1. The Button Presser

    Posted June 28, 2017 in transport  |  No Comments so far

    You sense the train’s deceleration and get up from your seat.

    You are the first person to get to the door of the train. This is not what you wanted to happen. Because this means that you will be the Button Presser.

    As the train slows further and moves into the station the rest of us gather behind you. Getting the measure of you. Do you know what you’re doing? Do you understand what being a Button Presser involves? Will one of us have to take over?

    You’ve done this before, of course you have, but this is something you can’t just say outright. No words are to be spoken here: your actions will tell us what we need to know. The choreography is subtle but each step has escalatory potential. Moving your hand to the button too soon will come across as naive and unrealistic, but leave it too late and we’ll think you’re oblivious to the meaning and purpose of the Button. One of us may have to intervene.

    And there are more of us now, crowding round the door, waiting for the Moment, the Moment when the Button will become active and you will face your true test. When that light comes on, you will have half a second to respond. Leave it any longer and one of us will lean past you with a exasperated sigh to press it ourselves. You will have been stripped of your ceremonial role as the Button Presser without honour or dignity. No-one wants that. (Secretly, some of us would relish it.)

    The train comes to a halt and the pressure becomes too much to bear. You begin to frantically, repeatedly hammer the Button long before its light will appear. The train is oblivious — the Button isn’t active yet — and we’re surprised too, you didn’t seem like the button-mashing type. It’s panicked and needy. Where’s your sense of timing?

    Finally, the light around the Button illuminates and quickly dims again as it meets your volley of taps. The door is open and we are leaving the train. As Button Presser you did… alright. You avoided our censure, yes. But you did not earn our respect.

    EDIT: a couple of people on Twitter have pointed out an even worse situation: where you have to lean out of the window on a big cross-country train to get the door open, an act that demands a combination of expertise and strength. It reminded me of a time in Cornwall a few months ago when I failed to do this and had to be rescued from the train by someone on the platform. My memory of the incident is a blur but I think I tried to pretend the door was faulty.

  2. I’m only just starting to remember what health feels like

    Posted February 11, 2017 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    The evening after my last run, a 15km circuit around lower Manhattan, I got into bed in my hotel and immediately turned ice cold. No matter how tightly I wrapped myself in the duvet, the shivering wouldn’t stop. I think my teeth were even chattering. Several hours later, having hardly slept at all, I had to accept I’d been hit with a severe illness.

    That was Monday night and I’m writing this the following Sunday evening, so nearly a week has passed, and I’m only just starting to feel like I can imagine what healthiness is like.

    Of course it hasn’t helped that during this period of illness – which I’m quite sure is/was the flu – I was at work for two days, then travelled on an overnight flight from New York to London, then took a Eurostar the next day from London to Amsterdam. I doubt many doctors would suggest these activities as a viable strategy for managing and recovering from the flu, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend them myself. I’d probably have got better more quickly if I’d had the chance to just stay in bed for a few days. Sometimes illness strikes at very inconvenient times.

    This period of illness has involved some memorably awful states of being and I wanted to write about them before I get better and promptly forget all about it (because my ill self has no conception of what it’s like to be healthy, and my healthy self has no conception of what it’s like to be ill):

    • Nausea, dizziness and chills combining to create something akin to constant seasickness for about three or four days
    • Coughing becoming so painful that the initial explosive sound of the cough was immediately followed by an involuntary whimper
    • Having to breathe in a very slow and measured way so as to minimise the risk of coughing
    • Being so dizzy and off-balance that I became seriously concerned about escalators at work and on subway stations, even swaying gently on my feet while waiting at traffic stops
    • Buying a burrito and then being unable to face the challenge of eating the thing; resorting to picking tiny bits out of it with a spoon instead
    • Feeling most of the time like someone with a really severe hangover
    • Ambitions I’d had for doing marathon training runs in New York being abandoned wholesale
    • Eventually, this morning, waking up with a splitting headache and actually feeling positive about that, because it seemed to represent some kind of endgame.

    As I write this the splitting headache is being managed with paracetamol and I’m still quite fatigued but, other than that, the illness is on its way out. I’m so relieved. And I think I’ll be getting a flu shot before next winter too.

