking fountain for cats?' 'Sure. DM me and I'll drop it round'. [BTW the example is genuine].


Public figures go out of their way to assure us that in anything they are doing they are complying fully with Covid regulations. They assure us to the extreme, it appears to me terrified that they might otherwise be called out as a Covid pariah. The best or worst I have seen is - wait for it - Theresa May's festive cake recipe, where she points out that despite her diabetes she still makes the cake for her husband and friends....'although not this year, I'm afraid, due to the limit on how many people we can see'. Which is pretty obvious.


There is apparently such a thing as knowledge obesity. We used to call it knowledge overload, but one must move with the times. The electrical metaphor has been replaced with a health metaphor, and when one is reciting jargon in the business world it is important to be 'on point' with the language. For all I know there may be such a thing as a knowledge obesity consultant.


Excitement as my Spectator Christmas Special Edition arrived. Special excitement as the cover announced that Dominic Cummings would be contributing. What would he be saying on life after emerging from underneath a rock? I consulted the Contents section (twice), but could not see his name. Shurely shum mishtake? Had he missed the deadline following being delayed after a visit to the opticians? Eventually I found him, one of eighteen names contributing short paragraphs on 'which moment seems the most interesting or significant in history'.

More interesting than Cummings' own thoughts on this was how he is being assimilated back into polite society after his cardboard box gripping exit from Downing Street. These exercises have to be conducted carefully, and not too quickly or too obviously so as to risk any observer pointing out how your mates rally round to help you. So Dom's redemption has started quietly and subtly, and apart from inconvenient continuing references to eyesight and Barnard Castle, the way is now clear: next step I guarantee is a big valedictory piece in the Telegraph on how he was misunderstood. 

BTW I have unearthed the article that Mr Cummings' wife wrote for The Spectator covering the Cummings family's experience while Covid was around Chez Dom, an article that I suggest is a masterpiece in economy of truth concerning their movements. The item will appear in next month's Late Life Crisis.


I had fun in November's Late Life Crisis, rewriting Bread of Heaven into an anthem to first Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. This has spurred me on to another hymn rewrite, in celebration of one aspect of the Government's resounding trade deal with the EU:

'Eternal Boris, strong to save,

Who fought the EU unlike Dave,

Who bid the mighty North Sea deep

To yield more fish for us to keep,

You cry: "The deal could better be",

I say: 'Push off, get back to sea!'.


In December's Late Life Crisis I did some character decoding with a photo of a couple of chaps from a wealth management firm.The firm is running an advertising campaign, so by way of gender balance I am pleased to add the following:

Wealth management

In contrast with the fun I was able to have with the previous photo, these two women look, well, just normal.


Post Lockdown 3.0 thoughts:

1. I feel a sense of relief. But is that in part because after the 'Boris bollocks' announcement  I went immediately to the detailed guidance and found that nothing that was essential to me was going to be affected?

2. If you have escaped the UK to somewhere sunny and warm for an extended break (so even quarantining is just a short-term pain), should you post pictures of your location extensively on social media?

3. Is there such a thing as Covid Competitiveness (a phrase used in a radio interview with a Scottish surgeon)? I take this as how far you have gone to meet the rules (leaving aside those whose compliance is driven entirely by physical vulnerability). 

4. Suggestions coming out on how to cope mentally with 3.0. One is: 'Don't catastrophise, but focus on the tasks of the day.' Maybe easier said than done eg fear of vaccination not beating NHS meltdown, but still seems sound advice to me.


Here is what I wrote in the tail end of a piece in November's Late Life Crisis (the martial law theory came from Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer):

'While the legals are going on, Trump holds rallies and calls for armed MAGA supporters to take to the streets. This would result in chaos, enabling Trump to call martial law and subsequently declare himself President for life. Ha ha indeed, but on some occasions what we thought was fantasy turned out to be reality - like his winning the Presidency. Extreme outcomes no, but out of the box moves? Yes.'

So what has happened is definitely extreme. Not quite as extreme as postulated. But pretty close.


'Dear patient: My prescription for alleviating the current feelings of doom and gloom is that you should take 8 one-hour doses of Bonkerton. Alternatively, you may take 16 30-minute doses of the same, pausing for unwelcome reality in between, although it is uncertain whether a half-dose will have the same outcome. Early feedback suggests that whilst consumption of Bonkerton will not improve your knowledge of 18th c. British history, nevertheless the experience will deliver suitable displacement therapy'.

One has to acknowledge the ingenuity of the Bridgerton writers in creating a fragile plot device by which the aristocracy of the time had more than a smattering of people of colour. I have still not got my head round colour blind casting: in the days when the theatres were open I remember a colour-blind casting of Henry V at the Barbican where the roustering Earl of Somethingland was played by a slim 22 year-old Asian chap. Sorry - credibility challenged. I have previously applauded the BBC4 series, Africa's Great Civilisations, presented magisterially by the American historian Henry Louis Gates Jnr with a cornucopia of history content that I suspect has eluded millions of Europeans, me definitely included. So, for example, why not a fictionalised work based on earlier rulers in West Africa who espoused slavery of other races but then fell in with the Portugese to trade slaves to the New World. I dare not write more on this for fear of getting the detail horribly wrong, but that would be a heck of a programme...and not require any casting artifice.


