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