Been there. Got the sweat stains

That’s today’s New York Times.

The story starts with my ‘early retirement’, which meant a substantial lump-sum pay-out. Daughter #1 had other fish to fry, #2 had already done her American summer (it seemed to feature cleaning and refilling ketchup bottles in Estes Park, CO) — which qualified her to determine much of the route. #3 was old enough to be bored, young enough to be entertained by word games.

So, to spend the loot we did our own American trip: two weeks East Coast, fly to Denver, three weeks circuit of the Western States. This in an insane velour-lined ‘double-upgrade’ with a Utah plate.

Thus we arrived at Death Valley and Highway 190.

At Zabriskie Point, we paused, out of misplaced respect for Michelangelo Antonioni and Sam Shepherd. The two daughters refused to join us scrambling up the bank to observe the celebrated view. They were complaining because we were, of course, adhering to roadside instructions to switch off air-conditioning to avoid over-heating. I was watching the oil-temperature closely. One look around the bleak outlook suggested their reticence was well advised.

Onwards, then, and Furnace Creek. Somewhere along the road we passed a jogger, doing it the hard way despite the heat. Inevitably, his small back-pack sported a Union Jack.

Furnace Creek is the Visitor Centre, and chilled drinks. That got the young ideas out of the car.

Then an encounter with the National Park Warden. He admitted to spending his winter in a ski-ing resort.

Somewhere there must be photographs of us by the thermometer‚ which my memory says was registering something above 120 degrees F.


Not so, we were told: ‘yesterday’ it hit 127.

After which, on to the balmy air of the Sequoia forest.

In passing, the ‘entertainment’ for #3 daughter on this trek involved Q+A on a listing of all the American Presidents: by that time we had just reached Bill Clinton.

I blame her addiction to US politics, her subsequent M.A. thesis, and much more on that.


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Location, Location …

That previous posting came down to class: the 11+ and grammar schools gave the aspiring lower-middle class a route into white-collar employment. And consigned the 80% who didn’t make it to hewing wood, drawing water. In many local education authorities there were fewer ‘grammar school’ places for little girlies. And those sweet, dainty mademoiselles, who suffered from earlier ‘awareness’, had a discriminating subtraction to make sure they didn’t squeeze out the lads from the places that were available.

This posting continues along similar lines.

Two houses, both alike in dignity, in fair Wells, Norfolk, where we lay our scene …My links to Wells are shown in other postings on this blog. I wouldn’t want to go back (but I have been, for as brief a time as possible); but there is a persistent nostalgia. Above all, I never quite get over cottages, which in my time sold for the bottom end of three figures, now going for well into six numbers. Hence a gobsmacked addiction to local property porn.

Now those two houses …

The terraced job on the left is:

A charming Grade II Listed period brick and flint cottage with 2 bedrooms, attractive gardens and first floor views out towards the sea. No onward chain.
… situated in a convenient location just a short walk from the quay at Wells-next-the-Sea with fine views from the rear towards the Pinewoods and Lifeboat Station beyond. There is well presented characterful accommodation comprising a sitting room with a wood burning stove, kitchen, dining area and a ground floor bathroom with 2 bedrooms upstairs. Outside, there is a small front garden and a lawned garden to the rear with a patio area.
It should also go, even without saying,
a much loved second home for the current owners and a successful holiday lettings business
It’s in Freeman street, which, in the days of my youth, was not the ‘nicest’ part of town. On 1st February 1953, the day after the Great Storm, the young me cycled down to take a look.
Many of those cottages were open to the sea view — the ‘Embankment’ had been breached, and the tide had got behind the older sea-defence (which itself had to be breached deliberately to let the waters escape). Salt water did massive damage to houses built by flints held together by lime and mortar.
I’d give small odds this charming Grade II Listed period brick and flint cottage is more brick to the rear, for just that reason. Were ‘Burnham Cottage’ mine, in mid-winter I’d keep a sharp eye on those ‘spring’ tides and flood warnings.
All along the coast you’ll see markers (as above). We’ve got a lot better in predicting these tragedies. We even expend money to prevent them. But the nature of the beast is, over time, we get careless; and water levels are ever rising.
In short, I’d not be easy spending in excess of £450,000 on this one.
The post-war brick job, on the right of that double image above, is in Northfield Waye at the other end of town. No: for once that not my clumsy fingering: they do thing different in Norfolk.
This comes from the same estate agent, same website as the Freeman Street cottage:
An ex-local authority house with 3 bedroom accommodation, driveway parking, an attractive south facing rear garden and views towards the sea. No chain.


