One remark from the Christmas party season knocks insistently around my head. It came from Nigel Farage on a staircase in the Ritz. For those who didn’t enjoy 2016, a year of political revolution, he gleefully promised: ‘2017 will be a hell of a sight worse.’ My, my. What did he mean? Had he taken one Ferrero Rocher too many? Or does Farage, like an increasing number of MPs, expect a general election next year, including further dramatic upsets? The biggest reason for pooh-poohing a 2017 election isn’t the Fixed-term Parliaments Act but Prime Minister’s character. Theresa May is extremely cautious and she doesn’t want to test the electorate just yet. But against that I pose a simple question: in what way, please, are things going to get better for the Tories by 2020? Projections of the public finances look ghastly, though of course they may be wrong. There’s not much money to spread around. More important, as soon as the government starts to make clear its Brexit plans, May will face more serious opposition, internally as well as externally. Go soft, and face the Brexiteers’ wrath; go hard, and face Ken and the Remainers with a virtually united opposition. Does the government actually have a majority for whatever version of Brexit it comes up with? And if the Prime Minister ends up with a parliamentary car crash, how can she avoid an early election? She has a lot to chew over, alongside the turkey.
Meanwhile, I am off to Florida; not to work, nor for a holiday. It’s nearly four years since I had my stroke and I am still semi-paralysed on the left side. I’m not complaining too much: I can work, drink, see friends, paint, listen to music and irritate my children like before. I’m a lucky fellow. But I can’t run or cycle or swim, and I walk very unsteadily and slowly. I drop things and take ages to get dressed. It’s a bit of a sod. So I’m inclined to give new treatments a go. There is a new drug called etanercept, an anti-inflammatory developed for arthritis but now being used in a clinic north of Miami to treat stroke survivors. Because the molecule is too big to pass the blood-brain barrier, you have to have it injected into the spinal fluid while hanging upside down. This is controversial and new. Some people have seen great results, others spit disdain. But it’s my Christmas present to myself and by the time you read this I will know whether it has worked.
As a hefty chunk of the viewing public is glued to to the Elizabeth R spectacular The Crown, one family is enjoying it not at all. The Windsors, from the young to the oldest, have been horrified by the prospect of seeing themselves or their nearest and dearest portrayed by actors at moments of stress and vulnerability. However tactful the treatment, however lavish, they feel it’s a drama too far and, almost to a man and woman, are boycotting it.
Of all the things I do, the biggest treat is often Start the Week and our Christmas show has been a delight. We pre-recorded it in the glorious Parker Library at Corpus Christi College Cambridge, founded by Elizabeth I’s archbishop. Among the wonders shown to us by Christopher de Hamel was the oldest surviving Latin gospel in the world. It belonged to St Augustine and he probably brought it himself when he arrived on our shores as the founder of the English church. We also saw the book of psalms that de Hamel believes Thomas Becket was holding when he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Talk about touching history…
Because my wife works in Cambridge, I spend a lot of time driving up and down from London. After many decades of low-cost and battered cars, I have finally cracked and bought a relatively new Mercedes. The trouble is, it’s much, much more intelligent than I am. The computer promises to control almost everything but it keeps muttering to me, offering me too many choices and, it seems to me, rebuking me for my slow responses. I’m slightly scared of this vast seething mass of metal, plastic and electronics. I feel it’s judging me and, like too many of my schoolteachers, is on the verge of saying: ‘I’m not angry, Andrew. Not angry — just very disappointed.’
A friend reflects thus on the US presidential campaign when, just perhaps, the people of America didn’t have the best ever choice of candidates: ‘Hillary and the Donald decide they have to sort this out face to face. Demanding privacy, they clamber into a small boat and row out on to Lake Erie. A storm erupts and the boat capsizes far from shore. Who survives?’ With a stony face my friend lets the silence linger before answering: ‘America.’ Happy 2017.