rooting around for grubs in diverse soils

Trump’s base base


Source: Barna Group 2013

“…and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously.” Second Book of Kings 9:20

Every day I wake up to notifications from across the Atlantic of some fresh wickedness perpetuated by the United States Administration, occupying the airwaves as the evening moved west across the plains and prairies of North America. This parade of shocking news has become relentless all because of the festering ego of one orange man of German descent.

History has become more like an almanac, a series of extraordinary headlines forming layer upon layer of quickly forgotten outrage. Today we have abducting children from their parents at the Mexican border, lying about crime in Germany, provoking China into a trade war, and flouncing out of the UN Human Rights Council.

We have forgotten for example the shooting in Parkland Florida and Trump’s weasel offering of “thoughts and prayers”. On the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme following the massacre there was an interview with Patrick Carolan from the Franciscan Action Network. Gun violence is a right to life issue, he said. Trump in fact doesn’t enjoy support of vast majority of Christians. Those who support him are Christian in name only. They are not following the teachings of Jesus. They are obsessed with abortion which is only one ‘right to life’ issue, and one which is clouded by complexity and other compelling rights, notably the right of a woman to be in control of her own body. Trump wins 81% of the white evangelical and most Roman Catholic votes. It is hypocritical for leaders to offer prayers and thoughts without action.

Carolan was echoing the Epistle of James which has become more relevant than ever to the millions of people who espouse Christianity but act like self-interested monads, who make it a tenet of faith to reject the theory of evolution yet subscribe in effect to a brutalist, unforgiving strain of social Darwinism. To say that whatever befalls you is God’s will is no different from saying that evolution, or unbridled ‘markets’, determine the way creatures must be.  The right to have a gun does not supersede the right to live free from fear of violence.   “Stop pretending you’re Christian and start acting Christian. Stop worrying about what Trump says. He has nothing to do with being Christian or person of faith. We are not a moral nation if we allow children to be shot. You are not acting as people of faith if you oppose gun control.”

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2: 14-17.

A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals were hardly more familiar than atheists with the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it,’’ was the conclusion in a 1989 study (The People’s Religion: American Faith in the 90’s, George Gallup, Jr. and Jim Castelli). In 2012, a Christian polling firm (whose chart is pasted above) found evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees more than those of Jesus.

These are the people who form the base of Trump’s support. Everything he does is calculated to ‘shore up the base’. This is a new alliance of convenience – they deserve one another. These putative Christians have their plenipotentiary in the pasty presence of Mike Pence, adoring and silent at the President’s side. Even if they balk at Trump’s moral decrepitude they lionise him as if he were a modern day Jehu, the psychopath anointed by the prophet Elisha to destroy the House of Ahab. If we are lucky Pence is Saul, before the Road to Damascus, looking on approvingly at the stoning of Christian martyrs.  But these are not lucky times.

What the Church and perhaps the whole world needs now is a new generation of fire-breathing prophets, scruffy, raw and unrelenting like their Old Testament predecessors, acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly before the Lord, to clear the Temple of its hypocrites, thieves and apologists for child abduction.



In the quest for the good life, just over a year ago I took a pledge, an open-ended vow of abstinence, a sabbatical from one of my irrational, unnecessary obsessions. Before then, Arsenal’s vicissitudes would punctuate my days, background noise to my own personal meanderings, successes, failure, pratfalls.

When dad took me occasionally to Highbury on Saturday afternoons London was an enigma. After the clunky slam-door train ride from East Croydon to Victoria, we would then be underground until surfacing at Finsbury Park or Arsenal tube station. Tunnelling through the cylindrical walkways between the lines at Green Park or Kings Cross, I was a chavvy narcissistic youth fascinated by the procession of posters advertising intellectually remote West End plays, films, exhibitions, a complex adult world apart from the mundanities of Croydon, that distillation of suburban anaemia.  Football was the only reason to venture into London’s maelstrom.

We would then retrace our steps, rolled up programme in hand, thinking of junk food, my father pressing the portable ‘wireless’ to his ears for the final scores.

