A wet yawn of a bank holiday morning…

IT IS seven in the morning and the bank holiday rain is falling. Friends are coming round for a walk later. A wet walk by the sounds of it.

The night has not been tender. Rough sleeping saw me alert until about three, waking twenty minutes ago with a thick head. The reason for my restlessness is rather ridiculous and is due in part to a young woman I only met yesterday. We are, you see, in the middle of a rush of Airbnb guests.

Saturday night saw the arrival of a young academic who was from the Crimea but had been living in Norway for a number of years. Bright, interested and interesting, he chatted away for an hour or so in the evening, and was very engaging company.

Yesterday we put up an American student from Upstate New York, who is travelling while studying at a summer school in Oxford. She arrived earlier than expected in the afternoon, with a towering rucksack on her back. I don’t know much about her, except that she likes to sing jazz and is studying international something or other, plus media studies. She also, as is usually the way, seems very pleasant and friendly.

After turning up early and over-heated, she changed and went off into York at around 2pm. She hadn’t returned by the time I went to bed at after 11.30pm, and this triggered an old insomnia response: the vague worries about daughter syndrome. Lying awake, first upstairs and then down in the other spare room, I couldn’t tell if she had returned or not. Just like I have sometimes done when our daughter has stayed out late, or perhaps even early.

A few moments ago I looked at my mobile and there was a message: “I ran into some old friends so I’m just catching up with them. All is well!”

Ah, if I’d checked my phone at 12.30am last night perhaps sleep would have come easier. It was nice of our guest to keep me informed, but I shouldn’t have been so foolish. Young women often return late, as I know from the occasional early-hours antics of our youngest. And a 24-year-old guest is free to do as they wish.

Tonight’s guest is a young Frenchman who is driving home from Scotland, and breaking his journey in York. Tomorrow a 62-year-old man is arriving from Adelaide, and will be staying until the weekend. Most guests have been young, but we have had a few older visitors. The last one, well into her sixties at a guess, was also from the same part of Australia.

After that we have a cameraman covering York Races who is here for the night, followed by a young woman who is coming to a wedding in York. Then a young man who is working in the city for five or six days. With so many guests, we’ve blocked off a few days with the electronic equivalent of a “no vacancies” sign, just to rest our conversational skills. And to give the washing machine a break.

The bank holiday rain is still falling. I wonder if our friends would have any ideological objection to paying to get into York Art Gallery (see yesterday’s ledge report).

Glancing at the news online, I see that the Chancellor, George Osborne, is warning that Labour hopeful Jeremy Corbyn is a threat to national security. Dear me, does he have an atomic bomb strapped beneath that beige jumper? Er, no. Instead Corbyn opposes the renewal of Trident, and Osborne says this would be disastrous for Britain.

Oh, I don’t know. I still have some doubts about how good Corbyn would be for Labour, but maybe he has a point about the untold billions and trillions we spend on nuclear deterrent. Does all that money really keep us any safer or is it an old-style solution to yesterday’s problem?

There’s a thought for a wet yawn of a bank holiday morning.

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Shelling out for art’s sake…

BEFORE stepping back inside York Art Gallery, I thought it was a cheek and an impertinence to charge visitors £7.50 to look at the city’s art collection. Now I’ve changed my mind slightly.

What they have achieved with the art gallery is nothing short of marvellous. But that £7.50 is still a cheek and an impertinence.

As a local, it didn’t actually cost that much. Instead I shelled out 11 Yorkshire pounds for a card lasting a year. This gives ‘free’ entry to the gallery and other York Museum Trust attractions. “YMT Card,” it says on the front. “Great value, priceless memories.”

Well, yes. One of those memories is that not long ago a York Card got you into those places for free. But I paid anyway so that I could take my mother around the ‘new’ gallery (she had to pay the standard £7.50).

That YMT Card joins all the others shoved into my wallet, only two of them bank cards. One is a My Waitrose card and that’s a laugh. It’s because they don’t issue a My Waitrose Only When Feeling A Little Bit Flush card.

Also taking up space in my otherwise barren wallet is a Picturehouse card for York City Screen. Seeing this, I did pause for a moment. If I am prepared to pay for membership of a cinema, why does paying to get into an art gallery bother me?

