Last Sunday, when South Africa beat Wales to go through to the rugby World Cup final against England, was the last day of a black week in South African politics. The valiant Democratic Alliance, the official opposition, the proud liberal party that fought both apartheid and the abuses of the ANC, fell into strife and ignominy. Its leader Mmusi Maimane resigned and there was furious infighting about its governance and policies.
There was a spat the other week about a children’s book, Equal to Everything: Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court, which is about an encounter between a little girl called Ama and the nation’s pin-up, Brenda Hale. The book’s author is the Guardian columnist Afua Hirsch. It’s written in vague rhyming couplets with the worst illustrations I’ve ever seen in a book for children.
In a newspaper report about the book, Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, was quoted saying ‘This looks like deliberate propaganda to bend the minds of children’, while MP Andrew Rosindell said that ‘she is being painted into some kind of hero in this book aimed at children’.
Of all those fighting this general election, the Conservatives are the only ones who need a majority. Labour just needs enough seats to club together with the SNP in order to form a government. The nationalists aim to win almost every seat in Scotland and then call a new independence referendum. The Liberal Democrats would like (at the very least) to double their count of 19 MPs, and stand a good chance of doing so.
This general election isn’t the most important in a generation, it is the most significant in the lifetime of anyone born since 1945. It will decide whether Brexit happens, whether Britain has the most left-wing prime minister in its history, whether the Scottish Nationalists are able to secure a second independence referendum and whether Britain’s two--party system can survive.
Boris Johnson has taken a risk.
That noise you can hear is Donald Trump flip--flopping in the sand. Last week, American troops and dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles moved to occupy oil fields in Syria. The escalation came just half an hour after Trump had tweeted that all US soldiers had left the country and would be coming home. As so often, the President says one thing, then orders the military to do the other. On Twitter, Trump is ending the endless wars.
It has been bizarre to hear the London Fire Brigade taking the brunt of the blame for the deaths of 72 people at Grenfell Tower. Its commissioner Dany Cotton certainly deserves condemnation for persisting in telling residents to stay put when it ought to have been clear early on that fire was engulfing the building and it needed to be evacuated. Her suggestion that she ‘wouldn’t change anything we did on the night’ — in spite of the role her advice played in boosting the death toll — compounds her errors.
Brrring! Freddy Gray of this parish is on the blower. ‘How about a piece for this week saying he’s won, I’ve lost, let’s Get Brexit Done, that sort of thing,’ he pitched.
‘Sorry Freddy, can’t talk, am making membrillo,’ I snapped as I gazed down into my second batch of chopped quinces, vanilla, lemon and sugar — which were rendering down in my magic machine to be set into claggy slabs of mahogany fruit fudge — while snorting the heady, tangy fumes as if they were mummy’s special marching powders.
‘Education, education, education.’ At the time when Tony Blair was repeating this phrase after Labour’s victory in 1997, a Nigerian special needs teacher living in north London named Efe Itoje was drumming that same lesson into his young son. The boy was superb at football, rugby and athletics but his father insisted he focus just as hard on his studies. Or, as he later put it: ‘I told him he needed to make a decision.
Sport is a paradox. It’s supposed to be. Sport divides, but then again, sport unites. The England rugby union team play in the World Cup final in Japan on Saturday morning, thereby dividing the English from the South Africans, and dividing those who follow the game into two camps — England supporters and everybody else. Closer to home, it divides the English most particularly from the Welsh, who suffered the great misfortune of losing their semi-final to the South Africans.
In 1966, just as he was becoming famous, Michael Caine met John Wayne. The Holly-wood veteran offered him some advice: ‘Never wear suede shoes.’ The explanation? ‘One day, you’ll be taking a pee, and the guy next to you will say “Michael Caine!” and he’ll turn and piss all over your shoes.’
Urinals are tricky places. Women seem to think they’re temples of laddishness, all footy banter and lewd jokes.