It’s the sheer randomness that grinds you down. On Christmas Day, my wife and I were – fingers crossed – congratulating ourselves on everything having gone according to plan. Our daughter, Anna, and her husband, Robert, had managed to avoid the Omicron variant in the US – both were triple-vaxxed – and been able to fly over to the UK; and our son, Robbie, and his girlfriend, Laila, had also managed to get their boosters, escape Covid, and come up from Brighton to stay with us. So we had been together as a family for the first time in more than two years.
On Boxing Day, Anna woke up with a sore throat and a headache. She took a lateral flow test that came back clear so we all hung out together. The following morning she still felt ropey but the LFT again came back negative so she and Robert went off to visit friends while Robbie and Laila went back home. It wasn’t until the morning of 28 December that she got the dreaded two red lines and went into isolation. At which point the rest of us assumed we were bound to get Covid. Only we never did. At least not then. Laila got Covid five days into the new year and Robert tested positive last night, a while after he and Anna were back in Minneapolis. Robbie got Covid today. For the second time. Which just left Jill and me to get the virus. Neither of us has a clue why we have escaped so far. Whether we have had it without knowing – unlikely over Christmas as we had both taken regular LFTs, are immune, or just incredibly lucky. Probably just lucky. We try to take each day as it comes and go out as planned but it’s mentally exhausting being in a permanent state of preparedness to get ill.
When I took over as this paper’s political sketch writer eight years ago, my biggest worry was whether I would ever be able to fill the void left by my predecessor, Simon Hoggart, who died in January 2014. Simon was a brilliantly sharp and witty writer who had been making fun of politicians for more than 20 years and he was a desperately tough act to follow. I remember being acutely depressed for much of the first year when reading the below-the-line comments on the sketch and the verdict was often “Crace is no Hoggart”. But one decision I made early on was to retire the ever absurd Tory MP Michael Fabricant from the sketch. Fabricant – or Micky Fab of the glorious Talking Hair – had for a long while been one of Simon’s personal favourites and it seemed a fitting tribute to discontinue his appearances in print.
It was a decision that had an unexpected coda. After a year or so of sketching, I was tapped on the shoulder by an MP. “Are you John Crace?” he asked. I confirmed I was. “Good,” he continued. “Michael Fabricant is very worried. He wants to know when he will next be in the sketch.” “Never,” I replied. Mmm, the MP muttered. Michael is going to be very disappointed. It was then I realised the extent of the vanity of some MPs. They would rather be ridiculed than ignored. Only I haven’t been able to keep to my word, because today Fabricant did something so ludicrous I couldn’t ignore him any longer. While every other Tory MP was trying to steer away from the airwaves for fear of being asked to defend Boris Johnson’s party lifestyle, Michael F, actively volunteered. First off, he declared it wasn’t a party but a group of workmates appearing to have a party: then he followed up by saying they deserved to break the rules as they had been working so hard. Unlike doctors and nurses … It was quite the stupidest take imaginable and deserved a paragraph in the sketch. That one, Simon, was for you.
After lying low for a couple of days, Boris Johnson was forced out in to the open to appear at prime minister’s questions and was finally obliged to provide an explanation for why he attended the Downing Street party on 20 May 2020. First he gave a half-hearted, insincere apology for any wrongdoing people may have perceived him to make. Not for the breaches of the law and the lying to both parliament and the country. Then he got to the details of the party. Or rather the party that was not a party. What we were asked to believe was that Johnson was one of the stupidest men alive, and had failed to notice he had been at a party until alerted to it by a leak to the press more than 18 months later. Here was the chronology. He definitely hadn’t authorised or read the email inviting everyone at No 10 to the party – why would he bother with anything sent by his principal private secretary? – and the “we” in the invitation in no way suggested it might have come from the prime minister. Then, completely coincidentally, he had wandered downstairs to where the party was being held. Once there he had done a double-take and just assumed it was a “work event”. After all it was completely normal to find trestle tables in the garden stacked with sausage rolls and booze and people getting pissed at work events. That his wife had also been there with two friends had only reinforced his impression it was a work event. As had the complaints from some admin staff the next day at having to clear up the empties from the flowerbeds. Alarmingly, his cabinet – with the exception of Rishi Sunak – are just as dim as they appeared quite comfortable with such obvious bollocks. No 10 was a special case, they said, because it was both a home and an office. Well, so is my mum’s care home and no one had a party there.
If one definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result, I’m clearly not mad. Or I’m a special kind of mad. Because this season every time I’ve gone to see Spurs, I’ve had a good idea of exactly what type of game I’m going to see, but have gone along anyway. Last week’s and yesterday’s two-leg semi-final against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup are a case in point. I knew that Tottenham were going to be outclassed and that the only real variable was how much they were going to lose by, yet there was a grim sense of satisfaction in seeing my worst fears realised and enduring the pain of yet another clueless performance. I still can’t quite understand, though, how Spurs have become quite so bad so quickly. We may not have won anything, though we did get to a Champion’s League final, but a few years ago we were playing attractive football which was good to watch. Even when we lost, we would give most teams a good game. Now, though, despite three changes of manager – or possibly because – we are a team that struggles against League One opposition. Our wing backs can’t cross the ball: they either scuff it to a defender or kick it over the bar. Our defenders barely recognise each other, our midfield can’t control the ball, let alone pass it, and no one is more surprised than our attack if they score.
Every player we have bought has turned out to be a disappointment, worse than the footballer they were lined up to replace. It’s as if all Spurs can manage at the moment is to turn good players into mediocre ones. What’s more, it’s even getting to Matthew with whom I go to almost all games. On Wednesday I was begging him to let us leave 10 minutes before the end as Spurs needed three goals to take the game to penalties. Matthew refused – he’s old school and never leaves before the final whistle – though he did say we could skip clapping the players off the pitch. A huge moment for him. We will be going to the north London derby together on Sunday against Arsenal, and I have every confidence Spurs will let me down again. I will report back.
I’m fairly sure that if I were to wake up in a hospital in the Australian outback after a major car crash with total memory loss, my first instinct wouldn’t be to discharge myself the moment I could almost walk again. I’m guessing I’d be more worried about who I was, what I was doing in the middle of nowhere, and how the hell I was going to find my way round an alien environment of which I had no recollection. I might also wonder how I was going to get by without any money or car. Assuming I remembered what money and a car were. Then if I’d been the leading amnesiac character – the Man – played by Jamie Dornan in The Tourist, the BBC’s six-part thriller, and done the sensible thing by staying put, I’d have been topped in by a 6ft6 Texan in cowboy hat and boots who had turned up at the hospital looking for me moments after the Man thought to leave.
There again, the Man wasn’t the only person with amnesia. No one at the hospital seemed to notice he was speaking with an Irish accent when everyone else – except the huge American – was Australian. Something they could have used to try to identify him. Nor did the police bother to investigate the tyre tracks in the dust and the wreckage on the road from where the monster truck had sideswiped the Man’s car. And these were just some of the inconsistencies in the first episode. But none of them spoiled the enjoyment. Harry and Jack Williams seem to have had a field day writing the scripts: almost as if they had a bet to think up ever more outrageous and shocking scenarios and only afterwards tried to work out how to shoehorn them into the plot line. It’s all done with a light touch and is effortlessly gripping. We binged the whole thing inside a week and I doubt we’ll watch a better thriller all year. The trick is to follow the example of the Man and not ask too many questions.
Digested week, digested: The parties that weren’t parties.