Newsprint can still shine in the electronic world…

LATE last night I did something shocking. It was like a quaint throwback in a way. A chatty Californian had just gone up to her room and I sat up and read the newspaper for half-an-hour. No music, no television. Just the crisply landscaped pages of the Observer.

Post-Brexit, I have found this to be a comfort of sorts. Last Sunday’s edition was full of reports and opinions about our crazy decision to leave Europe. And I have read just about every word, with one exception.

The best piece by far was part of a yes/no argument about what happens now, with the novelist Howard Jacobson in the fearful camp, and the Tory MP Theresa Villiers in the hopeful camp.

Unlike some newspapers, the Observer will give a platform to both sides of an argument, instead of twisting every fibre of an issue to fit its beliefs (yes, Daily Mail, we are talking about you; and you needn’t look smug, Daily Express, either).

Jacobson’s piece was superb, sorrowful and angry, funny and wise. Do seek it out. As for Villiers, I stumbled at the first paragraph and fell by the second. It wasn’t that I disagreed with her. Learning what the “other side” thinks is a good thing. No, it was just such a dull piece of writing, whereas Jacobson shone. One nil to the novelist.

Sometimes I struggle with my chosen Sunday newspaper, especially if there is not much happening and the reports seem dull. But last Sunday’s edition was first-rate. And it reminded me of the pleasure to be had in good old newsprint, and set me off thinking about the new electronic world versus the old paper one, and also about the time I fritter on Facebook and Twitter.

My feelings on this are complicated and a little hypocritical, I guess. For while I love a good newspaper, I only buy two a week and spend too long on my phone, checking the news, chuckling or frowning at Facebook or skimming across the surface of the Twitter lake (a bottomless place if you are not careful).

As I do not have an office to go into, I find Facebook both a comfort and an annoyance. On the good side, it’s like having colleagues and friends at a remove; on the bad side, you don’t half waste time on there. Or I do. Only snatches of time, but it adds up.

After I put down the newspaper last night, I hopped back into the electronic world and saw that a friend had posted that she was now staying away from Facebook, partly for reasons of using time better; and partly because of the conflicts that can arise between having real friends and social media friends.

This friend has said such things before, then slipped back into the Facebook bubble bath of inconsequentialities. So we shall see.

I like Facebook but sometimes it deflects me from the path of firmer purpose. It also raises a smile often. Points me at different sorts of news. Tells me about friends. So it’s mostly for the good. And it’s how most readers locate my little ledge.

As for print versus the electronic world, both have their virtues. But reading a proper newspaper done well, and not glancing at it while watching television, cannot be beaten, I’d say. And some newspaper websites are awful – not so much for what they contain, but for the endless adverts that drag everything down so much that the site becomes unusable.

I often look at my old newspaper’s website and end up leaving, frustrated not by what it contains, but the impossibility of reading anything.

When it comes to writing, I sometimes wonder if I’d be better going back. All you need is a room with a desk, a chair and a typewriter. Sadly, I got rid of my beloved old Hermes typewriter years ago. That old beast offered no distractions, just a mechanical means of bashing out words.

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To England you are a disgrace…

IN the past few days, various pieces of nastiness have floated to the surface of British life. I don’t mean Nigel Farage giving inflammatory speeches. He’s always doing that and we expect nothing less.

Not long after the vote to quit Europe was announced, examples of the ugly side to British life began to bubble up through the post-vote sludge. First Polish families in Cambridgeshire were said to have had cards pushed through their doors telling them to go home (with the text helpfully printed in English and Polish).

Yesterday further examples of such disgraceful behaviour were shared on Facebook. These snapshots suggest that unless we are careful the post-Brexit mood is going to turn nasty. And may well have done so already.

One of the posts was from Channel 4 News and it showed commuters on a tram in Manchester – big, decent-hearted Manchester, a city of many people. The tram is crowded and a tall man with a ponytail has attracted the attention of a runty yob. The youth shouts, “I’ll waste you, bro”. The man says: “How old are you?” The yob says: “Don’t even talk to me – you’re an immigrant…” Only his version contains more bleeped-out f-words. “You’re a dirty little immigrant. Get back to Africa.”

The man, who sounds American, says: “You are very ignorant – you’re not very intelligent, do you know that?”