  3. From the archives: my post from 7th July 2005

    Posted July 7, 2016 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    This is a blog post I wrote (on Livejournal) at lunchtime on 7th July 2005, the day 52 people were killed in terrorist attacks on the London transport network. This was written not long after midday and, as the final sentence shows, before the full horror of the attacks had come to be known.

    I’ve just got back home from Yorkshire via central London, and thought I’d write an account of the morning’s events while my memories are still fresh…

    I arrived at Kings Cross from York at 9.30 and was initially annoyed that the staircase down to the tube platforms was sealed off. That annoyance turned to genuine bafflement when it turned out that the whole station was sealed off, and the police weren’t letting anyone out.

    The exit to York Road was still open, though, so I came out and turned right, expecting to have to walk along to Euston Square. That turned out to be a daft idea when I saw the chaos outside the station – the roads were gridlocked, and people were swarming everywhere. I decided to head down to Russell Square and either get a bus or hop on the Piccadilly line (if it was running).

    Loads of people had the same idea as me, so I weaved through the confused commuters and was eventually coming down Marchmont Street towards Russell Square station when I heard a loud explosion. That was the bus on Tavistock Square, but I didn’t know it was a bus at the time.

    I kept walking until a wave of panicking people shouting “go back!” swept past me in the other direction. A policewoman walking behind them confirmed that it was indeed an explosion and that the whole area was being sealed off. At this point I thought I’d phone the office to tell them I wouldn’t be able to make it in.

    As I made my way eastwards, there were still huge waves of commuters coming down towards Russell Square who were unaware of Tavistock explosion. It was impossible to get them all to turn back, so those of us heading away just talked to who we could and pushed against the tide.

    Eventually I made it back to Angel, via quite a roundabout station-avoiding route. What I’d heard at this point, through text message exchanges with Guy and brief phone conversations with Fiona at work, was that there had supposedly been a series of power surges on the tube network, that it had been shut down, and that people with blackened faces had been emerging from tube stations. I knew that power surges weren’t to blame at Tavistock Square, having heard the explosion, and the general semi-militarisation that had gripped central London – helicopters circling overhead, police everywhere, entire areas roped off.

    The bus I boarded at Angel had just been prevented from going south of City Road, so it had kicked out the passengers turned round to go back towards Hackney. Within seconds of sitting down we new passengers were all talking about the “situation”.

    Everyone was quite surprised to hear about the Russell Square explosion, but a few minutes into the journey we all got a bit of a shock when we found out that it had been a bus. I got a text from my flatmate saying “stay off the buses!” just as an American, on the phone to his net-surfing wife, got the same piece of news. The conductor wasn’t happy to hear this at all, and spoke of resigning, while we all laughed nervously and seriously considered leaping off at the next set of lights.

    So eventually I made it back home and wrote this blog entry. Looking back at the events of the last few hours, a few things come to mind: for example, the speed at which the police had sealed off the Russell Square area was surprising. They were roping off the bottom of Marchmont Street within two minutes of me hearing the explosion, which goes how to show how serious the situation was being taken by them even then, fairly early on.

    Also, the initial story about power surges would seem to have been intended to enable a mass evacuation of the tube network without an accompanying mass outbreak of panic. It’s strange to imagine what the atmosphere would have been like at Kings Cross at 9.30am if it was common knowledge that bombs had been going off; most of us were in the state of agitated determination that commuters enter when tube lines are shut down and routes need to be recomputed. If panic had swept through the crowd, it would have been a shitstorm.

    At the time of writing it looks as though the fatality rate is low – two dead at Aldgate – so let’s hope that that remains the case.

  4. Brexit update, 5th July: Brexit for grown-ups

    Posted July 6, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    It’s been a few days since my last Brexit post.

    Things seemed to calm down a bit on Friday, the day after the Gove power move. The weather was nice. A double rainbow appeared here in London. We think.

    Brexit was beginning to feel like a lived-in reality rather than the energy source for an ongoing panic attack. Friday was probably the first day since the referendum result that didn’t feel like this for me:

    I struggled to find something to write about among the news stories. The best I could come up with was this article about Liam Fox saying Britain needs “Brexit for grown-ups”

    Conservative leadership contender Liam Fox today demanded “Brexit for grown-ups” as he blasted colleagues Boris Johnson and Michael Gove for their “Oxford Union politics”.

