Late Life Crisis - June 2021

There is word that Oxford University is considering phasing out imperial measurements as part of its efforts to decolonise its maths, physics and life sciences faculties. So should I respond by decolonising my underpants drawer? A quick recce shows measurements in both inches and centimetres. Is that acceptable? Possibly not  - every time I put on a pair of pants I might feel drawn to observe the inches measurements and lapse into a regression that would count as minor thought crime. And might I further worry that when outside my home I could be accosted by whomever polices these things and suffer the indignity of the back of my pants being tugged up over my trouser belt in order to facilitate an inspection, with accompanying distress to my genital area?

Yes folks, reductio ad absurdum is always a good tool of reasoning to test out propositions that might, unbridled, have consequences that are absurd.

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And so as the BBC must have balance, it is right to mention also Cambridge University, who instituted, in the words of The Times, 'a "reporting tool' encouraging students to denounce people for "micro--aggressions"' in relation to 'people of racially minoritised backgrounds'. In response to vociferous protests the 'Report + Support' tool is apparently being toned down, but nevertheless try out a bit of reductio ad absurdum on the first emanation.

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Notes from the Heath

(No, this is not a weak parody of Evelyn Waugh plashing vole writing).

1. After a light Bank Holiday picnic on one of the slopes leading up to Parliament Hill, we lay back on the picnic blanket and closed eyes for a short snooze. After barely a few minutes we started at the sound of heavy sniffing at ground level a few inches (sorry, centimetres) behind us. The owners of the dog were of course exercising their human right to let the animal off the leash. Nevertheless, I had come across the Jurassic Park velociraptor scene the evening before while channel-surfing - scary.

2. I had taken some proof-reading up to the Heath and had settled in the shade at one of the cafes in the lower reaches. I noticed a couple bearing down on me, slow of gait, slow of speech, and accompanied by an obese labrador. To my surprise they asked if they could share my small paper-strewn table. To be clear, they had no interest in my company but only wanted somewhere to sit out of the sun. I mumbled something about work, and a probable call coming up (latter a lie). I willingly let them take the two spare chairs.

After a few minutes they did find a table, and tied the dog up against a nearby post, in response to which it emitted deep-throated barks, which they ignored beyond an occasional desultory 'shut up' . After a while the woman went off for a ciggy. The man let the complaining animal off the leash, prompting it to head after the woman. But on its way it found an open black rubbish bag that a staff member was using for clearing up. So we had the dog with its nose in the bag and enjoying an amuse bouche, the man calling from his chair for it to stop (but otherwise not moving) and the woman doing likewise but not interrupting her ciggy. Time to finish proof-reading for today. 

In reading this, did you have questions about the age of the couple, or about anything concerning their appearance or habits? I could have told you that they were white (you might have conjectured that); I could have told you that they were both overweight (the dogs look like their owners thing); I could have laid on more concerning the slowness of intellect. You might have made something of my using 'ciggy' rather than cigarette. Oh, and did you wonder how many jabs they had had?

The fact is that in public we all decode other people based on whatever clues we can pick up, and we know what more we would like to know, depending on situation. And however pure we may think we are, we have unconscious bias in us that breaks cover the moment we encounter someone who sparks a reaction from our inner mind. And that is exactly what was happening to me in my grumpy state of proof-reading and not wanting to be disturbed.

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Don't you love science academics' language? The Nepal variation is 'of interest', suggesting that a healthy measure of dry sherry would need to be poured first before the theory could be discussed in the SCR. Probably a bit unfair to the white-coated brethren. 

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And would you prefer a politician who was willing to talk openly about their family history (Starmer with Morgan P) or someone who dislikes interviews of any sort and whose exotic personal life is not to be discussed? Obviously the Great British public love the latter. It's that charisma thingy.

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The Johnsons at breakfast: 'Gosh Carrie, soon I've got to do one of those big Covid announcements. Need to get the language right when talking to the hoi polloi. I say, do you like hoi polloi? We're into Greek now as Latin is hors de combat as it's only used by poshos like me. OMG - 'hors de combat': Macron would be pleased to hear that, the little shit.

Language, hmm. Priti keeps using 'unacceptable' - I should really teach her to broaden her vocabulary, but the word is very Home Secretaryish. Like Raab saying 'unwelcome'. Suitable nevertheless for Foreign Secretary when discussing Ukrainian hijacking and our vicious resulting sanctions. Fair enough - never got the hang of that role myself. Now, where was I? Suitable language. Ah of course - it's back to 'I must tell you', uttered without the merest hint of the supercilious schoolboy grin for which I am famous. Will that do Carrie? Carrie...?'

