‘Floody obscene’? Oh, come off it. Foreign aid is a force for good…

HADN’T intended to blog today, but you can blame the Tory MP Philip Davies for sending me to the laptop. Oh, and the Sun newspaper, too.

It’s fashionable to disparage the Sun nowadays in certain quarters – often the quarter when I tend to wander. This tendency worries me sometimes. Supposedly tolerant people turning intolerant about something they don’t isn’t healthy for a society, is it? Not that I would ever buy the Sun.

As for disparaging Philip Davies, that is the sacred duty of every clear-thinking citizen. Davies, you may recall, is the Yorkshire Tory much devoted to the cause of misogyny, forever barracking and blocking debates in the Commons with cries of: “What about the men?” and so on. He is the most infuriating man in an infuriating place – and he would do doubt take that as a compliment.

Anyway, this morning the Daily Express has fallen for one of his silly stunts under the front-page headline: “Foreign aid outrage.” This is the suggestion that British taxpayers will pay poorer nations’ insurance premiums for new insurance cover against natural disaster for the next four years, as reported more sensibly by the Times. The cost of what sounds like a smart idea – to prime a new market which encourages fragile states to insure themselves against floods and hurricane and so on – is £30m.

That’s peanuts in government terms, but it’s enough to turn the key that sticks out of Davies’ back. Off he goes, labelling this move as “completely unjustifiable” and saying the money should instead be spent on his constituents who can’t get insurance cover against floods. The Sun dips into to rubbish pun drawer, which is becoming a bad habit lately, to describe the scheme as “floody obscene”.

No, what’s obscene is the endless belittling of foreign aid, usually by ranters on the right (yes, that’s you we’re talking about, Philip). We have promised to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on foreign aid. It’s a tiny amount in relative terms – but it does a lot of good. It also changes the world for the better, helping to turn around poorer countries that, in turn, becoming emerging markets. Just the sort of markets that the Brexit-obsessed think we should be seeking out.

Foreign aid spent well can also reduce migration, as few people want to leave where they are from, but do so out of grim necessity. Try and reduce that grim necessity and perhaps they will not wish to travel – something which should please the very people who drone on about foreign aid.

It’s a small amount of money, relatively speaking, and it shows that we are a responsible, thoughtful country that wishes to help the wider world. This is something that should always be encouraged, but especially when we are increasingly looking like a basket-case country intent on putting up the shutters so that we can argue ourselves to death.

Reaching out from this small but important island is important, and we should be proud of that, rather stupidly grumbling: “It’s not fair. Why don’t they spend it here?”

The Less Than Fantastic Mr Fox…

DR Liam Fox is laying into the BBC for allegedly not being fully onside when it comes to reporting how marvellous Brexit is.

Ah, the Less Than Fantastic Mr Fox. Before going further, let’s remember what Fox wishes we would commit to convenient amnesia.

A good place to start refreshing our memory is a column John Elledge wrote for the New Statesman in February last year, which had the splendid sub-heading: “Or to give him his full title, the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox.”

Fox is the international trade secretary, which means it is his job to fly around the world glad-handing and grovelling in a bid to drum up post-Brexit trade. The Guardian’s John Crace – coiner of the now universal Maybot description for Theresa May – nicknames him the Flying Fox.

But why is he the former defence secretary, I hear you mumble over the cornflakes? Ah, let me explain in gleeful detail. He was forced to resign in disgrace, you see, after he allowed his close friend and best man, Adam Wettity, to take up an unofficial and undeclared role at his side. Mr Werrity attended Ministry of Defence meetings without first obtaining security clearance, had access to Fox’s diary and announced himself as his adviser.

After an investigation by then cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell declared that Fox had shown a lack of judgement and blurred the lines between his official role and his personal friendships, he was shown the door.

Sadly, in politics closed doors all too often swing open again. And now Fox makes up one third of the tripartite Let’s Sort Out This Brexit Shit department, alongside Boris Johnson and David Davis– the three Must-Get-Out-Of-Heres.

In this role, Fox isn’t happy with the BBC, having apparently mistaken the world’s most famous acronym for the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation. Speaking in the Commons, Fox said: “It does appear that some elements of our media would rather see Britain fail than Brexit succeed. I cannot recall a single time in recent times when I have seen good economic news that the BBC didn’t describe as ‘despite Brexit’.”

