Digested week: with Covid and winter days upon us, I'm trying to store up nice memories | John Crace


There was a heartbreaking story in the Times on Saturday about how Boris Johnson was feeling overworked and underpaid. How the flat in No 10 was a bit small, how the rent from the home he shares with Carrie Symonds in Camberwell has to be offset against his income as prime minister and how he even has to pay for any food the No 10 kitchen sends upstairs. Now you might have thought that someone who appears to have spent his whole life believing that becoming prime minister was the fulfilment of his destiny would have spent rather more time investigating the financial implications of his decisions. After all if he had been looking for a cushy job to keep his still growing family in the style to which he aspired, Boris would have been better off remaining a backbench MP on £80,000, while raking in another £350,000 from the Daily Telegraph for the occasional column dashed off in an hour and who knows how much more for after-dinner speaking. But we all have our crosses to bear, so I suppose we should treat the prime minister falling on hard times on a salary of £150,000 as a personal tragedy. With that in mind, several members of a WhatsApp group of which I am a member began to wonder what we could do to help Boris at his time of crisis. Two ideas came to mind. The first was a telethon in which stars of stage and screen could do comedy turns in between sad black and white footage of Boris sleeping in a cardboard box in the No 10 attic. The second was to set up a JustGiving page for Boris. So far it has raised £5 of its hoped for £1m. That donation has come from a “Matt Hancock” with the message, “We send the EU £350m a week. Let’s Give it to Boris instead.” Feel free to contribute. Or not.

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Earlier this year, I became obsessed by a BBC Two reality show called Win the Wilderness. The idea was that six British couples would compete to win an Alaskan homestead – still not complete after more than 30 years – that was 100 miles from the nearest town of Fairbanks and only reachable by light plane that could land on a grass strip that had been cleared out of the trees on the mountain. Each week the couples would be given some task that never appeared wholly compatible with surviving alone in the middle of nowhere, after which one couple would be sent back to the UK and another invited to spend the night with Duane and Rena Ose, who owned the home. Come the end of the series, Duane and Rena, who were decamping to Minnesota now they were both in their late 70s, got to choose the couple – Emily Padfield and Mark Warner – who would inherit their home. And to be fair, Emily and Mark did seem the most suitable couple. But some things bothered me throughout the series. How come the reality show was all taking place in the summer when it would be the winter months that would be most challenging? And why, if Duane and Rena were as devoted to their home as they appeared to be, were they giving it away as a prize in a British reality show rather than flogging it to an Alaskan with experience of living in the wilderness. Just this week, some of it started to make more sense as it was revealed that the Oses had been trying to flog the house for more than five years. Not even their children wanted it. So a TV production company brandishing cash must have come as a lifeline. It has also emerged that Rena has since died and Duane’s new partner has persuaded him not to give up the house even though he has signed over the title deeds. Emily and Mark are said to be gutted. I rather think they might have dodged a bullet.

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It would be interesting to know if it had been Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance who had insisted on doing their joint press conference without the prime minister earlier in the week, or if that decision had been taken by No 10. Either way, Boris Johnson’s statement to the Commons and later TV address to the nation didn’t quite seem to reflect the gravity of the situation that the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser had laid out. They were talking about the number of infections doubling every seven days and the possibility of 200 deaths a day by mid October: Boris was more interested in explaining that the reason other countries, such as Germany and Italy, were coping better than us was because they were naturally less fun-loving – an interesting take that is certainly not borne out by my current mood – before introducing minor restrictions, such as closing pubs, bars and restaurants at 10pm so that up to six people could go back home together and get hammered. The statement also exemplified something I have come to identify as Boristime. AKA a natural inclination to underestimate how long anything will take during the pandemic. Back in March, he predicted the worst would be over in 12 weeks. Then he assured us we would be more or less back to normal by Christmas. So when Boris announced we could be in for another six months, my first instinct was to double it. I also made a mental note to prepare for yet another U-turn on households mingling within a matter of weeks to set us in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have a personal interest in this. It is my birthday on 9 October and we have invited four friends round to dinner. My bet is that the ban on gatherings of this number will come into effect on 8 October.

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Prince Harry and Meghan.

‘Coming to the US has been everything we’d hoped for’ … Prince Harry and Meghan. Photograph: Time


A new study of 75-80-year-olds has found that they are walking nearly 1mph faster than they were 30 years ago due to better hygiene, nutrition and healthcare. Which means that I have got a lot of speeding up to do in the next 10 years as I have noticeably slowed down since my 40s. It also makes me wonder just how slowly many 75-80-year-olds were walking when they were in their late 40s, because although I am regularly overtaken by younger people with much shorter legs than me – being tall has proved to be no advantage – I can still keep up with most people 10 years older than me with the exception of my good friend John Sutherland, who regularly cranks out 20,000 steps a day and has to slow down when we’re out together. In my defence, the knee replacement surgery that I had 10 years ago and imagined was going to up my average speed has not proved the gamechanger I had hoped; rather it has in fact slowed me down, as I can’t go much further than a mile without my knee aching and swelling up. Though that still is a slight improvement on what it was, even if it still makes going for walks on holiday with friends the same age as me something of an ordeal, as invariably I have been dropped by the main group within the first 15 minutes and am left to plod on alone unless someone feels sorry for me and hangs back. It’s not great for someone with low self-worth at the best of times and I often wonder if people are walking deliberately fast just so they don’t have to listen to me moaning. I think I will stick to the exercise bike that has proved a life-saver throughout lockdown. There’s no knee pain and after an hour’s hard cycling going nowhere my anxiety levels are just about manageable.


Carrie Symonds clearly doesn’t worry about money as much as Boris Johnson as she has been off on a mini-break to Lake Como, where she is reportedly staying in a £600-per-night hotel. It may not be the best of looks in the week the government has been saying many more people are likely to struggle financially, but I can’t help having some sympathy with her. I may not share her budget, but I do share the feeling of wanting to store up some nice memories to carry through the winter. In the early days of the pandemic there was always the feeling that at least we had the long summer evenings to look forward to and that maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as we feared. Now, with 55,000 dead in the UK and no end to the coronavirus in sight even my good friend Simon is depressed. Normally he can be relied on for an upbeat take on almost everything, but when we spoke yesterday he was almost as catatonic as me. The long nights and cold days get to me even in a normal year and now the prospect of the clocks going back in under a month’s time fills me with dread. So I have been conscious of trying to make the best of things before they get worse. It’s the uncertainty as much as anything else that is getting to me. Tomorrow we have decided to go down to Brighton to see our son – partly because we haven’t seen him for a while and miss him – but also because we can’t be sure the restrictions won’t have changed by next weekend, making it impossible for us to see him for the foreseeable future. I will almost certainly cry on the way home. Then I often do. On the upside I have done my civic duty by downloading the government’s “world-beating” Covid app. Right now it tells me that the risk level in my area is “medium” and that it is scanning for something that it hasn’t found. Which I assume is a good thing, rather than a sign that it isn’t working. Onwards and sideways.

Digested week, digested: Boris bankrupt


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