The dim lump of Mancunian humanity starts chanting: “Get of the tram – get off the tram.” Then the genetic-throwback and a similarly dumb pal push down the tram and start flicking beer from bottles at the man. A woman passenger says: “There’s a baby there. There’s no need for that. There’s absolutely no need for that.”

The victim, angry but squaring up, says: “Seven years in the military…” Others around him say it’s not worth it.

The yobs leave or are pushed off, amid cries of “Disgrace.” One woman says something poetic in its anger: “To England you are a disgrace.”

The woman who filmed the clip told Channel 4 News how scared she was; and who could blame her, but well done for capturing a sorry incident that illustrates how careful we have to be right now.

Another post was from the excellent James O’Brien on LBC and shows him taking a call from a German woman who has lived in Britain for 43 years and relates, heartbreakingly, how she has been receiving abuse since the vote.

Amnesty UK reports a 57 per cent rise in reports of racist incidents, with director Kate Allen saying: “Some people now feel licensed to express racist views in a way we haven’t seen for decades. The referendum campaign was marked by divisive, xenophobic rhetoric as well as a failure from political leaders to condemn it. We are now reaping the referendum rhetoric whirlwind.”

Yesterday that whirlwind blew into Leeds, with reports suggesting a Polish shopkeeper had been attacked and “told to go back to his country”. Further examples lobbed into the national dartboard of xenophobia include a Muslim schoolgirl reported to have been cornered by a rabble who said: “Get out, we voted leave” and the Eastern Europeans allegedly stopped from using the Underground with shouts of, “Go back to your own country.”

Another example includes right-wing protestors in Newcastle carrying placards urging the country to “start repatriation”.

Such examples should depress the hell out of us. They have not been caused by the vote to leave, as such attitudes already existed below the skin like incipient boils or something. But in the post-Brexit heat, too many people feel free to scratch away at the hate.

As a proud but disillusioned member of the 48 per cent, I deplore the snapshot of our country these incidents give. Of course most of those who voted to leave also deplore such views. But some of them perhaps do not. And that should worry us. It should make us angry.

But we should we react with the authority of that man on the tram in Manchester. And we should all chant that phrase spoken on that tram, words that deserve to become a slogan for a worried age: “To England you are a disgrace.”

The man who wasn’t there and some who sadly were…

TODAY I shall tell you about the man who wasn’t there. This week we are surrounded by men one might wish were not there, or men who no longer are there (Boris Johnson in the first category, England manager Roy Hodgson in the other).

The man who wasn’t there has no connection to the would-be prime minister or the man with his head in his hands. He is not a conniving old Etonian who has just helped to do over another conniving old Etonian; and he is not the manager who resigned after overseeing the most woeful England game in memory – losing 1-2 to tournament minnows Iceland.

I watched the game and then remembered why often I don’t. Iceland were brave, skilful and dazzling, and England were none of those things. It was a Boy’s Own win, a sparkler of a story and would have been uplifting if our own side hadn’t been the desperate losers. Maybe it even was uplifting in a self-hurting way, as surely you only deserve to win if you deserve to win.

But let me tell you about the man who wasn’t there. This house of ours has seen many guests in the past year and this one was a perfect mystery.

Last week was unusually hectic in the word-worrying business, allied to a spot of daughter-ferrying, Volvo stuttering and temporary white van man antics. Amid the personal busyness, I was asked at the last-minute to stand in on a feature, so had another day’s work.

As I was juggling returning the van early, picking up the resuscitated old Swede and checking the train times to Wakefield, a guest got in touch. He wondered if he could have a key ahead of his stay on the next night as he might be going for a pint after his event. He was staying one night at the Bar Convent, and one with us. In a flurry of white van dashing and bicycle pedalling, I returned the van and left a key at reception.

All arranged and sorted, although I did have to phone the hire place from the petrol pumps to ask how you removed the fuel cap on the white van. Then I had to ask a proper horny-handed van driver how you returned the fuel cap after filling. And after all that I was generous in my diesel estimation and gave the rather expensive hire company too much fuel in return. “You won’t get anything back from this lot,” said the man who checked the van over.

The next day was busy and enjoyable, and when the day was done I sat up late watching television, half-reading the newspapers and engaging in phone fiddling, a modern addiction to which I have become addicted.

By 11.30pm our late-arriving guest had not arrived, so I went to bed, leaving a few lights on. A couple of post-it notes went on two doors – “This is your room” and “This is the bathroom.”

