Gastric distress

I fail to see how viewers could be expected to believe in a heroine who wouldn’t fall for a man with

Well, that’s the next book done, then… It’s always a complete anti-climax when a book’s finished. You’ll pootle about your flat afterwards with a numb/emptied feeling, then send if off before beginning the enormous wait for anyone to get back to you.

The pause left at this point always being far too long – even if it’s only a few hours (not that it ever is only a few hours, you’ll understand – despite that fact that it is physically possible to read a book in a few hours…)

Sadly, even though your new volume has been pressing on your brain like a venomous tumour for months and months, no one else is really that bothered about it – even if they’ve been expecting it, have paid a bit in advance for it and made mumbly nearly interested noises when you’ve ranted on about it. (That’s what your agent and editor are for – to provide mumbly noises.) The level of caring about my books tends to drop off from

ME – 347 per cent

My readers – between 100 per cent and 102 per cent - but there are only 12 of them. And some of them scare me. And some of them only touch/stroke the books, they don’t actually read them…

My agent and Editor – between 75 per cent and 76 per cent apportioned in rotation between authors according to alphabetical arrangement, height and availability of biscuits.

Other readers – 6 per cent

My pals – 4 per cent (They have a lot of other things on their minds.)

Other comics in clubs – 2 per cent (And they’re faking that.)

Other people I meet as I go about my life – 0.8 per cent

Other people in the world – 0.0 per cent

As it happens, I hammered the book’s last sentence into place while an Austrian camera crew fiddled with lights, set up for an interview and then looked on politely as I growled into my laptop and waggled my head twitches in combination with a hearty – I’LL BE WITH YOU IN A MINUTE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS BUT I AM ACTUALLY JUST NOW FINISHING A BOOK, EXACTLY AS I SPEAK – AM I SPEAKING ? – ANYWAY, I’LL JUST DO THIS – AND THIS - AND THEN THAT. DEAR GOD, WHAT WAS I THINKING ? I MEANT THIS ! OH, JUST AT LEAST LOOK INTERESTED COULD YOU ? THIS IS THE CULMINATION OF THREE YEAR’S WORK, YOU KNOW. AND KEEP WELL BACK, I MAY CRY.

To celebrate, I purchased – through the interweb – a pair of splendid electric blue and black suede shoes. I’m not generally much of a shoe person, but performing shoes are a good thing to have and these got two outings of comedy this week and managed to propel me across the stage with ease and stylishness.

This was a more than usually miraculous achievement given that my ear infection has returned (my body really does want me to just lie down for a while) and I am now on industrial strength antibiotics which are causing my digestive system, shall we say some distress. Suddenly doing a 20 minute set had to be carefully coordinated with the onceeveryfortyminute episodes of gastric distress. Ah, me – showbiz is so dandy.

And now I am waiting to hear about a book, a film and any number of BBC thingies – which is more waiting than my frame can stand. Frankly, my regular sprints to the bathroom are proving a healthy distraction. And there’s always the telly,,, which I rarely get to see unless I’m both at home and exhausted. I continue to enjoy the bewilderment and gallopy shouting which is The Devil’s Whore – although I fail to see how viewers could be expected to believe in a heroine who wouldn’t fall immediately for a man with a large facial scar, several mental difficulties and a metal hand.

Of course, many people in the days before thermoplastics, grafting and Hello had to settle for prosthetics made out of slightly unsuitable materials. George Washington had wooden teeth and Tycho Brahe had a metal nose. A potentially helpful mobility aid like a walking stick might be rendered attractive and yet dangerous by being made of glass. I imagine many period conversations running thusly:

“Why are you lying down there, my good man ?”

“Oh, you know… first I snapped my walking stick and now my toffee legs have melted. D’you think you could carry me home ?”

“I’d love to, sirrah, but my spine has been replaced with these bottle tops and strips of gingham so I’m not really up to heavy lifting.”

“I quite understand. Give my last regards to my lady wife – you can’t miss her, she’s the one with the paraffin ear and the woollen face.”

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

Daily Mail
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Who "speaks for England" - and for that matter, what is "England"?

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones.

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones. It trotted out Leo Amery’s House of Commons call from September 1939, “Speak for England”, for the headline on a deranged leader that filled a picture-free front page on David Cameron’s “deal” to keep Britain in the EU.