Later, living in Hackney a few years before the beards took over, I would regularly pass road signs indicating places like Finsbury Park, Stoke Newington, Wood Green, Harringay. These formerly theoretical mysteries were now familiar thoroughfares where I would plot the fastest route to the next pint of real ale. A reliable bike and a steady job enabled me to de-mystify the city, a boozy metropolitan wayfarer.

I attained football consciousness just too late to have savoured Arsenal’s ecstatic cup final defeat of Manchester United in 1979. I remember reading in a hardback boys’ annual about the debacle of the 1979/1980 season when Arsenal were in line to win one or all of league, FA Cup (in the final against Second Division West Ham) and Cup Winners Cup (in the final against Valencia), or at the very least to have qualified for the following year’s UEFA competition. Arsenal blew it on every front, most spectacularly by getting smashed 5-nil at Middlesborough on the last day of the season.

‘And they were left with nothing,’ ended the review. That sad peroration has remained with me ever since.

After this failed revival of quondam glory, Arsenal entered the doldrums of mediocrity. Liam Brady, perhaps the club’s only almost-world class player, missed a penalty in the shoot out with Valencia and left the club for Juventus in the summer. That was precisely when I got hooked. Crystal Palace 2 Arsenal 2 was the first match I ever saw in the flesh, on Boxing Day 1980, the season after the multiple debacles. (I had to check the result just now. All these years I thought it had been a dreary 1-1.) Then we went to Highbury for another abject draw with Stoke. (That one was 1-1; I have verified.) I remember how big the players looked. David O’Leary seemed collosal though his stats, which I had memorised via the Panini sticker album, showed him not even 6’. (He measured 5’11’’). I assumed all football was stale and anticlimactic. So began the wilderness years. The cradle of the Boring Boring Arsenal epithet, which was reappropriated with smug irony by the North Bank during the free-scoring years and has been long since forgotten in the interminable era of late Wenger.

The years of trophy-less mediocrity dragged on, shorter but feeling a lot longer than the 10 years between Wengers 2004 ‘Invincibles’ and 2014 FA Cup. I remember the sullenless of the sports pages – losing, no score draws, never reaching the cup final. Time passes so slowly when you are young. Watching the Wrestling on World of Sport on ITV where the latest scores would appear at the bottom of the screen while ‘Giant Haystacks’ molested spindly race-object ‘Kid Chocolate’ until the latter’s tag partner ‘Big Daddy’ stepped in to restore justice. When I stayed with my aunt they only had the Sporting Life which never had any football, not even the scores. Such a cruel joke. It just didn’t make any sense. Then on Sundays the deflation of arriving at the newsagents too late in the day and the empty melamine bottom shelf.  Without football life seemed barren.

Anyway then there was George Graham and the final flowering of title-winning English youth – Adams, Rocastle, Thomas etc. and a whole industry of blokes and some women writing whimsically about Arsenal in the 80s and 90s. I won’t go on. The market is saturated. You don’t want to read another exercise in what EP Thompson, referring to the role of Methodism on industrialising Britain, called ‘psychic masturbation’. I have already had my self-entitled whinge about the interminable ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ cycle of Wenger since 2004. I charitably believe that Arsenal fans owe their collective status as insufferable bellends to this endless loop. True, there are some notable exceptions – Arseblog, Mo Farah, one or two others. The rest of us are 50 shades of embarrassment. Wenger and his philistine corporate sycophants have literally, the theory runs, driven Arsenal fans potty. Potty enough to have Arsenal Fan TV. Potty enough to commandeer aircraft to do flyovers with competing Wenger Out and In Arsene We Trust banners.  Potty enough to attack the infuriating but basically decent veteran Alsatian manager at Stoke railway station with the desperate plea ‘Get out while you can, Joel’ – as if Joel Campbell, one of Wenger’s most underwhelming little purchases, was the only one worth redeeming from the flames of Sodom.

