So lockdown is eased, sparking one of nature’s most stunning spectacles: the great migration of the humans across the Ikea car park. The Swedish store has replaced Wimbledon as the perfect sport for people who don’t like sport. They even have the dawn queuing. Do you have tickets this year? I’m indifferent to the furniture but I do like to watch the arguments. Seeing couples becoming a singles match over a side table is a quintessential part of British life, like cream teas and the Conservative party polling over 40%.
Meanwhile, and all of a sudden, the government has announced that some of the most vulnerable people in the country can go outside again. “Government eases lockdown for shielders”, was the big news. And it’s hard to think of a more reassuring headline for this particular group, coming from this particular government. Maybe “Government asks shielders to help them lift a sofa into the back of a van”. “Government waves from storm drain at shielders looking for their paper boats”. “Government responds to shielders saying ‘Dominic Cummings’ into a mirror three times”. “Government asks shielders to check in at a family-run motel”. “Government asks shielders to engage a 1980s Wall Street bro to take care of any household repairs/tree surgery they’ve been putting off during lockdown. Contractor will provide own nailgun and chainsaw.”
I’ve no time for this theory that the government doesn’t care about having the worst death toll in Europe, based on the fact that they only robotically acknowledge it once a day by confirming how many people “have sadly died”. They do care, but just slightly shy of the amount required to tell a civil servant to visit thesaurus.com. The repeat formulation gives the impression of being governed by a Grammarly template, or perhaps an automated phone system. “You are currently number –” “SADLY” “– in the queue.”
On Sunday, it was Robert Jenrick’s turn on the sadface, with the housing and communities secretary released briefly for the press conference. He normally lives in a stock photo about online banking. Unfortunately, that environment seems not to have prepared Robert for questions about why the government is easing lockdown when they themselves said they would not do so until the official alert level was 3. “The alert level is changing,” Jenrick handwaved. “We are still at level 4 but we are transitioning to 3.” Is this like when I still haven’t done the ironing but I am transitioning to having done it? Have I, at that moment, done the ironing? No. Of course I haven’t. But I WILL have. Scientifically, it’s a hugely interesting space to be in. I call it participle physics – which is like particle physics, except Robert Jenrick can do it.
The above may already be my favourite tense, even compared to the football continuous. “What he’s done there, is he’s thought he could come out of his house, but he’s got blindsided by that flailing threat level, he’s taken some virus right up the nose, and he’s sadly died. You don’t like to see that, do you?”
Occupying a similarly liminal space is the new joint biosecurity centre, which is supposed to assess the alert level, and for which Matt Hancock raised his bullshit category to 5 on Monday. “We’re getting it stood up,” the health secretary blustered, as though it were an Ikea bookshelf, or a news story that 250,000 tests had been conducted, as long as you count cake tests, smoke alarm tests, pregnancy tests and online personality tests. “It’s being formulated,” Hancock went on of the biosecurity centre. “It’s being pulled together.” Sounds like it. Let us know if you need an Allen key. (Speaking of the ironing, these days my system is to do it during the 5pm Downing Street briefing. I find it helps to press down on something.)
Staying with the good news, Priti Patel and Alok Sharma have reportedly been drafted in to “beef up” the virus war cabinet. So this brains trust now comprises Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Hancock, Patel, Dominic Raab and Sharma. If you had to compare it to Harold Wilson’s kitchen cabinet, I guess you’d say it would be outperformed by the table. If they wanted to beef it up further they could buy 500g of mince. Or a gelatine sachet.
Rumours of beef among the beefed-up have been debunked, however, with the Sunday Times scotching the idea that Raab had punched Cummings in a fight broken up by Gove. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but one does sometimes wonder if the male temperament is quite suited to roles in public life, what with their hormones. Sorry, hormone. For balance, and to bolster any snowflakes melting at that joke, I’d like to add the progressive view of Darren Grimes. Darren’s a Conservative and Brexit campaigner, and the third brother Jedward refuse to talk about. In April, he endorsed Dominic Raab’s view of Boris Johnson as a fighter. “Raab would know this,” he judged. “He’s a karate black belt that trained and fought so hard he had to have a hip replaced.”
Moving on to middle-class etiquette black belt Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader has pushed for the full return of MPs to Westminster today and beyond. Having found the one place where he feels he fits in, Rees-Mogg is demanding it be reassembled the way he likes it, no matter the potentially deadly costs to disabled and vulnerable MPs or those they care for. He is assisted by the likes of Tory backbencher Christopher Chope, whose chief claim to fame is blocking a bill to criminalise upskirt photographs, apparently to make some philosophical point about something or other. What an out-and-out Cnut. On Monday, Chope could be found dismissing the 2-metre social distancing rules as mere “guidance”, and suggesting that MPs were some kind of exception to them. Can he not he just use a 2-metre selfie stick like any normal committed pervert?
As for the ongoing deceit over the alert level, it has now emerged that chief medical officer Chris Whitty refused to lower it, and thus allow his science to be led by the government. But by now you’ll already be working on the principle that there’s one elite threat level, and another one for the rest of us. All-powerful strategist Dominic Cummings is currently operating on an alert level of minus 5, connoting that he denies the existence not simply of the virus, but of China itself, and has powers to make you lick the railings outside a primary school if you wonder if no-deal Brexit is still the genius idea it once was.
Still, it’s great news that Boris Johnson hasn’t had to lose this Carnival Richelieu, this Otto von Jizzmark. I don’t want you to read anything into the fact that alongside Cummings, last week’s other highest-profile person to break the local lockdown rules was a 28-year-old Belgian princeling. This is sadly how we live now, no matter how wrong the public think it is. But sadly, you know? Definitely sadly.
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist