Since last week’s revelation that there are four types of giraffes, I have assumed a more devil-may-care attitude to keeping abreast with current affairs, ducking the media wherever possible. There are only so many shocks my heart can withstand. But one story has been unavoidable.
By the time you read this you’ll know the answer to the most keenly awaited “reveal” since the entire nation was gripped by Who-Shot-JR?-fever. I speak, of course, of the Labour leadership battle.
For weeks people have been coming up to me in the street, clutching their faces, mouths agape, eyes wide in horror, like animated versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream painting, howling at me, making no attempt to conceal their abject horror and anguish. I’ve lost count of the number of times that Geoff from up the road has grabbed me and said, “Frank, who will win the Labour leadership battle? Who will fly the flag for us, the lumpen proletariat? Will it be the bearded middle-class bloke or the Welsh Harry Potter middle-class bloke?”
As much as I’ve tried to pacify them (customary method – repeated slaps about the face), it’s fair to say the entire country, by which I mean about 1% of it, has been fully absorbed, by which I mean “vaguely bothered but not that much” by this titanic struggle for the soul of the party; this great, historic party of Clement Attlee and Keir Hardie and, more importantly, that lad who beat Michael Portillo thus bringing great joy to people who stayed up late on the night of 1st May 1997.
Normally I try to remain above politics, preferring to concentrate on loftier and less sordid pursuits like drinking banana daiquiris, languidly stroking my pet gazelle and contemplating a single grain of sand, or the infinite mysteries of the universe, while wearing a silken bathrobe, but I suspect that as you read this, the leader of the only party who have a chance of defeating the Tories is a man who in over 30 years of doing his job never got promoted even once; a man who more than four in every five of his colleagues think is incompetent.
In situations like this I try and think what it would be like working in the same office as the candidates. The bearded one is the equivalent of every office’s musty-smelling Keith, in his egg-stained V-neck jumper, forever lurking in some dark corner of the filing system, permanently enveloped in a fog of disappointment that no one shares his interests, avoiding human contact but occasionally trying to engage new starters in conversations concerning his obsession about tractors and authentic morris dancing. He’s only ever really trusted to do a bit of photocopying and certainly not trusted to do anything as important as the sandwich-run. Then all of a sudden he’s been put in charge of organising the Christmas office party – it might have seemed hilarious when you’d all had a few pints on a Friday lunchtime and voted to give him the job, but now December’s approaching and you know it’s going to be a cold salad accompanied by “some really cracking folk music”. Meanwhile the Welsh one just reminds me of a new manager who pretends to be everyone’s new best mate and then introduces time-and-motion studies and various other means of making your life harder.
Prepare for Torygeddon, people of South Leeds. I hate to be the bringer of this bad news although normally I leap at the chance to say “I am become Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds” whenever I have won more than a tenner at the bookies, so perhaps I actually DO quite enjoy bringing this sort of news after all.
Of course, during my brief glimpse at the news I have also been brought up to date with other stories like the parting-of-the-ways between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. As you can imagine, this was a bitter blow to me as I had been hoping to be adopted by them. Not only has that hope now been dashed against the wall of marital disharmony, but I had the alarming thought that if they have parted on bad terms Brad may react to Angelina’s constant adopting of children by retaliating and deliberately creating hordes of orphans in order to overwhelm her. As a parent this places me in his line of fire and I am nothing if not a selfish coward. Spare me Brad, I beg of you. Take Cellino instead.
The bright spot for me, among the otherwise endless gloom of our news, has been the Paralympics. For many of us this is a chance to marvel at the capabilities, the aspirations and the wondrous capacity of human beings to surpass all reasonable expectations of what is and isn’t possible. I’m not ashamed to admit that I always find it profoundly moving although this sentiment is slightly spoilt by the nagging thought at the back of my mind that some civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions are simultaneously watching it and saying to the each other “Did you see how high he jumped? I think we can stop HIS Disability Living Allowance!” and “She’s not nearly disabled enough for my liking.”
I hope you all live this week guided by the Olympic motto of “Higher, Faster, Stronger” – it’s a much superior motto to my own, which is “More Sitting Down and More Smoking Fags”.