As I’ve asked the question, I’d better attempt an answer. I joined City Screen because I like the place. Membership includes a few free tickets, money off coffee, beer and food, and the occasional free screening for members (when they remember to tell you about them, that is). So I willingly paid much more for those privileges than I did for a year’s access to York Art Gallery, plus two museums.

I think the problem is one of idealism. Galleries and museums should be free. They belong to the people and the people shouldn’t have to pay to see their treasures and wonders. In tight times there will always be someone on hand to tell you that an art gallery or a theatre isn’t exactly the NHS. This is true so far as it goes, which isn’t all that far in my book.

The other day I came across a good quote from Bob and Roberta Smith. What a sensible pair they are. Except that they’re not: it’s just the nom-de-paintbrush of Patrick Brill.

This is the artist who stood against Michael Gove at the last election. You may have noticed that Gove is still around. Brill only secured 273 votes, but declares himself happy with the result, as his intention was to highlight the importance of art (“All schools should be art schools” is one of his slogans).

In a newspaper Q&A, Brill decried the “deep philistinism and scepticism towards art” he sees in this country. Such attitudes existed under Labour, he says, and have come back “with a vengeance under the Tories”.

Here is one of many sensible things he said: “The arts are not just important in themselves but fundamental to democracy. Kids need to think about ideas. If you teach them self-expression, you are adding to democracy. Why do you think oppressive regimes always try to censor art and lock up artists?”

As for York Art Gallery, the place is now a true wonder, especially upstairs. On the ground floor everything is similar but smarter, with a new café, shop and loos, leading to three gallery spaces.

It is not until you climb the stairs that you realise the true extent of the transformation. The old pottery gallery at the top of the stairs has gone and is now open space, while the exposure of the roof has created a fantastic galleried area, with a white ceiling, the old metal supports painted white too, and a row of dazzling skylights. Here you find the CoCA Galleries devoted to pottery.

Behind the galleries there is a wide outdoors platform overlooking the new gardens to the left and, for now, an empty space to the right.

There is much to enjoy at this top level, from Clare Twomey’s 10,000 bowls to the pottery, paintings and other artefacts collected for many years by Anthony Shaw. These are displayed as if still in his room at home, complete with his furniture, a clever and intimate bit of work.

There is more, much more, and it’s worth a look, so long as you can overcome your objections to paying.

Ferrety excuses shame us all

JAMES Brokenshire MP is the Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration). I am sorry about all those brackets. He put them there, not me.

As a Tory who often laments the rise in immigration, Mr Brokenshire has a suitable surname. In his eyes, the Shires of old England probably have been Broken.

You know how you can take against someone without knowing much about them. Well, that’s James and me. Perhaps it is the way he pops up on the news, blinking like an unearthed ferret. Can one unearth a ferret? Honestly I have no idea. The image just appeared in my mind.

Brokenshire was on the BBC News yesterday looking all ferrety while saying that reducing net migration to 100,000 was still an “ambition” – even though the figure had reached 330,000, easily rising above  David Cameron’s pile of no ifs and no buts. You may recall that the prime minister used that figure of speech while promising that net migration would fall to 100,000. Now those ‘iffy buts’ lie scattered around his feet like cigarette butts dropped by a worried chain smoker.

The figure of 330,000 represents the difference between the number of people entering the country and those leaving. It is more than three times higher than the government’s (fairly pointless) target.

Yesterday it was left to Brokenshire to put the government’s increasingly feeble case. So there he was, twitching indignantly for the TV cameras. This was followed by the now obligatory appearance of Nigel Farage (MP for Nowhere-shire, ho-hum) doing his impression of an angry salmon flapping its angry mouth.

Now perhaps it wasn’t Brokenshire’s fault. Maybe it was just unfortunate timing. But as he was on television being all ferrety and twitchy, news was breaking that in Austria the bodies of migrants had been found packed into the back of a parked lorry. This morning as I write the latest headlines suggest that as many as 70 bodies may have been in that lorry. Is it possible to imagine a worst way to die than suffocating in the back of a lorry crammed with desperate humanity? The thought of how those poor people suffered is too awful to contemplate.

At the same time, it is reported that up to 200 bodies have been discovered floating off the coast of Libya. If confirmed, this incident will bring the number of deaths in the Mediterranean this year to 2,500.

It is easy to see why this summer’s migrant crisis is being referred to as Europe’s worst refugee emergency since 1945.

The tide of human misery seems unstoppable, unsolvable.