Ah, I can’t recall a single time in recent times when the sight of Fox didn’t bring me out in a rash, but we all have our crosses to bear.

Fox claims that negative reporting from the BBC – which is to say reporting that fails to spell out the full marvellousness of Brexit – is undermining his role.

Oh, come off it. That sounds like blame-shifting to me. Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, made just that point in the Commons – adding that Fox was coming over like “Donald Trump without the perma-tan”.

An untanned Trump would be a curious sight indeed, and for some reason a giant slug springs to mind, but that is to be distracted by unnecessary horrors.

Only the other day, the never knowingly less than appalling Andrea Leadsom went on Newsnight and called for broadcasters to be “a bit patriotic” about Brexit. The funny thing is, I think it would be “a bit patriotic” of the BBC to stop inviting Mrs Leadsom onto Newsnight so that she can spout virulent nonsense, but it’s a free world and all that.

Bashing the BBC is a favourite sport of the right – and, as it happens, the left. You won’t have to look far to unearth a Jeremy Corbyn fanatic who believes that the BBC has yet to acknowledge the Labour leader’s full sainthood.

And on the other side, there is the Daily Express which this morning splutters over its soft-boiled eggs that the BBC is an institution “run by a clique of liberals… who are overwhelmingly pro-Remain”.

Whereas many of our newspapers are run by a clique of anti-liberals who are insanely hot for Brexit, and constantly report only one side of the argument.

As doubts and worries still swirl about what Brexit will mean and how it will happen – even if it will happen – it is right that the BBC should try to report all sides, not least in acknowledgement of the 48 per cent who voted to remain.

If it did anything less than that, it would be failing it its public duty.

As for Dr Liam Fox – frankly we shouldn’t listen to a word that man says. If politics had more of a moral core, he wouldn’t have found another job in government so easily. Sadly, cocking up in politics just seems to open more doors down the long and shabby corridor.

It’s a Shard life as student loans rise ever higher…

HEADLINES appearing on the same day can sometimes say much, even though the stories are quite separate.

Today’s accidental comparison is between news of rising student debt and a report that luxury flats in the Shard in London haven’t sold in five years.

At the launch of this priapic pile of glass-encased foreign money, developers suggested that apartments near the top of the tower costing up to £50m each would shift easily. According to a report this morning, they all appear to still be for sale.

The development was opened by the Duke of York and a former prime minister of Qatar. Ah, the Duke of York – always doing his bit to make boredom look exciting. Only last month, his Royal Dullness was burbling on about the opportunities offered by Brexit, saying: “In my experience recently, businesses that look over the garden fence have gone: ‘Hmm, [the] grass is not quite as dark and unforgiving as you might expect.”

I am guessing you can see over a lot of garden fences from those unsold pieces of lofty real estate – or perhaps ‘unreal estate’ would be more apt in this case.

Incidentally, you will almost certainly be able to see the giant burned-out tomb of Grenfell Tower: unsold apartments of grotesque expensiveness rising above a tower where people died, in effect, because they were poorly paid. What does that say about us as a country? Nothing good.

John Gummer, not a name you hear much nowadays – or possibly wish to hear – used to be David Cameron’s cities spokesman. In that role, he spoke of London’s thrusting new towers as “the vulgarity of bigness” – a phrase which has the ring of good sense. Yet that vulgar new London has raced ahead, much encouraged by former Mayor Boris Johnson.

Also rising above us – or, rather, our young people – are towers of student debt. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, students from the poorest 40 per cent of families beginning university this September will end up with an average debt of around £57,000.

The economic thinktank calculates that the abolition of the last maintenance grants in 2015 had hit the poorest students more than the richest, who will end up owing £43,000 (still more than the size of our first mortgage). And that’s not the sort of life lesson we should be teaching young people.

According to the institute, some 77 per cent of students will never pay off their loans. If so, how on earth is such a system sustainable?

Are student loans fair – and is it reasonable to tell students that it’s a good investment as they will earn more, when many of them don’t earn more at all? It doesn’t seem very fair to me.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed abolishing student loans in his party’s election manifesto. Now it is true that parties flourish all manner of dubious pledges in their manifestos – then quickly forget what they promised.

But on student loans, there appears to be a gathering momentum. And whenever the next election is held, you can bet that ending student loans will be an even hotter topic.

And you can also put money on those obscenely expensive apartments on the 53rd to the 65th floor of the Shard still being empty.

