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Blog Number 18 [Tuesday 28 April] 

The PM is back, fighting fit and raring to go. Hooray! Enough of the ersatz shower, all those diminutive politicos, Raabie, Mikey, Mattie, Aloky and Pritti, we have the one and only Boris back at the helm. Nothing like a good English name, and indeed Boris is nothing like one. The name comes from the east, possibly Russian, Bulgar [like the wheat] or Turkish where it means, Google informs me, “short,” “wolf” or “snow leopard.” Yes to the first two, not sure about the snow leopard. There have been a few famous Borises, a martyred Russian saint, a Bulgarian king, a drunken Russian President, and the one perhaps closest to our PM’s heart, Boris Becker, he of the famous broom cupboard.

Blonde thatch suitably tousled, the PM shambled to the lectern outside No 10 and delivered a rabble-rousing speech. Except he didn’t want the rabble [us] to rouse at all. Fists pumping, arms flailing, he told us to stay at home. It was his finest hour. Had his brush with death changed him? Too soon to tell. There were no jokes, no mention of flattening the sombrero or similar light-hearted comments. Nothing off script. This is serious Boris or as serious as he can be given the man/boy he is. He talked of transparency – I’ll believe it when I see it. He talked of working with the opposition – ditto. No specifics but he’s not a details sort of guy. He’s already talked to the important people, the Queen and Donald Trump, hopefully not in the same Zoom call. And acknowledged the debt he owed to the stand-in leader who had done such a great job in his absence, Captain Tom Moore. He resisted a rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and shambled back into No 10. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Unfortunately, the man in question is named Boris, not Winston. 


Anyone else finding they are running out of things to say on Zoom? Last night was Marzillier Family Zoom night only the convenor failed to show. Candidly, she admitted she had forgotten. She had 6-year-old twins to deal with so she was forgiven. In her absence her older sister stepped up. Since we had all been confined to barracks for the weekend, there was nothing new to say. We ended up asking each other what we were reading. And as both Kate and M were still reading The Mirror and the Light, it came down to me to enlighten the others. 

‘I’m reading four books. Or is it five?’

He is,’ said M. ‘They’re scattered round the house, a book in every room.’

‘Well, you don’t know when you might suddenly need to read something.’

In the past M had taken to clearing up the detritus I left behind me. A sweater casually draped over a chair would disappear into the wash. A half-empty glass into the dishwasher. A pair of shoes migrated back to the wardrobe. I used to joke that I’d better not sit in one place too long in case I was swept up and put in the rubbish bin [Many a true word…]. Over the years she has mellowed and I have become tidier. [One part of that sentence is not true]. 

‘How can you read five books at a time?’ Kate asks. ‘And what are they anyway?’ 

See what I mean by desperately seeking a topic while Zooming.

‘I am reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Richard Holloway’s A Little History of Religion, Derek Walcott’s OmerosThe Oxford Book of Short Stories, and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. 

Lest you think I’m boasting about my prodigious reading capacity, the truth is simpler: I have a short attention span. And since the lockdown my concentration is shot to pieces. I pick up a book and 5 minutes into it, my attention wanders. I start thinking whether I should have my coffee now or wait another half hour. Or what’s for dinner? Or will I escape lockdown or die first? So, I put the book down and wander off to another room and try a different one. 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is admittedly the triumph of hope over experience. It had been in my To-Be-Continued [Non-Fiction] Reading Pile for two years. Eventually I moved it to a shelf, unable to bear the sad expression on Marcus’s face as he stared out at me from the cover. I suspect Meditations is a book rarely read to the end or even in some cases, the beginning. It is a series of numbered paragraphs, each one a jotting the Emperor made in a spare moment as he was out suppressing the Gauls or the Germans. My eye alights on a short paragraph:

Either you continue to live in this world, and you are used to that by now; or else you take yourself out of it, and that by your own desire; or else you die, and your service is completed. There is no other alternative; so be cheerful then.

Summed up: You are here, you will die, get used to it, be happy. It could be a message from HM Government, instilling us with hope and our absolute trust in their unbounded ability to fuck things up.

M wants to know whether Slaughterhouse-Five is any good. She’s looking for something to read after The Mirror and the Light.

‘It’s short,’ I say.

‘That’s not the same as good, is it?’

I concede this. The trouble is that telling M a book is good risks later incredulity at my complete lack of critical acumen. 

‘Depends what you mean by ‘good’.’ I learned this stalling strategy from listening to the Brains Trust back in the day when I had brains I could trust. 

‘Good is good and bad is bad,’ she says in a slightly exasperated tone.

And the cactus hurts my toes. [I’m channelling Bob Hope!] Fortunately, I don’t say this out loud.

‘I’m not sure it’s your sort of book really. There’s a bit of Sci-Fi. Aliens. And a planet called Tralfamadore.’

Nothing is designed to make someone want to read a book more than saying you think it’s not their sort of book. M takes the bait. 

‘I’ll read it next,’ she says. ‘It will be a change from The Mirror and the Light.’

‘Certainly shorter.’

Antidote 18

For want of anything better to do the Guardian has decided lists are the thing, in this case the list of the 100 best ever UK pop singles. And for want of anything better to do, I checked the first batch [100-90] out. Here are 2 classics from the ‘60s,

At 96, Roy Orbison’s It’s Over

And at 93, Del Shannon’s Runaway

Was Del Shannon so tiny they had to put him on a dais and have pony-tailed girls prance around him like red Indians doing a war dance? We need to be told.


  1. The dialogues with M are priceless, John. What that poor woman has to put up especially with all those books littering the house – I feel the need to start up a support group! And if you want my advice – you probably don’t but here goes anyway – you could usefully cut down on the number of books you are browsing at any one time, probably starting with the Marcus Aurelius (better in the original anyway if you were to ask Bahram’s advice). And what on earth are you doing with a history of world religions?! I know you have sampled a huge range of political parties in your time but religions?! If you are seriously going Buddhist or Hindu, your readers should be told.

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