In the morning the lights were still on, the notes were still in place. And there was no sign of our guest. My first thought was to panic. Had this poor man been unable to open the door or had I given him the wrong key? Was he at this moment sitting shivering on the doorstep? Was he about to sue our useless Airbnb arses?

Puzzled, I checked the house phone. And there was a message from our missing man. Two messages and I’d not heard either of them. He’d been booked into the Bar Convent for two nights instead of one, so wouldn’t need to stay with us after all, but was happy to pay.

“I’ll be the quietest guest you’ve ever had,” he said.

And it’s true because he was.

Corbyn crisis just adds to the storm…

JEREMY Corbyn is like a boy playing hide and seek. He has his eyes closed and is counting away. Then he opens them and starts to look around, nothing too energetic mind you, only to discover that most of his friends have gone home and no longer wish to play with him.

At a time when the government is in crisis, when the country faces stormy waters without a chart, the Labour opposition has started falling apart too.

Boris Johnson may well be standing on his Telegraph soapbox this morning proclaiming the need to build bridges following the vote to leave Europe, while talking of “feelings of dismay, and of loss, and of confusion” – a state of affairs which he helped to create in the hope of becoming prime minister.

Johnson proclaims that “the negative consequences are being wildly overdone”. Well maybe but negative consequences are all we have at the moment; and negative consequences seem ready to sink Jeremy Corbyn’s shaky raft.

At the time of writing, and counting, 12 members of the shadow cabinet have resigned, including shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, whose department removed the first brick from the wall.

With the government rudderless, following David Cameron’s time-lapsed resignation, and with Britain’s former 27 partners in Europe withdrawing to discuss what should happen to us now, the country could do with a strong opposition. Instead it has a ragbag squabble of an opposition falling out among themselves over their leader’s role in the referendum.

At present Corbyn is insisting he will stay and will put himself into any new leadership contest. He always has been in an odd position as leader, voted in on the back of a tidal wave of mostly new supporters, and yet not much admired by many of the MPs he commands. And all of this matched to a public perception that he could never be prime minister. An uneasy combination; and that’s why his leadership appears to be coming apart.

There are more important matters to worry about, so it says something that all attention should be on the seemingly disintegrating opposition this morning.

Can Corbyn survive this storm? Perhaps by a display of political derring-do he will cling on. If so, he will need to appeal to a wider congregation than those new party members whose support landed him the job – a job few if any had pictured him doing.

There always has been a conflict between Corbyn’s vociferous supporters and the sulking bulk of his parliamentary party. Now that volatility has broken out into open warfare.

And this at a time when we need a good opposition to point out the difficulties we face; and to point out the Leave lies peeling away from the wall like slapdash posters.

We had hardly heard the news of the vote on Friday morning before Nigel Farage admitted it had been a mistake for Vote Leave to pledge an extra £350m a week for the NHS. By the end of the day, arch quitter Daniel Hannan MEP scotched another promise, saying that free movement of labour might continue, and with it immigration from Europe.

Two rotten promises in one day. Two discarded pledges. So what if you were sitting there thinking you’d voted to leave for one or perhaps both of those reasons? It all begins to look shabby.

As for Labour, Mr Corbyn has only had a brief time in the role, and the attempted putsch against him could be seen as opportunistic – a lethal lunge from those who’ve never really believed in him.

But then politics is in internecine business. And a practical one too. If Jeremy Corbyn clings on, he will have a diminished pool of talent. His life won’t be easy, but then nothing is for anyone at the moment.

What an unholy mess this all is…

THE old man on the television was in tears or perhaps his eyes were rheumy. That word, incidentally, shows what a mix we are with its roots in Middle English, Old French, Latin and Greek.

Our language gives us away as we are made of many parts, rather than one pure whole. Anyway the old man said: “I’ve got my country back.”

He’d got his country back and I’d just lost mine down the back of Nigel Farage’s sofa, shoved down among the old fag packets, forgotten promises and tatty old lies. The tolerant Britain, the slightly eccentric Britain, the Britain that embraces and accepts the world; proud, a bit down at heel, sometimes grumpy, but generally kind-hearted, if prone to obsessing about the weather.

