Late Life Crisis - September 2020

"Congratulate X for 19 years at [       ]. LinkedIn loves this call to action, as I think the marketeers would term it, as a way of stoking up interaction. You can do an off the peg "Congrats on your work anniversary", appropriate for the busy executive or consultant, or if you have time and/or can be bothered, you can do a made to measure message. All innocuous, but I've mused on what it might mean according to context. It could be a genuine "You've had a stellar career there - well done!", or it could be "Well done on lasting so long at that awful place and on reaching one more milestone towards your company pension!." For anyone still in full-time employment, fill in the point on the spectrum where you sit.


Bojo is feted by his supporters for his quality of enthusiasm. But surely any idiot can be enthusiastic, and it takes a little more than that to be a good Prime Minister?


Eat Out to Help Out has finished, other than for eateries that are self-funding a continuation in an attempt to piggy-back on the success of the slogan. I have mixed views on how it has worked. In some cases it has been a pleasant surpise that after a meal at a place you would have chosen to go to anyway, you get your £10 off per person. In another scenario, an excellent large local pizzeria advised around 7pm on a Wednesday that they would have no tables until at least 9pm. At the worst end, a last-resort restaurant produced a dish with chicken so stringy that you might have thought it had been sourced from Homebase. 

In fact, the short-term thing that is really making a difference for the customer (end-user for those who know something about this area of tax) is the temporary reduction in VAT to 5%.


Sherlock Holmes and the Rule of Six. With Tory backbenchers braying about loss of personal freedom, this is definitely a two-pipe problem, Watson.


So much could be written about the "getting back to work" mantra, not least a reflection on its implication that office work is only done effectively by travelling from home to a work location. At one end of the scale is a recognition that life is changing, and city centres are going to look different: in London there is no good reason why hundreds of thousands of people need every weekday morning to pour on to overcrowded tube and overground trains only so we are assured of not walking a further 300 metres in the centre of London without encountering another branch of Pret a Manger. At the other end is an awareness that the working at home scenario is not always a scene of monastic bliss with an environment sealed against internal and external disturbance and powered by exclusive access to top-performing broadband. For some there is the pesky issue of nursery age children who cannot be parked quietly for several hours at a time. A telling contribution was from the owner of a small nursery. She has fifteen staff: she has kept five working during lockdown, with the remaining ten being on furlough. For business as well as service reasons she wants to be able to re-open fully. But her business's cash resources have dwindled, and once fulough ends she may be forced to make redundancies unless some government help comes on a transitional basis back to a fully functioning economy. Maybe appropriate targeted help will come. We will have to see.



"Colins of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your names". That violence done to the 1848 Communist Manifesto introduces an item on whether we like our first name. And despite what follows, I do like mine, even if I got it by accident.

To explain. I was the product of a Caesarian section. My mother was in her late thirties. When I was born, in what is now The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel (a fact that makes me a Cockney, though that is for another day), it was thought that not only might my mother die but that I might die also. The staff knew that my mother was a practising Roman Catholic, so it became important to get me christened quickly. There did not seem to have been any prior discussion between my mother and my (agnostic) father on what name they would give to a boy, so the nurses went to their book of names to find the next one on the list. Thus was begat Colin.

Now, my beef - more a small sliver of veal in truth - is over how the name Colin has been fictionalised in diminutive forms. I appreciate that we have Colin Firth and Colin Farrell, to name just a couple of men who could not easily be trivialised, but for starters, what about Colin the Coot, a character from the Dappledown Farm of a 1990s TV series. Of course the name came simply from need for something alliterative relating to this medium-sized water bird. Neverthless, my children regularly squealed with delight whenever there was a chance to declaim "Colin the Coot!"  (I think I may be revealing an inner insecurity). Then there is Colin Creevey, the wimpish boy from Hogwarts whose thrill was to get a signed photograph of Harry Potter. And making a current strong showing in M&S's food promotions is Colin the Caterpillar, the personification of a chocolate roll cake. 

However, all is not lost. We still have Love Actually's Colin Frissell. Yes, a twat surname to fit a character whose chances in the dating stakes seemed as likely as Foinavon winning the 1967 Grand National. But Colin went to the States and got the girl, or rather three of them, which seems a little over-compensating. Not of course that this would be appealing to the large majority of Colins in the world who would find such behaviour in poor taste and who are kind, intelligent, and infused with great personalities. And modest.


It's December 2019.

Bojo: "Dom, just before we wind down for Crimbo, I'm a bit troubled about this EU Withdrawal Agreement that I am apparently negotiating"

Dom: "Yes Boris. What's the problem?"