ç is a semi detached ex-local authority house situated in a popular residential area within walking distance of the town centre at Wells-next-the-Sea with first floor views towards the sea and close to walks on the North Norfolk Coastal Path and East Quay.

Again the view (I’d reckon a better one, if one likes salt marsh), far more space. Probably built to a far-better standard. But Guide Price £325,000.
Obviously two reasons for that: the ex-local authority bit, and, hidden well down the description:
a restrictive Covenant which states that it may only be sold to a purchaser who has been resident in or worked in Norfolk for the 3 years prior to purchase.
That last being a reminder that Wells is already 40% holiday lets and weekender second homes.
So 40 Northfield Waye requires a 10% deposit of £32,500 and a mortgage of £1,300 a month. Compare that to the average Norfolk wage of £24,000 a year.

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Forgotten performers, the laughter of ghosts.

The Great Fowler, Christopher that is. The creator of the magnificent and — err — well-matched duo, Bryant and May.

Suzi Feay, in the current Guardian Review, warns me that:

This month London Bridge Is Falling Down, Fowler’s 20th Bryant & May crime novel, will be published, bringing to a close a much-loved series that started in 2003 with Full Dark House. The books feature the unconventional detective duo Arthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, who solve arcane murders whose occult significance baffles more traditional detectives. Crime fiction aficionados can amuse themselves by spotting references to classics of the golden age, whose plots and twists Fowler ingeniously projects on to the era of computers and mobile phones. Everyone else can enjoy the endlessly bantering and discursive dialogue between the pair as they break all procedural rules, and the uniquely droll narrative voice with its sharp-eyed slant on modern life.

Crime fiction is a very crowded genre. Anyone entering the trade has to stretch the envelope. Fowler described that:

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle conceived Sherlock Holmes, why didn’t he give the famous consulting detective a few more quirks: a wooden leg, say, and an Oedipus complex? Well, Holmes didn’t need many physical tics or personality disorders; the very concept of a consulting detective was still fresh and original in 1887.

Holmes certainly comes with quirks. Each of his successors adds a few more. Fowler, though, tops the list. It is hard to come across any characters so outré as:

John and Arthur, inseparable, locked together by proximity to death, improbable friends for life.

Nor an author who makes as if one of them is killed off on the first page of the first book in the sequence. Even Conan Doyle gave Sherlock twenty-six stories before despatching him (or not, as readers and revenue demanded) down the Reichenbach Falls:

Fowler adds another dimension: the trivia of London geography. In that first outing, he has Bryant and May located in the Palace Theatre, since 1891 that gloomy presence overlooking Cambridge Circus, and now since 2017 haunted by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. May:

located the theatre archive in a room at the darkest turn in the corridor. Within the cramped suite were dozens of overstuffed boxes and damp cardboard files cataloguing productions and stars. Dim light was provided by the bare bulb overhead. He glanced across the titles on the lids of the boxes and pulled out some of the Palace’s monochrome publicity photographs. Buster Keaton performing with his father, the pair of them bowing to the audience in matching outfits. The jagged profile of Edith Sitwell, posturing her way through some kind of spoken-word concert. A playbill for W. C. Fields starring in a production of David Copperfield. Another presenting him in his first appearance at the Palace as an ‘eccentric juggler’. The four Marx Brothers, gurning for the camera. Fred Astaire starring in The Gay Divorcée, his last show before heading to Hollywood.

The dust on the lower boxes betrayed an even earlier age. The infamous Sarah Bernhardt season of 1892; Oscar Wilde’s Salome was due to have been performed at the theatre, but had fallen foul of the Lord Chamberlain’s ruling about the depiction of religious figures. The legendary Nijinsky, seen onstage just after his split with Diaghilev. According to the notes, he had left the Palace after discovering that he was to appear at the top of a common variety bill. Cicely Courtneidge in a creaky musical comedy, her dinner-jacketed suitors arranged about her like Selfridge’s mannequins. The first royal command performance, in 1912. Anna Pavlova dancing to Debussy. Max Miller in his ludicrous floral suit, pointing cheekily into the audience—’You know what I mean, don’t you, missus?’ Forgotten performers, the laughter of ghosts.