A few thoughts on Helen Cadbury…

CRIME writer, poet, dramatist, Quaker, teacher, partner, mother and friend to many – Helen Cadbury, who died last Friday, was quite a mix. She also once drove a band back from Hull, squeezed into the back seat of her smallish car. The writer of this blog was in the front passenger seat.

Plenty of people knew Helen better than I did, but we knew each other for quite a few years. We met at parties, belonged for a while to the same York writers’ group and chatted at the Harrogate crime writing festival. Once we shared a platform at the York Literature Festival with the poet John Gilham.

We overlapped professionally, too. I interviewed Helen twice, once for my old newspaper after her first crime novel, To Catch A Rabbit, was published. Then about 18 months ago for the Yorkshire Post Magazine, when we talked about the follow-up, Bones In The Nest.

We discussed her cancer, too – and the year she’d had. As Helen put it: “I turned 50, published two books, sold my TV rights and had breast cancer. So you could say it was a really big year.”

At the time of that second interview, Helen was mid-treatment. She was tired, complained of chemo brain, but was otherwise in good spirits. Months later, she appeared revived: her old lively, interested self, seemingly as indefatigable as ever.

Her Sean Denton books were settling in for the long run. Those books had legs and you could imagine Helen writing many. Now there will only be one more, Race To The Kill, due to be published in September.

Years ago, Helen said I was her role model, having published two crime novels. But Helen didn’t need me as a role model. Her crime novels were way more successful than mine, and she was establishing herself as a name on the festival circuit.

Helen could be a social media fiend and sometimes she seemed to be on Facebook all the time. Then she would trumpet her withdrawal, usually when there was writing to be done. You won’t be seeing me for a while, she’d say; and usually she kept to her word.

She was good at promoting herself on social media, as writers must be nowadays, but willing to help other writers, too.

Not many of us knew that Helen had fallen ill again. A few weeks ago, she posted a picture on Facebook. It showed her in hospital, which was a message, perhaps. Looking back, it seems that way.

The announcement from Helen’s family hit me with a physical shock, as it did many other people who knew her. She’d seemed so well last year and I didn’t know her illness had returned.

Now let’s introduce the band on the backseat.

Last summer, Helen interviewed the Hull crime writer Nick Quantrill at the launch of his latest book, The Dead Can’t Talk. I had interviewed Nick for the Yorkshire Post about the novel, and about his love for his home city, in the build-up to this year’s city of culture event.

I cycled to Helen’s house and then she drove us to Hull, directed by the sat-nav on her mobile. The evening went well, Nick and Helen did their author-to-author routine. Then three members of the York band Bull played a set.

An enjoyable evening all round. At home time, it turned out that the band had missed the last train. The guitars went in the boot, the three young men in the back. Helen’s car wasn’t big, so it was cosy in there. As she drove us all back to York, she chatted to the band, and realised that they knew her sons, or one of them; the detail is lost now.

We made it back to York in one piece. Helen dropped me at her house with instructions to knock hard on the door to rouse Josh and retrieve my bike. Then she drove off with the boys in the band, dropping them closer to the centre of town.

When a writer dies we are denied what they would have written, but we can read what they did write. So that is what we should do: read Helen’s crime novels and her poetry.

Many people have commented on Helen’s passing on Facebook, a congregation of friends and acquaintances, and those words should be read, too.

As for these words, I truly wish there had been no occasion to write them, but that’s the way it is.


Cake and eating it is off the Brexit menu…

CAKE – who doesn’t like cake? The Foreign Secretary is a fan. This you will discover if you Google “Boris Johnson eating cake”. I just did that and uncovered much evidence of Boris and cake interaction.

When he stopped trying to calculate which way the wind was blowing over the Brexit vote and finally came out for Leave, Johnson said: “I am pro having my cake and eating it.”

The man is a walking, talking Battenburg – only that cake sounds suspiciously foreign, so perhaps we should settle for a dry Victoria sponge or a stale piece of fruitcake. The fruitcake should of course be served with cheese, although in Boris’s case the cheese will be a slice of Empire cheddar with a hard rind.

Having your cake and eating it has been the favourite scenario of the Brexiteers for a year now. This is the idea that, as Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable puts it with winning elegance, we can “enjoy each of two equally desirable things”. Brewer continues: “Mostly one cannot do this, so that it is more common to hear: ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it’.”

The Leavers have been full of cake and eating it, even as Johnson brushes the crumbs off his stomach and wipes the sugar from his mouth. We have been kidded all the way along that there would be cake for us to eat, plentiful cake, cake of unbounded opportunity. And now all that seems to have been put on hold.

According to an exclusive in today’s Guardian, British officials have quietly abandoned hope of securing the government’s promised “cake and eat it” Brexit deal. Instead, they now accept the negotiations will be a long, painful slog as deals are traded off between market access and political control.

This was always going to be the case, as any cake-eating fool could have told them. Leaving Europe is fantastically complicated – not only because of the many economic and political ties that bind us but because we agreed to those deals in the first place. And, also, because the rest of Europe might have an opinion on how our sulky withdrawal should be organised.

I think we should be really pissed off about this. The “cake and eat it” brigade won people over with their promises of plenty, their rosy scenarios, their talk of Britain being great again. Plenty of voters swallowed all that illusionary cake, believing every crumbed word. And now they are finding that their doughnuts have been dunked in salt instead of sugar.

Perhaps there is mileage still in cake as a metaphor. Never mind the ‘just about managing’ people Mrs Maybe says she wants to help. You can’t help but worry that with the Conservatives, it’s more a case of “you can’t have your cake, but you can watch Boris Bunter eat his”.

The suggestion that the eating of cake is only for the few is hard to shake sometimes, especially when the poorly paid can’t afford much in the way of sweet sustenance.

This morning it is being reported that Boris Johnson is leading calls for the government to scrap the public sector pay cap. Is there any passing bandwagon that man will not leap on?

But if Tories are beginning to attack austerity, and to say that the 1% pay cap should be lifted – and the Department of Sorting Out All This Brexit Shit says cake will no longer be on the table – then the political landscape truly has changed.

Incidentally, the story in today’s Guardian was written by Dan Roberts, who worked here in York on the Press many years ago. He is the Guardian’s Brexit policy editor. Before that, he was Washington bureau chief , and previously worked for the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph.

A glittering career of which it is possible to feel envious, but well done to Dan.

Time to stop getting knotted, isn’t it?

THE end of the tie is being forecast. This almost entirely welcome news comes after Speaker John Bercow said that MPs no longer need to wear ties in the House of Commons.

Narrow knitted ties are rather cool, if you ask me, and when I went to the same office five days a week, my neck was always knotted. Nobody told me to – it just seemed to be the thing to do.

Nowadays I almost never wear a tie, although I put my favourite one on the other day before going to interview a couple for a feature. It is short, made of knitted silk and has horizontal black and purple stripes.

But really, ties are ridiculous, aren’t they? So, all power to Bercow, even if a few tie-wearing Tories predicted the end of the world if men stopped wearing gravy-stained bits of material around their neck.

There is a lot of formal flummery in the Commons, and Bercow himself goes to work wearing a gold-trimmed black robe. It might give the face of politics a good scrub if all the ornate traditions were swept away, to be replaced by open-necked shirts all round.

Bercow’s ruling came about because the tie-wearing twit Peter Bone complained that a Lib-Dem MP had asked a question while not wearing a tie.

Bone was on the radio yesterday, rumble-grumbling about the end of the world as we know it and so on. Apropos of nothing other than being a Europe-hating Tory twit of an MP, he slipped in a complaint about the BBC being the “Brussels Broadcasting Corporation”.

Oh, dear. This reminds me that a tie can also be a noose. Only saying.

Here is another Tory MP in a tie. Gary Streeter represents somewhere or other in Devon. He became cross with the journalist Paul Mason in a discussion about social media, later tweeting: “This is why I (sic) hate social media. It gives a voice to people who don’t (sic) deserve one.”

This reminds me again that a tie can also be a noose. Only saying.

Presumably the tieless unwashed who don’t deserve a voice are those disobeyed the knotted instructions to vote for Mrs Maybe at the election.

Social media gives all sorts of people a voice. Sometimes they use that platform to drone on about the same things. That is their right. But to dismiss social media because it gives a voice to people is to prove that it is time you popped a cork in it. A Champagne cork would do. You’ll probably have one of those lying around the place, Gary.

As for ties, they do also represent all sorts of old-fashioned codes, hence the saying about the “old school tie” – a handy if hackneyed image for the ways society enforces its codes, in that case giving jobs to your old mates, and so forth.