    For a while this made me imagine Brexit as a modular kids’ toy system like Lego or Sticklebrix or Mega Blox. Up until now we had only been mucking around with the clunky Duplo version of Brexit, trying in vain to use its bulky, garish bricks to build a functioning economy and political system. In Liam Fox’s mind the problem wasn’t that we had Brexit at all: it was that we had the wrong type of Brexit and had to swap it for Brexit Technics or, even better, Brexit Mindstorms.

    "Let's get the economy moving again"

    “Let’s get the economy moving again”

    No-one cares what Liam Fox thinks now, though. He’s since withdrawn from the Tory leadership race after coming last in the vote among Conservative MPs. I guess we didn’t need Brexit for grown-ups after all—we’re having more than enough trouble with the baby version.

    For example, Stephen Coltrane wrote a numbered series of tweets (a now-notorious trait of Brexit Britain) that outlined what might happen if Britain has to trade with the EU under WTO rules. Click the date below to read the whole thing.

    Another thing that happened on Friday was that the era of austerity came to an end. If that had happened two weeks or a year ago it would have dominated the news cycle for weeks, but in the context of Brexit hardly anyone noticed.

    On Saturday I went to the anti-Brexit march although I wasn’t there for long. My son, who’s four, feigned interest in the whole thing but was impatient to move on to the London Aquarium, the next item on our itinerary. It’s obligatory whenever you go on some march or demonstration in the UK to speak about it cynically – “well I doubt it’ll change anything” – but the value of the whole thing for me wasn’t based on the vain hope that Nigel Farage was going to walk by, experience a Damascene conversion upon seeing the assembled crowds, take to the podium, renounce his Euroscepticism and begin the reversal of Brexit.  Instead, it was the visceral experience of seeing and being among such a large group of people who reject the insane logic and increasingly overt racism of Brexit Britain.

    Speaking of Nigel Farage, on Monday he resigned as leader of UKIP.

    Loads of people were angry at him about that—“you made this mess, you help clear it up” was the consensus view—but it struck me as a little disingenuous coming from anyone other than a UKIP member. Would I have been happier to hear he’d taken a peerage and was going to be representing the UK in trade negotiations with Europe? Of course not. The further away from public life he gets, the better.

    Not everyone was minded to celebrate Farage’s resignation:

    Douglas Carswell, the only UKIP representative in the House of Commons, provided us with perhaps the most succinct tweet ever to be posted by a politician.

    I wonder if Hansard has emoji support?

    There was a lot of scepticism about whether Farage’s resignation could be taken at face value.

    The key quote from this passage is “you cannot undo globalisation and multiculturalism – not peacefully anyway.”

    The world of economics continued to act in accordance with the projections set out by much-derided experts ahead of the referendum. If only more people had listened to those experts.

    The pound plunged to 31-year lows against the dollar.

    Incidentally, it did take out $1.3055. In the small hours of July 6th it went below $1.30 and is now as low as it has been since The Crowd topped the charts with “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

    (Liverpool voted Remain btw)

  5. Brexit daily update, 30th June: At least Cheddar Bob has friends

    Posted July 1, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    What’s your favourite analogy for Brexit? Mine is based on the Eminem movie 8 Mile.

    There’s a scene where Eminem’s mates get into a fist fight with some rivals. It’s all kicking off when suddenly Cheddar Bob, the most ramshackle and haphazard of Eminem’s friends, surprises everyone by pulling out a gun and waving it round. The fighting immediately stops and everyone’s terrified, even Cheddar Bob’s friends are terrified, because the way he’s holding it makes it absolutely clear that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.

    I know, it’s already sounding a lot like Brexit isn’t it? At this point in the story it’s probably like Brexit around six months ago, where the squabbling Detroiters are European countries, Cheddar Bob is Cameron, and the gun is the plan to hold the Brexit referendum.

    "I'm gong to hold a referendum!"