Counting those lately missing in action: Henning Mankell, Colin Dexter, Sue Grafton, Philip Kerr, John le Carré …

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Alma matter

I’m just reading Ian Jack’s Diary for the current London Review of Books. Although he starts from a mention of Selina Todd on post-War social mobility, or the lack (and Myth) of it, being Jack, after one paragraph, he gives a sketchy outline of educational thinking in the 1940-50s. That segue is achieved through something less sociological, more human, more approachable:

On a Monday in late August 1956, somewhere around two hundred of us waited in the assembly hall of Dunfermline High School, wondering what would come next. We had stood to sing the day’s hymn and sat bent to mutter the Lord’s Prayer — the Scottish version, debts and debtors rather than the sibilant trespasses and trespass — and then watched as older children, familiar with the school’s routine, filed out to start their lessons. Now we, the new intake, were told which class we would be in. There would be four classes for girls and four for boys, their gradations taking up the first eight letters of the alphabet, beginning with class 1A for girls and 1B for boys. As names were called, children stood up from the benches and gathered at the front, until an entire class had been assembled. A, B, C, D, E and F were called, and I was still there, waiting with around thirty other boys until the girls of class 1G had been led away, leaving us to be identified as 1H. There was no lower rank and no avoiding the fact that we were considered the least bright children in the school, who only just deserved to be there. I remember the shame.


At Fakenham Grammar School, I found myself first in the pits of the C-stream: initial sheeping/goating (and something ruminant in-between) was done on the basis of surname. After a term I was elevated to the middle stream; and only at the end of Year One did I ascend the Olympian heights of 2A. For that accelerando, I blame a total inability to cope with French particles. Still: I have the Year One Geography Prize (a case-bound copy of Monty James’s Suffolk and Norfolk) to show for it.

Erasmus Smith and all his works

I repeated the experience some years later, switching from the English GCE curriculum to Irish Leaving Certificate at the High School, then single-sex and at the top of Harcourt Street. Thus I found myself, week one, sitting at the left-hand end of one of those antique school desks Wackford Squeers would have recognised (position determined by fortnightly evaluations). While in normal circumstances the back-row is my chosen place in life, I gradually edged out (though to add to my existential problem with French, I now added Irish).

My break-through came with Eng Lit study of Winter’s Tale. The shepherdess Mopsa makes a love-demand:

Come: you promised me a tawdry-lace and a pair of sweet gloves.

The master threw out one of those questions that I would later, as a practitioner myself, recognise as vamp until ready while discreetly checking end-notes:

Anyone know what tawdry-lace means?

There’s always a smart-arse. Reader, that day, he was I.

Probably because my copy of the text (we had to buy our own) was a venerable edition, with a compendious literary apparatus, and I, bored by progress, was squirrelling there. Onwards and forwards: by week six (after the third assessment) into the front row. Latin grammar, History, and a certain fluency in English, trumped the MFL blindness. Not that the plank seats were any more easy on the bum.

We all contain versions of such anecdotes: Josie Holford (whom I ought to acknowledge more frequently) gave hers in a blog, And of Course We Called Her “Nutty”. Delicious stuff, well worth the trip.

The sociology of it all

In the midst of his academic memories, Ian Jack drops the killer:

Matching a personal to a general history rarely makes for a perfect fit. Todd says that more working-class children at grammar school were influenced by their mothers’ experience than by their fathers’, quoting the findings of the social scientists Jean Floud and Albert Halsey that such mothers were likely to have ‘received something more than an elementary schooling, and, before marriage, had followed an occupation “superior” to that of the father’.

For me, that’s the essence. My mother also went to Fakenham Grammar School: somewhere I’ve a photograph of the hockey 1st XI. As a girl, in those days, there was no higher education. So she became a nurse and midwife. Her sons, she made sure, were the first in the family’s memory to go to university.

The moral of the story?

Jack final paragraph comes close:

My own schooldays ended in 1962. In the academic year 1962-63 only 3.56 per cent of UK school leavers went to university and I wasn’t among them. In those days you needed Higher Latin to study English at Edinburgh. As Peter Cook’s miner says in Beyond the Fringe: ‘Yes, I could have been a judge but I never had the Latin. I never had the Latin for the judging. I didn’t have sufficient to get through the rigorous judging exams.’ The change began soon after. ‘By the end of the 1960s,’ Todd writes, ‘the value of giving everyone greater opportunity ... was more widely understood, particularly when it came to education. But this lesson was learned at the expense of thousands of children defined as “failures” at eleven years of age. They paid a high price for the illusion of meritocracy.’ And, she might have added, Britain’s still industrial economy paid that high price too.

