Having Covid was unpleasant but mercifully brief. The worst of the symptoms gone in just over a week. But recovering from the after-effects has turned out to be a bit of a haul. Even four months later I still have some signs of long Covid. Given the chance I would have a nap every afternoon, and I am still unable to go to the gym without feeling totally wiped out. Even a walk around Tooting Bec Common can finish me off. Coupled with this, my concentration has been all the place and it’s only recently that I have been able to finish my first two books of the year. Step forward Sasha Swire’s wonderfully gossipy Diary of an MP’s Wife, which gave the inside view of the Tory government between 2010 and 2019, and Abi Morgan’s This is Not a Pity Memoir, her unsparing yet loving and uplifting account of the devastation her husband’s illness caused. Do read both if you haven’t already. But if the fatigue and lack of concentration have improved somewhat over the last few weeks, my sense of taste hasn’t. My mouth is unnaturally dry – the doctor has given me an artificial saliva spray – and almost everything I eat is reduced to a tasteless, hard to swallow mush. Like chewing my way through cardboard. The one exception is curry – even a korma – which burns my mouth so badly as to be inedible. It doesn’t make me the best lunch companion and no one seems to have a clue when or if my taste buds will ever return to normal. Still, it’s nice to know that, according to the government, Covid is over.
Just what will it take to force Boris Johnson out of Downing Street? The public already seems to have made up its mind: the latest opinion polls, done after the Sue Gray report had been published, show 66% of the country thinks Johnson should be removed as prime minister. A figure that is probably now substantially higher after it emerged that Johnson called for Dilyn the Dog to be “summarily dispatched” after he barked outside in the garden while Johnson was trying to draft his response to Sue Gray. This was apparently the third time Johnson has lost his temper and called for his dog’s execution. The British will tolerate someone who causes suffering to people, but they won’t put up with cruelty to animals. Operation Save Little Dog is in full swing. Yet The Convict’s fate is now in the hands of his own MPs and Westminster has spent the parliamentary recess trying to work out how close we are to the 54 letters required for a vote of no confidence. Current estimates are between 30 and 40, though Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, may surprise us next week with an announcement that the threshold has been reached. The process is confidential, so some MPs who say they have submitted letters may not have done so, while others who have declared their loyalty in public could well have written a letter privately. That level of underhand disloyalty would somehow be fitting. Just this week another half dozen or so MPs have declared their lack of confidence in Johnson and it now feels more a question of when, not if, there is a vote. Certainly, Johnson thinks the writing is on the wall. He’s been on the phone to potential rebels promising them ministerial gigs if they stick with him. At this rate there won’t be a single MP without a government post.
The Convict’s efforts to move on from Partygate are not proving as effective as he would like. First we had a passive-aggressive letter from the prime minister’s standards adviser, Christopher Geidt, suggesting there was not much point in him doing his job as Johnson’s solution to rule-breaking was to investigate himself and find himself innocent. Then today Boris tried to claw back the “Waitrose Woman” vote with an interview with Mumsnet. An enterprise that was probably doomed from the start as the Mumsnet boss, Justine Roberts, pointed out that most of her users shopped at Tesco and Aldi. The first question set the tone. How could anyone trust a habitual liar? To which The Convict could only lie that he didn’t habitually lie. He seemed to think that his reputation for lying was some kind of remainer plot and that before 2016 he had an unblemished record for honesty. It was all downhill from there. On childcare he maintained that changing a nappy was an act of supreme self-sacrifice rather than the bare minimum. It was also clear he had never read a book to his kids. But the one question I’d have liked him to have been asked was: what was the “inappropriately handled” item the Chequers housekeeper had supposedly found in the bathroom?
Tatler magazine has compiled a list of the must-haves for those who want to be considered posh. Top of the list are an ornamental lake and a rewilded estate. Here I’m struggling. Back in the early 90s we did have a tiny pond, which I took out when our daughter was born as I was terrified she might crawl in and drown, but I don’t think that counts. And far from rewilding, my gardening efforts are mainly directed at stopping weeds from creeping in and killing the plants I want. For the inside of your house, Tatler recommend you get a Piet Mondrian or Walter Crane mural. Though if you can’t afford one, it suggests you get some specially commissioned wallpaper to create the same effect. I think I’ll pass as it sounds a bit tacky and overwhelming. Perhaps I’m too posh for this one. I’ll also give a miss to the haute couture nursery for the kids. Partly because Anna is going to be 30 next month – where did all the years go? – and she might think it a bit odd if we filled her old bedroom with baby kitsch. Robbie has no choice. His room has long since been taken over by my wife as her pottery studio. I do pass the posh test with a blue tick on my Twitter account, courtesy of working for the Guardian, but I fail on the ownership of a Grayson Perry – though I do have several pots by ceramicists I personally like more than Perry. So a bit posh, maybe. And I take issue with Tatler’s idea that the only acceptable dog is one with spindly legs. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a Herbert Hound.
I managed to miss the Queen’s silver jubilee back in 1977 entirely. I was sharing a house in Exeter with Ashley, a lovely Irish man – we’re still good friends – and he suggested we escape the whole thing and head off to Dublin on his Yamaha 350 for the week. It was the most terrifying ride of my life. Not least because Ashley has terrible eyesight and could see next to nothing. But somehow we must have got there. And back. All the other jubilees have also rather passed me by, largely because they are almost impossible to tell apart as the same things tend to happen at every one. There’s a parade with soldiers marching up and down, while the royals sit motionless on horses, wearing huge furry animals on their head. There’s the flypast – “we haven’t seen the Lancaster since the last time” – and the concert at which the Queen has to try hard not to look bored. I will be watching on Sunday afternoon. Partly because the Queen has done a decent job – just think of some of the shockers we might have chosen if we had an elected head of state: in the 90s we might have voted for Jimmy Savile – but mainly because I will be sketching. But if you’re a republican who is bored with all the pageantry, I can recommend a top debate on Saturday afternoon as part of the Jubilee arts festival. Actually it’s not so much a debate as a bear-off, to determine whether Pooh or Paddington is the nation’s favourite bear. Pooh has his admirers, not least those who detect in his living in the moment a great Tao master, but the orphan and refugee, Paddington, was my childhood companion. I still have all the books. Though I can’t help wondering if Paddington hasn’t let Hollywood turn his head a little.
Digested week, digested: Platty Joobs