Yet in the face of such suffering, the response from our government has been insular and xenophobic. Among some Tories and some newspapers, the whole crisis has mostly been reduced to a spot of old-school France-bashing: it’s all the fault of those Frogs.

It’s as if the situation in Calais concerning a relatively small number of migrants, said to be around 3,000, has become the sole focus of their concern. The cry goes up that something has to be done. So David Cameron orders a higher fence – which perfectly encapsulates just how small-minded and insular the whole debate has become.

Apparently our inward-glancing ministers look no further than the end of their front gardens. Raise their eyes and they would see that this is a global crisis, and one in which Britain isn’t exactly showing itself in a flattering light.

Other countries in Europe, in particular Germany and Sweden, face much greater migrant difficulties than Britain does. Germany expects 800,000 asylum seekers and migrants to arrive this year. In humanitarian terms, we should be doing more than building higher fences and moaning about the French.

None of this is easy. Unless you are Nigel Farage doing the salmon mouth flap on the evening news. Or James Brokenshire impersonating a ferret.

A Top Gear brainstorming thing…

YOU know what it’s like. Not a sniff and then two opportunities arise at once.

First up is a chance to work on Not Top Gear, the new car-themed petrol-head show which Clarkson, Hammond and May are making for the Amazon subscription service, Prime.

Here are some words from the advert (real words, not made up by me with satirical mischief in mind): “You will be the unsung heroes who help this middle-aged trio make superbly entertaining TV. Wit, intelligence, top-drawer work ethic, good in a brainstorm – all of these qualities are required in spades.”

Here are my qualifications for this role: middle-aged, driven a car or two, owner of an aging Volvo estate with nearly 140,000 miles on the clock (MoT and service due next month); not adverse to wearing James May-style flowery shirts, although will definitely draw the line at those bloody rugby shirts.

As for brainstorms, well I have a brain and sometimes it blows up a storm and sometimes it does not.

I have driven round the ring-road in York in that old car and navigated the traffic assault course known as the M62. So pelting a powerful new car round an otherwise empty racetrack would surely be a doddle. As for being an unsung hero, some might say I was one of those for years. And look where it got me.

Sadly, I don’t think I’ll apply for that role. The job description featured in an Observer report about how young people looking to climb onto the lowest rung in the TV industry are having to pay some internet job agencies simply for the ‘right’ to look at such adverts.

The young hopefuls who do these jobs are known as “runners” – presumably because they have to run away from Jeremy Clarkson if he’s in a bad mood and hasn’t been fed a steak dinner in a while.

I have been a runner for many years, although pavement plodding is not what they have in mind here. So that car-bound trio will have to make their programme without the benefit of my brain or anything else I may have in spades.

Some job adverts have a mystifyingly detailed breakdown of requirements. The long list, the very long list, for this next job has many elements. You have to organise all the client’s personal needs, such as drycleaners, gardeners, house refurbishments, finding interior designers, checking the home when the client is away, making sure it is clean, the plants are watered and the fridge is well stocked. You also have to select and organise his wardrobe with regards to his favourite designers such as Oswald Boateng, Harrods and Zap.

Yes, this is that advert placed by the footballer Jermain Defoe for a “24/7 personal assistant”. Now in the ordinary world the money is very good – up to £60,000 pa. This, by neat coincidence, is what the 32-year-old Sunderland striker earns in a week.

Other tasks include producing iPhone aps and helping to “create a global brand for the Jermain Defoe name, growing his online database on his website, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking platforms”. Oh and looking after five family members and their pets.

What this job entails is being a footballer’s go-to person. I suppose that’s how the extremely wealth organise their lives, hiring a skivvy to do everything for them so their life contains nothing more troubling than kicking a football around once or twice a week.

We are all shaped by our circumstances, good and bad, and I suspect that what this illustrates is that if you dip a sportsman in golden pools of extreme wealth, the chances are that he will shimmer when he looks in the mirror – and at the same time become totally out of touch with ordinary life. Maybe we don’t want our famous footballers to touch ordinary life. Perhaps that’s the point of their absurdly over-remunerated lives.

Either way, I shall have to keep scanning those adverts.

Labour leadership and squash defeats

WHEN a man loses at squash, he is not always in the best of spirits. But when he has lost as often as I have, the humiliation is mostly sluiced away by the post-game shower. Although a whiff of failure remains, like an un-washable patch of sweat.