Now we have to worry about the political weather. David Cameron once told his party to stop “banging on” about Europe and he gambled that a referendum would settle the matter. Which it has but not in the way he was hoping. And his party is still banging on about Europe as he prepares to leave the almighty mess he’s made (that sour shambles is your legacy, Dave). Jeremy Corbyn might go; Boris Johnson might be prime minister (God, no, please no)…

The trouble with referendums, and certainly the trouble with the one we’ve just had, is that they are so divisive and offer only a binary choice to a complicated question. In or out, yes or no. Add to that a vile and ill-tempered debate conducted with ill grace on all sides, and bullied along by a rabidly anti-European popular press, and you get the result we saw.

Let’s never have another referendum – or, to coin a word, “depress-erendum”. The debate was nasty, shallow and uninformed. Was this vote even about Europe or was it a chance to register anger about other matters? Half the time it seemed to be a shouting match about immigration, with those areas with the fewest immigrants shouting the loudest, and multi-racial London solidly voting to remain.

Once the result was known, stories started to emerge of people wishing they too had voted remain. This phenomenon even has a name: regrexit.

My own mood chimes with the headline in yesterday’s Daily Mirror: “So what the hell happens now?” The country is divided in random fragments, with London and Scotland being pro-Europe. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been called on to declare his city an independent state linked to Europe. Perhaps London and Scotland could join forces, with York as part of the deal too.

An online petition calling for a second referendum is at the time of writing approaching the three million mark, adding further to the anger and chaos.

This was an advisory referendum and the people who voted advised by a small but significant margin that they’d like to leave Europe. The vote was 52 per cent in favour and 48 per cent against – a margin which Nigel Farage recently said would not count as a convincing win for Remain and would require a second ballot. Now that his side has won by that very same margin, he seems to have piped down about that.

I keep hearing that “the people have spoken” as if we had one voice and had made one decision. Yes, the people have spoken. Some said one thing, some another. Almost as many spoke up for remain as they did for leave. Some of the people who spoke up now with they’d chosen remain, or so it appears.

Have we made the right decision? Despite all the hollering and the whooping from the Brexit side, there is no way of knowing. Just as there would have been no way of knowing if we’d have been better off remaining in Europe.

If we leave we won’t know what would have happened if we had stayed, so there will be no valid comparison to make, just the usual bluster and bullshit. I have been unhappier about this result than about anything I can remember, especially in the way that the older generation seems to have screwed our young people by voting to leave.

That old man with his rheumy eyes will be long gone by the time our children are facing up to the consequences. And for now the political unravelling continues.

How the Somme and other horrors link us all…

SOMEWHERE in Germany there is a man like me. When he was young his grandfather sat him on his knee and made up stories about Robin Hood. The old man should have a name and I shall call him Wilhelm Kohl. Wilhelm was one of the lucky ones who made it back from the Somme.

He lived a long life, reaching 82 or perhaps it was 83. After his death an old diary was discovered locked in a box. In this he wrote many things, including the following: “The roaring of the guns grew louder and louder, until the diabolical bellowing sound, combined with the blasts made by the exploding shells, threatened to rip the whole world off its hinges and turn everything upside down. The roaring became so loud that it was impossible to hear oneself speak and we were simultaneously blinded by the fog. We waited, wondering what would happen next, realising that this day might be our last.”

The German man like me was moved by those words, and sought out a photograph of his grandfather, staring at the kindly face with lines round the eyes. And he wondered again at what his grandfather went through.

For there will be German man in his fifties whose grandfather survived the Somme, as mine did. The words quoted above appeared in an article in last Sunday’s Observer by the historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, as extracted from his new book, Somme: Into the Breach.

The article contained many such descriptions of the hell that was the Battle of the Somme, but told from the German perspective, the line taken by his book. That was interesting and moved me in surprising ways.

In the end there is always someone standing on the other side, in the other trench, sitting in the other tank or whatever. A foreign someone, your enemy, and yet a man like you. A man who didn’t start the war, as that was arranged by the politicians and the generals. No, just a man standing there who has to kill you before you kill him, whether or not he wishes to do so.

The Battle of the Somme began 100 years ago next week, on July 1 1916. British casualties on that day alone were in excess of 57,000, with more than 19,000 killed. I don’t know if my grandfather, Bill Cole, was there on that first day, but I do know that he survived the battle while toiling as a stretcher bearer.