Club ties, military ties – all different coloured stripes of nonsense. The fewer ties, the better. Although this does mean that in an open-necked democracy, you can’t always spot who’s the boss. If the boss is male, he is probably the one in the open-necked shirt and neatly pressed jeans.

Not wearing ties makes me happy, although I will always have an affection for that black-and-purple numbers.

A publishing contract with a cost…

A publishing contract came through the letterbox the other day, but I won’t be signing it. As this might seem strange from a published writer who is desperate to be published again, this blog offers an explanation.

The last contract I signed was with Minotaur Books for a two-book American deal. The money involved was not huge. Around £3,000, plus a dribble of royalties to follow later. Still, I’d written the books already for publication by a small York publisher, so it seemed like a deal. And I was genuinely thrilled, spotting opportunities lined up the horizon like ducks at the fair (foolishly forgetting in my excitement what happens to ducks lined up at the fair).

The two York-based crime books came out in hardback and were reviewed quite nicely, apart from the critic who said there weren’t enough murders. And another one who said the second novel wasn’t a thriller as it said on the front. Well, writers don’t put those words on the front, and I guess the thriller is a flexible beast.

Anyway, here in the name of dusty vanity are a couple of quotes about that first novel, The Amateur Historian. “Cole’s debut rings so many fresh changes on the echoes-of-the-past thriller that even more readers will welcome the series it introduces” (Kirkus).

Jay Stafford of the Richmond Times-Despatch – lovely man, clearly, although we have never met – said my novel was a “fascinating look at how the intersection of past and present can turn deadly”, adding that it “succeeds on so many levels that the reader can but hope that Cole’s next effort lives up to this commanding debut”.

That next effort, Felicity’s Gate, also received some decent reviews, although not from the critic whose taste for blood remained unsatisfied.

The novels never made it into paperback, where they belonged, as the publishers covered their costs on the hardback and put aside their promised plans.

They also declined a third novel in my Rounder Brothers series, called The Baedeker Murders, which I put on Amazon for Kindle, where it can still be found cowering in a lonely corner.

Since then there has been the time-slip crime novel about the York Mystery Plays, written and re-written and now in a locked drawer on the laptop, awaiting future attention.

I write most of the time, but there does come a day when you wonder at the point of it all. It’s a compulsion, I guess – sometimes a happy compulsion, sometimes a banging-head-against-desk compulsion. It’s likely I will only stop when fingers or brain seize up.

Does writing making a person happy? Er, um – less unhappy than they would be if they didn’t do it. Oh, but that’s a bit gloomy. So, yes, putting words in reasonable order can make a writing sort of person happier than they would otherwise be.

But it is still nice to be read, to see those words in print, and to spot your book on the shelves.

The book with an offer of publication is a thriller – I hope that word is acceptable – about a man who escapes a life on benefits by becoming a hitman. Newman, the hero, is an innocent abroad in the worlds of politics, journalism and espionage. An innocent who kills people for money (best and only job he’s ever had).

Anyway, the manuscript went to a publisher spotted on Facebook. I won’t name them as they had the decency to read the book and make intelligent remarks, or flattering remarks.

They wrote back within about six weeks, which is lightning fast in publishing circles, offering me a contract – if I stumped up £2,300 to support publication.

A broke man cannot afford such a cost, so no. And I don’t want to borrow the money, as the whole thing doesn’t seem right somehow. The experience has put me in a writerly tizzy. This writing lark was supposed to make money – not cost money.

I will now wind up today’s blog, and do a spot more work on the second new novel on the go: a murder-mystery set in Victorian York, reimagined with steampunk elements.

Lord, what sort of an idiot comes up with such an idea? Funny thing is, on this rewrite it’s beginning to make a mad sort of sense.

So, I won’t stop writing just yet, even if sometimes it does seem like the compulsion of an idiot optimist.

I told you social media was weird…

SOCIAL media makes people weird, doesn’t it? This thought strikes me first thing in the morning. I am in the conservatory with the radio on and my feet chilly on the tiles (summer interrupted). Facebook has been checked to see which of the two billion other users have noticed me (approximately three). Twitter has been skimmed (2,710 followers but not really counting – honest).

