A close shave.

Of course, it’s been a shaky week. Since the bonkers result of the EU membership referendum it’s been a tsunami of news, my head barely bobbing to the surface for a gasp of air before the next revelation has hit me in the face like a free-floating car. 

The economy is similarly adrift and in danger of being swept out somewhere into the middle of the Atlantic ocean, and politics has taken all leave of what little sense it might have had remaining. So close to the beginning of it all it’s still difficult to guess whether this is the new normal, or whether it will settle down in a month and we’ll all wonder why we were being so hysterical. 

Still, the latest thing to terrify me is the fact that we have come so close to the prospect of the country being run by a man who looks like the lovechild of a scarecrow and a Vileda super mop. It’s like the doomsday clock was suddenly shifted to 11.59pm. As Johnson gave his announcement, the entire country let out half a breath (the other half still being held for the fact that Gove had announced a run for the leadership a few hours before), safe in the knowledge that it was a little bit safer.

Nevertheless, the Boris idea was a solid one right up until it wasn’t. Whatever went on behind the scenes to convince Michael Gove that he should run, and Boris Johnson that he shouldn’t - and these will no doubt emerge in the fullness of time - the fuzzy-headed posho was still the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership campaign, and talked about almost in default terms as becoming the next prime minister. 

Frankly it scares to me to think how Johnson’s form of calculated buffoonery might have become accepted to the point that its time has come. How could anyone think that his persona - cynically crafted over years - would be a good one for a prime minister? How can someone chart a path from polemic right-wing journalist to leader of a major world economy* via TV comedy quiz show and the public hardly bats an eyelid? If we’re really going to go down that route, Hugh Grant would be a much better choice. 

*I guess now arguable at this point in time

On the EU referendum.

The upcoming referendum on the UK’s European Union membership fills me with a certain sort of trepidation, and I don't mind telling you that I get well excited about this sort of thing. The thing is, if the US primary season is anything to go by, conventional politics is truly out of the window. 

Donald Trump is running a bizarre, excruciating, undeniably successful campaign to be nominated to run for president, but it will be fascinating to see if he can actually run for the job when he’s up against an experienced candidate of substance. 

His success has come through his ready-to-roll pastry status of being well-known by the electorate thanks to his extensive television appearances and gossip magazine coverage of his many marriages. Of course, back then it was all harmless fun – folks would enjoy his shows and once the cameras stopped rolling his could scuttle back to his New York penthouse and enjoy being rich. 

These days, his television persona is running amok, like a wispy-haired Godzilla. This monster that has been fed on ratings has suddenly developed a taste for blood. The scarier version is that he’s really like that, but politics allows – no, encourages – you to be cynical.

Perhaps we’ll see more celebrities running for office – Kanye West has already signalled his interest in the 2020 presidential election. In the UK our celebrity experience has only ever been limited to Robert Kilroy-Silk and Glenda Jackson, although maybe Trump has been inspired by his Apprentice forebear Sirallun Sugar being elevated to the house of peers. 

Of our current crop of celebrity politicians in the UK, Nigel Farage and George Galloway are the frontrunners. Pre-packaged populists who appeal to a certain sort of crowd. They’ve teamed up together for the Out campaign in the referendum, in theirs clearly forming some sort of super-Transformer. Neither are Trump-style ratings munchers, but both have shown in the past a certain willingness for attention at any cost. I'm not sure even Donald would be caught dead in a lycra catsuit. 

What this signals about the upcoming debate is that it has instantly slumped into the emotive and ideological, Farage and Galloway gunning for those who will accept what they’re saying for any other reason than they actually agree with the substance. 

We used to speak of battles for hearts and minds, only the minds don’t seem to matter anymore. I shall cross my fingers in the vain hope that we might be about to embark on a genuinely edifying national debate, one that will be informed and insightful and perhaps even enjoyable. Ha.

I feel the cold.

As I sit on my bed, wrapped up in blankets that cocoon me from the inside world, I’ve decided that I must be agoraphobic - I just don't like going outside when I could be indoors and comfortable. I am paralysed with disinterest when it come to venturing into the harshest of elements. ‘Get some fresh air’, they say. Well, there’s plenty that leaks in through the letterbox. 

I particularly don't like the cold weather. I’m one of those people who feels the cold. Who notices a little flurry of currents across the room, that errant draft. There are some days where I just can’t get warm, my very bones unable to retain any heat. These long months of refrigeration might stop me going otherwise mouldy, but they don’t do a great deal for my mood. 

I spent a year living in the south of Germany as part of my university course - it was the most wonderful area, with delightfully beautiful rolling countryside, a dashing antique town, a view of the Alps from the kitchen window. The downside was three long months with over a metre of permasnow. Constant cold feet and wet socks. The teachers in the school where I worked used to cross-country ski their way to the office in the morning, for goodness’ sake. 

