Just over a week ago I headed to north London to watch Spurs take on Wolves. As we had recently lost to Chelsea (several times) and Southampton, my expectations weren’t high. Just a few signs that the players vaguely recognized each other would have been nice. But even that was too much to ask. Wolves took the lead early on through chaotic defence, lapped it within 20 minutes and Tottenham never managed a threatening shot on goal. At the final whistle, the person in charge of the sound system immediately turned up the music to cover the sound of boos from the few spectators who had bothered to hold on until the end. On the way back to the subway, Matthew and I wondered if the team had hit a new low. Going to matches was starting to become a chore. Without even the excitement of a relegation battle to liven things up. Just an endless tide of mediocrity. Then came Saturday’s match at Manchester City, which took even diehard optimists by surprise. A first objective to give you hope where you had none before. Check. An equalizer from City to remind you that it was only a matter of time before they scored again. Check. A second goal completely against the run of play to revive hope. Check. A disallowed third goal to ensure you aren’t tempted to relax. Check. A penalty conceded in the 90th minute to allow City to level the game and to convince you that a draw is not so bad and that you are not secretly devastated. Check. An unlikely winner in the 95th minute to steal the three points. Check. It was the classic Spurs. A seemingly pointless week and unable to see where their next victory will come from and the next beating the best team in Europe. And nothing in between. That’s why I love and support the team. But my God, it’s exhausting.
As Russian forces invaded the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, Boris Johnson’s decision to end all Covid restrictions was instead shelved. This was very confusing as it turned out there were two versions of the statement. One for Tory MPs in the Commons, who have been calling for an end to restrictions for months – in some cases years – and another at the press conference the Prime Minister held with Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance. In the Commons, Johnson, aka The Suspect, was positively enthusiastic. No one would need to self-isolate anymore and testing would end once people realized they were going to have to pay for their own tests. It was as if Johnson thought Covid was over. After all, if you don’t test, you won’t find any infections. From now on, everything would be a question of personal responsibility. Tory MPs loved it all, none of them questioning for a moment the wisdom of a man with no sense of personal responsibility urging the rest of the country to use theirs. Do as I say, not as I do and all that. The award for hypocrisy and sycophancy went to Matt Hancock. The man who had shown no restraint and personal responsibility in CCTV footage etched into the nation’s brain went out of his way to say the pandemic was over thanks to Johnson’s restraint and personal responsibility. How badly can he want a ministerial post again? The press conference was much more measured, with Whitty and Vallance pouring cold water on The Suspect’s boosterism. Omicron hasn’t been as bad as we feared, but we need to continue to be vigilant and be prepared to put in place tough restrictions again in the short term. And self-isolation was not a matter of personal responsibility, it was a national necessity. I know whose advice I took.
When my Twitter timeline started filling up in the new year with people posting a series of yellow and green squares, I had no idea what was going on at first. And when I found out that they were announcing their daily wordle scores, I thought that was just a useless demonstration and decided to avoid the game at all costs. But I have to admit that I recently started playing Wordle and became something of a convert. There’s something very satisfying about seeing the letters gradually turn yellow (right letter in the wrong place) and green (right letter in the right place) until you have all five green ones. It was my wife who started me one night about a week ago when she asked me for help with a note and I haven’t looked back. Now I even sometimes wonder if it’s worth staying until midnight to try out the new puzzle. I haven’t done enough Wordle to know if it’s gotten harder since it was bought by The New York Times, but I’ve already made some rules for myself. There are those who always use the same starting word – audio is popular because it has four vowels – but I like to start with a different word each time. Just to make it more interesting. And I don’t mind how many tries it takes me to get the correct answer. A recent response has been shaking. The K turned out to be my fourth guess. But shale, shame, shape, and shave were all equally good screams. And I still don’t post my scores on Twitter. Again.
My knee-jerk reaction to learning that the BBC was planning a new adaptation of Great Expectations starring Olivia Colman was much the same as Brenda from Bristol’s learning that there was to be a general election in 2017. Not another. Nothing against the book or Colman – I’m sure she’ll make a wonderful Miss Havisham – but the BBC seems to remake Great Expectations every five to ten years. So how about trying something new? A little later, I noticed on Twitter that author Philip Hensher felt much the same way, and since he’s much more cultured than me, I asked him which books he’d overlooked he’d like to see serialized. for television. Here is his selection. If you’re determined to stick with Charles Dickens, it’s been a while since The Pickwick Papers – Toby Jones would be a great Mr Pickwick – and The Old Curiosity Shop have been adapted. And Mrs Lirriper’s Christmas tales would make a fabulous 19th century ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ series. Anthony Trollope should also have a revival: Orley Farm and He Knew He Was Right would make cracking series. As would William Thackeray’s Pendennis – a story of big-city success – and Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, one of the most compelling novels of the 19th century. In the 20th century, there is The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen, Elders and Betters by Ivy Compton-Burnett, and The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor. Or how about Joseph Conrad’s Chance, an anti-capitalist maritime adventure and the greatest success of his life? Which books would you like to see adapted to the small screen? Or are you satisfied with the BBC repeating Great Expectations and Sense and Sensibility over and over again?
In his first Commons statement on Tuesday following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, MPs from all sides of the House widely criticized Boris Johnson for an inadequate response. Imposing sanctions on five small Russian banks and three oligarchs, all of whom had already been sanctioned by the United States in 2018, did not seem very dissuasive. On Thursday, after Vladimir Putin launched a new land, sea and air offensive on several Ukrainian cities, Johnson seemed to have pulled himself together, with a much broader set of sanctions, and it was obvious how much of an agreement there was. the share of almost every Commons MP on the UK’s response to the crisis. Hostilities over Partygate and mismanagement of the economy have been temporarily suspended. Not that everyone in Ukraine is feeling the love. President Zelenskiy tweeted that his country was now alone and needed more than warm words of support. Yet there was one British politician who made no secret of his support for Putin. Come on, Nigel Farage, who was at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida for his GB News show. Nige’s flashpoint was that the war in Ukraine was started by NATO and the EU deliberately doing everything possible to provoke Russia. Bizarre how Farage can support a brutal, imperialist regime actively involved in expansionism after accusing the EU of building an empire for decades. Then again, I guess Nige is still grateful for all the Russian support during the Brexit campaign. “None of this would happen if Donald Trump was still in the White House,” he said. Very well. The Donald would actively welcome Putin on the streets of Kiev.
Week digested, digested: war in Europe.