The Somme, fought in northern France, was one of the bloodiest battles in the First Wold War, a brutal wearing down of life that lasted for five months as the British and French armies engaged the Germans on a 15-mile front.

The intention was to relieve the French Army fighting at Verdun and to weaken the German army, but the Allies were unable to break through German lines.

The first day was a disaster for the British as the Germans, however terrified they might have been, had weathered the 18-pounder Field Guns that boomed away for seven days. One hundred thousand British men went over the top to attack the German lines, and in total 19,240 lost their lives in the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.

When General Douglas Haig finally ended the series of offences we know as the Battle of the Somme, one million men had been killed or wounded on all sides.

My grandfather got through somehow, as too did Wilhelm Kohl, at least in my telling of this story. It is instructive to think of Wilhelm’s grandson and his family, or at least to picture a German version of me, the two of us threaded by the weave and weft of history.

All of us in various blooded ways are connected to the Somme or other battles, here today because someone made it through. Twenty years after that hell-like battle, fought for what proved to be so little gain, Europe was deep into another war. After that war ended, the Continent found a better way ahead; not perfect but more peaceful. And that comparative peace did not just happen. It took collaboration and the sinking of differences. Something to think of today.

So what will we decide on Europe? To stay, hopefully…

BY midnight tonight, the shouting will be over. The EU Referendum debate will have exhausted itself after months of endless slagging off. And will we be any the wiser? Not by a country kilometre (a little noticed EU directive has ordered that good English clichés should be metricised).

So what will we decide? A glance at today’s front pages reveals the Daily Mail urging out with the headline: “If you believe in Britain vote leave.” The similarly Eurosceptic Sun ropes the Queen into the argument – “Give me 3 good reasons to stay in Europe” – adding a mock-respectful punchline: “Sorry, Ma’am, we can’t think of ONE.”

The rapidly anti-European Express has the same story, based on reports of what the Queen was said to have been overheard asking at a dinner party, while also tempting readers with a free Brexit poster.

Only the Mirror among what we used to call the tabloids is going for Europe, saying: “Vote Remain tomorrow” for a long list of reasons.

I’m not much of a monarchist, but I reckon the poor old Queen has been dragged into this argument too often. Two thoughts arise: one, it would hardly be surprising if a 90-year-old woman of privilege needed convincing of the merits of Europe; two, using the Queen in this way is scurrilous and disrespectful. It is also, to use a more technical term, almost certainly utter bollocks.

The Guardian has a good leader which begins: “Thursday’s vote is in some ways a choice between an imaginary past of which too many in this country cannot let go and a future about which all of us are inescapably uncertain.”

I offer that good sentence because it sums up what I feel.

That newspaper also carries an interview with David Cameron in which he accuses leave campaigners of stoking intolerance and division with extreme warnings on immigration, adding that if we vote to leave Britain will be seen as a more “narrow, insular and inward-looking” country.

Heavens, a moment ago I was supporting the Queen. And now I am going to stick up for David Cameron. The prime minister is right about the quitters and the haters. And I sincerely hope his view prevails tomorrow.

But I do have a rider to that sentiment: you, sir, put this vile stew to boil by deciding to have this hateful referendum in the first place, for reasons mostly connected to divisions within your own party, alongside the dangerous allure of UKIP to the more red-faced members of the Tory tribe.

So you can hardly complain about the nasty splashes left on the wall. You can hardly say, “Well, look at this mess.” Too late now, David – but don’t you regret ever taking that decision? All it’s done has shown Britain at its worst.

Who knows what will happen tomorrow. My instinct is that after all the hullabaloo, after all the insults, and after all the bar-stool bigotry from Nigel Farage – a nasty game he’s been playing for years, a game he more or less invented – Britain will vote to remain in Europe. I hope so, as that is the sound and sensible thing to do.

But an awful lot of bile has been invested in convincing us to leave, and maybe after tomorrow we’ll be gone. We certainly would be if the Daily Express had its way, although thankfully the country is wider and deeper than that newspaper’s narrow front page.

The Brexit campaign has run on paranoia and hatred, and in my bones I feel Britain is not really like that. We don’t want to crawl into that dark crevice with Farage, Gove and blustering Boris for company. We don’t want to put up silly ‘go away’ posters in our windows. We want to stay in Europe and fight our corner, not run away and sink into a victory that would turn into a Little England quagmire soon enough.

So there you have it: my last plea for us to Remain.