Hence how, a few days after the elation of Arsenal’s unfancied defeat of recently-crowned champions and their recurring nemesis Chelsea, all turned to dust as it became clear that Wenger had no intention of retiring to his wine cellar, nor of buying lots of expensive new players.

To borrow the adage attributed to the Greek physician Galen, all Arsenal fans shortly after achieving orgasm descend into the pit of melancholy. (The quote – post coitum omne animal triste est sive gallus et mulier – excempts women and, spookily, the cock.)

So for the sake of my sanity I don’t bother watching their matches anymore. I am rewarded with a few extra hours of attention per week to devote to other more noble endeavours, like family, the arts or simply scratching my hole. The time dividend is less important however than the improved mental equilibrium that comes from not allowing your moods to be swayed by the antics of 11 men pursuing pig’s bladder across manicured sward.  I still follow the scores in real time, a bit like certain people (the Germans, apparently), enjoy inspecting their own shit and that of others.

Twenty years ago I found solace in a new label to express my religious leanings after my spiritual and social awakening. I called myself a Post-Evangelical, a term coined by David Tomlinson: someone who had come through that suffocating Pharisaic order but not so wounded and embittered as to need to depart altogether from Christianity and its profound spiritual riches.  Likewise I have alighted on a term when it comes to my footballing allegiances. I am now a post-Gooner.

Now with FIFA and Putin’s world cup next year and the next one built by slave labour in Qatar, Ronaldo’s waxed torso, Jose Mourinho, a Middle East autocracy owning a whole football club, and Chelsea in general, I don’t really know what football is for anyway.

Apart from actually playing it of course. One day I will be too old for that too. Now there, truly, madness lies.

On Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time.


Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time. An enduring series of digestible academia for the aspiring polymath too busy with career and kids to spend time in the Varsity.  Alexei Sayle has scoffed at the middle class chatterboxes religiously tuning in to the programme each week, and claiming sudden specialist expertise only for it to evaporate without trace by the time of the next episode.

Bragg, England’s most hyperactive and eclectic public intellectual, is aware of his own limitations, but impatient with those of his interlocutors. Each session indeed begins with a peremptory ‘hello’ followed by a breathless synopsis of the chosen theme. He disdains verbiage and tangents;  ‘I know, I know,’ would be a typical interjection, ‘but before we get to that I really want us to nail this thing down….’ If you listen to the programme as podcast, there is a ‘bonus’ segment where you get a slightly (only slightly) more relaxed review of what they could have but didn’t discuss, and they take a breather, may be have a giggle, talk all at once for a few seconds. But very soon the scholarly jousting resumes.

In one such bookend, the epilogue to the one on Kant’s Categorical Imperative, one of Melvyn’s keen eggheads did the equivalent of continuing a sprint after passing the finishing line. Here was John Callanan of King’s College, University of London going for  Gold:

Kant is attempting a scientific analysis of morality, he thinks he knows what it is to to be scientifically rational, it’s to find universal laws that dictate what must happen. And he thinks he can apply that to the realm of human behaviour and what ought to happen. That very project is one that is controversial in itself. Perhaps  reason is a more diverse phenomenon that what we think. It’s not simply a scientific model that might work for physics but does it work in the same way for human beings? Kant sometimes seems constrained by his appeal to universality – finding universal laws all the time. He tries to bend all the the moral phenomena into an analysis in those terms. And perhaps it points at the end of the day, if that project is impossible then perhaps the very idea of giving a scientific analysis is itself misguided.


Bragg: I think the producer is here.

Enter faintly a new, non-academic voice: Would anyone like tea or coffee?

Thus the heroic cerebral exertions of the Englishman attain their perennial reward.

O Rising Sun

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

There is an enveloping mist on this Winter Solstice.

This morning I heard Leslie Griffiths describe how 21 December marks the fulcrum of Advent. The descent into darkest winter is complete, coldness and silence. We pivot imperceptible from darkness to light, from the minor to the major key, from the yearning Advent hymn of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel to the joyful O Come, Let Us Adore Him.

