DAY 58: Sun 10 May

A day inside watching movies and enduring Johnson’s waffle

After feeding the chickens early, again, and getting my news and political fixes I decided to watch something different while having my poached eggs.

I had been most impressed by statistician Professor Sir David Spiegehalter on The Marr Show not only explaining the figures about the impact of the coronavirus on death rates but also pointing out how the public are being misled by the figures used by the government. He was excoriating about officialdom’s misuse of data, and even manipulating his own words to suit their agenda. I can only hope some politicians listened and learned and will show some humility by respecting the public’s intelligence and giving us accurate and honest facts and figures. 

That is a vain hope if the interview which followed with Communities Minister Robert Jenrick’s is anything to go by. He prattled on with meaningless guff. I wonder if he ever listens back to what he says, and feels shame. I noticed he was sweating, and so he should. He looked and sounded entirely untrustwothy and out of his depth. 

For the first time in a while it is warmer inside than out, and I need something to distract me from the distressing sight and sound of useless politicians in a time of crisis.

I find City of Tiny Lights  on BBC’s iplayer. Not heard of it, but it turned out to be an intriguing little thriller. Riz Ahmed is the film’s main character and its narrator. He plays a conflicted private eye whose life becomes entangled in his latest assignment. Roshan Seth gives a quirky performance as his quirky cricket-obsessed father. Cush Jumbo is persuasive as a frightened sex worker who sets the story in motion, and Billie Piper turns up, as the lost love of the gumshoe’s life. With its property developers, fundamentalist Muslims, drug, prostitution, the American security services it has inevitable echoes of Raymond Chandler, and the moody lighting is pure noir. 

Mixing the personal and the political, and past and present added depth to a somewhat convoluted story – but it may have seemed that way because it was the most interrupted viewing I have ever had. Every few minutes my phone would demand attention, with neighbours, family and friends getting in touch. Serves me right for watching a movie in the morning.

One call is from my daughter who is going shopping, and later she turns up with the one thing had asked for – a rectangular plastic bowl to catch the ooze from my rotating composter (I dilute it with rainwater for use as a natural fertiliser in the greenhouse). I was able to pass on to her plants I have been cultivating – three different sweet potato plants and a New Zealand Oca – new vegetables for our lockdown gardening.

Once the film was over end – it ends with a cheerful English Christmas lunch – the iplayer switched to The Thick of It which I had been bingeing days before. I had never seen the defenestration of Malcom Tucker befor,e and Peter Capaldi’s transformation from cock of the walk to defeated balloon was impressive. I had to restrain myself from carrying on to watch Series 4.

Instead I got on with 45 minutes of exercise listening to David Spicer’s Munchausen on Radio 4 Extra with a standout performance by Alistair McGowan playing all the parts in a fantastical romp through the creation of Luxembourg and the game of golf, to the collapse of Wall Street, the invention of nuclear fission and the prevention of world war there (and four). It took the pain out of the cycling and walking (machine). 

Waiting for the ‘Big Announcement From The Presidential Palace’ (No.10 Downing Street for those who haven’t noticed that Boris Johnson has adopted a presidential stance), I peeled potatoes in readiness for a supper of roast vegetables and a ‘game burger’.

Johnson was all puff and nonsense as was to be expected, but managed ti get through his confusing message without using the terms ‘unprecedented’ or ‘ramping up’ which rather surprised me. Perhaps his cunning advisor Cummings had warned him they have been over-used and he needed to appear original. 

Original can, of course, mean eccentric, and Johnson’s past behaviour and pronouncements easily fit him into that category. News that he had recorded his message before meeting with his Cabinet cronies cannot have endeared him to those whose loyalty he needs.

His frankly ludicrous new message ‘Stay Alert’ and the switch in colour scheme from red to green is bound to lead to confusion at a time when clarity is key. Johnson has taken a leaf out of Trump’s book, trying to get to the public unmediated, even avoiding the scrutiny of elected representatives in parliament. I imagine he will be held to account in the court of public opinion, especially if his ambiguity leads to a second spike in coronavirus deaths. If ever the value of independent journalism was in doubt, the danger of allowing leaders to spout without challenge has been evidenced by both Trump’s and his UK acolyte Johnson. (Not to mention Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Hungary’s Orban, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, the Philippines Duterte, Russia’s Putin, and Venezuela’s Maduro.).

After my meal, I turned to Netflix for company. I had heard that The Two Popes was worth a watch, and so it turned out. Truly magnificent performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, and an epic production even though it was held together entirely by a conversation between two elderly gentlemen representing the stresses within Roman Catholicism. For those of us who had high hopes after Vatican II way back the 1960s, and watched with incredulity as the church slipped back into the obscurantism of dogma, could not fail to be impressed by the clever way Anthony McCarten’s script pointed up the conflict between two traditions of belief. And the lack of explicit reference to the sexual abuse of children by allegedly celibate priests also reflected the way the church had fervently hoped that secrecy and silence would make the scandal go away. 

The film reminded me of another great fictionalised confrontation between diametrically opposed characters. Nick Hamm’s The Journey put Colm Meaney as Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness and Timothy Spall as the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader to the Democratic Unionist Party in the same car for an actual and metaphorical journey to Belfast. Colin Bateman’s credible script sought to explain how the old enemies were to become the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ as joint leaders of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont.

A satisfyingly stimulating end to the day. 

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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