I just spotted a clever meme – I think that is what they are called – on Twitter with a clip of a woman to accompany the question: “Should I recommend Twitter to a friend?” Her endlessly repeated answer is: “Yes! No! Oh, I don’t know!” That seems to sum up the hopelessly addictive trap that is Twitter.

Social media offers many opportunities. But it can make us needy, clicking to see who has ‘liked’ our contribution, mentioned us or – if you write a blog – who has read what you have written. Or if anyone has read a word. Please do, needy writing person on the laptop prowl.

On the BBC website this morning, you will discover two stories about social media weirdness. The first is a modern-day tragedy rooted in this thirst for attention: a man accidentally killed by his loving partner in a social media stunt gone wrong.

Monalisa Perez, 19, from Minnesota has been charged over the fatal shooting of her boyfriend. She shot Pedro Ruiz as he held a book to his chest, believing this would stop the bullet.

This tragic stunt was watching by the couple’s three-year-old child and around 30 onlookers. The bullet, having misunderstood the rules of the game, went through the book and into the poor man’s chest.

Ruiz’s aunt, Claudia Ruiz, told a local TV station that her nephew told her he wanted to do the stunt “because we want more viewers, we want to get famous”.

The couple started a YouTube channel in March, aiming to show “the real life of a young couple who happen to be teen parents”. And they were hoping for an attention boost.

To end up dead but fleetingly famous seems like a cruel modern parable. Perhaps this could have a cautionary title: The Man Who Wanted Too Much Attention, or something.

Hidden in there somewhere is the everyday truth that it is enough to be liked or admired by your family and friends. Yet many of us still seek social media attention, hoping to be noticed by the wider world. Guilty as charged in my case – even though on a deeper level I recognise the inadequacy of this behaviour.

Monalisa Perez was nervous about the stunt, which was her boyfriend’s idea. She tweeted: “Me and Pedro are going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever. HIS idea not MINE.”

Could that tweet be called on by her defence in court? She certainly seems innocent in a wider sense. But she held that gun. And fired that bullet.

To add another turn to this very modern tragedy, Perez is pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Social media makes people weird (part two). The second piece of evidence on the BBC website concerns a fake story about a ‘miracle baby’ being found in Grenfell Tower 12 days after the tragic inferno.

This made-up story was pushed under the banner ‘Metro’ – like the free newspaper, but in a different typeface. The post also pinched the BBC’s breaking news graphic, adding the words: “Baby rescued from burnt building 12 days after London’s Grenfell Tower fire.”

The story was soon debunked by mainstream news outlets. The miracle baby was an extreme version of a trend that the BBC discovered after this year’s terror attacks in Manchester and London. Stories about fake victims were posted online “within minutes of the attack”, according to the Beeb’s website.

We can only suppose people do this for clicks and attention. And it works, as fake stories are picked up by mainstream reporters, who report the truth – while repeating the lie. And the process continues, the truth chasing the lie in a whirlwind of attention seeking. Sometimes the lie gets thousands of clicks, and in the weird social media world, something so widely shared or seen acquires its own truth: even when it’s a bare-faced lie.

I told you social media was weird. I wonder if Facebook’s changed since I started typing this…

Time magazine and the fake Trump…

THIS morning I am distracted by Trump. It is foolish to surrender to this impulse as there must surely be something more important to consider. But still, Trump it is.

The story catching my eye is that Time magazine has asked the Trump organisation to remove fake covers bearing his image from his golf clubs.

To avoid confusion at this point, it is worth remembering that the ‘Trump organisation’ is not the US government, but the president’s massive business empire. It is easy to confuse the two as they are both headed by the same orange-faced, straw-mopped loon.

For proof of Trump’s strangeness, here is a further distraction. On the Guardian website, and no doubt in other places too, you can find a short video of Donald Trump making a phone call from the Oval Office to congratulate Ireland’s new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

After bumbling something about having lots of Irish people in the US, and saying that he knows most of them, Trump tells Varadkar that he has “a lot of these beautiful Irish press” in the room and singles out Caitriona Perry, who works for RTE, saying “she has a nice smile on her so I’m sure she treats you well”.

Trumps beckons Perry over for a closer look and she posted the exchange on Twitter, calling it “bizarre” – which it is, although no more bizarre than having such a weirdo as US president.

Anyway, back to those fake Time magazine covers. According again to the Guardian, which had it from the Washington Post, a framed Time cover featuring Trump and the headline “Donald Trump: The Apprentice is a television smash!” seen hanging at Mar-a-Lago in Florida was clearly faked.

