Monday, 6 January 2014

Back To The Grind

Isn’t the end of the festive season dismal? 

“Wipe that smile off your face, sonny,” says the calendar, as you gloomily unhook the baubles, stuff the lights into their box in a hideous tangle and prepare for another joust with the loft ladder.  The logic of getting an artificial tree becomes unanswerable as your natural one, humiliatingly stripped and already anticipating the touch of the bad burny fire, reacts by chucking its needles all over your carpet and inviting your Hoover to have a go if it thinks it’s hard enough.

If you’ve had guests, the laundry basket is full to the brim with sheets and towels, and your smalls are having to slum it in a bin bag.  Cupboards and fridge, seemingly at random, contain none at all of some foods and massive quantities of others.  (In our case we have a tremendous surfeit of Weetabix, although if this filthy weather continues it may come in useful as an alternative to sandbags.)

You watch Sherlock, recalling its captivating brilliance on New Year’s Day, only to find that while sober you can’t understand what the hell is going on.  At Tesco, the “seasonal goods” shelves, lately so alluring, now stand idle pending the arrival of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and World Cup 2014 merchandise.  Your true love stops sending you things, and even the five gold rings you liked so much turn out to have been bought at Poundland.

To add another spoonful of salt to your cuppa, it’s time to go back to work. And you’d better arrive at the station early, to grab a seat before they’re all taken by the 69 million extra Romanians and Bulgarians.  And watch out for passengers with brand new iPads who haven’t yet perfected simultaneously juggling them and a hot grande latte.  And stand close to a defibrillator when it dawns on you what the new fares are going to be.

Politicians also enjoy their holidays, although it’s invariably a shock to them to have to pay for their own meals for a few days.  But the siren call of duty, or trough, or mistress, affects them just as the threat of penury does normal people, so it’s back to the office for them too.  This is for the best.  A temporary sojourn in the real world is good for MPs, especially Lib Dems who will be searching for a job in 2015, but be honest:  wouldn’t you rather have them all in one place where you can keep an eye on them?

First to set the start-of-year agenda was David Cameron, with his appearance on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show.  Marr’s questions were topical, in the sense that they were as challenging as the easy-to-hit rubbish the news had shown England’s bowlers serving up against Australia.  Dave protected his wicket with an assortment of platitudinous drivel, then thwacked the ball to the boundary with an outrageous bribe to pensioners.  He said nowt about what would happen to bus passes, or free TV licences, or the winter fuel allowance, or pensionable age, but hey, the Tories have never shafted people in the past, so why would they start now?

Dave made one other pledge amongst the general dross: not to debate with Alex Salmond about Scottish independence.  Well, Alex and Dave are hardly comparable as leaders, are they?  One of them gets things done via a clear working majority in his Parliament, and the other has to exploit the grotesque spinelessness of his coalition partners.  Anyway, Dave’s personal improvement plan for 2014 doesn’t involve having his arse handed to him, especially when there are so many Labour and Lib Dem politicians available to scapegoat if Scotland votes Yes.

It wasn’t long before George Osborne was also manifesting himself all over the place, like the remnants of a paper hanky in a dark wash.  Apparently Austerity is not only a consequence of “the mess Labour left” - although obviously it is, with knobs on - but it’s also a bloody good scam, and that’s the hard truth of it!   So, after George has cut some more tax for the rich, he’ll begin slashing away at the welfare budget. “George, would that be the welfare budget Dave is going to use for those increased pensions?” we might have asked, had George not been occupied showing off the la-la-can’t-hear-you ear muffs he'd got from Santa.

As we trudge back to our desks, we should remember those who have to work all the way through Christmas – this year, thanks to the weather, in unusually large numbers.  If the wind hadn’t already blown off my cap, I’d doff it to each and every one.  But it’s all very well giving people practical help.  What about bland assurances? 

Fortunately, our political elite were on top of that too, with Dave taking a photo-opportunity in the Kent village of Yalding during a flood and power outage, and being “ambushed” with complaints by a member of the public. “We must learn lessons”, he declared.  In this case, presumably, the lesson foremost in his mind was, “Sack the special adviser who allowed me to be cornered by that stroppy local.”

Other Cabinet members also deserve mention for providing Christmas cover.  Owen Paterson, for example, brilliantly timed his announcement of 1,550 redundancies at the Environment Agency to coincide with staff working tirelessly round the clock to deal with the various floods.  As if that weren’t enough, he followed up 24 hours later with a cunning plan to solve the housing crisis by bulldozing ancient woodland.  This latter gaffe had the Woodland Trust spitting rivets, or possibly splinters.  You can see how the badgers were able to outwit him. 

Meanwhile, Michael Gove, on his own initiative, single-handedly rewrote the history curriculum and the story of broadcasting in one go.  Now, we realise, the First World War was a fantastic idea, and we should definitely celebrate it with ubiquitous Union Jacks a month before Scotland votes in its referendum.  Oh, and Blackadder wasn’t a documentary, though the presence of Stephen Fry and Tony Robinson might have fooled you on that score.  A gold star and prefect’s badge to Michael!

It’s fine hearing about politicians getting back to the grindstone, but not so great to realise that we’re the ones receiving the grinding.  Still, if this thought adds to your post-Yuletide despondency, remember that things could be worse.  In fact, give it a couple of weeks and they will be.  Monday 20 January is officially “Blue Monday”, when, experts assure us, it will still be raining, the Christmas shopping credit card debts will fall due and the accumulated stresses of living cheek by jowl throughout the festive period will result in the break-up of your relationship.

You’ll probably be needing a treat at that time.  Maybe you could save some of your Christmas chocolate, so that you can scoff a chunk or two to boost your blood sugar.  Or perhaps I could interest you in a tasty, nutritious 96-pack of Weetabix?

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