Bojo: "Well, as you told me to do, I've just said: "There will be no checks on goods from from GB to Northern Ireland or from Northern Ireland to GB". [quoted in The New European, 13 August 2020, p 22]

Dom: "Yes Boris"

Bojo: "But we know that there will have to be something in it about checks on goods, so as to ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic"

Dom: "No sweat, Boris"

Bojo: "Why"

Dom: "I'll explain. We hope that when we do the trade deal with the EU, we can get rid of what we will have to put on this stuff in the Withdrawal Agreement in order to keep the EU onside."

Bojo: "And if we can't?"

Dom: "Then we simply pass legislation to get rid of the parts we don't like"

Bojo: "But isn't that against the Rule of Law thingy?"

Dom: "No. Parliament can do what it wants. It's called sovereignty. We may be breaking an international treaty, but it would take years to sort that out. And once we threaten to make the legislation happen, that will shit-scare the EU and we'll be able to roll them over in the trade talks"

Bojo: "Dom, it's a great comfort to have you around at times when I have to act like a Prime Minister"

Dom: "I know"

[Cummings exits, crossing the fingers of both hands]


Of course, when you are in a pickle you need friends, and Boris has got Gav, the weird more recent use of the diminutive suggesting some affection for a character emulating a creature recently slithered out from under a rock. Forgotten is the fall from grace as Secretary of State for Defence, and parried away is any criticism of his performance as Secretary of State for Education (note to Ministers: always good to have a body independent of Government whom you can blame - Gav's mate Matt has found this useful). The Secretary of State for Undertakers, as we have previously described him, has resisted all external pressure to have his own demise hastened. This is not only because he is loyal to Boris, although Boris is not the first political leader to value loyalty over competence. On further examination the resilience seems to come from his skills in his previous job as Chief Whip, a role requiring a superb grasp of how to pressure and manipulate recalcitrant MPs and to present an accurate assessment to the PM of his chances of winning any particular vote.

So Gav needs to be reborn in a depiction from history or literature. We have had a lot of Game of Thrones recently, so for the time being, ar least in terms of Williamson having the ear of the Prime Minister, I am going to shoot for Tolkien's Grima Wormtongue. 


Things must be bad when the right-leaning Spectator follows the Torygraph in excoriating the performance of the Government. In a piece titled "The missing leader - Boris Johnson needs to find his purpose again", the Speccie's editor Fraser Nelson nails down Johnson's core weaknesses: "Perhaps the trouble is that the Prime Minister is a writer, campaigner and entertainer, but not a fighter. He dislikes making enemies. He loves to be liked. Critics say he's a bit too keen to agree with the last person he's spoken to." To me, that doesn't sound much like a leader.


Football League clubs may be struggling, but football in the park for kids appears as strong as ever, and parents as always know best: "Man on!"; Keeper, keeper!"; "Hold the ball!". He may only be three, but it's never too early to learn the need for some quality in the final third.


We learnt the Rule of Six, and the Curfew notion, from Belgium. The latest jobs support package comes from Germany's Kurzarbeit (literally "short work") scheme. So we have government by something like what that bloke in the pub (or in latter case Bierkeller) said last night.


Boris promises a radical shake-up to end the pointless, nonsensical  gulf between academic and vocational qualifications. Wow, that is innovative! Surely the first time that anyone has thought that for certain young people a career to train as a plumber, carpenter or electrician might be better than some vague business studies degree at some University that is well known for being the 35th University to offer a degree in business studies.


Doing a recent online talk on the history of Finsbury Park and Stroud Green I mentioned the former Rainbow Theatre, and the litany of bands that performed there. I mentioned beng there when The Who performed, me not standing in the mosh pit but sitting in the more refined surroundings of the Circle, The only problem was that the Circle seats were directly opposite the speakers, resulting in my losing nearly all my hearing for two days. As I told this story, I imagined a chorus of nods from the demographically appropriate audience, who might be going on to harumph that there were proper bands in those days. For my children's generation those performers were of "another time". It must be hard to imagine that your parents were whatever was the equivalent then of "cool", rather like children believing that the only time their parents ever had sex was in order (and only on one occasion) to procreate them.

But I may be having a renaissance. On the radio I heard Michael Kiwanuka. He has won the 2020 Mercury Prize. I thought he was great and have been playing him since on Siri. Ah yes, but I registered him because he has a track that contains a big Hendrix influence. So maybe not such a renaissance. Never mind.