Light fades over Flanders and the earth begins a fresh renewal.

About Grenfell Tower

On Wednesday probably around one hundred human lives (they still haven’t said how many) were sacrificed on the altar of English extreme inequality. The religious analogy is appropriate: the idea that there is nonatural or moral limit to the potential disparity between decadent wealth and grim poverty is tantamount to a tenet of a faith which, apart perhaps from a brief moment around the end of World War II, has always been held to fast by the British state irrespective of its political colour. The richest council in the country, gluttoned on surplus revenues extracted from global billionaires stashing their mysterious assets in empty real estate in a city facing a perpetual housing crisis, chose to save money by using flammable materials in a Brutalist tower block inhabited by poor people including ethnic minorities and refugees. Theresa May’s Tories provide a convenient proxy for the nation’s collective culpability.

I did a day’s training as a fire warden many years ago. For most of the day we did theory, and the Grenfell Tower disaster has reminded me of the trainer’s sudden interjection, almost as an aside, that sprinklers were the one thing which will almost certainly stop you dying in a fire. After the theory, interspersed with many tea breaks (such is the life of a firefighter in between emergencies) we were rewarded with some controlled fire-dousing using ‘different extinguishing medias’ (see below). He brought us to the empty yard of 1 Queen Anne’s Gate, which had just been vacated by the Home Office pending arrival of builders to transform it into the headquarters of the expanding Department of Constitutional Affairs, the precursor to the Ministry of Justice.

Here are my notes from the day.

Key concepts

‘Backdraft’ – if you introduce oxygen to a room on fire, it becomes ‘entrained’ and combusts

‘Flashover’ – ­this occurs between 650º and 1000º. It’s only 3 minutes to pyrolysis.

‘Small incendiary device’ – a cigarette lighter

‘Different extinguishing medias” – fire extinguishers, blankets etc.

Main cause of fire in the work place

Arson – 46% of all fires. The English are particularly partial to this cause of fire. Culprits range from pyromaniacs, those doing it to make phony insurance claims, disgruntled employees, those suffering from hero-syndrome, to casual fire-setting chavs.

Electrical defects – 40%

‘Heat producing appliances’

Fire prevention tactics

Ensure premises are secure

Good housekeeping: a big pile of paper is an ‘opportunity’


Key quotes

“Is your building sprinklered? There has never been a fire death in a sprinklered building”

“People get over zealous with fire door stickers: they appear stuck on places which aren’t even doors.”

About the trainer

Wizened old fire hand. Nothing in the world of flames could surprise him – he has seen it all before. His North London voice bounces around with ‘facts n’ figures’ to instruct and entertain. To pack out the day’s training, he makes sure there are plenty of tea breaks. He speaks with sincere affection about tools and devices to combat the fiery menace. With a roll of the eyes and a wry smile, he refers to people who ‘helpfully prop open fire doors with extinguishers’


“We’ve just our ‘owse done” said a crumpled eastender from the Courts Service. Then she went into a bit of a coughing fit.

“You alright?”, the trainer, out of amused obligation, inquired.

Recovering, she slapped the shoulder of the hitherto silent young man sitting next to her, apparently a colleague. “That’s your fault!”

“Don’t you start again!” he replied.

“We’ll have to give you an abdominal thrust”, interjected a Liverpuldlian member of the class.

“You what?”

“I bet you can’t wait to get your hands on one of those extinguishers,” added the trainer.

“Shut up you tart.”

Avoiding death by fire, like avoiding human crushes at a football stadium, is not complicated if you can be bothered. After a year of rabid, McCarthyite vengefulness directed at the Other, the pendulum of public opinion is shifting back towards compassion and accountability, but it has come at an appalling cost.

Who put my man i’ the stocks?

LEAR: Who stock’d my servant? …

O sides, you are too tough;

Will you yet hold? How came my man i’ the stocks?

CORNWALL: I set him there, sir: but his own disorders

Deserved much less advancement.

KING LEAR You! did you?

