Digested week: never enough tissues for the school carol service

<span>Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA</span>
Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA


Those crazy guys and gals at the Oxford English Dictionary have announced that 2023’s Word of the Year is – lexicographical drum roll please, which I somehow imagine to be timorous and just off any possible beat! – Rizz. No, I know, me neither! Apparently it is very popular with the young folk and refers to someone’s romantic appeal or charm. Think of it as anywhere between “game” or Clara Bow’s “It” depending on the last decade you ever looked at someone and thought “would”.

“Rizz” is thought to be short for “charisma” and I find myself old enough to be torn between fond feelings towards Gen Z for their wordplay and charmed (rizzed? No) by the ability of language to evolve and adapt to time and mood, and feeling like I want to scream at them for having an attention span, communicative mode and attitude that cannot even be bothered to give a full word – and one as lovely as “charisma” – its due. Did Cary Grant have “rizz”, I want to ask? No, he had charisma. Sidney Poitier? Gregory Peck? Does George Clooney, to use a name you might possibly have heard of, have “rizz”? No, he has charisma.

I have disturbed the rugs on my bath chair. I shall have myself wheeled somewhere quiet to take a draught of Sanatogen and recuperate. My apologies to all.


Sometimes my husband will come to me and express concern about a patch of dry skin somewhere on his appalling body, or a pain in one of the less important joints or something of that ilk. And I will look at him in a way that goes some way beyond hate and wonder aloud what it must be like to live a life so unfettered by real concerns, responsibilities, daily chores and so on that such things can make it on to a list of worries deserving of being vocalised to others.

I had much the same feeling when I heard the announcement by the Tory MP Bob Seely that he is planning to introduce a bill to parliament that would strip the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (that’s probably Harry and Meghan in your mental Rolodex) of their titles for their unbecoming conduct, which – unlike Prince Andrew’s lifestyle, say, or the terrific historical fondness for fascists among the Windsors – has done so much to harm the monarchy. It would be an amendment to the Titles Deprivation Act of 1917, for those of you whose eye-rolling hasn’t already concussed you.

I mean. WTAF, man. This is the dry skin patch of dry skin patches. Put some E45 on it in the privacy of your own bathroom and – I dunno – just get on with your actual job and life instead of this legislature-bothering. Get ON.


Christie’s auction house has added an explicit content warning to the entry in its catalogue for an etching by Rembrandt that depicts two mostly clothed people having a bit of a fumble in a four-poster bed. Bless Christie’s. This is another instance of the dry skin patch phenomenon noted above, but a more endearing iteration. Imagine living in a world, in this godforsaken year of 2023, with pornographic depravities of every kind accessible with a single click of a button, where one of your number can look at a 400-year-old picture of a couple in the foothills of having A Moment and reckon that the sensibilities of its audience might need a shielding hand. Imagine having maintained that bubble. Imagine the infinite fragility of it. Imagine what’s going to happen if it’s ever burst. Shattered pieces, shattered antique psyches everywhere.


Unesco has announced that Italian opera has been added to its list of intangible cultural treasures. I am delighted. Not because I am an opera buff – I have never seen one, partly because I am tin-eared and partly because I am naturally suspicious of romantic peoples, however profoundly they accord with my belief in pasta as a human right – but because I had forgotten about Unesco’s list of intangible cultural treasures and the utter joy that it is.

This is the place where the importance of things that do not have the solidity of a Stonehenge or the towering presence of a Taj Mahal are recognised. Last year they added the French baguette to a list that includes Nordic clinker boat traditions, the art of Romanian and Moldovan blouse embroidery, traditional Turkish calligraphy in Islamic art, and a glorious gallimaufry of other delights (possibly including the importance of the word “gallimaufry” to columnists suddenly experiencing a rare rush of warmth and enthusiasm towards the world). It’s a collection of the things that actually best define us, a list that reminds us that being human is not all bad – or at least hasn’t been in the past – and that we have it within ourselves to be good again. It’s a list of grace notes, really, amounting to another one almost in itself. Maybe it should go on its own list?


Handbag packed with tissues, fork to jab into my thigh at apposite moments and a miniature laminated copy of the Mangan Directive Against Emotional Expression. I am ready for the child’s school carol service.

Does anyone ever survive these things unscathed? I can now get through reception class singing Away in a Manger, then the hearty collective Good King Wenceslas restores equilibrium, until and unless In the Bleak Midwinter strikes. But however well the fork and I have done, Once In Royal David’s City still undoes me. Not so much the lyrics but because it reminds me of a scene between schoolgirl Nicola and the lovely old singing master Dr Herrick in one of my most beloved books of childhood, Antonia Forest’s End of Term. “Try to sing it with regret,” he tells her. “Once in royal David’s city. Not now, you see. Now we have only been pretending. But once, long ago, if we’d only had the luck to be there, just once this thing really happened.”

I didn’t believe that then, and I have never believed it since. But I wish I did, and I believe in people who do, and in the power of childhood books and beautiful scenes and all the forks and family directives in the world are no proof against it and I should have brought more tissues.