Late Life Crisis - July 2021

'Retail queen' Mary Portas has been interviewed on her 60th birthday. The part that interested me was where, her history of sexual relationships being fluid, she was asked whether she was single now. I thought her reply as reported, was spot-on. She laughed and turned to an assistant: 'What's my answer?'. 'You are very happy in your personal life'. Thus: 'I am very happy in my personal life'.

Stuff you, journalist, a self-knowing and game-playing response. But what objectively should the journalist expect? Hardly a full-blown confessional. On the other hand our Mary just happens to have a book coming out: 'Rebuild: How to thrive in the new kindness economy'. For a new book, film, play etc. you have to do media. The more likely scenario, and of course I am a sceptic, is that subject, scope and structure  are broadly scripted beforehand, and I am reminded of a reported recent interview where a publicist passed a note to the interviewer saying that if the promised product endorsement opportunity was not set up for the celeb within the next three questions then the interview was over.

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The Labour Party could do with a few more Kim Leadbeaters. Any suggestion that she won in Batley & Spen on account of her sister is immediately contradicted by her fighting off the challenge of the disruptor-in-chief George Galloway. The woman is open, relatable, and exudes integrity without resorting to artifice (no need for any hair-tousling to present a distinct image). She has the charisma factor in a way that sadly could not be achieved by Keir Starmer in a hundred appearances with Piers Morgan. She fits with Jess Phillips (whom I admire immensely) and Angela Rayner. 

Yes, Angela Rayner, not top drawer intellectually (though not benefiting from a battery-hen production line through leading public school and Oxbridge), but who on punch-up criteria did three rounds with Starmer and left him sprawling on the ropes. Continue to belittle her at Tory peril. Yes, in saying something positive about a left-leaning politician I am arguing against my materialistic self. However, from a dispassionate neutral perspective this is a space to watch. 

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Lionel Shriver writes of air travel being in terminal danger. Her life has involved numerous international trips for book festivals. She argues of the online alternative: '...the lame Zoom event, or non-event, that currently substitutes for an in-person appearance only barely improves on cancelling the whole shebang'. Strong stuff, and I don't go that far. We didn't bemoan online cultural events when they provided at least a minimum of spiritual nourishment. Memories of 2020 are short, although accepted we are now online fatigued. 

However, where should video fit in? Many events will be audio only, so it's like listening to a podcast and you can do other things alongside - good news. At a recent early evening talks event, where I knew a fair number of the participants, I chose not to video up, so I could make and eat dinner. Was this 'bad form', a lack of 'engagement'? I decided not - it might have been different if the primary format of the evening had been discussion. There were suggestions that it would be better if everyone were on video, and a view from someone who does online talks that they would prefer to see the participants to make sure they are present. As someone who teaches a lot online, I sympathise with this, although anyone performing not in front of a live audience has to accept that the void is part of the experience.

But there's an odd thing. Despite my lawyer professional background, I have a non-conformist streak - those who worked with me when I was a later life employee, will know this. So here I was with the other nails sticking out...and enjoying it, 

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So, as we face Freedom Day or Free For All Day, the question is who is pulling Boris Johnson's strings: Treasury; Tory backbenchers? How much are his own libertarian instincts at play? There does seem an argument towards releasing soon and seeing infection numbers jump at a time when schools are out and demands on the NHS are at lower level. And this approach enables outsourcing of the Covid risk to the public: 'If you choose not to be cautious then it's your own fault.' It's like allowing people to travel to certain locations for holiday but having no compunction on changing quarantine rules while they are away - their risk. Let's roll that Johnson dice: 'Olympics next, Carrie, so Pufferfish and Chips for supper!'

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Postcard from The Euros Pt 1

'Royalties Coming Home'

The happiest people as the tournament started must have been Messrs Skinner & Baddiel. This despite the song being about failure. 

Though initially it was the smaller nations that featured. A nation of 65m people produced a team of weakly shining All Stars, By contrast Wales and Scotland were bright and spirited.