REGAN     I pray you, father, being weak, seem so.

If, till the expiration of your month,

You will return and sojourn with my sister,

Dismissing half your train, come then to me:

I am now from home, and out of that provision

Which shall be needful for your entertainment.

There was me thinking the UK or rather England was about to elect its first robot for Prime Minister. Theresa May’s bizarre performances during the election seemed a distillation par excellence of the politician’s art of honesty-avoidance. I had all the same begun to worry for her mental state. On the few occasions she deigned to take a question in public, she would look at her inquisitor still and expressionless, apart from the odd involuntary shake of the head, perhaps signally scepticism, perhaps involuntary. At the end of the question, there was always a small pause, a jerk into response mode, like a crude voice-activated device, and she would launch into a non-answer of clichés and slogans which by the end of the campaign even her cheerleaders had grown weary of. Then there was her awkward leaning forward gait, those sharp uncomfortable limbs, and a face looking constantly on the verge of vomiting. She seemed a person increasingly ill-at-ease in her own body.

People were anticipating her eventual comeuppance, though few expected it was imminent. I foresaw a big Tory victory followed by years of attritional conflict with a growing body of the disaffected. The population would start to despise this government like they grew to despise the long Thatcher-Major regime. Instead the cards are being reshuffled again in this inscrutable, post-financial crisis, Brexit chapter of British democracy.

In the Middle Ages the English had a reputation among the French as a people who killed their kings with unsavoury frequency.  Now the full arsenal of the Tory machine, and the plutocrats running its propaganda in the print media, has suddenly stopped insulting Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott and trained its attention on their faltering monarch herself.

Shakespeare’s Lear is in the opening act flattered by his sycophant older daughters until, once he has divested himself of his power, he is by turns emasculated, impoverished, humiliated, imprisoned and ultimately murdered.  It begins with the banishing of the entourage, the malevolent advisers who have corrupted the prince’s noble intentions. Prime Minister May had become umbilically dependent on Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, two proper bastards who had enabled their mistress to boss the Home Office for six years. These two were not svelte, cunning Etonians, nor had they proven their calibre by passing through the best universities. (Future political science PhDs might compare them with Piers Gaveston or William Catesby, the reviled confidents of Edward II and Richard III respectively.) Hill and Timothy have now been shoved from the shadows to the public pillory – “i’ the stocks” like the loyal Kent disguised as a peasant who assaulted Goneril’s servant for disrespect for the king. Lacking the appropriate breeding for a Tory courtier they failed to show requisite deference to those who did, and so this weekend has been a bit of a revenge orgy for embittered Conservatives.

Now this shell of a Prime Minister is left mouthing the empty platitudes of power, no longer in a bid to entrench herself, but rather like a hostage forced by her captors to read out a script on camera.  She knows, everyone knows, that she will be put out of her misery at some point soon.

I struggle to muster much sympathy for May. Her entire life has been openly directed towards attaining the highest political office, a bit like Gordon Brown, though unlike Brown she had to contend stoically for decades as a woman against the patronising party establishment of the chaps. Also, unlike Brown, she doesn’t appear to possess much moral fibre, given her craven obeisance before the barely inaugurated President Trump and her preparedness to sacrifice human rights in order to appear tough on terrorism and to divert attention from her downgrading of the police.

This ritual un-kinging of May is an exquisite form of political torture of which only the Conservatives, in their unbridled urge to run the UK at all costs, are capable of inflicting on their own. They will morph now back again into a more apparently emollient, pragmatic party that tries harder to avoid offending foreigners and gays and to resist letting its instinctive xenophobia interfere with the imperative of GDP growth.  But their core brutality will be undiminished, as we shall shortly see once Boris Johnson and all the other scoundrels start to devour each other in a bid to succeeed their zombie of a leader.

