...but what does Brexit mean?

It’s not simply that Brexit means Brexit, however much the prime minister might seem to enjoy repeating it over and over like a mindless motivational mantra. It’s the political slogan equivalent of encouraging a snake trying to eat itself – how can you use something to define itself when you’ve not yet tried to define what that thing is? Before you know it, the head’s been munched right off and everyone’s confused. 

The inherent tautology that has come out of the EU referendum campaign is that a mild majority has somehow given the government a massive mandate to tear up decades of shared history with our freres and schwesters on the continent. You’ve got the magnificently incongruous sight of the Tories seeking to regain sovereignty for the UK parliament by planning to ride roughshod over the MPs sitting inside it. In order to win them more influence. You couldn’t write this stuff satirically. What amazes me about politicians is how they can maintain these excruciatingly uncomfortable positions without even a faint wince creeping across their faces. It’s a gift, really – just look at David Davis standing in front of the despatch box in the Commons and telling people that Brexit won’t have an effect on the UK economy while his colleagues in the Treasury are busy piling up the sandbags. You’d need botox to achieve the same po-faced effect as a civilian.

Of course, it’s about all that David Davis is really expected to do. The Secretary of State With a Really Special Job has no real influence in government – let’s be honest – and it’s been hard enough coming up with a letterhead and finding some people to work with over the last few months. I find it fascinating when prime ministers have these arbitrary reshuffles and radically reshape whole Whitehall ministries as if they’re Duplo towers made by two-year-olds that you and just knock over and start again. Indeed, I imagine David Davis permanently waiting in a civil service conference room somewhere – it doesn’t really matter where – with a flipchart angled just nicely so that it can be seen from everywhere at the empty table where he’s arranged an assortment of brand new coloured Sharpies and some biscuits. A pump action coffee flask sits slowly leaking heat on a back table. 

There’s criticism that the government has no plan, but the government was formed on the basis of the last government’s plan falling apart. It’s only been a couple of months, eh, chaps? Let’s give them a few minutes. It’s not like they’ve got to run the country at the same time now, is it. It’s alright if you’re Apple, or something. All you’ve got to do is keep reinventing the mobile phone every four years and adding a few hundred quid to your price lists. You don’t have to listen to everyone, just the 18% of the entire country you think might be interested in buying your stuff. They say you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time, but that’s really what we expect politicians to be getting on with. It’s a ridiculous task, like that Greek bloke who had to walk up and down the hill with a rock on his back. I wouldn’t particularly want to do it, but then I’m not very outdoorsy. 

The real difficulty with the Brexit referendum is not just that we’re airing our dirty laundry in public, but that every other country in the world is leaning over our shoulder asking how the skidmarks got there. We need a bit of privacy, a bit of quiet time to actually figure out what the vote even meant back in June. Sure, you could be as absurd and reductive as to just look at the actual question that was asked on the ballot paper on June 23, but it turns out that barely anyone paid any attention to it and it wasn’t a proper question anyway, because it didn’t have any legal weight. It’s a bit like when you ask someone how they are – you certainly don’t expect them to answer honestly, much less ask the question with any expectation of helping them with any of their problems. David Cameron put the referendum to the people out of a sort of misguided British politeness, to make us all feel involved in the ridiculous internal fighting of the Conservative party, indulging dusty old white men with entrenched views on nothing in particular. 

In many ways it’s bizarre enough that we’re in this position – it’s as if God forgot to put the world on pause when he went to get a cup of tea that one time and now it’s all gone to crap – but actually the really weird stuff is yet to come. There are so many uncharted waters that we run the Columbus-in-1492 risk of falling off the edge of the world. Our unwritten, convention-based constitution faces a stern talking to if not a genuine challenge – will Brexit even happen? That is, once we’ve collectively decided what it means. We need our best people on the job, folks with intelligence, compassion and the ability to multitask. Politicians with the capacity to think boldly, imagine the unimaginable and sooth the wounds that have been inflicted on all sides. Oh no.

The changing face(book) of car insurance...

I consider myself a decent driver, but then so does everyone. I’d question the human being who admits to being terrible and still gets behind the wheel. It’s the sort of game of Russian roulette you’d only want to play in a country that enjoys a free healthcare system. 