Edinburgh University’s loss was journalism’s gain.

Is there another ‘me’ who missed out on a different, less academic, but fulfilling life? What happened in that parallel existence where, driven into the locked toilet by fear of another days of French particles, I resisted my Mother’s winkling threat:

‘Well, stay there. And go and get a job on the railway.”


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Boris, not good enough

For almost a year, has had a thread,

Boris Johnson’s administration is smelling of sleaze

I suspect it flourishes because:

  • it represents an existential truth;
  • it plays to negativism, one of the main drivers of many posters there;
  • it kicks against the old enemy;
  • it anatomises one of the more bizarre characters in modern politics.

So, I am reminded that all the best Tory scandals concern sex — let’s identify that as 💋for brevity; while all the best Labour ones involve money 💰. Oddly enough, in both cases, the persons involved stick to, and ultimately resign (or are resigned) by the rules 📕. And, until now, I never thought I would fall for emojis.

Johnson is different, especially in his contempt for 📕.

Yesterday’s Guardian had a column by Heather Stewart, its political editor, Boris Johnson yet again avoids paying the price for his cavalier attitude. Her focus is her starter, the Mustique jolly and therefore mainly 📕, but with added 💋 and incidental 💰for zest.

Stewart listed:

  • Mustique: £15,000-worth of accommodation from the Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross. Ross, a vampire capitalist, says Private Eye and other sources, has a casual relationship with general 📕. Another dimension is the family fortune began with fish in Grimsby — so a touch of the #Brexits 🇪🇺.
  • The Lulu Lytle/Carrie Antoinette ‘tart’s parlour’ at Downing Street, initially financed by £58,000 from Conservative peer, Lord Brownlow. Brownlow’s contributions to Tory funds were £714,690 in 2017, and his elevation to the Lords followed some months later. So mainly 💰and 📕.
  • Jennifer Arcuri (always very much to the fore) gets short shrift on wikipedia. It suggests only a couple of bunces from public funds, and three overseas trips. Other sources go larger, and add in the hundred grand awarded to her firm. So a grand total of at least £126,000 for (admittedly) several years as Johnson’s grande horizontale. I’d award that another full house: 💋,💰and 📕
  • Then there’s Peter Cruddas, City wide-boy, commuting ex-pat, who acquired a Lords nomination on the back of (his own claim) £1 million to the Tories — though only a third of that can be actually accounted. When the Lords soured on his nomination, he sealed it with a further £50,000 — and Johnson casually over-ruled the objections. 💰and 📕.

Stewart skims lightly over:

  • Priti Patel’s bullying, which required a substantial pay-out to the bullied — 💰 and 📕.
  • Jenrick playing footsie with former pornographer Richard Desmond, to do down Tower Hamlets rightful community charges. £12,000 of Desmond’s £50 million gain to the Tory party, money well spent. More 💰and 📕— even Jenrick acknowledged what he did was illegal.
  • Re-treading Gavin Williamson as the most useless education minister in living memory. Williamson had been defenestrated from the defence ministry by Theresa May for security reasons. 📕.

Other highlights should include the catalogue of untruths Johnson has perpetrated from the Dispatch Box. No need to list them: Peter Stefanovic’s little movie does it 📕:

Not to mention Johnson’s decade-long tussles with the UK Statistics Authority. That goes back to his days as London Mayor, intensified over the spurious £350m a week for the NHS and continued over small matters such as Universal Credit 📕 Remember, folks, insisting on raw numbers makes one a ‘Labour stooge‘ (2011), or suffering from ‘amnesia‘, or guilty of ‘wilful distortion‘ (both 2017) 📕.

That’s not ‘smelling of sleaze’. It’s wallowing in it.

Personal confession: along the lines suggested by Noël Coward:

Elyot: Nasty insistent little tune.
Amanda: Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.

I have recurrent flashbacks to school poetry anthologies, and the tumpty-tumpty-tum stuff found there.

Yes, I know he was a bigot of the first holy water, and a near-fascist (his brother went the full trip), but Chesterton got so much correct:

It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.


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Around 1929, two linguists dropped a theory that we are limited in our appreciation by our personal semantics. The two were Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. This became the ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’. Or Whorfianism.

So an Eskimo is alleged to have multiple words for ‘snow’. Oh, argue that amongst yourselves: I’ve had to sit through lectures on semantics and stuff; and have no intention of revisiting.

