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Diary

Boris and Dave’s schoolboy rivalry is journalistic wishful thinking

Also in Harry Mount’s diary: Quebec’s sinking separatists; the north London dawn chorus; the bread-roll index

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

The Prime Minister is pretty angry with Boris. But the idea that they’ve competed with each other since school is wrong. Boris is two years older than Cameron — and differences in age are like dog years when you’re young. When I was 13, 15-year-olds seemed like grown-ups, 6ft tall with three days’ growth. When I interviewed Cameron last year, he said he’d hardly known Boris at Eton because he was in College — the scholars’ house — and two years above him. Cameron did remember Boris on the rugby field because he was so dishevelled and ferocious. And he watched him in a few debates at the Oxford Union. But that was as close as they got in their youth. I asked Cameron if there was anything in the idea of these two boys vying to be PM. ‘It would make a great book but it’s not true at all,’ he said. That won’t stop someone writing it.

Cameron added that he saw his relationship with Boris as ‘co-opetition’: they had arguments and discussions about all sorts of things but, in the end, they always tried to work together and find the right way through. This week, the co-opetition turned into straight competition.

My local paper, the Camden New Journal, reports that this month Ed Miliband returned to his alma mater, Haverstock School in north London. His speaking topic? ‘The skills necessary to succeed at work.’ Here’s hoping a cheeky schoolboy asked him how effectively he deployed those skills last year.


I’m writing this in snowy Quebec. Because the EU referendum is on my mind, I ask every Quebecois I meet about their referendum in 1995 — when they voted to remain part of Canada by a margin of 1 per cent Now, they all said, the vote would be more in favour of staying Canadian. The French language has survived — I was the only person speaking English on the ski slopes of Mont Grand-Fonds in Charlevoix. And separatism is seen as an old people’s thing, a movement in natural decline. Scottish nationalists looking for another referendum, take note.

The silence here in the frozen north is heavenly. At minus 20°C, even the animals are quiet and barely visible — the bears are hibernating and the lone crow I saw in the Laurentian mountains was too cold to bother croaking. What a contrast from Britain, which used to be pretty quiet too. Leaving my north London flat last week, I was serenaded by a continuous symphony of safety noises. First, the beeps of a reversing forklift truck. Then a lorry declaring: ‘This vehicle is turning left.’ Next a bus which loudly announced it was extending its safety ramp for a passenger in a wheelchair. And finally a siren on a building site, alerting me to who knows what. Have we really become such children? How did mankind survive before inanimate objects told us what they were doing? When did our eyes stop working? It can’t be long before the safety brigade hits remote Quebec and that silent crow is fitted with a warning device: ‘This bird is turning left.’

Quebec’s greatest Catholic pilgrimage site is the basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, just outside Quebec City. Behind a column in the nave I saw the usual thanksgiving offerings: crutches, walking-sticks and neck braces, flung aside by healed parishioners. There was also a lone white ski, with the date ‘26.3.01’ written on it in big black letters. I wondered what happened to the other ski that day — and I swore to be more careful on the slopes.

Just before flying out here, I saw Stephen Fry on The Not So Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. There was a haunting scene with his psychiatrist, where Fry described flying to LA for a day’s filming, then back to London for a moment, then on to India for a day. Poor thing! Fry appeared so desperate for diversion from his tormented thoughts that he couldn’t say no to anything. That’s why he’s on telly the whole time, why some of his stuff isn’t as exceptional as it can be — and why he over-tweeted. If only he said no to more things, we’d see more of the original, gifted man he is.

During lunch at White’s with a friend, I asked him why he preferred it to other clubs. ‘The bread-roll index is higher here,’ he said, after serious consideration, ‘It’s not that anyone ever does throw a bread roll. But you get the comforting feeling everyone would quite like it if you did.’ Britain’s bread-roll index is pretty low in these gluten-free, minimalist-decor, detox days. Whatever you think of Boris, he does send the national bread-roll index soaring.

Harry Mount is the author of The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson.


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