My temporary life as a white van man…

SO I am a man with a van (rather than a man with a plan). A white van man what’s more.

Not the White Van Man of political legend whose opinions were said to be crucial to swinging an election. No, it’s more a case of hiring a van to start moving our daughter back from university.

With three offspring, this is the final university run. Normally I’d use the car. The valiant Volvo did the job for the boys, but she is suffering from old lady disease in her tired Swedish bones.

Monday was set aside for the move. I noticed something was wrong on Saturday, and that’s when the dithering started. Should I hire a van or not? In the end I didn’t but instead booked a last-minute visit to the garage that tends to the old car.

A new part was needed but couldn’t be got in time, so I dashed off on my bike and hired a Ford Transit, everyday king of vans, and the two of us and our daughter clambered into the front, and off we went. I was anxious at first but settled into the driving after a while. I’ve only ever driven a van once before. The lack of a rear-view mirror takes a while to get used to, but the all-seeing wing-mirrors make up for that.

So we drove up to Newcastle, filled the van with one bicycle, a couple of bits of furniture and enough clothes to set up a shop. We left our daughter for her last few days in her university life.

Once we were safely through Newcastle, my wife fell asleep all the way home. And I played at being white van man. Not the stereotypical driver of a smaller-sized commercial van, caricatured as aggressive and inconsiderate. No, just a man perched up high in the driving seat and enjoying himself.

To hire a van or not, that had been the question that drilled holes in my mind. But once on the road such worries disappeared. But cousin complication hadn’t let go of me yet.

I need the old Volvo on Saturday for a final Newcastle run. And this morning I am heading to Halifax for a feature. Last night the garage sent a text saying could I get the car there this morning.

Ah, yes, tricky. Unless you get up at before six, load the bike into the back of the stuttering Volvo, drive to the garage on the other side of York, pop the keys through the door, then cycle back, all before 6.45am. Then with the dash of time flapping in my ears, I decided to sit down and write a quick blog, as a busy day yesterday left no time for ledge life.

In an hour or so, I’ll drive that white van to Halifax. It will look like I am delivering goods. And so I am: one slightly worn journalist with his digital recorder, notebook and a question or two. And you don’t really need a white van for such inconsequential cargo, but that’s the only way I could work things out.

As for the university runs, they have been as much a part of life as taking the children to primary school when they were young (an occasional dad duty for days off).

As term starts, you see the overloaded family cars heading for university towns, mum and dad in the front, offspring in the back, hemmed in by a duvet, new pans, a guitar or two, lots of clothes, computers. Sometimes I’d see parents coming the other way, heading to university here while we go there. You have ours and we’ll have yours.

All those years of young person conveyancing, now about to end with a last leg on Saturday. But before that I have to get back into that van.

Confessions of a late-arriving host… and Father’s Day thoughts…

TODAY is Father’s Day but it is fair to say Friday wasn’t.

Anyone who saw me sprinting through York early in the evening might have wondered what I was up to. Here is what I was up to. We had a guest arriving at 7pm, my wife was out singing and I was working away in Darlington. On the other two days everything ran smoothly and I arrived home on the dot of seven.

And in that spirit a man brushed by the wind of foolish hope imagines everything will be all right again.

So why was I sprinting through the streets like a maniac? It all started with the trains from Darlington running 20 minutes or so late.

I’d already had time to kill in Darlington before my ticket would allow me on a train. About two-and-a-half hours. A generous allocation for that town. Still, I was at least presented with a sight that still makes me chuckle: a takeaway shop called DFC. Or to give its full name: Darlo Fried Chicken.

After an hour at the station, I’d tired of my book and wanted motion. Then the trains stopped arriving. By the time the train pulled into York, it was nearly 7pm. The traffic was snarled up, the buses had disappeared into thick drizzled air, about 50 people were queuing for taxis, and the little mini-cab stall round the corner had a wait of at least 20 minutes.

So I ran.

This is a route I have run many times before. But never while wearing a heavy Tweed jacket, shirt, tie, work trousers and clunky Doc Martens, and clutching a shoulder bag. I kept glancing round for a bus but none came.

I arrived home to find a young Chinese woman sitting on her suitcase outside the house. She’d just sent me an email which I read later. This said: “Hello, is there anyone home?”

Sometimes I do wonder. But I think she was talking about the house and not the inside of my head.