The driving system is anything but free – you might lulled into a false sense of security by the four-wheeled bargain you’ve snapped up at Floggitt and Runn Motors up the way there, but the tax, insurance and first tank of fuel will be enough to have you crashing back down to earth with the sort of bang that will surely set off your dusty curtain airbags. That's even before you sit in gridlocked traffic in the middle of the latest metropolis contemplating the introduction of a congestion charge that penalises you for going nowhere, or some community-minded spirit reverses into your car at Tesco before driving off while you're earnestly trying to decide between the jam or the custard-filled donuts.

We heard last week that insurers were planning to use Facebook behaviour to decide what kind of drivers young people would be when they first get behind the wheel. It doesn't take a supercomputer to look at some little scamp's Saturday nights out and see that he's a B-road barrel-roll into a field waiting to happen. Of course, the insurers wanted to dress it up a bit – scientifically examining language and personality traits to assess tendencies towards driving through red lights and running over old women, that sort of thing. That was all before the gargantuan social network dealt them a swift kick to the nuts. There’s no one to root for in this particular battle – the parasitic internet giant that takes all of your information and holds it jealously close in return for vast swathes of money versus the besuited modern highway robbers who take all of your information and charge you for existing. They all wield algorithms like weapons. 

Of course it’s rather sensible, in many ways, to examine the personality traits of new drivers in great detail to understand what kinds of risk they might pose on the road. But it wouldn’t it be marvellous if this was done for the purposes of education? God forbid we had a decent system of training and development in place before launching kids into busy traffic with 1,000kg weapons of mass disruption. As it is, we've got a multiple-choice picture round and a 25-minute pootle around town while everyone else is at work. I've been to harder pub quizzes, plumbing the depths of accumulated knowledge for a round of drinks. Something as dangerous as driving in public requires at least a polygraph test, psychological evaluation and months of Rocky montage-style off-road training. Check your Tweets? That's the least of it.

And yet, on the other side there’s the right we all enjoy to be a little mysterious and interesting. As if it wasn’t bad enough that airport security guards can see you in your digitally penetrated altogether, or that the security services want to know what you’ve been Googling about this afternoon. Our grandchildren will sit back and sigh ruefully at our blindly fumbled descent into the sort of underhand surveillance culture that would have given Orwell the heebie-jeebies. Still, at least we got money off stuff on the way there, and if nothing else it would mean an end to filling out endless forms come renewal time.

Why even stop with road safety and the like? Why not use the Facebook history and school test results of 17-year-olds applying for their provisional licences to decide whether they should even be on the road in the first place? We’ve seen off academic selection for the time being, but when it comes to social media the possibilities could be endless. You don't need Tom Cruise and an assembled bunch of baldie psychics in a paddling pool to work out where the sociopaths and potential criminals are, either. You've liked the Mrs Brown's Boys fan page on Facebook? There you are – that's certainly enough to justify surveillance in my book.

The problem of getting older.

I always hoped I’d be a bit different as I got older – I remember when I was younger, deciding to myself that it would be different for me. I wouldn’t allow myself to decay and fall apart like the Aztec ruins around the place, taking their cod liver oil tablets and complaining about their backs. I didn’t want to be one of those who stopped drinking coffee after three in the afternoon, needed a nap or had a nice soothing cup of green tea of an evening. 

I always vowed to myself that I’d never be one of those decrepit older people, and yet at 32 I find myself shuffling around hunched over like a bag lady if I sleep funny or don’t drink enough water. As I write this, I’m sitting on the sofa with a big steaming mug of lemon and ginger tea (but at least it isn’t green. Filthy stuff), warming my hands between paragraphs and allowing myself to be distracted by nagging thoughts of what I need to buy at the shop tomorrow. Bread and eggs, by the way, remind me. 

I groan when I get in and out of the car, and my hair is evaporating like a puddle in a heatwave. I went camping in August and I had a sore neck for six weeks afterwards. I think it was because of the cold. Or the damp. Or my airbed. Or the fact that I was lying in the middle of a field at night instead of the warm embrace of my comfortable bed. Which is inside, because that’s sensible and what people have been doing for many hundreds of years. 

