My item in last week’s diary about being mortified to be offered a seat on the tube generated an unexpectedly large response. The overwhelming majority of replies were sympathetic to my cause – getting old is bad enough as it is without everyone else joining in to point out your decrepitude.
A colleague emailed to say he could trump my story. He was minding his own business when a woman stood up and gave up her seat for him. It was only when he had sat down that he noticed the woman in question was eight months pregnant. He was totally mortified and fled the scene at the next stop.
Others have suggested I be a bit less churlish – that I should accept I look as though I am falling apart and take the kindness of strangers with good grace. They quite rightly pointed out that if all old people behaved like me, the young would never be nice to any of us again.
The most helpful response came from a female reader, who emailed to say that her way of avoiding the problem was to wear headphones on the tube.
She argued that not only do they make wearers look years younger, they also deter people from approaching you as they assume you are in a world of your own. So from now on it’s Mozart’s Requiem on every tube journey for me. There’s nothing I like more than preparing my ideal funeral.
Brexit is rapidly making fools of us all. Even the attorney general. During a two-and-a-half-hour statement to the Commons on why he didn’t think the government was obliged to publish his legal advice that parliament had instructed it to do, Geoffrey Cox’s syrupy baritone went through its full repertoire.
It was an electrifying performance. So many ministers can barely remember their own names at the dispatch box, but Cox gave us everything from his Laurence – dear, dear Larry – Olivier, though his quavering second-rate music hall Henry Irving, complete with expansive arm gestures and quavering voice for added sincerity, to his Frankie Howerd pantomime dame. To no avail.
It might have worked on a jury, but the MPs were less impressed. Even one of the best-paid QCs in the country struggled to square his insistence that there was absolutely nothing of any interest in his legal advice, other than what he had already disclosed, with his later assertion that it wouldn’t be in the public interest for him to release his full legal advice.
The following day Cox was back in parliament – he arrived seven minutes late, thereby saving the country £200 – to hear his reviews as the Commons debated whether the government was in contempt. When the verdict came in, Cox looked utterly crushed. His Lear would never get a West End transfer.
We all have our guilty secrets. Mine is that I have a soft spot for the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. Most romcoms leave me cold – something that frequently makes me a pariah in the family at Christmas – but I can always make an exception for Four Weddings.
It takes me back to a softer, gentler place. A time when Hugh Grant didn’t spend a lot of his time being a bit of an arse. It may be a masterpiece of manipulation but the comic set pieces still make me laugh and the Stop the Clocks funeral speech always makes me cry. So I am thrilled Richard Curtis has rustled up most of the surviving cast to make a short update for next year’s Comic Relief.
Details are so far thin on the ground, though we are promised a fifth wedding. If so, I can only hope the update is called Five Weddings, a Funeral and a Divorce. Because the one flaw in the original film was Carrie, played by Andie MacDowell. Carrie was one of the most annoying people imaginable and I could never understand quite what Charles saw in her. An hour or so in her company was more than enough for me. So if Charles and Carrie have separated, and Grant goes on to do what he always should have done and marries Kristin Scott Thomas, then it will be the perfect ending.
There are now just three weeks until my daughter, Anna, leaves London to move to the US with her husband. It is a strange, bittersweet time of limbo – the lucky woman is getting all sorts of last-minute treats, such as going to see Spurs on Boxing Day – in which our happiness in her life choices is tinged with sadness that we won’t be seeing so much of her.
Even so, one of the advantages of getting on a bit is the knowledge that my work as a parent has largely been done and that both our children have turned out to be people I not only love – that is rather a given – but like and admire. They both seem so much more grown up and accomplished than I was at their ages.
There’s also the off-chance that they might start to get a bit cheaper from here on in. A recent survey found that some parents are shelling out £50 on presents for their children’s teachers for Christmas. Presumably in a desperate attempt to boost their grades.
My wife and I never went beyond a cheap bottle of wine, and even then only for the teachers Anna and Robbie actually liked. On one parents’ evening, a teacher just recited a long list of things which Robbie was doing badly. After a few minutes, I interrupted him and asked: “Is there anything Robbie can do well?”
The teacher paused for a while before saying: “Not that I can think of?” When we reported this back to Robbie later that evening, he said: “Well, he can sod off, for a start.” We knew then that Robbie was a good judge of character.
Brexit madness (part … well, you can fill in your own number). It turns out I am far from the only person who jolts awake thinking about Brexit, spends most of the day thinking about Brexit, goes to bed thinking about Brexit and has anxiety dreams while asleep. Several other friends have since told me they are suffering from the same syndrome.
The reason is obvious. Politics is now operating on the level of the surreal. Each day provides some new level of insanity. Take today. We have three Tory MPs who have tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Act giving the UK more say in when the Northern Ireland backstop.
It almost certainly won’t pass, as the attorney general’s legal advice stated that the UK does not have the power to do this. And if it does, the EU will also want to take a rain check. Then we have the chief whip, Julian Smith, allowing ITV’s cameras into his office to film him trying to persuade the Tory backbencher and all-round nasty piece of work Philip Davies to vote for the prime minister’s deal.
A huge own goal. Far from a demonstration of the whip’s dark arts, what we saw was Davies saying no and Smith becoming increasingly desperate.
And now we have several members of the cabinet being sent out to every corner of the country to try to hand-sell Theresa May’s deal to a few bemused punters who have the misfortune to be in the same place at the same time.
Philip Hammond is going to a school in Chertsey, presumably to tell them why they won’t be able to vote in a second referendum. Liz Truss is going to a butcher’s in East Anglia to reprise her “Cheese. It’s a disgrace” speech.
Presumably the main point of the exercise is to keep the cabinet away from each other so they can’t plot the prime minister’s downfall. Something she is quite capable of doing by herself. It’s like we’re watching The Thick of It in real time. Someone make it stop.
Digested week, digested: “Alas, poor Geoffrey, I knew him well.”