For complicated reasons possibly connected to idiocy, I can only reply to Airbnb emails on my laptop and not my phone. So I couldn’t warn our guest of my late arrival. Or warn her that any minute now a red-faced, sweaty bald man was heading round the corner to shower her with profuse apologies.

Throwing off my jacket, and saying ‘sorry’ a few more times, I showed her to the room. The cat ran in and jumped on the bed. The guest screamed. “I don’t like cats,” she said.

So Lucy was shooed out of the room and another apology issued (although we do warn on the website that we have a feline squatter).

While still overheated, I showed the guest round the garden. She seemed pleasant and told me she worked in advertising. At the end of the garden we came across the veg patch. “Ah, strawberries,” she said. “I love strawberries.” So I picked the first one of the season and gave it to her.

In the balance of things, one home-grown strawberry probably doesn’t atone for one late-arriving host. No idea what sort of review this guest will give us, but if it’s a bad one the finger of blame can jab in two directions: at me and at my foolish optimism, the “oh-it’ll-be-all-right”-ism that has led us astray for a year now,

But today is Father’s Day and my lovely three arranged a family treat of a surprise breakfast at Café No 8 in Gillygate, York. And very nice it was too. Forewarned that I needed to make myself available by 10am, I went for a quick run first. But I left the Tweed jacket at home.

 

Jo Cox: thoughts on what we have lost…

LIKE many of us, I wasn’t all that aware of MP Jo Cox until her shocking death. I read something sensible she wrote in the Yorkshire Post under the headline, “Brexit is no answer to real concerns on immigration.”

I agreed with what this Labour MP had to say, so looked her up on Google, wondering at the pleasant-seeming woman in the photograph that accompanied the article.

So when I glanced at my phone on Thursday and saw that she’d been attacked, I knew who she was. A second glance at the phone later in the afternoon provided the shocking news that we all now know: this young MP, mother, wife, friend to many, former aid worker and woman of principle – and proud daughter of Yorkshire – had died from the injuries she received in an attack as she emerged from her constituency surgery.

That an MP could be murdered as she went about her work is still too shocking to fully absorb. The death of this 41-year-old woman has produced a reaction of shock so widespread and deep, it is hard to recall something similar.

Personally, the news made me feel physically sick: like everyone else, I just couldn’t fathom that something so awful had happened, something so cruel and calamitous, something so wasteful and devastating. The phrase about a waste of a life rubs up against cliché, yet this was a monumental waste of a life, the pinching out of a flame that burned bright.

Two thoughts occur to me here. In a year of ‘famous’ deaths in popular culture, from Bowie to Prince and many more in between, we have already spent too much time mourning good people gone.

And once again we are mourning someone we didn’t know. Sometimes that can seem to be an unhealthy emotion, but not here. I think that’s because when you read up about Jo Cox, when you hear what she had to say and what she believed in, when you hear everything her constituents, friends and fellow MPs have said in tribute, you genuinely can share the sense of loss. You feel that you knew her. Or more tragically that you are just getting to know her when it is too late.

The other thought was that Jo Cox represented what might be thought of as “unpopular culture”. Too many of us think the worst of MPs, complaining that they are all in it for themselves. Feathering their own nests with expenses. Insulating themselves in hot air.

Thanks to such commonly held views, it has been easy to forget that not all MPs have their snouts in a Parliamentary trough; easy to overlook those who work hard and have strong beliefs; easy to fall for the caricature of cruel satire.

Of course such unkind sketches arise for a reason. And there is a tragic irony in a good politician being so cruelly taken at a time when politics has been putting on its least appealing face. This Europe debate has been the nastiest, least civilised and generally foul display of politics in memory.

Maybe that’s what politics is, the fierce putting and pitting of views. But away from the quarrelsome arena, there are constituency MPs of all political colours who work hard in the area they represent.

Jo Cox was exemplary in a way that isn’t always usual now, in that she was an MP the area when she’d been born and had grown up. She was a proper local girl, someone who represented her people, rather than an outsider imposed by party machinery or machination.

And she had only been an MP for one year. The personal tragedy has to be carried by her husband and two young children, as well as her friends. Yet there is a wider tragedy too in the sense of so much having been lost.

Another cliché seems to fit here, the one about how you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Most of us didn’t know Jo Cox until she was gone. And that really does seem to be a tragedy.