    “Stand back, I’m gong to hold a referendum”

    Wait, though, it gets even more like Brexit. Cheddar Bob is shouted at by his own terrified friends and ordered to put the gun away. “OK, OK,” he says and, with everyone staring at him, puts the gun back into his trousers. But he’s forgotten to put the safety on, so the gun goes off and he shoots himself in the groin.

    Oops... I lost the referendum


    Panic descends as Bob passes out from shock. The other gang runs away while Cheddar Bob’s friends bundle him into a car and off to hospital.

    This is where the Brexit analogy breaks down, of course—because, unlike Cheddar Bob, we have no friends.


    B R E X I T



    This morning, on the way into work, I was wondering about doing these every other day. The pace of events is surely going to slow down, I thought. Yesterday evening I met a neighbour on the street and we were talking about all of this: “it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint”, I’d said. “It has to slow down sooner or later.”

    I hadn’t been in the office for long when this happened.

    This tweet actually looks quite innocuous in retrospect. But it set in train the events of the rest of the day, a backstabby Game of Thrones-esque saga of treachery and betrayal in which the Conservatives put the recent Labour infighting in the shade.

    It was interesting at this point because Gove and Boris Johnson had been allies during the “successful” Leave campaign (I put “successful” in scare quotes because it’s turned out to be a pyrrhic victory) and Gove had been putting it about that he was going to support Johnson. So this announcement that he was actually standing and that Boris Johnson, what’s more, “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”, was tantamount to sliding a knife into your best friend’s back. The leaked email from yesterday now made sense.

    A couple of hours later Johnson gave a press conference at which he was expected to launch his own campaign for the Tory leadership. That isn’t what happened.

    All this had happened so quickly that much of the Tory press had already been mobilised in support of Boris Johnson. These newspapers had hit the shops only hours before and were now completely out of date.

    The reaction was almost universally hostile. Michael Heseltine was particularly brutal:

    He has ripped the Tory party apart, he has created the greatest constitutional crisis in peacetime in my life. He has knocked billions off the value of the savings of the British people.
    [He’s like] “a general who marches his army to the sound of the guns and the moment he sees the battleground he abandons it… The pain of it will be felt by all of us and, if it doesn’t get resolved shortly, by a generation to come yet.

    For a while Johnson’s withdrawal seemed to cheer the financial markets, but not for long:

    You might remember that yesterday I tried to debunk the “FTSE is doing well” talking point. Today I was going to debunk the “pound is rallying!” talking point, but reality ended up doing that for me when the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, did a live TV broadcast at 4pm. I was watching it at work with some currency charts on screen at the same time and saw this happen as he literally walked up to the podium:


    This doesn’t mean that Carney messed up, of course. Pushing the exchange rate downwards can be a sensible thing to do as it helps exporters and reduces the risk of calamitous plunges later on. But it is still a sign that the economy is headed for recession.

    Some final points from the day. It’s becoming depressingly clear that racism is indeed on the rise in Brexit Britain:

    Incidents of racism in the wake of the EU referendum result have increased dramatically, according to the latest figures.
    Complaints filed to police online hate-crime reporting site True Vision have increased fivefold since last Thursday, the National Police Chiefs Council said, with 331 hate crime incidents reported to the site compared with a weekly average of 63.

    And, again, London isn’t immune:

    Theresa May, another candidate for the Tory leadership, has indicated that expelling EU nationals from the country is going to be a point for discussion in the forthcoming negotiations. Just think for a moment of what that would entail, how that would work logistically.

    So yes, it’s still fun here in the land of Brexit. See you tomorrow!

  6. Brexit daily update, 29th June: I bet there are already dogs called Brexit

    Posted June 29, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Day 6 in the Big Brexit House.

    Today I was thinking about how deeply the word “Brexit” might embed itself in our culture. If I’m right and the era we’re about to live through will see a fundamental reshaping of the political and economic structure of the British isles, the word “Brexit” could insinuate itself into the structure of our future society, a linguistic fossil to be preserved for centuries or more.


    There will certainly be history and politics textbooks—hefty ones—called “Brexit”. Economists in the future will build their careers on Brexit studies. Maybe there will be Brexit Street, Brexit Avenue, the Brexit Centre. Maybe Brexit will begin to crop up in the names of babies. You can imagine it being abbreviated to Brex, Brexie, the Brexler. Actually those sound like better names for a dog than for a child. I bet there are already dogs called Brexit.