....who left ten minutes earlier to take Dilyn for a pee in the garden.'

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'I say Vik, you really need to get a personal trainer. BTW Could you lend me a few quid as my chap is a touch expensive?'

Boris Johnson

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No one told the commentator Douglas Murray about Latinisms. Where needing to talk about the source and origin of something, he resorted to fons et origo, the phrase suitably italicised in accordance with the organ's style guide. A definite touch of pretentious, moi?

Ah yes, but what about reductio ad absurdum? My defence is that the latter expresses a concept in a way that could not be done so effectively in English. Murray uses Latin where the English would do perfectly well. You will have to decide whether I stand convicted of hypocrisy.

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Giles Coren is 'away', so the writer Robert Crampton deputises in a Saturday Times piece concerning his journey on the Central Line from Bethnal Green to Oxford Circus. He writes: 'In between Chancery Lane and Holborn you pass under Fleet Street, still the ancestral if not physical home of the press'. I just hope that Mr Crampton is never asked to deputise for the Travel Editor.

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The laminator and I had an argument. Privately I admitted that it was my fault: I had fed the sheet in open side first. After a mild scrunching sound I turned the machine off. Eventually the blockage was cleared, but the experience endorses that I am generally very good with people but lousy with inanimate objects...

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So how much to rebuild children's education post-Covid? Expert wants £15bn. Government says £1.4bn. The Secretary of State for Undertakers says that he comes from Yorkshire, and there £1.4bn is a lot of money. £4.6bn is a lot of money too - that is reputedly the cost of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

How fatuous a figure is Williamson. Politicians bandy around figures with lots of noughts. They are briefed that when challenged on investment, throw in that they are spending £[adviser to insert figure] on something vaguely relevant. Words words words, or rather figures, figures, figures.

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And what about vacuous backbenchers. A Tory one - younger, suitable Red Wall constituency type -  was put up on Newsnight to defend the cut in overseas aid on the grounds that it was in the Budget and Parliament had voted for the Budget. There are arguments both ways on the issue itself, but was this chap saying that if an MP disapproved of the cut then they should have voted against the Budget? Surely the poodle could have been better pimped for its appearance.

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If I heard it correctly, the Prime Minister said that he and President Biden spoke on 25 topics over a meeting of 1 hour 20 minutes. I calculate that as 3.2 minutes per topic. Which is enough time for a dose of Boris Bollocks on each item, but nothing too taxing beyond that. Harry Dunn - tick.

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The celebrity vicar Giles Fraser has given me the chance of an outing on the comma. If the labelling of him sounds unfair, then consider how he is described in an article in the New European; 'Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and rector at the south London church of St Mary's Newington'. Note where the vicar job comes in the list. But note also that these words mean literally that the multi-talented Rev. Fraser performs all three functions in his Parish - I suspect that he does not treat his journalism as writing for the Parish Magazine. The comma would come after 'broadcaster', or alternatively rewrite the sentence, preferably so the clerical job is mentioned first. Stop, stop, this is all getting too irascible.

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Overheard in the pub:

'He ran three Marathons but had to stop then'.

'Why'

'He got ingrowing toenails'.

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A day out in Devon

First to A La Ronde outside Exmouth, National Trust, commissioned, as explained by the NT, in the late 18th century by two spinsters after doing the Grand Tour. Spinsters? You can't say that! The Grand Tour? Merciless capitalist gorging on artefacts from mainland European culture! Forget the building's extraordinary architecture, and the views over the Exe Estuary. But these were 'women' on the Grand Tour. Against stereotype, so one point back at least.

The ladies running the show, and I will say ladies, were delightful. We rocked up on the off chance. There were no spaces to visit inside for at least a couple of hours. Lady No. 1 apologised profusely and said we were welcome to walk round the grounds and take photos. Lady No, 2 in the shop was not sure if we really needed to to produce our membership cards, but told us that if they could scan the cards then they would get a bit of money from HQ. 

I could divine how bewildered these volunteers must be at the extremities on decolonisation to which the NT High Command has swung. I am pretty sure that all they want to do is show to visitors a property that they love. And if you want a case study on good customer care, here it is, from an unlikely quarter.