My partner for last night delivered a comprehensive drubbing, and then asked a pert little question. Why hadn’t I written about the Labour leadership contest?

Ah, yes. I made a poor excuse about how my newspaper column used to be fairly political, and the blog was meant to be different. My squash vanquisher has politics that differ from mine. He pointed out, reasonably enough, that this didn’t stop me having a go at David Cameron quite often.

Ah, yes again, there is that. I can’t help but wriggle on that pin. Cameron is criticised or sometimes mocked because he causes such annoyance on my windy little ledge. And it is easy to lob rotten fruit or mouldy adjectives at those one dislikes. Much simpler than addressing those who might be considered to be on your side.

So here goes then. As a non-joining sort, I am not a member of Labour or any other party. So no ballot paper has come my way. No Labour official has attempted to have me removed from the ballot after suspecting a potentially hostile presence. Whereas if I ever tried to vote for a Tory leader, such an unmasking would be on the sharp side of likely.

So I don’t have a vote, but as a lifelong member of the bit-of-a-lefty club, the outcome does interest me.

The Labour contest would be nothing without the unexpected rise of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn. The electricity of his presence has certainly energised the debate. The enthusiasm he has managed to stir up among his supporters is nothing short of remarkable. The last time anyone got this excited about a Labour leader was when Tony Blair was dazzling everyone in his headlights.

Does this mean that Corbyn is the best choice for leader? The standard anti-argument is that he is good at animating a loyal crowd, but that his policies would be guaranteed to lose Labour the next election. Sadly, there is something in that.

Many of his supporters are too young to remember the old days of Labour, when Michael Foot, good man though he was, shuffled left to no good effect. So they don’t know where that journey usually ends.

Yet at least Corbyn seems to believe his own sermon, which he delivers with honesty and integrity. Would he appeal to the unconverted masses rather than just his supporters? Well, that seems unlikely.

But then would Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall win wider support? Among this straw poll of one that question can be answered as follows: maybe, perhaps and certainly not.

Burnham is solid but dull, Cooper is smart but dull and Kendall seems to have an annoying but unwarranted degree of self-belief. So not a lot of choice there.

As I said to the man who thrashed me – and we are still talking squash here – it seems likely that his lot will be in power for the next 15 years. To which he retorted that he would like to see a good opposition. And I think he was talking politics and not squash.

So there you have it, sweaty sport and politics, victory and defeat. Still there is always hope for the next contest. And I am talking squash this time. The politics can wait.

A boy, a painting and the world trips…

HIGH finance is not really my area. Low finance is hard enough to grasp these days. A moment ago I shuffled along my vertiginous shelf of rock and glanced at the global stock market panic caused by China (or not, depending on what you read).

But before I could think of anything sensible to say, I saw the boy trip into the painting.

Now this is more my sort of thing. Perhaps that says something about me. Maybe if I better understood stock markets and the seemingly random workings of capitalist roulette, then I would be inhabiting a more commodious ledge. Or not haunting a ledge at all.

I have tried to think about what might be happening on the stock markets. All those men and women screaming themselves towards a heart attack need someone by their side, I’m sure. But not me. Not today.

This is because I saw that boy fall. The 12-year-old Taiwanese boy was visiting a museum at the weekend when he tripped and broke his fall with a 350-year-old painting. His outstretched hand went through the canvas and punched a hole in a painting said to be worth $1.5 million.

The painting was hanging at an exhibition in Taipei called Face of Leonardo: Images of a Genius. The organisers have released footage showing the boy in shorts, trainers, a blue Puma T-shirt and holding a drink. As passes the painting, he catches his foot and trips over a low rope and falls into the canvas. Then he steps back, looks at the painting in panic and glances around, perhaps thinking: “Wake up now, for God’s sake wake up now.”

The painting by Paolo Porpora was later discovered to have a hole at the bottom caused by the boy’s fist.

The clever thing here would be to make some comment about this being a form of art criticism. To say that the boy’s mishap was a work of art worthy of the Turner Prize. Well, I seem to recall that was once won by a light going on and off in a room.

But no, it’s nothing like that at all. Just the art of clumsiness, nothing more. Life is a wall built of mishaps and misshapes. Sometimes no one sees. Sometimes you notice far too late.

