I fear I may be in danger of going over to the dark side. When Jose Mourinho was appointed Spurs’ manager a year ago, I felt profoundly depressed. For me, he was the epitome of “anti-football”: negative, destructive and a man who made every club he managed all about him rather than the players. But it’s hard to argue against his style when Spurs – much to my surprise – are top of the table nine games into the season. To put this in perspective, the last time Tottenham headed the top division this far into a season was in 1985. Long before anyone had dreamed up the idea of a Premier League. So it’s undeniable that Mourinho must be doing something right. The truth is, though, that I am torn. I have grown attached to supporting a club that hadn’t won anything apart from a couple of League Cups for 30 years and I was quite happy being there or thereabouts – a Champions League final, and a few top four finishes – because the team had achieved those heights by playing an attractive form of football. That was a level of success with which I could cope: indeed in some ways I even found it reassuring that Tottenham never won anything because I had so few expectations to be crushed. But now even serious pundits are talking of Tottenham as possible title contenders and winners of the Europa League, I can feel myself getting sucked into the excitement. I still find it weird that we are paying Gareth Bale £600K a week to sit on the subs bench, but I can excuse that, and the painful experience of watching the team play most of the game in its own half, if we carry on winning against the likes of Manchester City 2-0. If we beat Chelsea and Arsenal in the coming weeks, I might even find myself a Mourinho believer. That’s a big if – as is Spurs still being top of the table next May. But watch this space.
Much as I am looking forward to having my son and his girlfriend to stay at Christmas – even though in this case it is my wife and I who are the vulnerable adults – I can’t help feeling that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s decision to grant a five-day amnesty form coronavirus restrictions is a mad idea. We have already had to impose a second national lockdown after the first regional tiered system proved unsuccessful and next week we are about to experiment with a second version of the tiers. So to risk a third national lockdown – not to mention the likelihood of a huge rise in unnecessary deaths – seems totally wrong. Especially when there are three possible vaccines that could be rolled out by Easter. Who wants to be the Wilfred Owen who gets killed just days before the armistice? If that’s the government’s idea of an Xmas treat for the nation, then it’s not mine. Most people have already written 2020 off and would have been quite happy for there to have been no Christmas amnesty to see family and friends. There again, I can’t remember ever feeling less Christmassy than I do now. My wife seems to have gone rather quiet on her idea to illuminate the outside of the house – though I wouldn’t yet rule it out – and presents for the children will be mostly cash. In Anna’s case because she is in the US, and in Robbie’s because he got birthday and Xmas together to put towards his van. Which he has already bought and by all accounts spends most evenings cleaning. He certainly didn’t get that habit from his dad.
There must be more painful ways of listening to the chancellor’s financial statement, but having kidney stones is right up there near the top. Weirdly, I had woken up in the morning feeling fine and it was only at about 10am that I started noticing something was wrong. At first I thought I must have pulled a muscle in my back, but as the pain intensified to a feeling of being kicked repeatedly, I worked out what was going on as I’ve had kidney stones twice before. So I phoned the doctor to make an appointment, dosed myself up with ibuprofen and prepared to wait it out till the stones passed. Still, maybe pain was the ideal medium through which to hear Rishi Sunak tell the country GDP had suffered its biggest fall in 300 years and that unemployment would rise to 2.6 million. Even in five years, the economy will be 5% smaller. It was only in the small print we learned that, amid all this gloom, the chancellor had found a further £29m for the government’s planned festival of Brexit. It’s hard to think of something quite so tin-eared, given a no-deal Brexit is predicted to do almost as much harm to the economy as the coronavirus pandemic and that nearly half the country will not be in the mood for celebrating. Quite what festivities the government has planned for us has yet to be revealed, though something like Banksy’s 2015 Dismaland theme park in Weston-super-Mare would probably be appropriate. Failing that we could all nip down to Kent to spend the day in a queue at a lorry park. Hopefully, by then my kidney stones will have passed.
I’ve long taken the view that the one thing you can’t have too many of is books. Though I think I will draw the line at Jordan Peterson’s new book, Twelve More Rules for Life, as I found his first book, which was aimed at reclaiming the self-help market from wishy-washy lefties with liberal tendencies, to be excruciatingly awful. Luckily, most of it has slipped my mind, though I do recall something about the fact that both lobsters and men being complete bastards if left to their own devices was proof of the existence of God. There was also a lot on original sin, the importance of suffering and the need for everyone to just man up. I also vaguely recall him having really run out of ideas by rule 8, so I am not sure how he has managed to come up with another 12. Anyway, that was one book which ended up in the local charity shop. Elsewhere in the house, there are now shelves in almost every room with little sign of them not proliferating. I can also tell you – more or less – on which shelf any particular book can be found. Which is more than can be said for Cambridge University, which has taken 20 years to discover that two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks – including his sketch of The Tree of Life – haven’t been misfiled as originally thought but have in fact been stolen. I dare say CCTV wasn’t quite so prevalent in 2000. But what I would give to have a library so large that it would take me 20 years to discover that books worth millions had gone missing.
It was almost inevitable that the government’s website crashed within minutes, as hundreds of thousands of people tried to check into which coronavirus tier their region had been put. And there was plenty of anger – particularly from Tory MPs – that about 99% of the country had been put in tiers 2 and 3. Kent MPs were beside themselves that their constituencies had been treated as a unitary region and that the leafier and more expensive areas should have been included with the lower orders of the Thames estuary, where the levels of virus are quite high, and placed in tier 3. London MPs generally kept their heads down, reckoning they had dodged a bullet. Parts of London, which was placed in tier 2, have far higher infection levels than many areas of the north and the Midlands that are in tier 3. On a personal level, I’m not sure the changes from a national to a regional lockdown will make much difference. I already do almost all my non-essential shopping online, my wife cuts what’s left of my hair and I still don’t feel – rightly or wrongly – entirely safe with going out to eat. It’s the friends and family that I really miss and that isn’t going to much change. I am still hopeful of seeing my mum before Christmas though, as her care home is busting a gut to make visiting possible. More worrying was what to get her as a present. At 96, she’s got almost everything she wants and there’s little she needs. She doesn’t read anymore, so books are also out. But one reader called Kate emailed me a brilliant idea that may just work. There is a website called Lockdown Presents where you can arrange a short live concert of opera highlights over Zoom. And since it was my mum who first introduced me to opera over 40 years ago, it would be lovely to give her – and other residents – a personalised recital with the care home laptop hooked up to a TV screen. As Kate said, “With the right music you either forget everything or you remember everything.” Which sounds perfect for lockdown.
Digested week: Tiers before bedtime