It's this whole time of year that I don't get on with, actually. It's always a winter of my discontent. Or something like that, anyway. I always consider the new year to start in September, whatever my calendar might say. One of the good things about Christmas is however many minutes earlier the sun comes up when you’ve taken 10 days off work at the end of December. 

And so you make it through that initial burst of winter. Then the relentless dark and biting cold gives way to an insipid mild that is neither here nor there, yet bears with it fast winds and dumps of rain. I’ve often said to myself that you just don’t appreciate the warmth and the sun unless you have the coldness of winter to contrast it with, but I really don’t believe that at all. In fact, I could appreciate the warmth and the sun for twice the time if nature would give me a chance. I would be more than happy to appreciate it year-round. 

That said, there is a deep joy about the spring, the glorious bursting forth of new life. Don't get my wrong, I'd still rather watch it all from inside, but at least you can open a window every now and then. 

Cleaning up.

London is one of those great cities of the world, isn’t it – people mention the place wistfully in the same breath as New York, Paris and Vienna. Grand places where grand things happen. Historical places, important things. It might be a bit reductionist of me to notice, but each of these is characterised by a strong river. Every good city needs a decent river – I’m a big fan of Milton Keynes, but a Danube or a Rhine would have just set it off nicely.

The Thames is an icon. People who live here, we get our identity from it. I’m definitely a south of the river kind of chap, I just don’t feel comfortable when I slip over it into cosmopolitan enemy territory. The real big different between the two is that where in the north they have all sorts of coffee shops, we’ve got chicken shacks. What would you rather spend £2.89 on – a flat white or a strip burger meal?

The Thames looks especially good at night, but then most things do. Darkness improves my own looks by a heady 37%, which is why I try to avoid direct light where possible. The river looks great with the rippled reflections of parliament, or the neon glows of the Eye as it spins. I was working near the Thames until recently. Any job feels 10% better when you’re doing it within site of a majestic view. And you can tell by now that I’m really good at maths.

That said, up close the Thames is pretty disgusting. My friend Jayne used to row on the river, I remember her telling me once that after heavy rains they’d be pulling condoms out of each other’s hair at the end of boisterous practice sessions. Horrific, I’m sure you’ll agree, but then likely to be nothing compared to how it was in the good old days. In the summer of 1858 they had to cancel parliament sessions because the smell was so bad. People were catching disease just walking down past the place. You’d think twice about a nice stroll down the Southbank then, wouldn’t you. People keep saying how great it is that the Thames getting cleaner. It’s all relative.

In fact, some people came over from the Ganges recently to see how they can get seals and fish and that to come back to their grotty silted up banks and stop dying. The wildlife is flourishing in the estuary, right over there by where Boris wants to build the giant floating airport. All kinds of rare birds have started using the area as a stopping-off point when they’re going on their annual holidays, but those tourists don’t contribute a great deal to the national economy in fairness. The airport would be much cooler.

I don’t know if there’s any great science behind what they need to do with the Ganges. The main point to take away is don’t poo in it, I think. But that wouldn’t make for a very diplomatic diplomatic visit.

The Thames could be all sorts of levels cleaner than it once was – a number two on the Bristol stool chart, maybe – but the fact is it still looks really dirty. I was sat on the waterfront just the other month, having some lunch and trying to read a book. It was a windy day. The wall was being attacked by a particularly vicious tide, smacking against it and sending spumes of yellowy-brown foam over the top of the rail, a fine spray coating my face as I took another bite of my Waitrose Essentials tuna sandwich and clung on to my latest charity shop buy. I gagged a little bit.

I’m not saying they should be crystal waters of flowing Perrier, with scampy little fishes swimming about and singing irritatingly catchy reggae numbers, but chaps – let’s get it slightly less brown before we start congratulating ourselves and inviting our friends over, eh?

There’s something slightly perverse anyway about any amount of back-slapping when the extent of a policy decision is to funnel your raw sewage somewhere safe and stop pumping dangerous chemicals into your water supply. The seals love that, but it should be business as usual. We need flags for the crap beaches, not the good ones.

In the meantime, any of these places are fine as long as you don’t get too close. Which is fine by me, I’ve brought a book.

All the things I've ever written on here.

In December 2015 as a little welcome I wrote a nice little piece about the Thames and how clean it's getting

In January 2015 I complained about the cold despite the unseasonably mild weather. 

Yikes. In February 2016 I wrote about my trepidation at the upcoming EU referendum campaign.

In June 2016, we had a close shave with Boris Johnson and the Tory leadership.