The race to the centre of British politics is back on and, given the self-righteous jubilation of Corbyn and his friends, I can only still see one winner, though I would love to be proven wrong again. The prize is likely a working majority after yet another election in the autumn. Meanwhile the ousted Theresa May and her erstwhile henchmen will have plenty of time to recraft their public personas, and probably, in the cases of Hill and Timothy, return to the arena. It is a preferable denouement to the gory ends which befell their equivalents on the Jacobean stage, I suppose. 



Hacking democracy

Barry Gardiner MP got grumpy with Nick Robinson last week because the BBC Today Programme had read out the Sun’s stupid headline ‘Crash bang wally’ insulting Corbyn on a day of mishaps on the election trail. Rather pleasingly, Gardiner kept misquoting the title, not sure if intentionally, as ‘crash bang wallop’, so the cheap pun was lost. We should see more of such subversion of the gutter media – it is the kind of verbal play which Baudrillard, Lyotard and Derrida would philosophise about, in their poncey, gorgeously inaccessible ways.

Gardiner was just being grouchy, a bit Prescotty, and I don’t think he really advanced The Cause. He might have hit a genuine home run if he’d said that The Sun, just like the Mail and the Express, is filthy lie-strewn bum fodder whereby foreign tax-dodging elites wage a propaganda war on the Tories’ behalf which distorts English democracy, and that the BBC are tacitly colluding every time they read it out the bile which is spewed in their pages.

But it also made me wonder why on earth in 2017 the BBC and others continue to fixate on and promote the traditional print media, which has always been fawning cheerleaders for the Conservative Party. Printed newspapers are virtually irrelevant in the digital age – instead of privileging the old Fleet Street rags, public interest broadcaster had better read a balanced selection of the headlines of popular online news sites – the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, even RT or Breitbart – not necessarily a problem so long as there is balance.


I was late getting home. Our eldest was under a blanket,  glowering and saturnine, watching My Little Pony. Her mother had just tried unsuccessfully to interest her in a late supper. The little girl was in the danger zone, past bedtime on a school night. She could no longer tolerate contradiction of her whimsies, growing in erraticism with every minute, any opposition sent her into meltdown.

I lifted her up in my arms, escorted her up the stairs. She said she wanted a bath, but I refused, the day was over, I said.

Baaath, baaath, baaath, baaath, she intoned endlessly with tears on her face. It was like a delirious dirge.

-Please stop saying bath.

Eventually a brush of the teeth and a book teleported her back to civilisation. She was still fighting the inevitable except now without being socially offensive.

-Shall I say goodnight and go now?

-No I want you to stay


-Because I like you.

She shuffled awkwardly the pages of a pocket book of puzzles and colouring opportunities that she had taken from her bedside table.

-You look at all the pages. Go on. All the pages.

Her speech was slurring.

-What do you mean?

-All the pages. … Let’s just close our eyes.

-You have brown eyes. Darker than mine. Daddy’s are green brown.

She fixed on a spot on my chin.

-You got glitter. You want the glitter?

-Er no…. Daddy loves you, my darling.

Eyes closed, deep breathing. She was gone.

-Daddy loves you very much. So much.

Her smooth, delicate, silent face. When she finally falls asleep each night, it is like part of the world has died.

Three dreams

In my waking life I do not hold David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn or Donald Trump in very high regard.  But in my unconscious on sundry occasions in the last year or so, our relations have been quite sympathetic, even cordial.

I am persuaded that, just as implied in the Acts of the Apostles and the writings of Freud, God visits you in your dreaming to disrupt and to reset your prejudices, to help make you a better person.


I am watching the climax of the latest Superman film. Superman is getting properly beaten up by a beautiful but deranged young girl, on the grounds that he had earnesly declined to together with her. As he lay there broken, I was now in the film myself, trying to help him. He located on his person found some emergency serum thing which would enable him to recover his powers, she having presumably dosed him up on Kryptonite. His assailant then countered that she herself had some serum of her own that made her really fast. Anyway Superman and I managed to slip away to a couple of washing machines where I had been stuffing dirty washing. Superman’s jilted foe now reentered the scene, sliding in her stomach at speed towards us. She confronted superman and he said I think I have my powers back so your blows won’t hurt me. Indeed as she laid into him once more, he just smiled indulgently. Realising that her labours were in vain, she crumbled into a heap.