Then I went to the back-page, and Will Self’s column, in the current issue of The New European. Available at all good newsagents, and cheaper in Ireland than in the UK. Self claims to have spoken to an advanced shop-lifter, ripping off high-end shopping parks. And this is the core matter:

… in the old-style London criminal hierarchy … hoisters are pretty lowly creatures, even if they are stealing from high-end outlets. Up above them ascends a perverse pantheon of peculation, with kiters (passers of stolen cheques and other fraudulent financial instruments), fences, conmen  and sundry other tea-leafs — all the way up too those ‘pavement artists’ also known as ‘the chaps’ or ‘the heavy mob’: those thieves inclined to enter banks or jewellers and at gunpoint relieve them of their cash and valuables. To be a celebrated ‘chap’ is to ascend to the paramount status and become a ‘face’.

Self says he learned that from his origins in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

His predecessor was Henry Mayhew. In London Labour and the London Poor Mayhew itemised in painstaking, even tedious detail:

the Condition and Earnings of Those that Will Work, Those that Cannot Work, and Those that Will Not Work.

At the pits of Mayhew’s hierarchy would be the mudlarks, pre-teenagers picking through the slime and effluent of the Thames banks for anything with the slightest value.

Down in the sewers were ‘toshers’, scavengers looking far valuables.

The ‘climbers’ were the (mainly, but not exclusively) boys climbing up and sweeping the inside of chimney flues.

At the start and end of working lives were the crossing sweepers, clearing paths through the mud and horse dung for ladies in crinoline skirts. The ‘dust’ they cleared would end up on “the Golden Dustman’, Noddy Boffin‘s dust-heaps behind King’s Cross. To understand that, we need to appreciate just how much horse-dropping fouled the streets of Victorian London (Lee Jackson estimates a thousand tons a day). Oh, and the ‘dust’ would be shipped up the Lee Valley to the market-gardens.

One more: ‘pure collectors’ — which must be the grossest euphemism of all. They hoiked up dog turds and delivered them to tanners, where the ‘material’ was used for dying and treating leather.

Above there I referred to Our Mutual Friend, Dickens’ longest, most complex of novels. It opens with Gaffer Hexam and his daughter Lizzie, rowing:

between Southwark bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.

Their search is for bodies.

When Dear Old Dad came back from the Second Unpleasantness, he was with Thames Division at Wapping. One of the river police’s tasks was bringing corpses, largely of suicides, to shore. He once recollected how, curiously, all those ended up on the north bank, because the coroner would pay a better honorarium.

There are probably Whorfianisms for all that.


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Another Irish first!

Luke McGee tweets:

The wikipedia link is about a project from 1869, which propelled passengers a grand total of a hundred yards. Mr Beach, its onlie true begetter was defeated by Mayor ‘Boss’ Tweed and a stock-market crash.

Let us celebrate Charles Vignoles (engineer) and William Dargan (the contractor) who took, and made work an 1839 patent trialled at Wormwood Scrubs. This was the Dalkey Atmospheric Railway, which operated for ten years from 1844. It gave Brunel the notion for his short-lived effort, the South Devon Railway.

Vignoles’s implementation worked, while Brunel’s didn’t. The difference was Devon rats, who took a liking to the oiled leather used for closing the vacuum tube, while Vignoles used a metal protection.

So we have a permanent reminder (and an instructive example of translation problems) where the Dalkey pump house once stood:



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The greatest hits

Today, Saturday, The Guardian has a supplement for its second centenary:

Good to revisit the glories of yesteryear: the take-down of Jonathan Aitken (He lied and lied and lied), cash-for-questions (A liar and a cheat), Edward Snowden, Murdoch’s phone-hacking, the Panama papers …

Like most pop-music top-lists (compare the changing face of Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums) , that coverage is tilted towards more recent history. Unlike such ephemera, a little anthology like today’s supplement rubs in the dystopias we have witnessed: Sarajevo, Haiti, the fall of Saigon, Rwanda, Eichmann. Interspersed are more uplifting moments: the end of the Berlin Wall, the election of Obama, seven pages (in the original, sadly not here) of San Seriffe.

At the foot of page 27, moment #65, is a classic Steve Bell cartoon from 1992:

There’s one in urgent need of an update.

