No, I’ve got ear­phones and I re­ally don’t need your seat, thank you

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - John Crace’s Di­gested week di­gested Alas, poor Geoffrey! I knew him well


Last week’s item about be­ing mor­ti­fied to be of­fered a seat on the tube gen­er­ated an un­ex­pect­edly large re­sponse. The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity were sym­pa­thetic to my cause – get­ting old is bad enough with­out ev­ery­one join­ing in to point out your de­crepi­tude. A col­league trumped my story. A woman stood up and gave up her seat for him. It was only when he had sat down that he no­ticed she was eight months preg­nant. He was mor­ti­fied and fled at the next stop. Oth­ers sug­gest I be less churl­ish – ac­cept I look as though I am fall­ing apart and ac­cept the kind­ness of strangers. They rightly point out that if all old peo­ple be­haved like me, the young would never be nice to us again. One said her way to avoid the prob­lem was to wear ear­phones. They make wear­ers look years younger and also de­ter peo­ple from ap­proach­ing you since they as­sume you are in a world of your own. So it’s Mozart’s Re­quiem on ev­ery tube jour­ney for me. There’s noth­ing I like more than pre­par­ing my ideal fu­neral.


Brexit is rapidly mak­ing fools of us all. Even the at­tor­ney gen­eral. In the course of a two and a half hour state­ment on why he didn’t think the gov­ern­ment was obliged to pub­lish his le­gal ad­vice that par­lia­ment had in­structed it to do, Geoffrey Cox’s syrupy bari­tone went through its full reper­toire. It was an elec­tri­fy­ing per­for­mance. So many min­is­ters can barely re­mem­ber their own names at the dis­patch box, but Cox gave us ev­ery­thing, from his Lau­rence – dear, dear Larry – Olivier, through his qua­ver­ing sec­ond-rate mu­sic hall Henry Irv­ing, com­plete with ex­pan­sive arm ges­tures and qua­ver­ing voice for added sin­cer­ity, to his Frankie How­erd pan­tomime dame. To no avail. Even one of the best-paid QCs in the coun­try strug­gled to square his in­sis­tence that there was ab­so­lutely noth­ing of any in­ter­est in his le­gal ad­vice with his as­ser­tion that it wouldn’t be in the pub­lic in­ter­est to re­lease it. The fol­low­ing day Cox was back in par­lia­ment to hear his re­views as the Com­mons de­bated whether the gov­ern­ment was in con­tempt. When the ver­dict came in, Cox looked ut­terly crushed. His Lear would never get a West End trans­fer.


We all have our guilty se­crets. Mine is that I have a soft spot for the 1994 film Four Wed­dings and a Fu­neral. Most rom­coms leave me cold – some­thing that fre­quently makes me a pariah in the fam­ily at Christ­mas – but I can al­ways make an ex­cep­tion for Four Wed­dings. It takes me back to a softer, gen­tler place – when Hugh Grant didn’t spend a lot of his time be­ing a bit of an arse. The comic set pieces still make me laugh and the fu­neral Stop the Clocks speech al­ways makes me cry. So I’m thrilled Richard Curtis has rus­tled up most of the sur­viv­ing cast to make a short up­date for next year’s Comic Re­lief. I can only hope it is called Five Wed­dings, a Fu­neral and a Di­vorce. Be­cause the one flaw in the film was Car­rie, played by Andie MacDow­ell. She was one of the most an­noy­ing peo­ple one could imag­ine. I couldn’t un­der­stand what Charles saw in her. So if they have sep­a­rated, and Grant goes on to do what he al­ways should have done and mar­ries Kristin Scott Thomas, it will be the per­fect end­ing.


There are three weeks un­til my daugh­ter leaves Lon­don to move to the US with her hus­band. It’s a strange, bit­ter­sweet time of limbo – the lucky woman is get­ting all sorts of last-minute treats, such as go­ing to see Spurs on Box­ing Day – in which our hap­pi­ness in her life choices are tinged with sad­ness that we won’t be see­ing so much of her. Even so, one of the ad­van­tages of get­ting on a bit is the knowl­edge that my work as a par­ent has largely been done and that both our chil­dren have turned out to be peo­ple I not only love – that’s rather a given – but like and ad­mire. There’s also the off-chance that they might start to get a bit cheaper from here on. A re­cent sur­vey found some par­ents are shelling out £50 on presents for their chil­dren’s teach­ers for Christ­mas. Pre­sum­ably in a des­per­ate at­tempt to boost their grades. My wife and I never went be­yond a cheap bot­tle of wine, and even then only for the teach­ers Anna and Rob­bie ac­tu­ally liked. On one par­ents’ evening, a teacher just re­cited a long list of things Rob­bie was do­ing badly. Af­ter a few min­utes, I in­ter­rupted him and asked: “Is there any­thing Rob­bie can do well?” The teacher paused for a while, be­fore say­ing: “Not that I can think of.” On re­port­ing this to Rob­bie that evening, he said: “Well, he can sod off.” We knew then that Rob­bie was a good judge of char­ac­ter.


It turns out I’m far from the only per­son who jolts awake think­ing about Brexit, spends most of the day think­ing about Brexit, goes to bed think­ing about Brexit and has anx­i­ety dreams about Brexit. The rea­son is ob­vi­ous. Pol­i­tics is op­er­at­ing on the level of the sur­real. Each day pro­vides some new in­san­ity. To­day three Tory MPs tabled an amend­ment to give Bri­tain more say in the North­ern Ire­land back­stop. It al­most cer­tainly won’t pass as the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s le­gal ad­vice stated Bri­tain did not have the power to do this. And if it does, the EU will want to take a rain check. Then we have the chief whip, Ju­lian Smith, al­low­ing ITV cam­eras in to film him try­ing to per­suade the Tory MP and all-round-nasty-piece-of-work Philip Davies to vote for the May deal. A huge own goal. Far from a demon­stra­tion of the whip’s dark arts, what we saw was Davies just say­ing no and Smith be­com­ing in­creas­ingly des­per­ate. And now we have sev­eral mem­bers of the cab­i­net be­ing sent out to ev­ery cor­ner of the land to sell Theresa May’s deal to a few be­mused pun­ters who have the mis­for­tune to be in the same place at the same time. Philip Ham­mond is go­ing to a school in Chert­sey. Pre­sum­ably to tell them why they won’t be able to vote in a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. Liz Truss is go­ing to a butcher’s in East Anglia. One as­sumes the main point is to keep the cab­i­net away from each other so they can’t plot May’s down­fall. Some­thing she is quite ca­pa­ble of do­ing by her­self. It’s as if we’re watch­ing The Thick of It in real time. Some­one make it stop.

‘There is no sod­ding Santa’

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: BBC/PA; FACUNDO AR­RIZ­A­BAL­AGA/EPA ‘To­mor­row and to­mor­row and to­mor­row’

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