What have I done with my life? She railed. Here I am 25 years old at my peak and I am taking toxic substances to try to win someone who is not interested in me.

Superman by this point had, uncharacteristically, donned makeup.

I left them to their delicate business.

The washing machine had been stuffed with clothes and was now expelling a mighty jet of water. I was obliged to fish out the soggy clothes. I decided I would separate the colours from the whites and start again.

Then a sudden shift in the backdrop to all of this action.  There now entered a large delegation of officials which included bald William Hague, then Foreign Secretary, and a friend of mine who works in the Foreign Office. It was all something to do with the Germans and Americans.

The room cleared leaving noone but myself and none other than David Cameron, presumably to take a breather from it all. He mused aloud on how the Germans were now really into foreign policy and that they had made lots of visits to Islamabad this year.

Are you enjoying being PM? I asked.

Not really, he said. It’s all rather boring to be honest.

I sympathised.

What you need is a real job. Like banking.

He gave a polite, whimsical grunt. Then he left the room, me and the washing and my thoughts on the life choices of members of the aristocratic leisured classes.


We were on a campsite by a river. It was summer, warm, but very early – 6am. We leave the tent and Jeremy Corbyn walks past with a young boy we assume to be his grandson. He is wearing a pensive face of rather cosmic melancholy.

I stop him, shake his hand and make some complementary, empathetic remarks about his ongoing travails, all of which he receives gracefully. He acknowledges that yes, life is tough at the moment and the day ahead will be another busy one, fresh with new and unheralded controversies.

We exchange parting greetings, I with a weak wish that he will have some time in between crises to enjoy the weekend.


About midway between the election and his inauguration, I was a junior aide to newly sworn in President Trump. I was, suffice it to say, shitting myself. I went to to the Oval Office to receive my first instructions from him.

– I want you to go down to Congress and fix me a meeting with these people: Secretary Clinton, congressman so and so, senator such and such etc.

Yes of course, Mr President. What shall I tell them you wish to talk to them about?

He jerked back his shoulders, stifled a guffaw, opened his palms towards me. It’s the President of the United States!

Yes Mr President.

I pretended to understand who he wanted to meet. I clutched to my chest a dossier of papers, and wandered the corridors not knowing what to do.

Great Northern


‘Good morrow, Benedick:

Why, what’s the matter,

That you have such a February face,

So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?’

Much Ado about Nothing, Act V. Scene IV

A few days ago I watched Alan Bennett’s Diaries, a film about Alan Bennett writing and reading his diaries. In the final scene we see the Great Northern Sage reviewing the proofs of his latest volume of diaries 2005-2015, with his voiceover of the postscript to those diaries, the postscript which recounts reviewing the proofs of the diaries on the day of the Brexit referendum.  A sort of autobiographical infinity mirror after the fashion of Krapp’s Last Tape.

Alan Bennett, let it be said, has a February face. A face weathered with pessimism, erudition and God-knows how many cups of tea. February is The time of greyness above, below and inbetween, like the ashes the priest presses against the forehead at the beginning of Lent.  The muffled, doleful, heavy chords of the Cowboy Junkies’ 1992 Winter’s Song offers an appropriate soundtrack.

Hand in hand we’ve watched

The autumn fires burn

Summer’s dreams collapsing

Chestnuts in need of gathering,

The whole world lies rotting in the street.

The crocus is not here yet, the snowdrops were late arriving, but the robins are hopping gamely, there is a tribe of chaffinches bossing the edge of the forest and the blackbirds have started to sing a frugal song.

‘I imagine,’ goes Bennett’s entry for 26 June 2016, ‘this must have been what Munich was like in 1938 – half the nation rejoicing at a supposed deliverance, the other stunned by the country’s self-serving cowardice.’

The final line of the documentary, author’s sunken, unimpressed eyes are turned directly to the camera:

‘Well, we shall see.’