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With occasional exceptions, I would back any journalist over any politician. However, I have struggled with lack of accountability for the journos who trade in opinions. Nowhere has this been shown better than in successive Spectator pieces by shrinking violet Rod Liddle:

Issue of 26 June: 'Batley & Spen is worse than Chesham and Amersham. Why? Because Labour will not merely lose a seat it has held since 1997, but will probably come third behind George Galloway's Workers party,' No doubt there.

Issue of 1st July: Bye Election.

Issue of 3 July: No mention (but copy will have been filed in advance).

Issue of 10 July: No mention; new target.

'Why not?' would be a lovely question for Mr Liddle when he next does one of his London Palladium gigs.

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Postcard from The Euros Pt 2

Of course it was not going to last. First Wales 'got out of the group' (one must know the terminology), but were then spanked 4-0 by Denmark (not a bad team...) in the last 16.

Scotland's Euros Final was the 0-0 draw with England. In the first 15 minutes of the game, Chelsea's Billy Gilmour was described as 'leggy'. Again you must understand the language - nothing to do with his physiology, but the boy was apparently tired. So tired that he went on to be Scotland's outstanding player in the game and was declared as a cert for selection by the national team over the next ten years. 'Fickle Art Thou, Pundits!'.

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Oops, it is no longer Freedom Day as one's Prime Ministerial bollocks went a bit too far. Still, the outsourcing risk to the public holds good - England expects...

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Johnson; 'We have severed the connection between virus infection and severe illness'.

Scientists: 'Weakened'.

Zahawi to Marr (on Sunday): 'Severely weakened. And the Prime Minister did not lie'. 

Get a dictionary out. Which part of 'severed' does Johnson not understand? But of course he understands. So, ad nauseam (sorry) what he speaks is what he wants people to hear at the time. 

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Postcard from The Euros Pt 3

Scotland tails were up, the Auld Enemy had been embarrassed if not vanquished with that 0-0 draw, and the kilted ones were ready to grab their copies of Rob Roy and march on Carlisle. Celebrations in London turned to Covid coming home, but who cared?

Tails stayed up. Until Croatia had Sir Walter stuffed back on to the shelves, so Scotland still never 'out of the group' at Euros or World Cup. Next time maybe a Graham Souness testosterone transfusion before the beginning of the tournament.

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I meant to say that I chose not to watch Anne Boleyn, with its 'identity conscious casting', a phrase so vacuous that it defies textual analysis. I loved Bridgerton (or 'Bonkerton", as I described it in an earlier Late Life Crisis). What's the difference? The latter did not take itself seriously, unlike the pious soundbites disseminated for Anne Boleyn. The truth is that AB was cast using positive discrimination (which is fine), but one cannot use that phrase as it is so earlier 21st century, darling. 

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Postcard from The Euros Pt 4

The English super tanker finally got up to speed. However on the horizon loomed a big cloud of hype, fuelled by the tabloids but willingly inflated by radio and TV. 

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Melanie McDonagh writes on afternoon tea. Apparently one can get it at the Connaught for a snip - £70, or £80 including a glass of champagne. At Fortnum's diversity has been embraced, with five menus comprising classic, savoury, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free, an even snippier snip at £65, although for an extra £12.50 you can have a tea-tasting with a 'tearista' to talk you through the subtleties. 

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It is fashionable in certain quarters to dismiss the 'influencer' Em Sheldon as a vacuous mutton head who deserves all the trolling she gets. That is a false view. Sheldon has created social media-driven images of a personal lifestyle into which brands can weave the promotion of their products. Ok if you want to get misogynistic, point out that the products include smoothies, fake tan and moisturisers (I am interrupting this to hide my Aveeno cream). But the stuff also includes clothes and hotels, things no doubt known to the trolling community. Sheldon and her peers provide a service to advertisers. Advertisers would not use her if there were not a benefit in her services to promote their brands.