Here is a minor example. Yesterday beetroot picked from the garden was placed in a casserole dish and covered in foil, ready to bake while we went out for a couple of hours. Next to this was another dish topped with foil. This one contained the remains of the creamy potatoes we’d had for lunch. Guess which one I placed in the oven? On our return we were greeted with twice-cooked potatoes a la cock-up rather than slowly roasting beetroot.

As to clumsiness, perhaps we are more prone to this when surrounded by objects of value. I remembered the man and his shoelace when I read about the boy and the painting. This is because shoelaces worry me.

So here he was again, cruelly plucked from obscurity. Maybe he had even stopped blushing until everyone remembered again. A loose shoelace caused Nick Flynn to trip during a visit to the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge in 2006. As he fell he knocked over Qing dynasty vases thought to be worth £100,000 in total.

As an inveterate fiddler with shoelaces, which are too loose to too tight and rarely just right, I felt for that man. There but for the grace of a badly secured shoe and all that. Yes, I can certainly see myself doing something similar. Note to self: please make sure laces are secure when visiting York Art Gallery tomorrow.

In the end perhaps fears about inflation, shares and interest rates following the China crisis stock market crash are merely another shoelace incident. One moment the world is on a careless dash to unending wealth and prosperity. Then someone bends over to tighten a rogue shoelace. And the whole thing comes crashing down.

A sonic outing…

taylorTHE sun shines and the middle boy is up on stage with his friends. The platform on which they are performing is the back of a truck with the side opened up. Behind them is the impressive edifice of the old brewery in Leeds, now a cultural centre known with good Yorkshire brevity as The Tetley.

The truck faces a grassy area across which flattened cardboard boxes are strewn. Some of the boxes have been refashioned into buildings, almost as if this were a refugee camp or people making creative do at a rock festival.

It is in fact neither of these. Instead this is a den-building festival. We don’t join in with the dens, although we might have done when our three were small. We’re here for the band. It’s been a while since the parental groupies were present. That was when our middle boy was 15. The band was called The Frizz and they played around York, including a memorable gig at the old Fibbers in York.

Our boy was on guitar and we went with friends to watch. At one point, he played a solo with the guitar held behind his head. One of the songs contained lyrics about being new in town and drinking in strange bars while looking for love. The incongruity seemed funny at the time, boys singing about being men. Our boy does that half-smile thing at the memory as we chat in the Leeds sunshine. His sister is along for the trip too.

Various bands have been booked for the day. We sit in the sun to watch the first band. They are very young and not at all bad. Up next is the Manchester band our boy now plays in, seven or eight years on from that first band. They are called Sonic Bliss Machine and he plays bass this time.

I’ve never seen him play bass and he is good, as is the band. But in a way I miss seeing him twirl out those guitar solos. It’s probably a father-son displacement thing. I always wanted to play guitar in a band but was never good or structured enough. There was an embryonic teenage band called Aardvark Zyrus, the first and last words plucked from the nearest dictionary to hand. We didn’t progress much beyond the name and a practice or two. Nowadays I strum at home, arrhythmic and alone.

Anyway, in the sunny here and now the band is still playing their set and we are eating our sandwiches. A man with a heavy-metal beard and a beer belly fiddles with the sound-deck, while the muscled compere prowls around with his microphone and his ready-made stock of crowd-teasing banter.

Then the set is over and our boy and his friends cart their gear from the impromptu stage. Members of a young jazz-funk outfit are waiting in the wings. The compere is ready to do his thing again. One or two of the parents are tiring of building dens and are drinking beer instead, a fitting tribute to the industry that once went on here. A boy aged perhaps two continues to dance, little legs jiving, while a straw trilby protects him from the sun.

After ice-creams bought for us by our student daughter, we leave the boy, happy to have seen him play again, and head home. Without getting lost this time in the never-ending one-way loops of the Leeds traffic system.

Later, much later thankfully, long after the bands have gone home and the cardboard huts have been abandoned, it rains. My God does it rain. I take our daughter to the station during an impressive downpour. The drive back is the scariest of my life, the rain so heavy that the roads flood instantly and the windscreen wipers weep with the effort of keeping things clear. The sky is midnight black at eight on an August evening. A headlight bulb went earlier in the day and the one-eyed car goes slowly home, more boat than car almost.

It was like one of those rainstorms you see in films when everything looks just a bit too over the top. No rain ever falls that hard, you think. Now I know that it does.