Now down to the sea, or rather the Exe Estuary, for a short boat ride across to Dawlish Warren. This is not the ferry, but a small water taxi that beaches you at the end of the spit far away from the Nature Reserve. We were the only passengers, trying to pretend we were en route from Venice Airport. You can only try.

We stomped round the tip of the peninsula and worked our way down towards the Visitor Centre - it's hard to do anything other than stomp on sand and shingle. All delightful. Barely anyone around. As the groyne numbers reduced, the people numbers increased, suggesting that we were near journey's end. Balls were flying through the air, but at least they were rugby balls. Due to tired feet and a sudden wish to work out exactly where we were, we carelessly missed out the Nature Reserve, instead focussing on how we would get back to Exmouth. We had sort of thought that we would find the ferry landing stage - yes, I know that this sounds utterly pathetic to anyone who knows the area. Instead we found the Dawlish Warren amusement park with related services. This is one of the most ghastly places on earth I have ever encountered, and I write as someone who spent two summers working on Margate sea front. 

Need for an escape plan. A taxi driver told us that the ferry berthed at Starcross further up the estuary. Could he take us? No, he was waiting for a passenger off the train. He suggested that we either walked or got the train. We marched to the station. There was 45 minutes before the next train, although you could entertain yourself in the meantime watching express trains (London-Penzance route) whizz by. 

Never mind. A chance for a quick snack. Perhaps a plate of locally caught prawns? Are you serious? So I emerged from a cafe with two takeaway items. The first was a cheese and onion pasty - they apparently do a good pasty down this way. Chunks were dislodged. Past the soggy pastry was soggy potato. We never made it to the cheese, let alone the onion. 'What's that other thing?', my companion said. To be honest, from the look of it as a macaroon I couldn't remember. I took a bite, incising through the deep fat coating. It was a fishcake, but that terminology is a gross breach of trades description legislation. I incised no further. At least we had taken chocolate.

The rest of the journey was uncontroversial. The train arrived, and deposited us at Starcross. I Googled Starcross. It has a railway history, but it was to no avail seeking a Shakespearian connection. The ferry appeared, and it was a pleasant return to Exmouth. To the right we saw the mud flats stretching away to the heart of Dawlish Warren. Perhaps a hovercraft might have made it. I remembered why I had chosen History rather than Geography for 'O' Level.

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Newspaper headline: Camilla 'groomed for royal racing role'. Perfect credentials: stayer; copes with all types of going; works well under a temperamental jockey. However, I did do a double-take at a latter comment that the Duchess of Cornwall '...is being primed to succeed the Queen at the Royal stud'. Really!!

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In the style of E J Thribb

'So farewell Edwin Poots,

After being in new role

Briefly.

You have big ears,

But it turns out

You did not have the ear

Of the DUP.'

 

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Mutti Merkel says that Brits should be required to quarantine when visiting any EU country. Politically this is fine for her: those Great British folk gagging for a summer holiday are unlikely to be gagging to go to Germany.

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In other European news, here is a terrifying stat: the Netflix series on the gentleman French thief, Lupin, got more viewers than Bridgerton (or Bonkerton as I described it in an earlier Late Life Crisis). I have just written down a list of fun-sounding European streaming series. On Netflix alone this numbers 17, excluding Call My Agent, which I devoured a while back. If Francois, Hannan, Duncan-Smith et al (the latter conveniently reborn as a Covid sceptic), had not gone to ground as a result of post-Brexit muddle, they might have been round to my place to remonstrate with me.

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Johnson: 'I consider the matter to be closed'

Aide: 'But Prime Minister, I haven't told you what is the Ministerial indiscretion'.

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An advert for Whitley Neil Gin describes it as 'The UK's Number One' Premium Gin'. In support of this claim, three awards are cited. I have no idea what any of them might mean to the gin-consuming public, although as an example there is the very impressive sounding Gold Award in the 2019 International Spirits Challenge (is there anybody there...?). Passing over the advert image of two gorgeous women sitting on bar stools being served by a gorgeous male bartender (yes, buy a bottle and you will look like one of those..) what I especially picked up on was the statement that the gin is distilled '...at the only distillery in the City of London itself'. Now this must have some relevance. Is it that the proximity of the distillery to the financial markets imbues the botanicals with an irrepressible je ne sais quoi? Or is it something else that I am too stupid to work out....?

By way of contrast I commend to you, to finish this month, the wonderfully self-deprecatory Boddingtons Cream of Manchester adverts on YouTube. Pure class, or maybe I just like self-deprecation?

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