At the top of this bogus cover was the proclamation: “TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS… EVEN TV!”

The cover is dated March 1, 2009 and is said to have been on display at four of Trump’s golf clubs, even though Time magazine confirmed to the Post that it had never run in the magazine. The actual cover for that date showed the actor Kate Winslett.

I guess the sins of Trump are many, various and huge, so this is really a small matter. But still. The man who leads the free world (gulp and another gulp); the man who is obsessed with fake news (i.e. news of which he disapproves); yes, that man – he faked covers of Time magazine to give his ego a polish. And if you’re wondering where he keeps that ego, it’s a massive barrage balloon that floats above his rather large head; an ego extension if you like, as the original long ago out-grew its original home.

Anyway again, do you know what’s truly odd about this amateurishly fake cover of Time magazine? Last December, the magazine named Trump its ‘Person of the year’. So, he could have had those real magazines framed to replace all the old fake ones.

But there is a catch to the real cover. It describes him as the “president of the divided states of America” and continues a 90-year tradition of naming the person “who’s had the greatest effect on the world and the news for good or for ill”.

Ah, so perhaps the barrage balloon wasn’t so happy about the under-handed compliment.

So, yes, hands up – I have been distracted by Trump when weightier matters were within easy grasp. Trump is the great distractor. That’s how he operates, creating mayhem with a blizzard of stupid Tweets and stupider remarks. And all the while, behind the bluster and the bullshit, he is getting on with making the US a more divided society, and making the world even less safe that it was before he blagged his way into the White House.

Mrs Maybe shakes down the magic money tree…

LIKE Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny, the magic money tree was assumed not to exist. Theresa May was keen during the election to deny rumours of this mythical monetary tree.

“There’s no magic money tree,” she liked to say, when she wasn’t giving herself a mouth ulcer muttering “strong and stable” so very often. How heartening then to discover that this woody perennial does indeed exist, and that its branches dip and bend with bags of money.

During her dire election campaign, Mrs Maybe told a nurse who hadn’t had a pay rise in eight years: “There’s no magic money tree.” Now she seems to have found that legendary tree after all. Perhaps she spotted it while skipping through a field of wheat.

The tree has magicked up a billion quid to hand to Northern Ireland so that Mrs Maybe can come to a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with Arlene Foster and the DUP.

Money that was said not to exist for the NHS or education in the rest of Britain has been found to keep shore up Mrs Maybe’s majority. The deal scrabbled together between the Tories and the DUP is a notch down from an official coalition, as we had between the Tories and the Lib-Dems. Basically, a smaller party agrees to support a larger party in return for a promised sweetener and influence on policy.

Such deals are common on the continent and in the Irish Republic – as I now know from my part-time Press Association job subbing on the Sunday Independent. The Fine Gael minority government has come to a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with Fianna Fail. In return for agreeing to support the government on crucial issues, Fianna Fail is allowed some influence over bills and policy.

In a sense, such pacts drive politics elsewhere for the simple reason that voters choose not to give one party an overall majority, so a deal is done.

Yet for all that, Mrs Maybe’s arrangement with the DUP looks grubby, shabby and opportunistic. It is also a hard sell to the rest of Britain. Money that was said not to be there has been picked from a tree that was said not to exist. As Northern Ireland already receives a greater amount from that tree than other parts of Britain, it is hard to see any fairness in this deal.

The DUP have been promised a bung or a bribe; extra sugar has been tipped into their tea. And once they get a taste for the sweet tannic liquid, they’ll be back asking for more.

The Tories have scrabbled together this deal so that Mrs Maybe can carry on as if she won the majority she wanted; so that she can pretend she has the fullest backing for Brexit; so that she can kid herself that nothing has changed after she fluffed the election.

In a sense, the prime minister has been caught out by her own patronising ways during the election. To talk of magic money trees is to treat the electorate as if they were primary school children who need to be taught a stern lesson about life. But to then turn around and go against that lesson is to then treat the electorate as if they are not children after all; just grown-up idiots.

One odd aspect of all this is that the DUP would almost certainly have supported the Tories anyway, for fear of opening the door to Jeremy Corbyn. Mrs Maybe has, therefore, raided the magic money tree for very little reason. It’s funny how proud penny-pinchers can suddenly find money when there’s a bung to be made.