These days I feel old because someone famous is born after 1990, or I realise that someone born in early 1998 – NINETEEN-NINETY-EIGHT – would have been old enough to vote in the most recent elections. It’s enough to make me want to hide under the duvet and never emerge again. Which would be a great excuse to buy a commode. I might happen to mention a film that came out in 2000 to a 15-year-old and they’ll look at me derisively, saying that they don’t watch old films. That being their equivalent of the outrageously dull black and white films they used to show on Channel 4 of a Saturday afternoon when I was young, bed-blocking the telly schedules with crap for ancient people. 

I’ll start to weep when I realise that to this dismissive 15-year-old, the Spice Girls are basically the same as Abba or the Beegees were to me at the same point in life. Ancient history, classical music, the stuff of a bygone, dust-laden era. It’s enough to induce chest pains, or at the least a light headache. 

I find myself looking for a car with a nice comfortable ride and an automatic gearbox, just because. These days, taking a risk is something I associate with buying a new brand of hummus, or trying a different sort of coffee. I don’t like to be in bed too much past 10pm, and if I am going to be out late I’d prefer to drive rather than get the train or the bus, because it’s so cold outside and much more convenient to be able to roll up to the front door. 

I always vowed I wouldn’t be one of those people who becomes overwhelmed by technology, but every new phone that comes out perplexes me further. Kids these days grow up with extra muscles for pinching and zooming and swiping that I simply don’t possess. 

Like the dinosaurs, or the Labour party, I find the world leaving me behind. Like a just-missed bus I watch the back of my hopes and dreams driving down the road, choking in the dieselly fumes. It’s hard, getting old – and I rather suspect that by the time I get used to it, I’ll be dead.

On the US elections.

It’s getting a bit crazy over in America. I mean, you thought things were bad over here in the UK with our crashing pound, crumbling parliamentary democracy (literally – it’s going to cost like £8bn to stop the roof of the Commons from caving in) and completely hysterical media. At least over here we purse our lips and mutter something a little chippy when we disagree, over in the US you get shot in the face. 

Clinton versus Trump had all the makings of an epic slug-fest, but no one even came close. I couldn’t tell for so long whether the whole campaign was a massive joke for Trump – the man must surely be more self-aware than he comes across, I thought to myself. Or maybe I have too much faith in humanity.

Donald Trump has the air of a man who knows the joke has gone too far, but it’s too far gone to explain to everyone that he was just trying to be funny. By this point he’s tripped over the line into acute psychosis and he’s so much drowning in his own persona that he’s lost even the ability to shock himself out of character. 

Watching this week’s presidential debate was hard work – it would have been entertaining, if implausible, had it been some pilot season guff on Amazon Prime, but knowing that the outcome of this little tete-a-tete has far-reaching consequences for much of the rest of the globe (particularly those bits that don’t fancy being blown up come February) lends the whole thing a much more sinister air.

Full disclosure – I really quite like Hillary Clinton. I don’t get the near-widespread hatred of her and can’t bring myself to assume that everything she does is for somehow nefarious purposes. Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, but let’s leave that sort of thing at the door when it comes to the actually important stuff. Very often I don’t subscribe to those sorts of ideas simply because I believe in the fundamental incompetence of humankind – it would be impossible for people to maintain the high level of intelligence, discipline and order that such deceits imply. 

Hillary gets bashed for her 30 years in politics, but why do we not applaud people who want to raise the level of public service to something worthy of talented and skilled professionals? Donald Trump is what happens when too many people criticise those who try to make politics professional, and the danger of putting the pressure on politicians that we do, is that they’re unable ever to appear less than superhuman. 

Hillary Clinton of all people has an appreciation of what it means to be in high office, and what it demands of the people who holds it. She has a respect for that level of leadership that is evident in her speeches and remarks. Usually that’s true on both sides of the divide, that each side puts up a truly presidential character and it’s up to the people to decide who’s best at the time. Yet in 2016, it’s not simply that Donald Trump is an unknown quantity, he’s a known quantity and it’s frankly rather terrifying to imagine him in power.

On the positive side, it’s getting rather more difficult to imagine him in power with every passing day. The primaries were something of a charmed first impression for Trump – as a television celebrity he avoided the usual scrutiny because people thought they were getting a known quantity they could rely on. The voters were charmed by a politically fresh face, someone a bit different than the norm. They got hooked. Now they’ve been lined and sinkered. When President Clinton takes office next January, I really do hope she’s able to bring along some soothing balm to apply to what will still be deep, festering wounds. Not just for the US, but for everyone else too.

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