Digested week: practice doesn’t make perfect for Boris Johnson apology | John Crace

Monday

With impeccable timing I managed to get Covid just a few weeks after the government announced that as far as it was concerned the pandemic was over. So, no more press conferences, no more nightly death tolls on the news bulletins. From now on we are all on our own, which is why I never bothered to confirm my lateral flow test with a PCR or register my infection online. The illness itself was not too bad. Hacking cough, flu-like symptoms, confined to bed for several days and brain fog. Certainly a lot less severe than many people I know who have had it. Though not as mild as my 98-year-old mother, who has just shrugged off Covid like a gentle cold for the second time. She’s made of stronger stuff.

Still, good to know that Sajid Javid thinks Covid is over.

Tuesday

For much of Spurs’ season I’ve managed my expectations. I never really believed our new manager, Antonio Conte, was a miracle worker and thought it inevitable he would quit in the summer once he realised how deep-rooted the club’s problems were. So I was quite relaxed when Spurs fell into the habit of winning one game and losing the next. My one regret was that during January and February I invariably went to see the losses. Watching Tottenham lose to Chelsea three times in as many weeks was a mental scar too far.

Then a weird thing happened. Spurs bought two players – Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski – who could actually play. We started not just winning but also playing attractive football. A place in the top four of the Premier League became ours to lose. I started to get nervous. This was a vertigo moment. Sure enough, Spurs chose last Saturday’s home game against Brighton to play their worst match of the season. In a fairer world the club would pay the fans to watch that rubbish. I left the ground with a familiar sense of despair. The next few weeks are going to be trying.

Wednesday

Over lunch, a friend, who is a George Orwell expert, drew my attention to a few items in his possession. The first was a letter sent by Orwell in 1936 to a Michael Fraenkel, asking for a copy of his new book, Bastard Death, which he had heard was reminiscent of Henry Miller (a writer whom Orwell much admired), so he could review it for the New English Weekly.

The review was less than enthusiastic, with Orwell saying he found Bastard Death almost unintelligible. “It was hardly a novel at all,” he wrote. Rather it was a series of paragraphs with no very apparent connection. However, the review prompted Orwell to write another letter to Fraenkel – also in my friend’s hands – to explain his critique.

“I would have written earlier to thank you for your book,” he wrote. “I am sorry to say that I did not understand very much of it. I am afraid it is above my head, but I’m going to have another go and see if I understand it better on a second reading.” He concluded by advising Fraenkel to write to the New English Weekly saying that Orwell had not done the book justice and asking for a second review. So far, so a bit embarrassing.

But the killer item in my friend’s possession is the inscribed copy of Bastard Death Fraenkel had sent to Orwell. It is almost pristine. So much so that it’s clear Orwell never got more than a third of the way through – at best – as many of the later pages have not been cut open. So much for giving Bastard Death a second reading. Orwell didn’t even give it a first reading. And the towering conscience of his generation might possibly have written reviews of books he hadn’t read.

Thursday

You would have thought Boris Johnson, aka The Convict, might be quite good at apologising. After all, he’s had a lot to say sorry for: to wives, family, friends, colleagues and the country. Now he finds himself having to apologise for his criminality. And doubtless will again when he inevitably receives further fixed-penalty notices for more egregious breaches of the law. But though Johnson has improved a little bit in the delivery, he still couldn’t manage to sound entirely sincere when he apologised to the Commons on Tuesday. And he couldn’t bring himself to admit he had knowingly misled MPs.

What’s more, the repentance was only skin deep. As soon as he was away from the Commons chamber he went off to address Tory MPs at the 1922 Committee. There, by all accounts, he was a lot more bullish, minimising his conviction and laying into the BBC and the Church of England for not being more complimentary about his Rwanda refugee policy. By Wednesday, he had moved on to instructing the paymaster general, Michael Ellis, to dream up a wrecking amendment to delay any parliamentary inquiry into claims he misled MPs, only to have to fold when the whips told him they couldn’t guarantee MPs would back the amendment.

Friday

Liam Gallagher has told Mojo magazine that he is in constant pain from acute arthritis in both hips. Doctors apparently told the former Oasis singer that he needed both hips replaced but Gallagher, 49, says he would rather endure the pain and be in a wheelchair than risk dying under anaesthetic.

This seems a bit extreme: hip replacement surgery is classified as a routine procedure with good outcomes. Yet part of me sort of understands, not because I might croak but because the benefits are oversold. I’d had a bad knee since my teens and had had many operations, including a bone graft. By my early 50s I was in constant pain and the surgeon said I was out of options. But not to worry, he said, the whole thing would be a breeze and I’d be up and about in no time. With any luck I’d even be able to play tennis again. Only it wasn’t quite like that. The op itself was something of a doddle, but the recovery was anything but. It took months of hard physio before I could walk vaguely normally and I have never been able to exercise properly again. The whole process really took it out of me and I said that if my other knee gave out I would stick with the pain for as long as possible. More than 10 years on I haven’t changed my mind.

Digested week, digested: “Sorry for getting caught.”

‘Of course there were no parties in No 10.’ Photograph: Dan Kitwood/PA

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