Just over a week ago, I headed up to north London to see Spurs play Wolves. As we’d recently lost to Chelsea (several times) and Southampton, my expectations weren’t high. Just some signs that the players vaguely recognised one another would have been nice. But even that was too much to ask. Wolves took the lead early on thanks to some chaotic defending, doubled it within 20 minutes and Tottenham never mustered a threatening shot on goal. Come the final whistle, the person in charge of the PA system immediately ramped up the music to drown out the sound of the boos from the few spectators who had bothered to stick it out to the end. On the walk back to the tube, Matthew and I wondered if the team had hit a new low. Going to matches was beginning to feel like a chore. Without even the excitement of a relegation battle to liven things up. Just an endless tide of mediocrity. Then came Saturday’s match away to Manchester City, one that took even the diehard optimists by surprise. An early goal to give you hope where previously you had none. Tick. A City equaliser to remind you it was only a matter of time before they scored again. Tick. A second goal totally against the run of play to reignite the hope. Tick. A third goal disallowed to make sure you’re not tempted to relax. Tick. A 90th-minute penalty conceded to allow City to level the game and for you to convince yourself a draw isn’t so bad and that you’re not secretly devastated. Tick. An improbable 95th-minute winner to steal all three points. Tick. This was Classic Spurs. One week seemingly useless and unable to see where their next win is coming from and the next beating the best team in Europe. And nothing in between. It’s why I love and support the team. But God it feels exhausting.
With Russian forces invading the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, Boris Johnson’s decision to end all Covid restrictions got rather sidelined. It was all most confusing as it turned out there were two versions of the statement. One for the Tory MPs in the Commons, who have been clamouring for an end to restrictions for months – in some cases years – and another at the press conference the prime minister held with Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance. In the Commons, Johnson, AKA The Suspect, was positively gung-ho. There would be no more need for anyone to self-isolate and testing would as good as end once people realised they were going to have to pay for their own tests. It was as if Johnson thought Covid was over. After all, if you don’t test then you don’t find any infection. From now on, it would all be a matter of personal responsibility. The Tory MPs loved all this, with none of them questioning for a moment the wisdom of a man with no sense of personal responsibility urging the rest of the country to use theirs. Do as I say, not as I do and all that. Prize for hypocrisy and toadying went to Matt Hancock. The man who had shown no self-restraint and personal responsibility in the CCTV footage that is seared on the nation’s brain went out of his way to say that the pandemic was over thanks to Johnson’s self-restraint and personal responsibility. How badly can he want a ministerial job again? The press conference was much more measured, with Whitty and Vallance pouring cold water on The Suspect’s boosterism. Omicron hadn’t been as bad as we had feared, but we must continue to be vigilant and be ready to implement severe restrictions again at short notice. And self-isolating wasn’t a matter of personal responsibility, it was a national necessity. I know whose advice I believed.
When my Twitter timeline started to fill up in the new year with people posting a series of yellow and green squares, I didn’t have a clue what was going on at first. And when I did discover they were announcing their daily Wordle scores, I thought this was just pointless showing off and decided I was going to avoid the game at all costs. But I have to confess that recently I’ve begun playing Wordle and have become something of a convert. There’s something very satisfying about watching the letters gradually turn yellow (right letter in wrong place) and green (right letter in right place) until you have all five greens. It was my wife who got me started one evening about a week ago when she asked me for help with a word and I haven’t looked back. Now I sometimes even find myself wondering whether it’s worth staying up till midnight to have a crack at the new puzzle. I haven’t been doing Wordle long enough to have a view on whether it’s got harder since it was bought by the New York Times, but I have already made up some rules for myself. There are those who always use the same starting word – audio is popular as it has four vowels – but I like to begin with a different word each time. Just to make it more interesting. And I’m not that bothered how many attempts it takes me to get the right answer. One recent answer was shake. The K happened to be my fourth guess. But shale, shame, shape and shave were all equally good shouts. And I’m still not posting my scores on Twitter. Yet.
My gut response on hearing that the BBC was planning a new adaptation of Great Expectations with Olivia Colman was much the same as Brenda from Bristol’s on hearing there was to be a general election in 2017. Not another one. Nothing against the book or Colman – I’m sure she will make a wonderful Miss Havisham – but the BBC seem to remake Great Expectations every five to 10 years. So how about trying something new? A while later, I noticed on Twitter that the author Philip Hensher felt much the same way and, as he is much better read than me, I asked him what books that had been overlooked he would like to see serialised for TV. Here’s his selection. If you’re determined to stay with Charles Dickens, it’s been a while since either The Pickwick Papers – Toby Jones would be a great Mr Pickwick – and The Old Curiosity Shop have been adapted. And Mrs Lirriper’s Christmas stories would make a fabulous 19th-century “Keeping Up Appearances” series. Anthony Trollope is also due a revival: Orley Farm and He Knew He Was Right would make cracking series. As would William Thackeray’s Pendennis – a story of making it in the big city – and Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, one of the most compelling novels of the 19th century. Moving into the 20th century, there is Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart, Ivy Compton-Burnett’s Elders and Betters and Elizabeth Taylor’s The Soul of Kindness. Or how about Joseph Conrad’s Chance, an anti-capitalist seafaring adventure and the biggest success in his lifetime? What books would you like to see adapted for the small screen? Or are you happy with the BBC endlessly repeating Great Expectations and Sense and Sensibility?
During his first Commons statement on Tuesday following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, MPs from all sides of the house widely criticised Boris Johnson for an inadequate response. Imposing sanctions on five small Russian banks and three oligarchs, all of whom had already been sanctioned by the US back in 2018, didn’t seem much of a deterrent. Come Thursday, after Vladimir Putin launched a further ground, sea and air offensive on several Ukrainian cities, Johnson appeared to have got his act together, with a far more wide-ranging set of sanctions, and it was noticeable how much agreement there was from almost all MPs in the Commons about the UK’s response to the crisis. Hostilities over Partygate and the mismanagement of the economy were temporarily put on hold. Not that everyone in Ukraine was feeling the love. President Zelenskiy tweeted that his country now stood alone and needed more than warm words of support. Still, there was one British politician who made no secret of his support for Putin. Step forward, Nigel Farage, who was at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida for his GB News show. Nige’s hot take was that the war in Ukraine had been started by Nato and the EU deliberately going out of their way to provoke Russia. Weird how Farage can support a brutal, imperialist regime actively involved in expansionism after having accused the EU of empire-building for decades. There again, I guess Nige is still grateful for all the Russian support during the Brexit campaign. “None of this would be happening if Donald Trump was still in the White House,” he said. Quite right. The Donald would be actively welcoming Putin on to the streets of Kyiv.
Digested week, digested: war in Europe