For any who don’t recognise the Ur-source, that’s the Wobblies’ Pyramid of Capitalism:

I can be precise as to when and where I first encountered the Manchester Guardian. It was in the home of Alan Tuck, post-master at Wells, Norfolk. The Tucks lived at the bottom of Two Furlong Hill: Adrian Tuck was my contemporary at primary-school. For me, the son of a Daily Express reading house, that far-flung, exotic paper was something of a revelation. As soon as I was old enough, and certainly at TCD, The Guardian (Manchester being elided in 1959, but not from the trend of Neville Cardus’s cricket columns) was my arm-candy. Usually folded with Douglas Gageby‘s Irish Times.

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£840 a roll? Cheap at the price!

Yesterday I was forced into a video call.

Now, I’m quite happy with FaceTime on my ageing Mac, but this one involved a commercial operation. So I had, at their request, to instal a sodding Microsoft application, Skype and some Cisco thing. Which reminds me: some urgent deletions needed from hard-drive.

Then, for an extended period I was looking at talking heads (nice guy, by the way) and myself with my book background.

I’m not posh enough to have a ‘library’, so this is my ‘book-room’. Such terminology makes me feel more egalitarian.

Oh, and this is a working operation: what you see is what I get down from the shelves on a regular basis. Which is why there is precious little ‘order’. For the record, the three bays are (approximately) English history (Scottish and Irish out on the left-hand wall), European history, and American stretching into other nationalities

Vaguely then, this was the back-drop (face edited to protect the guilty):

Now you should, quite literally, see the point I’m driving at. It’s an agglomeration of decades of reading and acquisition. The Oxford histories (top left) came on marriage. There’s stuff from my time at TCD (high up on the side-shelves are Latin texts from even earlier). Even an odd Mr Man books from the childhood of one or other (or all three) daughters.

When we were first married a neighbour (this is metropolitan Essex, just so we all appreciate the context) asked ‘Had I read them all?’ The answer, strictly, would have been, ‘Not exactly’, on the basis that many books are there for filleting and reference, rather than a consecutive ‘read’ — those would be the fiction, now corralled on a couple of unseen bays.

At that stage of our lives we were probably unique among the locals by not having a car. The neighbour in that previous paragraph obviously did. In the moment of that conversation, my mind noted that our bookish expenditure, in capital and continued acquisitions, was likely to be not dissimilar from that of others on personal transport. And we didn’t have to polish the brute every Sunday.

Just now, from those American strips, I saw this:

Which must be the predicament of every locked-down politician, on television ‘remotely’, trying to look cultured and ‘smart’.

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Under a bushel

The London Evening Standard had an Ipsos MORI poll, flags it in yesterday’s sub-headline:

Downing St Sleaze and Questions Boris Won’t Answer

Tory lead slumps in exclusive Standard poll as ‘Drip Drip’ of claims continues to hit Party

That’s tasty, even steamy stuff. All the other pollsters are reckoning on a Tory lead of 9-12 percentage points.

What I ought to find odd is the Standard (or would, were I not aware of the paper’s ownership and leanings), having the poll bought and paid for, then hides it at the bottom of a complicated page 4-5 spread. This is the entire text relevant to that poll:

But Ipsos MORI found the Tories on 40 per cent, down from 45 per cent in March, three points clear of Labour who were on 37 per cent, down from 38.

The Liberal Democrats were on eight (from six), and the Greens unchanged at five. The data will dismay Labour MPs because they suggest Sir Keir Starmer has so far failed to capture voters getting disenchanted with the Government and the Prime Minister. Optimism about the economy is at its highest since August 2014, with a majority of 51 per cent predicting things will get better in the year ahead, against 36 per cent who think they will get worse.

Backing for the Covid vaccine roll-out remains sky high, with 86 per cent praising the Government for doing a good job, including 85 per cent of Labour supporters. Two thirds of people think the Government is relaxing coronavirus restrictions at the right speed. A fifth, 21 per cent, think the pace of unlocking it is too fast, and only nine per cent think it too slow.

Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos MORI, said: “Conservative supporters are feeling slightly less enthusiastic this month, which is feeding through into vote share, although there is little sign of much switching to Labour.” Former No 10 chief of staff Lord Barwell said Conservatives should beware a “tipping point” in the opinion polls. He told Today: “I suspect some people in No 10 will be worried about what else there might be to come. This morning’s headlines are an example of that.”

⬤ Ipsos MORI interviewed 1,090 adults across GB by phone from April 16 to 22. Data are weighted. Full details at [That link should lead you here.]

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