Demands that somebody or other speak for England have followed thick and fast ever since Amery addressed his call to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood when Neville Chamberlain was still dithering over war with Hitler. Tory MPs shouted, “Speak for England!” when Michael Foot, the then Labour leader, rose in the Commons in 1982 after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. The Mail columnist Andrew Alexander called on Clare Short to “speak for England” over the Iraq War in 2003. “Can [Ed] Miliband speak for England?” Anthony Barnett asked in this very magazine in 2013. (Judging by the 2015 election result, one would say not.) “I speak for England,” claimed John Redwood last year. “Labour must speak for England,” countered Frank Field soon afterwards.

The Mail’s invocation of Amery was misconceived for two reasons. First, Amery wanted us to wage war in Europe in support of Hitler’s victims in Poland and elsewhere and in alliance with France, not to isolate ourselves from the continent. Second, “speak for England” in recent years has been used in support of “English votes for English laws”, following proposals for further devolution to Scotland. As the Mail was among the most adamant in demanding that Scots keep their noses out of English affairs, it’s a bit rich of it now to state “of course, by ‘England’. . . we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”.

 

EU immemorial

The Mail is also wrong in arguing that “we are at a crossroads in our island history”. The suggestion that the choice is between “submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels” and reclaiming our ancient island liberties is pure nonsense. In the long run, withdrawing from the EU will make little difference. Levels of immigration will be determined, as they always have been, mainly by employers’ demands for labour and the difficulties of policing the borders of a country that has become a leading international transport hub. The terms on which we continue to trade with EU members will be determined largely by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels after discussions with unelected bureaucrats in London.

The British are bored by the EU and the interminable Westminster arguments. If voters support Brexit, it will probably be because they then expect to hear no more on the subject. They will be sadly mistaken. The withdrawal negotiations will take years, with the Farages and Duncan Smiths still foaming at the mouth, Cameron still claiming phoney victories and Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the dreaded Jean-Claude Juncker playing a bigger part in our lives than ever.

 

An empty cabinet

Meanwhile, one wonders what has become of Jeremy Corbyn or, indeed, the rest of the shadow cabinet. The Mail’s “speak for England” leader excoriated him for not mentioning “the Number One subject of the hour” at PM’s Questions but instead asking about a shortage of therapeutic radiographers in the NHS. In fact, the NHS’s problems – almost wholly caused by Tory “reforms” and spending cuts – would concern more people than does our future in the EU. But radiographers are hardly headline news, and Corbyn and his team seem unable to get anything into the nation’s “any other business”, never mind to the top of its agenda.

Public services deteriorate by the day, George Osborne’s fiscal plans look increasingly awry, and attempts to wring tax receipts out of big corporations appear hopelessly inadequate. Yet since Christmas I have hardly seen a shadow minister featured in the papers or spotted one on TV, except to say something about Trident, another subject that most voters don’t care about.

 

Incurable prose

According to the Guardian’s admirable but (let’s be honest) rather tedious series celeb­rating the NHS, a US health-care firm has advised investors that “privatisation of the UK marketplace . . . should create organic and de novo opportunities”. I have no idea what this means, though it sounds ominous. But I am quite certain I don’t want my local hospital or GP practice run by people who write prose like that.

 

Fashionable Foxes

My home-town football team, Leicester City, are normally so unfashionable that they’re not even fashionable in Leicester, where the smart set mostly watch the rugby union team Leicester Tigers. Even when they installed themselves near the top of the Premier League before Christmas, newspapers scarcely noticed them.

Now, with the Foxes five points clear at the top and 7-4 favourites for their first title, that mistake is corrected and the sports pages are running out of superlatives, a comparison with Barcelona being the most improbable. Even I, not a football enthusiast, have watched a few matches. If more football were played as Leicester play it – moving at speed towards their opponents’ goal rather than aimlessly weaving pretty patterns in midfield – I would watch the game more.

Nevertheless, I recall 1963, when Leicester headed the old First Division with five games to play. They picked up only one more point and finished fourth, nine points adrift of the league winners, Everton.

 

Gum unstuck

No, I don’t chew toothpaste to stop me smoking, as the last week’s column strangely suggested. I chew Nicorette gum, a reference written at some stage but somehow lost (probably by me) before it reached print.

Editor: The chief sub apologises for this mistake, which was hers

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle