A muddy buddy tale…

IT IS wet and windy, we are soaked and muddied. My two friends are waiting for me up ahead. They’ve been waiting quite often on the trot round. I did warn them about inviting Puffer Cole along for the run.

We are somewhere in the Studley Royal Estate and a final diversion has been suggested, just as the tearooms were beginning to form in my mind, a lovely mirage of cosiness and cake.

My friends are fitter than me and I have been at the back all the way round. As they chat at the gate, waiting to for me to catch my breath, one friend says to the other that he will have to work when he gets home, putting in a spot of Sunday afternoon toil.

‘So this is the fun part of the day?’ I say. ‘Yes, it is,’ he says, laughing. ‘It really is.’

The wind drops as we set off on the diversion, running along the seven bridges in the valley, although we only find five or maybe six. At the gate we turn round and head back towards the car. One friend puts on a final spurt and disappears into the blowing sheets of rain. The other waits on the bridge by the lake, then we run the last short stretch together.

This run has been a recce for the Jolly Holly Jog, an annual post-Christmas run organised by Ripon Runners. I applied too late to get in but was invited along for this try-out anyway.

Normally I run once or twice a week in York, mostly flat, famously flat, apart from the hill towards home, quite a rise in a city that doesn’t do much in the way of undulating.

So running around muddy hills is not my usual thing. Back at the car, one of us changes beneath the raised boot of his vehicle, while two of us head to the loos to peel off layers of mud-splattered clothing. My running shoes seem now to be made of mud, with worms for laces. Every layer is wet or muddy or both.

From the next cubicle my friend says that he loves the muddy runs because it reminds him of being a child, getting as dirty as you like. My mother told me once recently that I didn’t like getting dirty as a child. I’m not that keen now, although there is something invigorating about becoming so wet and muddy that you no longer care.

Changed, dry and halfway decent, we head to the tearooms next to the small lake. Tea with scones and cream for my friends, a chocolate brownie and a cappuccino for me. Outside the wind is throwing fistfuls of rain at the windows.

We chat about running, life, politics – all the usual stuff. In the car on the way back the gale finds its lungs and blows nastily. Back home I go upstairs for clean clothes and the attic bedroom seems to be setting off on the high seas. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a mast out of the windows – but no, just the trees, straining and flexing in the wind.

It was good to run with friends instead of pounding along by myself – good and sociable. And since I became a man who sits inside too often, tapping away at this sometimes lonely laptop, the company was warm and welcome. Even if the weather wasn’t.

I wonder about telling my friends this, about the importance of friendship, but being a man I don’t get round to saying anything. On the way back one of them says I should write a blog about the run. So I do and here it is.

And thanks to Matt and Erich for the slip-sliding run in the wind and the rain, for giving me a soaking, for the company.

Sometimes a man has to come down from his ledge and go out for miserable run that turns out to be surprisingly uplifting.

 

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The voice at the other end of the phone…

ALL weekend government ministers having been ringing Labour MPs asking for their support in the vote on airstrikes in Syria against Isis strongholds, or so the BBC has been reporting.

If this is true it makes Tory ministers sound like Mafia bosses – “Vote for David or you’ll be waking up next to a horse’s head.” I know that Westminster politicians have always been admirers of the American TV show The West Wing. Now it transpires that they love the Sopranos too.

David Cameron is determined to win the forthcoming vote because, as he keeps indicating, a second loss on a vote to bomb Syria would be a propaganda coup for Isis – as well as an embarrassment to the prime minister, of course. Shouldn’t something as serious as this be above the red face or otherwise of a prime minister?

Simon Jenkins, the former editor of The Times, wrote the other day that Cameron’s drive to bomb Syria was “macho, foolish and must be stopped”.

Yet the one leading politician who is determined to do this has been open to the deepest bile and the most vicious attacks – many of them from MPs in his own party.

The reason government ministers are said to have been doing a Tony Soprano is that Jeremy Corbyn has challenged David Cameron’s bombastic call to arms. As with Afghanistan and Iraq, the pre-bombing talk is all so stirring while being vague – so determined in what it will achieve, yet uncertain exactly what will be achieved, besides blowing up benighted Syrian villages where Isis are said to hide out.

It is possible to have your own doubts – is this right or wrong, shouldn’t we be doing at least something after the horrors of Paris? – while still being alarmed that once again jingoism and stained national pride are being dusted off before another call to war.

MPs as a group seem to be like sardines under the sea at such times, massing together in a sort of unthinking cloud, swimming and swerving together, and not allowed to break away from the pack.

Sardines do that to protect themselves; MPs do it to protect their sense of worth and importance. And you can’t help worrying that being macho makes them feel more important.

Not all MPs think that way. And that’s why there should be a free vote on whether or not to bomb Syria: a vote free of party influence, and a vote free from a voice at the other end of the phone making threatening noises.

As for David Cameron, he now wants to bomb Syria for a completely different reason than the last time round. Then it was to help remove Assad – now it’s to bomb Isis and help keep Assad in power.

Smooth assurances are what you always get from Mr Cameron, and the same is true here. But stirring words from a smooth operator are hardly what you need when considering whether or not to join the French and the Americans in dropping bombs on Isis.

And how much of this latest foreign adventure is actually about the prime minister wanting to look good?

No one can have been unmoved by what happened in Paris – no one can avoid feeling that something must be done. But isn’t there a danger here that bombing Isis strongholds in Syria is the real ‘publicity coup’ for these terrorists? By treating this as a war, we are accepting at face value that Isis are worthy of a war. We are in a colloquial sense ‘bigging them up’ – aren’t we?

None of this is easy, but amid the growing bellicose rumble we should still be able to ask if the case for dropping bombs has been truly made. And that’s why MPs should be free to vote as they wish.

In the House of Lards, sorry, Lords…

I HAVE just Googled the words ‘Lord Prior of Brampton’ and frankly I was disappointed by the results. Where had the fat man gone too?

It is fair to say that the fat man existed only in my mind. It was a convenient construct. And possibly a product of knee-jerk thinking.

You see, Lord Prior of Brampton has been in the headlines for saying in the House of Lards – sorry, Lords – that foodbanks were a paradox at a time when we have an obesity crisis.

So that was why I wanted to find a fat man, a richly obese sort who made this proclamation from within the comfortable confines of a Michelin Man body.

Sadly, Lord Brampton does not fit that template at all. From my Google search he looks perfectly fit and healthy. And not fat in the least. How disparaging it is when your preconceptions don’t live up to mean expectation.

Anyway, Lord Brampton finds it ‘strange’ that people should need food banks when we are all so fat nowadays. Apart from Lord Brampton. And me: a layer of waistline wodge, nothing too serious, just a bit of a struggle doing up the buttons on newly washed Levis.

Lord Brampton is a Tory minister, the minister for NHS productivity indeed. He is not the minister for putting his foot in it, or not officially. His remarks in the Lords went down like a ton of donated baked beans, after he insisted that there was no link between benefit changes and the emergence of foodbanks in some hospitals.

He said: “It is a strange situation around the world that we have both a problem with obesity and an issue with nutrition as well.”

All sorts of lordly opprobrium was heaped on his bald head for that. One of those speaking out was Labour’s shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy, who was reported as saying: “More out of touch nonsense from this government. The only ‘strange situation’ is a Tory Minister who doesn’t understand why his government’s policies are forcing families up and down the country to rely on foodbanks.”

In the Lords, Lord Cashman, a former EastEnders actor and ex-MEP, said: “I would point out that foodbanks result because people are going hungry. People are starving in this country and should not have to rely on such charity.

“Would he not agree with me that obesity often occurs with people on very meagre budgets who have to have the worst kind of food in order to feel satisfied?”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in the Lords that the Church of England had found that up to 45 per cent of those seeking support from foodbanks say they are running out of food because of “changes to the benefits system and sanctions”.

Lord Brampton brushed this off, saying: “I think the issue is much more complex than the Right Reverend prelate is suggesting”.

Ah, what a country we live in where a political slanging match can contain the words “Right Reverend prelate”. And what a place the House of Lords is: filled with well-aged wisdom, and yet still able to stud the dough of democracy with currant-like bits of stupidity.

As to Lord Brampton, he has led a blameless life of public school (Chaterhouse), Cambridge, a few years of investment banking, then becoming a barrister, and after that a Tory MP, before his elevation to the Lords. How can one man have fitted so many noble deeds into one life?

Foodbanks have always been an embarrassment to the Tories, many of whom prefer to believe that poverty is basically the fault of the poor. If only they’d only gone and got themselves born into a life of privilege, then there wouldn’t be a problem at all.

If you believe that the poor are to blame for their disadvantage, that they are in that horrible Victorian phrase the “undeserving poor”, then it makes life simple.

The funny thing is, Lord Brampton is right to say that there is obesity is a modern paradox, but he wasn’t showing much lordly compassion is saying, basically: ‘If people are fat why do they need to go to foodbanks?”

Irritable footnote: Man On Ledge has to rewrite this after Windows did an automatic reboot…

Mao and then… and money down the back of the sofa

WE’LL get to John McDonnell Mao’s moment later. First here is something forwarded to me by one of the three offspring.

There’s a video clip doing the rounds showing Chancellor George Osborne making his Autumn Statement. Drone, drone, drone – on he goes. Over his shoulder sits David Cameron. The slogan to the clip reads: ‘When you eat sweets on the sly in class…’

And there the Prime Minister is, popping sweets into his mouth. Fitting as at the same time his chancellor was popping sweeties into the nation’s mouth. Some of them might turn out to be those sweets that go suddenly sour. It’s always hard to say when the budgetary bonbons are fresh out of the bag.

The headline announcement concerned the scrapping of the generally reviled plan to cut tax credits. Osborne did not do a U-turn so much as a screeching, Top Gear-style handbrake-turn here, with the Treasury tyres smoking like crazy.

All summer long the chancellor and his cronies had been saying that these cuts had to be made – and would even be good for people (thanks, Jeremy Hunt, for that idiotic contribution). Then Osborne manages to defuse the political bomb due to an unexpected £27 billion fiscal windfall. As everyone is saying this morning, he found the money down the back of the sofa. Except that what he really found was a note saying there might be more money down there if he had a look in a while.

One minute he is doing that stern uncle thing, frowning beneath his Roman emperor crop – is that hair dyed? – saying that we just have to save this money for the good of the nation. You can’t have a successful NHS without a successful economy and so droningly on. The next he has found billions to spare since the last tax projection back in July.

The ease with which Osborne can jump from penury to prosperity is remarkable – and all because of an apparent turn-around in projected tax receipts over the next five years, as drawn up on the back of an envelope by the Office For Budget Responsibility.

The chancellor claimed to have listened on tax credits – presumably to his own backbenchers telling him it was a terrible idea and he was a screaming loon for coming up with it. He presented his U-turn with a flourish of chutzpah: at a stroke, mean Scrooge Osborne turned into a present-delivering elf.

As is the way, he brushed off this embarrassing climb-down as the right thing to do. It is certainly good news for those families who were about to be hit – although some of them may still be affected once the small-print poring has been done. The new universal credit will not escape similar reduction, and this will worry many.

These mini-budgets – ‘budgettes’, perhaps – seem to arrive with remarkable regularity these days. Mostly they are an excuse for Parliamentary theatre, a spot of early pantomime this time round. But instead of Berwick Kaler at York Theatre Royal we had the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell jokingly brandishing a copy of the Little Red Book of Mao Zedong, the Chinese communist leader, and then throwing the book as Osborne.

McDonnell was on the BBC Today programme a short while ago saying that this was a joke intended to show how the government was prepared to hand over our national assets to the Chinese.

A good point but a very bad joke.

The thing about a joke is that people have to find them funny. The humour here ended up being directed at the stand-up politician and the point he was trying to make was lost amid the clamour of derision.

Comedians can’t go on the radio later and explain their punchlines, and politicians shouldn’t try that one either. And jokes based on the thoughts of a man who cost the lives of millions of people are in the poorest of taste.

McDonnell’s routine backfired badly because it exposed him and his party to ridicule. The Little Red Book stands as a caricature of what is wrong with left-wing thought, so he made himself look ridiculous by bringing this up. Rather as if Osborne and Cameron decided to stand up in Parliament and do a Bullingdon Club tribute act, throwing bread rolls and trashing the place.

You can live and die by your own caricatures.

As it was, the boorish delight the Tories took in McDonnell’s mistimed joke was enough to put you off ever watching the news again. All those red faces, all those smarmy chops and all that demented hilarity: all because of one rotten joke.

Dropping bombs in a moral quagmire

SHOULD Britain join the air campaign against Isis in its Syrian strongholds? This is debateable – except that, in a strict sense, it isn’t.

David Cameron only wants to commit to a Parliamentary vote on this matter when he knows he can win. So there won’t be much to debate – just a desire to set about “smashing the bastards” as one Tory MP with a military background told Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer last Sunday.

Nothing about this matter comes without qualifications. The prime minister sought and failed to secure Parliamentary approval for airstrikes against Syria in 2013, and the experience was raw. Now he only wants to hold a debate he can win – officially because a second defeat would present Isis with a propaganda present wrapped in a nice democracy bow. But also because it would be a personal humiliation for Cameron, so he wants a non-debating debate. What in other circumstances you might call a fix-up.

Traditionally the outcome of a debate depends on the passion and skill of the speakers on the day – not on massaging everything beforehand so that the debate goes in the desired direction.

Are airstrikes against Isis in Syria the answer? Nothing about this question is straightforward, unless you belong to the ‘bomb the bastards’ contingent. And plenty of MPs on all sides do, although there are doubters in all parties too.

When David Cameron finally gets his no-debate debate, he will have a moral quagmire to cross. When he failed to win the last debate, the stated cause was to punish and remove Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons. Now the aim is to attack the Syrian dictator’s biggest enemy: so we’ve moved from punishing Assad to taking out his biggest opponent.

So Cameron will be balancing on some bristly tussocks as he crosses that quagmire. The bombs he now wants to drop will assist the man he previously swore to remove. Won’t that take a bit of explaining?

The atrocity in Paris has made Cameron’s job much easier. The desire to act against Isis is understandable – indeed, how could we not want to do something to help in the fight against these demented barbarians who believe they have divine sanction to kill whoever they wish?

Perhaps in the end that desire outweighs all others – outweighs all doubt too. David Cameron will certainly be hoping so, and his job is being made easier by the mounting hostility in the Labour Party to the pacifist leanings of their leader.

Jeremy Corbyn seems to lack support among his own MPs who feel embarrassed by his equivocations. In one sense this shows how difficult it is for a political leader to express pacifist views – or even own up to a doubt or two – amid the bellicose ranks of MPs. And that’s a great pity, yet pacifists in whatever shape have always been shouted down.

David Cameron insists that bombing Isis in Syria would make Britain safer at home – but the opposite could be true, with a retaliatory Paris-style attack being directed at London or another major city. Those who wish to drop more bombs have to admit that the actions they desire could in fact make life more risky for Britons. That’s not to say we shouldn’t bomb Isis, more that we should be open about the risks.

This pacifist-inclined man on a ledge generally disparages the ‘bomb the bastards’ contingent as being morally dubious. The trouble is the do-nothing alternative seems morally questionable too.

That’s why it’s a quagmire.

Well, at least we’re not being led into this marsh by a former TV PR man gifted with a different face for every occasion. Oh, hang on…

Will the bookshop now have a happy ending?

DO YOU like your books three-dimensional and made of paper, with pages that curl and can be turned back or even bent over (please not if you’ve borrowed one from me) – or do you prefer the neatness of a digital book?

The other day in conversation my mother-in-law mentioned that she didn’t like what she described as an ‘i-book’. At first I thought she way saying she didn’t like electronic books, odd as I’m sure she has one. Then all was cleared up. What she meant was that she didn’t like a novel written as a first-person narrative – an I-book, if you will.

This came back to me when I was reading a story on the business pages. That is not a locale in which I usually linger, but the headline caught my eye – “Undaunted by Amazon, Waterstones boss is on course to make profit.”

Now this is certainly good news for those of us who like to read. Four years ago Waterstones was looking like a busted flush – and in danger of going the same way as Borders, which was a lovely book chain until it went downhill and eventually disappeared. Now Waterstones has stepped back from the brink of bankruptcy and is about to make its first annual profit since the financial crisis, according to a report in The Guardian at the weekend.

The managing director responsible for the turnaround in fortunes at Waterstones is called James Daunt, and perhaps the most interesting detail is his CV is that he used to run a chain of independent bookshops in London, Daunt Books. So he came to the job with a proper love of books and an understanding of what readers like.

The usual tough decisions were made. Daunt cut costs and shed jobs – and as the previous occupier of a job that was shed and shredded to nothing, I know that can hurt – but he does seem to have turned the chain round.

Daunt says that the shops he inherited were dull and needed a reboot, or perhaps a re-book. “There was no interest, excitement or originality in the shops,” he says. This was certainly true in York, where the Waterstones was huge – full of books but empty in spirit. A move across town to a smaller shop proved to be a tonic, as the new branch is friendlier and more interesting, and even boasts a pleasant café in what was once the editor’s office of the Yorkshire Evening Press, unless my memory is playing tricks.

A good Waterstones is a bonus for this city and any city, although we mustn’t forget the locally owned bookshops too, should we be lucky enough to still have such a rare bookish beast.

Buying books in person from a good bookshop, a local shop or a chain, is so much more satisfying than sending off for something on Amazon. The leisurely browse is part of the pleasure, just being surrounded by all those books, all those words, in serried ranks. It is an unremarkable truth in life that a decent bookshop probably contains more pleasure, diversion and enlightenment than anywhere else on earth. And Waterstones or anyone else can have that one for free.

James Daunt puts the resurgence down to a revival in the fortunes of the physical book, with industry figures showing sales of hardbacks and paperbacks rising by three per cent in the first half of this year. Sales of e-books are at the same time falling, and demand for the Kindle e-reader is said to be declining.

To answer my own opening question, I like both. My Kindle was a birthday present a few years back. It is easy to use and has offered the various pleasures of Lee Child, Graham Greene, Saul Bellow and all of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

It’s a basic Kindle, without unnecessary further distractions: you can download books and read them, and that’s it. Ideal for journeys, and quite a pleasing object to have in your hands.

So why don’t I use it more often? Oh, you know. It’s something to do with the physical book, ink and the paper bound into one of the oldest but simplest delights around.

I do like the Kindle and intend to download a bit of Agatha Christie sometime soon as the old Queen of Crime is a gap for me: never read a single one.

But at the moment I am re-reading a Penguin paperback copy of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and what a happy reunion that is proving to be. Snappy as a clip round the head, the wisecracking lines keeping on coming as Philip Marlowe works for a millionaire being given the squeeze by a blackmailer.

Last night in an insomniac daze one line jumped out at me. Marlowe has rescued a dangerous damsel he’d found naked apart from her earrings. She’d been sharing a room with a dead man. When he returns the body has gone, although he can still see the drag marks on the rug. “Whoever had done this had meant business. Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

Great words, however you read them, but especially on paper and with a lurid yellow cover, with the book’s title reversed out of the red shadow of a gun.

The importance of being militantly normal…

WHEN my brother owned a small flat in Paris, he was very proud of his ‘terrasse’. To reach this small outside area you had to climb through the window. If two of you were out there at the same time, it was an advantage to be on intimate terms. If you weren’t before, you certainly were afterwards.

This small family story came back to me when reading about a slogan gaining online popularity following the atrocity in Paris. After the Charlie Hebdo shootings, ‘Je suis Charlie’ gained international currency as people expressed their anger and their solidarity at the killings.

The new slogan is less dramatic, less neat – but powerful in its own way, too. It is this: ‘Je suis en terrasse.’ This translates as ‘I am sitting at a terrace’ and the English equivalent might be ‘I am down the pub.’

Restaurants and bars in Paris are said to be reporting fewer customers than usual, although people are still going out. Amid the sorrow, anger and uncertainty – amid, too, the recriminations, the fear and the racial tensions – doing something as normal as going out for a café au lait, a verre de biere or a verre de vin becomes an act of militant togetherness.

I like this notion of the ordinary elevated into defiance. While going out for a drink or a meal won’t change anything directly, it does help to suggest that the people of Paris won’t be cowed into hiding indoors.

Of course you can’t escape the sad truth that there will be repercussions for years – personal, political and societal. Yet showing that life can be normal again, even if it is a new post-traumatic normal, is an important step.

France is a troubled country at present, a frail and divided country even before the attacks. President Hollande may have acted with dignity and offered the solidity and strength his countrymen needed to see, but he was a weak leader before the attacks, and probably remains so still.

Another normality is the use of social media at times of tragedy and tension. Conflicting theories suggest that social media can help or that it pollutes what has happened by sending out waves of anonymous sympathy to strangers half a world away. Does this vomiting up of emotion make us more or less human – more or less connected?

Hard to say and I guess it depends on taste. Personally I’d rather not emote on Facebook and Twitter, but perhaps others gain something from this.

What can’t be denied is that sometimes a bit of Twitter nonsense can raise the spirits. So it was in Belgium when the police asked citizens not to tweet about armed operations being carried on around the country on Sunday night. The authorities feared, and still fear, a Paris-style attack in Brussels. So this was serious stuff.

Yet according to reports this morning, people responded by putting amusing pictures of their cats on Twitter, using the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown. Many of the pets are in costumes. Assuming the pictures are genuine, that must be quite an effort. Never mind putting your cat in a Superman outfit, you’d have to be Superman to pull off that feat with our cat. Perhaps Belgian cats are unusually cooperative.

Anyway at the top of today’s Man On Ledge you can see one of those pictures, courtesy of Twitter. It shows Belgian counter-terrorist cats, apparently.

I don’t normally go for this sort of stuff. But if internet silliness and inanity is another measure of normality, then bring it on.

BBC bias, a woman doing her job and London Spy

A FEW scattered thoughts today on broadcasting and television. The Guardian columnist Owen Jones made a good point the other day when he said that the claim of ‘liberal bias’ at the BBC was ‘a clever fairytale that allows the right to police the corporation and set the wider political agenda’.

There is much merit in his argument, especially in the notion that the Tories have created a liberal ‘monster’ that doesn’t really exist – but rushes on with the hunt anyway, chasing away the imagined lefties who run the BBC and keeping the Corporation in line.

Historically, the Tories have always had more sympathetic coverage in the newspapers, so keeping the BBC under their sweaty thumb is a useful strategy in hogging the political limelight and therefore staying in power.

It is fair to say that many voters do not look all that deeply into the pool. Just this morning on BBC Radio 4, a woman from Oldham could be heard having a rant about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn not being tough enough to stand up to the terrorists. This is a slanted view, but one she was happy to swallow whole and spit back out in the face of a BBC reporter. As the by-election in Oldham marks Corbyn’s first big challenge as Labour leader, these things matter and will be argued over.

Where this question of bias becomes more difficult is when supporters of Corbyn start accusing the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg of bias. Kuenssberg has been accused by the likes of Stop The War Coalition of “naked BBC bias” and being “openly scornful as she mocked Corbyn’s stance on Trident weapons”. That was back in October, but such complaints continue to pop up on social media.

Asking the Labour leader tough or even leading questions isn’t biased – it’s journalism. Kuenssberg is doing her job, just as Corbyn is doing his job in defending his principles. She is a good presenter – and I say that as a lifelong bit of a leftie.

So don’t attack TV journalists for doing what they are paid to do, but do ask reasonable questions. My take on this is that the BBC is a small ‘c’ conservative organisation which tips its hat a little too much to the Conservative Party – even though many Tories hate the BBC on ideological grounds and seem at present to have BBC bosses running scared. But without the weight provided by the BBC, the news seesaw would be even more heavily weighted by those on the right, and any question of balance would be gone for good.

Bias does it is true have a subtle influence too, in that sometimes the BBC too slavishly follows an agenda set by the Labour-phobic, Tory lickspittle papers – rather than navigating its own proud way through these always choppy waters.

But let’s move to something the BBC is doing very well at the moment: London Spy on BBC2. Tom Rob Smith’s five-part thriller is a dark and vicious delight.

Ben Whishaw gives a remarkable performance as a young gay man who believes himself worldly wise. That is (spoiler alert!) until he is drawn into a dark maze after the man he thought of as his lover and partner is murdered and found stuffed into a case in his attic, alongside assorted S&M implements. The dead lover turns out to have been a spy, a man of mystery, lies and lethal malleability, apparently happy to mould himself to the needs of those around him – yet icily aloof and detached too.

Whishaw is fantastic to watch, his every emotion writ large on his face – a face that carries much of what happens. He is beautifully matched with the ever-wonderful Jim Broadbent as Scottie, an older man with tangled longings for Danny, Whishaw’s character.

A two-hander scene in last week’s episode saw the pair acting their own socks off – and each other’s too. It was raw and yet humane, and just so human in a shattered, angry, mournful way.

A favourite Jim Broadbent moment comes in Le Weekend, in which a middle-aged couple attempt to rekindle their romance in Paris. At one point, Broadbent’s character, Nick Burrows, is listening to Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone through his headphones, dad-dancing around the hotel bedroom in his T-shirt and pants, so ordinary and so gloriously lost in the moment. It made me laugh and cry in the same moment, and that’s not a bad trick.

Junior doctors and infant ministers…

HERE’S the most telling quote to date about the proposed strike by junior doctors. The speaker, one of those unnamed sources national newspapers find so useful, is referring to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt…

“Number ten sees this as a miners’ moment and wants him to look tough.”

The anonymous source in The Guardian goes on to say that Downing Street and the Treasury are “backing Jeremy on this and pressurising him to be deeply muscular” – leaving the medical profession in despair as they “want him to sort it out before it ends up with a strike that nobody wants”.

In my experience of strikes, few people truly want them but sometimes they happen anyway because once that boulder starts rolling it is hard to stop. Intransigence and pride have something to do with it too: staff who feel they are not being listened to face up to bosses who don’t wish to be “pushed around” – and who often talk disdainfully of their own staff.

In this role, Jeremy Hunt appears to have cast himself as the very worst sort of boss when it comes to dealing with junior doctors. Highhanded and dismissive, he seems happy to misrepresent what is happening and to confuse the public while going out of his way to annoy junior doctors. And isn’t that label a bit of a misnomer? It seems that a ‘junior doctor’ can be anyone from a recent graduate to a doctor with 20 years of experience. This allows Hunt to give the impression that he is dealing with bolshie young doctors who should knuckle down and get on with their lives. In fact those who oppose him are dedicated to the public – and to the much-battered NHS reeling from a lack of proper investment.

You could see this coming when Hunt mishandled what he said was an 11 per cent pay rise for junior doctors. Many of the medics insisted this wasn’t a pay rise at all – and pointed out that Hunt also wanted to extend the so-called social hours a doctor could work.

The other main plank in Hunt’s attack has been to bang on about a seven-day NHS – something which already exists. So what David Cameron and his health secretary have done here – possibly at the evil urgings of Chancellor George Osborne – is to create a conflict by summoning unnecessary ghosts, implying that the doctors are against something which already happens anyway. A false phantom being a useful friend to have in a dispute, something to drag out and use to scare the punters.

But a ‘miners’ moment’? Oh come off it. This suggests two things to me. One: at heart Tory governments enjoy a good confrontation with what they see as vested interests. Two: miners are those almost extinct, black-faced toilers under the earth – and doctors are those many-hued toilers on the wards who dedicate the long hours of their working lives to the NHS, to saving lives and to treating people.

Maybe the doctors’ leaders could budge a little more, and certainly arbitration might help – something that Jeremy Hunt refuses to consider, preferring to bully and blunder his way into an unnecessary strike.

And if the far from deeply muscular looking Hunt or any other member of the government can’t tell the difference between a miner and a doctor, then they should watch out when they go to the doctors to have their prostate checked. If they end up seeing a miner rather than a doctor, it’ll be more than a finger going up there.

 

French husband’s words of grief should be heard by all

A MAN of sorrow and great humanity is speaking as I begin to type. His words are ones everyone should hear.

News comes to us in so many different ways these days, and I was ‘introduced’ to Antoine Leiris, above, while wasting time on Facebook. This bereaved husband of a young woman who died in the Paris attacks yesterday delivered an eloquent memorial to his wife Hélène Muyal. She was killed by gunmen in the atrocity at the Bataclan concert hall last Friday night.

Antoine’s message was soon everywhere and it is easy to see why. Speaking only hours after viewing the body of his 35-year-old wife, the French radio journalist vows that he and his 17-month-old son will never live in fear of terrorists.

He titles his message: ‘You will not have my hatred’ – and those words alone carry great weight. Hatred is obvious and it takes great powers of dignity and restraint to muster such a response. Antoine speaks in English and his words are calm and reasoned, while being delivered with an affecting tremor of sorrow. His statement is worth seeking out in full, worth listening to in full, but here is a taster…

“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.

“I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God for whom you kill blindly made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife is a wound in his heart.

“So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”

Antoine’s wife, a makeup artist, was among the 89 people killed when gunmen opened fire during a gig by the US rock band Eagles of Death Metal. Her husband says that he has just seen her body after and that “she was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago”.

Every death in the Paris attacks will have been as tragic in their own way, but sometimes it takes someone speaking with utter clarity to push aside the mists of incomprehension.

Antoine seems to be saying that those who killed the love of his life are not worthy of his contempt. In his always useful guide to philosophy, The Meaning of Things, AC Grayling devotes two pages to hate, saying at one point: “Someone truly contemptible does not merit the energy that stronger emotions require” – and that perhaps is where this grieving Frenchman is coming from.

Grayling ends his chapter on hate with a quotation from Sartre. It seems fitting to include these words from the French philosopher and writer: “It is enough that one man hate another for hate to gain, little by little, all of mankind.”

Hatred can grip a nation, understandably, and can breed further hatred of those who are different from us – and can, in France certainly, give sour succour to the far right. It can also lead to demands for action, which was why France sent in the bombers immediately after the Paris attacks.

David Cameron is already campaigning to win over MPs to an extension of airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State. This isn’t necessarily wrong – but neither is it necessarily right. Prime ministers like a bellicose response because it sounds tough and speaks the people’s language of revenge. Put crudely, Cameron wants to bomb the shit out of Islamic State in Syria because he then looks like a decisive man who is doing something to eradicate this lethal terrorist state.

Many MPs now support such an aim, including reportedly some 15 Labour MPs who are in opposition to their leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Cameron often spins that old Blairite line about dropping the bombs to protect people here in Britain. But is there any real proof that the one equals the other – or could it be the case that bombing where you hope the terrorists are hiding out just in the end creates more terrorists?

Yesterday four former US air force service members suggested this was the case. They warned Barack Obama that targeted killings by military drones had become a major driving force for terrorists groups such as Isis. In other words, an intended ‘good’ had turned into something ‘bad’.