Jon Snow must have exceptional reserves of stamina. In an interview with Saga, the 75-year-old news presenter has been talking about becoming a father again two years ago. He feels completely at ease with a toddler around the house, he says. Almost as if the whole experience is stress free and there has been no discernible disruption to his routine.
It’s been over 30 years since my daughter, Anna, was born – her brother, Robbie, arrived three years later – and I am still carrying the mental scars. Endless interrupted nights sleep. Lying in bed, listening to one of them crying and wondering if I pretended to be asleep for long enough my wife might wake up and do the honours. Knowing there was a chance she too was awake and was hoping I might crack first and crawl along the corridor to put one – or both – children back to sleep.
As they got older, there were other challenges. Getting them out of bed and off to school. Trying to remember what they needed to take with them. The daily background terror of the childminder calling in sick and one of us having to completely reorganise our working schedule. Just the everyday stresses that every parent faces. I’d guess that more than 10 years of my life passed in a sleep-deprived blur where I was functioning at about 50% capacity. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Well, not much. I love the kids to bits, but it was hard work. I struggled to survive all this in my late 30s and early 40s. Doing all this again the best part of 40 years later seems unthinkable.
It’s time to enjoy the kids as adults. Then there are the existential crises. We’re talking death, here. Now, when I go to the doctor, she almost always begins by saying, “We’ll have to eliminate cancer first.” Back in the day, it was only me who thought I was dying. No, I’ll stick as I am and leave having children in their 70s to fitter men, like Snow. And one’s who are more optimistic about their survival.
Back in 2002, Stephen Hawking told his researcher Thomas Hertog that he had got his book A Brief History of Time all wrong. It had been written from the wrong perspective. Over 20 years later, that new theory is to be published next month in Hertog’s On the Origin of Time. Having been one of the few who actually read Hawking’s Brief History from cover to cover – as opposed to the millions who bought it – I ought to be alive to the differences in the new book. But I almost certainly won’t be.
The thing is I’m a sucker for any book that promises to explain complex scientific theories in terms a layperson can understand. I recognise there is a huge gap in my knowledge when it comes to science and I am keen to repair the damage. There is no virtue in my ignorance. Part of my bookshelves are full of introductions to physics and cosmology by Hawking, Brian Cox, Frank Close, Carlo Rovelli and the like, but I am still not much the wiser.
After 10 pages or so of Brief History, I was hopelessly lost. Each sentence would make some kind of sense on its own; but by the time I had reached the end of the paragraph, Hawking had lost me. I’m not even sure the problem was entirely me. There’s a reason some science is so difficult to explain. And that’s because it is so complex many physicists don’t fully understand it. Hawking himself seemed to recognise this as he twice rewrote Brief History, trying to make it simpler and more intelligible.
I still didn’t understand it in its third iteration. No matter. I shall buy Hertog’s book regardless. More in hope than expectation. Here’s Hertog trying to explain his new perspective. “Stephen and I discovered how physics itself can disappear back into the big bang. Not the laws as such but their capacity to change has the final word in our theory.” Mmm. Not a clue.
Lord Pannick first came to my notice back in 2016 when I was sketching the article 50 Brexit case in the supreme court. The king’s counsel was acting for Gina Miller and even to an untrained legal eye it was obvious he was a class act. He operated with a Zen-like calm and astonishing grasp of the detail and long before the court gave its verdict, I felt confident enough to deliver mine: he had made the barristers acting for the government look like half wits.
Sure enough, the judges decided the government had acted unlawfully. But even the best lawyers can only work with the material they are given. Boris Johnson may have hired Pannick and his team of three legal outriders – at a cost to you and me of an estimated £250,000: good to know Johnson intends to bleed the country dry till his dying breath – in the hope he could pull off a miracle for his appearance before the privileges committee. But no such luck. Johnson just about held it together for his 15-minute opening statement. Feeble though it sounded.
The kind of mitigation a brief might make for a client who was a known recidivist. Things really fell apart thereafter when the questioning began. The implausible excuses tumbled out. The ontological contradiction: an habitual liar could never be accused of misleading because everyone knew he was lying. No one had ever intended the rules and guidelines to be followed closely. He didn’t know the parties he had been to were parties because no one had told him they were. It all got meta: a former prime minister lying to parliament about lying to parliament.
Long before the end, it all got too much for Pannick. As his client imploded, he first put his head in his hands. He then leant back and rolled his eyes. A sure sign the game was up. When the country’s best £5k-an-hour lawyer can’t keep a poker face then you’re really screwed. That and when Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Fabricant are your sole support. Time to move on.
Finland remains the happiest country in the latest World Happiness Report published this week. Eight of the top 10 are European countries, though not sadly the UK. We have dropped a couple of places to 19th. Just how much work we’ve got to do to climb up the table is illustrated by some of the differences between us and Germany, in 16th that I found in a Twitter thread.
Average wages in Germany are £43,500. In the UK they are £26,200. In Germany, the state pension is 70% of your final salary; in the UK it’s a flat £9,627. Or 37% of the average salary. Then there’s the rental market. Rent on the average one-bed flat is 18% of an average salary. In the UK it’s 34%. Universities are free in Germany. A UK degree will cost about £30k.
As for crime, the UK has 38% more murders and three times as many rapes. Oh, and Germany has three times as many hospital beds per head of population. So much for the government valuing the NHS. Most people have looked at the happiness report and wondered why the UK was not higher. I see it differently. It’s a miracle we’re not even lower.
After all, even life expectancy is falling in the UK. Though not for everyone. Rupert Murdoch has just announced he is getting married again for the fifth time at the age of 92. He has rather optimistically said he is looking forward to them spending the “second halves of their lives together”. Which suggests he is planning on living to 184. God knows what number wife he will be on to them. Each marriage seems to get shorter than the last one. So by the time Rupey is 150 he will be getting married and divorced on the same day.
My favourite weekend of the year. This Sunday the clocks go forward and suddenly the world seems like a slightly less intimidating, less depressing place. No more walks home from the bus stop in the dark. It feels as if life is gently returning. Even the trees feel as if they have been ground down by the cold and the darkness: the blossom seems far later than usual this year.
Soon, too, there will be warmth in the sun and we will be able to sit outside in the evening. This is the time of year I live for. Two other things also lift my mood this weekend. The first is that there is no Premier League football. Normally I regard the international break as an irritating interruption to the real action. But right now Spurs are driving me nuts and it is good to have some time off from traipsing up to Tottenham to watch negative, clueless football that more often than not ends in disappointment.
We seem to be a club going nowhere. Yet another season with no trophies and yet another manager on the way out after falling out with the chairman. And bizarrely, no one at the club seems bothered. Or if they are, they keep it well hidden. The other highlight of the weekend is a new BBC adaptation of Great Expectations. I can’t wait. I’m a sucker for a period drama. Not least when the previews are winding up all the right people.
Various Daily Mail blowhards are outraged the new series dares to criticise the British empire. Charles Dickens would be horrified, they say. Except he so obviously wouldn’t. If he were writing today, the likes of Sarah Vine and Dan Wootton would be trashing Dickens for being far too woke for endlessly going on about social inequality. Then on Monday, the return of one of the best series on TV. Succession. Just one slight problem. I can’t remember what happened at the end of the last series. Time to do some homework.