There’s a moment after I board a British Airways flight home when I feel I’m already there. It’s just before the first vodka tonic and just after the English papers are put in my lap. It’s a smug feeling of comfort and security. Think Julian Assange on entering the Ecuadorean embassy, before they told him he’d have to inflate his bed instead of his girlfriend.
My mate Jimmy Carr stares at me like a hypnotised child catcher from every front page. And it reads worse than he looks. “This is a serious matter . . . I’ve made a terrible error of judgement . . . Apologies to everyone.”
Jesus, Jimmy. What are you thinking? It’s obvious that this is his first scandal. Saying sorry is normally a great idea when caught offside. It’s helpful in a political scandal and obligatory in a sex scandal, unless you’re a member of the Catholic Church. But Jimmy, this is a financial scandal. Have you learned nothing from our bankers and politicians? You’re meant to front it out. Tell them you haven’t broken the law. You pay what is required. You do a lot for charity. And then wait for the Prime Minister to take the heat off by being a hypocrite. Instead of asking yourself, “What would Jesus do?” ask yourself: “What would George Osborne do?” Why? Because when you admit you’re wrong on personal finance, they normally ask you to pay it back. Cue silence on the tax arrangements of the entire cabinet.
My friend Toby invites me to my first T20 cricket match of the summer but rain stops play. We agree that the summer is now officially wetter than a book club reading Fifty Shades of Grey and look forward to Wimbledon, where a Scot will now have to play a Spaniard in a greenhouse. Conversation turns to the release of Salman Butt, the former Pakistan cricket captain jailed for bowling deliberate no-balls against England at Lord’s in 2010, who recently received a hero’s welcome on his return to Lahore.
The general feeling is that his early release is a good thing; the hero’s welcome a bad thing; and the jail sentence correct as it’s “just not cricket”. I agree wholeheartedly as I’m Irish and therefore genetically programmed to be two-faced.
That evening, I go home and look up what an English gentleman actually considers to be “cricket”. Turns out it’s this: if you don’t cheat at cricket, then it cancels out all the people in the world that you had to kill in order to have countries to play cricket against.
Hosting a comedy showcase in the Arts Club on Dover Street, London. I congratulate the BBC execs in the audience for the director general’s defence of their jubilee river pageant coverage. Apparently, it was unexpectedly wet.
“Rain in England, unexpected? Prince Philip almost caught his death. If he’d died, that would have been your fault . . .” The words are out before I realise that Prince Harry is grinning at a table to the left of the stage. My mouth becomes unexpectedly dry.
Belfast and the furious
Back in Belfast for a couple of days where all teatime talk is of the Queen shaking hands with her Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. Politically, it’s no big deal for Martin, as he believes the country he is Deputy First Minister of doesn’t actually exist. So it’s OK to shake the hand of his occupier who does. For the jubilee girl, it’s just another backstage meet-and-greet on the “Sorry one’s ancestors came” world tour. It’s been delighting audiences for decades now, especially in the subcontinent, and normally consists of the Queen politely apologising for once owning the country in question and the natives accepting graciously before performing a bit of a local jig. Hurrah. But Northern Ireland is a frightful pain in the arse as her name is still on the deeds. So Martin won’t get a sorry and she won’t get to see his Michael Flatley impression – awkward.
The problem is that making peace is the same as making war. Those who can do it possess one dominant trait: having no principles. That’s why Ian Paisley couldn’t get his head around it and Henry Kissinger got a prize for it. It’s why Bill Clinton almost broke bread in the Middle East and Tony Blair solved the Irish question by conveniently refusing to ask it.
By making peace in Northern Ireland, Blair knew that this uncomfortable handshake would come but he didn’t care. For him, it was all about the bigger picture of getting British troops out and ending a sectarian conflict. As opposed to Iraq, which was about putting British troops in and leaving a sectarian conflict. Before pulling the troops out again and pretending that there is no sectarian conflict. “They’re all jolly nice people with an elected government moving forward together.”
So, in the future, who knows what enemy of the state the Queen will have to shake hands with, thanks to the pragmatism of her prime ministers? McGuinness is the easy one. Book me in for Abu Hamza. Remember, Iraq is just IRA with a Q on the end.
Playing for the Bailout Cup
I’ve stopped watching England matches in public. I cheer when they win and laugh when they lose, so for personal safety on Sunday night, I endure from my sofa. As Roy’s boys end up chicken Kiev, I breathe a sign of relief. There would be little joy in the build-up to an England-Germany semi-final. The hope, the expectation and the inevitable search for a sign would be too much to bear. From the colour of the jerseys to a bored octopus taking a crap on a flag of St George, in the past, any straw has been clutched. Thanks to Italy, we are now spared this purgatory and like a backbench Tory admiring the eurozone, we can now enjoy the pain of others from a safe distance.
And let’s be honest, England had no relevant business at this tournament to begin with. Don’t they know that this is the Bailout Cup? Germany against everyone else they pay for. The Irish performed like their economy and the Greeks like their politicians and so it’s now down to Spain, Italy and Portugal to repay Angela Merkel in goals. Don’t hold your breath. In the meantime, England supporters can get back to what they should be doing at this time of year – pretending that they want a Scotsman to win Wimbledon.