Good on Charlotte Church

YOU have to admire Charlotte Church. Not that it’s obligatory or anything, but the woman does have something about her.

The singer and mother of two has already been mocked in certain quarters for joining an anti-austerity march following the election. Her appearance at the protest saw her dunked in a rancid pool of right-wing complaint.

Among those who joined the attack was the Welsh Tory leader, a man called Andrew RT Davis. Who even knew there were Tories in Wales or that they were led by a man with initials for a middle name? Davis accused Church of being a champagne socialist, one of the dreariest slights in the political slang book. She responded wittily by saying that she was more of a “prosecco girl”.

Of course it is easy to mock Charlotte Church as a wealthy woman feigning sympathy with the less fortunate – which is why unimaginative people such as Davis weighed in with their cut-and-paste insults.

The singer was aware that her presence at the rally in Cardiff would attract hostile media attention. As she said afterwards in a piece for the Guardian: “I’m sure that you’ll be shocked to hear that I didn’t do it for some self-aggrandising purpose… I have no wish to be trolled and abused. It would be much easier for me not to engage. I’m not promoting a record or a TV show. My only motivation for attending was to try to make a difference; to further political discourse in my community; to draw attention to a cause that is more than valid, it is vital.”

Now I don’t know about you, but from where I am sitting on my precipitous ledge, that sounds like good sense. Charlotte could isolate herself in her life; she could shrug and think it’s not her problem; but instead she is prepared to stick her neck out, prepared to make a stand. And good on her for that.

Charlotte Church isn’t calling it quits either. On Wednesday she will join a Greenpeace protest outside Shell headquarters in London as its oil exploration vessels prepare to restart drilling for oil in the Arctic.

She will sing This Bitter Earth, a song made famous in the Sixties by the blues singer Dinah Washington, which she describes as “one of the most poignant, heartfelt and heart-breaking songs I’ve ever heard”. And how right she is about that song. Please do seek out Washington’s version: I am listening to it now as I write and it’s remarkable, with her sad, soaring voice backed by plaintive strings and scorching lyrics including the line: “What good am I, heaven only knows.”

Church will sing the song while others perform a requiem as part of Greenpeace’s month-long protest against Shell’s billion-dollar desecration beneath the ice cap. Well, Shell says there isn’t a problem but if ravaging one of Earth’s last frozen wildernesses in the hope of sucking out more oil isn’t desecration, then Charlotte Church and me don’t know what is. She describes the venture as “unbelievably dumb” and “exploitative and nonsensical” – and aside from a Shell-suited executive, who could argue with that?

As part of the protest, the same four-piece requiem will be played by different groups, from brass bands to bagpipes. Without wishing to be unkind, perhaps if they stuck to the bagpipes Shell might cave in after a week.

As to requiems, well you can’t beat a good bit of remembrance. As something of a musical magpie, I have alongside all the rock, jazz, folk and so on a mini collection comprising requiems by Mozart, Verdi, Fauré and Durufle. Gloomy, beautiful and uplifting they are too – a little like that song Charlotte Church will be singing on Wednesday.

A few random thoughts…

HERE are a few random thoughts for Friday. No particular order attends these jottings other than their arrival in my mind…

George Osborne’s hair: The chancellor’s hairstyle has drawn a certain amount of comment in the past year. Is it a Caligula pudding-bowl cut? Where did George get the idea? And, more importantly, given his enthusiasm for all things oily and gassy, where does he source his hair dye? Is his hair in fact dyed or is it dipped in a vat of crude oil newly squeezed from a spouting teat in Texas? Unsubstantiated reports that George sometimes licks the crude oil hair dye dripping from his Roman emperor-style barnet can be dismissed as just too disturbing for words.

David Cameron’s face: How does it turn that particular shade of pink? Are the rumours true that secretly at night the prime minister is spit-roasted above blow-holes emitting newly released gas from fissures in the fractured earth? That would certainly explain the suckling-pig cast of his physiognomy and his enthusiasm for fracking.

Amber Rudd: Please explain the point of the energy and climate change secretary, using as few swearwords as possible. Solar-powered answers will be ignored by the government-appointed adjudicator but exam papers bearing smudged fingerprints from the chancellor’s hair dye will automatically be awarded 100 per cent. Is it me or is there something contradictory in that job title? Plenty of people, proper scientists and the like, believe that the extraction of energy causes climate change. So isn’t having both in your job title a push-me-pull-me contradiction?