Is the Brexiteering side of the Government grateful for Covid? An outrageous thought, but the Covid media coverage has inhibited large-scale scrutiny of our nothing like a clean break deal. Note the Govey style pushing down of the pain on to business: 'You must be ready". It has always been a senior management trick to say that it sets the strategy and that middle management must find a way of implementing the strategy and take the consequences of failure.


For the deal itself, you can take it any way you want - it's a pickn'mix depending on whether you are a Brexiteer or Remainer, although Remainers are now being instructed to accept defeat as good sports and have a metaphorical beer in the bar with the opposition just like rugby players. Still it is worth picking out some of the features of the deal for which the Government at least should be held to account in how the arrangements work out:

1. We have reached the end of the transition period, but it is not the end of transition: there will be numerous phasings in of new controls and checks. 

2. Because of Northern Ireland's unique status, controls are immediately in place for trade between Great Britain and NI. 

3. We have achieved no tariffs and no quotas on goods. But this starting point suits the EU, as it has a substantial surplus in trade with the UK.

4. And no quotas and no tariffs is not guaranteed to last. They could come from either side if one party chooses to deviate from current regulatory alignment in any area.

5. 80% or so of the UK's exports is in the field of services. The trade deal says little on services. The jury is out on how difficult for the future it will be for the services sector to do business in the EU.

6. However, we have taken back control of fish in our waters, well sort of with meaty (sorry) transition arrangements. Fishing accounts for what I have read is less than 0.05% of our GDP. Paradoxically, because of the visibility of the industry any glitches on fishing are bound to get plenty airtime.

7. There will be a lot of red tape in dealing with the EU. Full stop.

8. The deal is up for renewal in five years time. Before then we must have a General Election. Guess what will be on the Election agenda?

The Government has strategies for deflecting criticism of its deal, ranging from 'Mere teething troubles' to 'Why are you not being patriotic about our newly recovered sovereignty?' Liz Truss is about to announce a stunning trade deal with Turkmenistan, and we are rejuvenated by Ian Duncan Smith's cry for us to go forth buccaneering (yes, he did say this in an interview I heard, although possibly without rechecking the dictionary definition of the word). We should leave the ironic stuff aside for the moment, but the holding to the account is going to stick.


I am in more than one mind over how to respond to footballers' goal celebrations in breach of Covid rules. Understanding of the intuitive outpouring of visceral emotion? Patronising pity over their wafer thin emotional intelligence in the self-control department? I'm afraid that the Puritan in me wins. A rule without enforcement is not worth being called a rule. Fining those participating would be a lawyers' paradise over gradational infringement, and we would need Shearer and Wright to opine on how far a supportive hand on the shoulder did in fact amount to a hug - VAR might be required. No, it's got to be a one point deduction for any unlawful celebration, and a compulsory course for the individuals of watching how rugby players and women footballers do it properly, Now, where is my hair shirt? 


Our Leader speaks:

'As we approach what I sincerely hope will be the last leg in our Coronavirus odyssey, I must ask you this evening, following scientific advice, to play your part by confining your emissions of wind to your posterior orifice rather than to the orally functioning area of your body. Ergo I say to you:

Fart more

Burp Less

Protect the NHS


This is the level of seriousness that it is now worth applying to announcements from the Prime Minister.


An amusing suggestion that if we commissioned Amazon Prime delivery drivers to do vaccinations then the whole country would be covered in 24 hours. Now this may be unfair, but based on anecdotal experience I hope they do not give the job to Hermes, as that is likely to result in the vaccinator jabbing you in the ankle and then running away.


Hampstead Heath over the weekend: plenty evidence of pairs of couples out for a walk and a friends catch-up. Typical configuration of two chaps close together ahead and two women a few paces behind. Naturally other relationship analyses are possible.....


Mummy: 'Damian, when Mummy takes time out from her key worker financial services job (working from home) to collect you from primary school this afternoon, would you like to stop off at the playground to play with your friends from households not containing key workers, so Mummy can have a quick chat with her friends while standing around?'

Damian: 'Yes please Mummy!'


One of my Christmas presents was a copy of Barack Obama's 'A Promised Land'. In it cites his worst error in seeking the Democrat Presidential nomination in 2008. At a campaign event in California Obama was asked why so many working-class voters in Pennsylvania voted Republican against their natural interests. 

Obama says that this was a question he had faced many times and had answered effectively. The terms he intended were that he understood their frustration at how they saw their traditions such as in faith, family and community, being eroded, and he respected their concerns. What came out (he says whether through tiredness or impatience), and after an acknowledgement that successive administrations had failed on their regeneration promises, was this:

'So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or people who aren't like them, or anti-immigration sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations'.

As a result, Obama was attacked for failing to understand white working-class people and for risking the reinforcing of negative stereotypical thinking. 

Eight years later, Donald Trump found a way of tapping into that vein of disillusionment. To succeed, the new Biden administration needs to deliver positive things for any community of those sentiments. With an angry, wounded Trump stomping through the Mid-West jungle, this ain't going to be easy.


'Donald the Elephant packed his trunk,

And said goodbye to the The White House.

Off he went with a trumpety trump,

Trump, Trump, Trump'.


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