Social media is a nasty world. An argument can be put that if Sheldon does not like the heat then she should get out of the digital kitchen. I gently suggest that she does not deserve high-grade abuse as part of the heat. 

The Sheldon generation is no different from the Tara Palmer-Tomkinson ((1971-2017) vintage - she who was branded famous for being famous. The challenge for Sheldon will be sustaining her popularity as further waves of influencers enter the market. In the meantime perhaps we should give her credit for some entrepreneurial nous. And maybe for a few trollers there is resentment at a young woman being successful in building a business. 

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I get weary of commenting on Boris Johnson's uncomfortable relationship with the truth, but cannot ignore the events of Sunday 18th July:

- Early morning: News that Johnson and Sunak will not be self-isolating after being in contact with Javid, but will be part of a pilot that will enable them to keep working from Downing Street. It is difficult to see this as anything other than a decision.

- Soon after: Jenrick is sent out to do the media rounds and confirm.

- Later morning: U turn after political and public reaction, so Johnson and Sunak will self-isolate.

- Afternoon: Johnson posts a clip on Twitter where he says 'We did look briefly at [my italics] the idea of us taking part in the pilot scheme'

I rest my case.

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Postcard from the Euros, Pt 5

England strode on, finally beating their own Auld Enemy in the Quarter Finals and then Denmark in the Semis. A relatively easy route to a Final, It's Coming Home, to Wembley, to meet Italy. A friend knowledgeable on football explained to me that what happened in the Final was the same as happened to England in the World Cup Semi-Final against Croatia - they started well but ran out of steam in the second half. The lads did of course hold on for the dreaded penalties...which turned out to be as dreadful experience as on previous occasions.

But the real drama happened in the run-up to the match. Whilst Lineker, Shearer et al. opined in the studio, ticket-bearing spectators were joined by drink-sodden louts who bribed, bullied and broke their way into the stadium, having used their cognitive skills to reason that with Wembley at 75% capacity there would be spare seats. By the time that 'It's Coming Rome' was in the heads of the Italian supporters (they dared not chant it) the England boys were nicely primed for a bit of racial abuse, excused of course by the 'passion' of supporting their team.

So on to the World Cup next year. And the message of the Three Lions ditty still holds good, so at least Frank and Dave will be happy.

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The owner of a shellfish business reported that it was now easier and cheaper for him to send lobsters to Taiwan than it was to send them to the EU. Ah, the sunlit post-Brexit uplands. Or perhaps the pollution-hazed uplands...as we just happen to be hosting the Cop26 Summit in the autumn. 

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Postcripts from the Euros

1. I screenshotted one of the tweets concerning the three players who took and missed penalties. This one concerned Marcus Rashford. It reads: 'Rashford deserves any grief the [sic] gets. I can't forgive that shit pen.' Not one of the worst, and would it even get caught on an abuse algorithm trawl as it omits such as the 'n' word? Ah you say, sagely, the tweet could have originated in a St Petersburg bot factory. Unlikely, I respond, though for this I have to stereotype and reveal that the writer is a Black Cab taxi driver, (Twitter handle discloses), and a St Petersburg bot is unlikely to take the trouble to warn followers that there is a speed gun being operated on Park Lane.

2. {From AOL News): He was 51, 6ft 3ins and described as "a gentle giant'. His mother said that he always enjoyed his food. He had had his spleen removed after a road traffic accident. As a result he had no immune system. He had declined to be vaccinated. His family said that they believe that he had contracted the virus while with friends in a social club watching England play Croatia. His last words were that he wished he had got jabbed.

3. July 1966; My mother had decided that we would holiday in the South of France. By this she, as a devout Catholic, meant that we would go on pilgrimage to Lourdes. After a week of Stations of the Cross and imbibing  Holy Water, we squeezed into a cafe to watch the Final. We could see the TV screen only from the tightest of angles so were in no position to judge whether the third England goal had gone over the line. What I can remember though is how the room erupted with joy at the final whistle. What do the French think of the Germans? I have my suspicions that the Grand EU Projet has not changed much. 

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