Amber Rudd Again: The energy at all costs secretary said this week that ministers were to be given the power to decide whether or not to approve applications for fracking if local authorities were deemed to be taking too long to process them. So, Amber, what’s too long? Two weeks, three weeks or five minutes? Perhaps local democracy is going to be spit-roasted alongside David Cameron’s face. But never mind, Amber says that fracking is a “fantastic opportunity” and that delays “don’t help the community, businesses or the country”. And if you can come up with an emptier and yet more sinister form of words than that, then you should give up your job immediately and go and join the government. Just don’t sit too close to George and his hair.

Condoms and aspirin: Man On Ledge has no need for condoms following a long-distant appointment with a surgical snipper. Twenty-one years ago a third child arrived and I was booked for a date with the doctor’s scissors. I don’t think they actually used scissors, but to be honest I wasn’t looking that closely. Anyway, the condom machine in the gents at York Station catches my eye. A selection of condoms are on offer, but this isn’t what draws my attention. No, what jumps out is the packet of aspirins in the top drawer of the dispenser. Is this a new development? Perhaps the hopeful man buys the condoms and then aspirins as well, to cover all the bases. Then when his partner says she isn’t in the mood thanks to her rotten headache, he can present her with an aspirin. It’s just another random thought.

Is Michelle Mone a tsar too far?

POLITICS is show business for ugly people, or so the saying goes. Just who coined the phrase is difficult to say for sure. Some sources suggest a Texas political consultant called Bill Miller.

The two activities do share the need to be noticed. Both tribes thrive on attention: without it their reason for being disappears. Stars want us to see their film, watch their play, and politicians want us to vote for them.

You could also say that politics was show business for boring people. Whether politics actually is boring or not is a matter of taste. It is certainly important, history on the hoof, the history of tomorrow happening right now before our all too indifferent eyes.

But politicians, they can be a grey lot. Perhaps that is why they are prone to being seduced by those from outside their dull circle.

Seduction is perhaps a fitting way to put it with regards to Michelle Mone, the Scottish lingerie queen who has become David Cameron’s latest tsar. Her story is certainly a good one. She grew up in a one-bed tenement flat in Glasgow. There was no bathroom so young Michelle had to wash at the swimming baths. She left school at 15 without any qualifications, and rose to become what a newspaper profile at the weekend termed “one of Britain’s most visible entrepreneurs” fronting her Ultimo brand.

David Cameron met the lingerie supremo at a Downing Street lunch for Scottish executives before the referendum, and Mone later put her push-up bra cleavage behind the No campaign.

The prime minister was obviously impressed, as he has now appointed Mone as his latest business adviser. You may recall that this follows Carol Vorderman as the so-called maths tsar, Tamara Mellon, co-found of Jimmy Choo, as a “global trade ambassador”. Mary Portas has advised on shops, while the designer Anya Hindmarch was touted as another trade ambassador. Rumours that Miss Piggy was hired to offer dietary advice to the nation can be dismissed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, seems to be the epitome of the boring politician – or he would do if his thin-skinned tedium didn’t so often result in harsh and unfeeling policies. Anyway, Iain is clearly star-struck or cleavage-dazzled or whatever by Mone, saying: “There’s no one I can think of that’s better qualified to help young entrepreneurs from deprived backgrounds to turn a good idea into a flourishing business.”

Well, maybe or maybe not. Mone is one of those people you hear about occasionally and think, “Oh, yes, her.” Her life seems to be a storybook tale of success built from nothing but her own determination. But like all such tales it contains much clever self-mythology: in the end Mone, like most such people, is her own product. As always with such striking ascents, she has her detractors: all the way from Rod Stewart (“A devious, publicity-seeking son of a bitch”) to Glasgow-based company director Douglas Anderson, boss of the GAP Group, who reportedly wrote to the prime minister to complain that Mone was a “small-time businesswoman” whose businesses were “excessively over-promoted PR minnows”.

Cameron took so much notice of this caution that there is talk of a Tory peerage for the lingerie queen.

Politicians are much taken with gimmickry, none more so than our whim-surfing prime minister. Good luck to Mone, but I can’t see much coming of this. What she knows is how to live the life she’s led. Whether or not that translates into useful advice for people who don’t happen to be Michelle Mone is debatable.

I suspect that she is a tsar too far.