    Today there were two fairly long “threads” on Twitter which got a lot of attention. (I put “threads” in quote marks here because they’re actually people replying to themselves, not conversations between multiple people. It sounds narcissistic but it’s the only practical way of making lengthy statements on that platform which can later be read in a linear fashion.)

    The first was from Ben Judah, a journalist at Politico. Click on the date in the tweet below to view the full thing.

    The gist of it is that the EU, led by France and Germany, would be prepared to let the UK have its cherished controls on immigration if in return it gives up the City, causing an exodus of the financial sector from London to Paris. The deal would go down well with Brexit as it would look like one in the eye for bankers while also reducing the number of immigrants; in fact it would go down so well that the government would have little choice but to take it. The downside? A massive loss of tax revenue. So all in all it would be a huge win for France and Germany and not so much for the UK.

    The second Twitter thread came later in the day and was from Alex White at the Economist Intelligence Unit who summarised the EIU’s current thinking on the implications of Brexit. Again, click on the date to read the whole thing.

    It’s a very gloomy prognosis for the next 4 or 5 years. I’ve taken a screenshot of the whole thing so we can check back in 2019 or so and see how accurate it all was. This was being shared pretty widely but not with a great deal of enthusiasm. Read it and you’ll see why.

    If you do look at that thread you might see people replying to it saying “Well the FTSE 100 is up! So you’re wrong!”.

    everything is awesome

    I’m sorry to be boring but I want to rebut that whole argument now as I’m tired of seeing economic illiteracy exploited for political ends. The companies that make up the FTSE 100 are all global corporations whose businesses are spread across the world. Some of them will be hit somewhat by a recession in Britain as it’s a big economy, but the effect on them isn’t as big as you think it might be. In the jargon, you could say their “exposure” to the British economy is quite low even for the ones that are headquartered in Britain. So to see the FTSE 100 as an indicator of the UK economy’s future health is to misunderstand what it actually represents.

    So what about companies that do have a high exposure to Britain, or—in other words—companies whose fortunes are more closely tied to those of the UK economy? Well, take a look:

    This particular index only tracks companies whose sales come predominantly from within the UK, and the picture is pretty clear. That is the chart you should be looking at if you want to see what the markets think about the future of the British economy. Ignore Louise Mensch and her Yahoo! Finance screenshots.

    Enough financial stuff for the day. Here’s a Pokémon GIF!

    It’s funny, right? You know what else is funny? Inadvertently leaked emails. Remember, these are the people who will soon be running the country as it faces its gravest challenges since the Second World War.

    That email in full:

    At least with the Tories you know it’s Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch who choose the leader. With Labour things aren’t quite as clear-cut. Today Jeremy Corbyn is sticking to his guns despite having lost the support of the vast majority of Labour MPs.

    He has the backing of a large number of members so can only be unseated by something akin to a party coup, which is what is being attempted. But remember, this is the age of Brexit, and so the coup attempt itself is—like everything else—a cavalcade of ineptitude. And this is despite it having been in the planning stage for quite some time.

    Some final things before we say goodbye to another Brexit day. First, some great positive campaigning is already emerging from within the Tory leadership contest:

    JG Ballard foresaw Brexit back in 2000:

    People are still being racist:

    In this photo made available by Diamond Geezer, a man wearing an anti immigration T-shirt walks during Armed Forces Day Parade in Romford, England, Saturday 25 June 2016. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Monday June 27, 2016 that abuse directed at immigrants wouldn't be tolerated, after a series of incidents were reported following the country's decision to leave the European Union. ( Diamond Geezer via AP)

    In this photo made available by Diamond Geezer, a man wearing an anti immigration T-shirt walks during Armed Forces Day Parade in Romford, England, Saturday 25 June 2016. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Monday June 27, 2016 that abuse directed at immigrants wouldn’t be tolerated, after a series of incidents were reported following the country’s decision to leave the European Union. ( Diamond Geezer via AP)

    And is this going to be what I write about tomorrow?


  7. Brexit daily update, 28th June: “Do not let Scotland down now”

    Posted in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Before getting into the day’s events I’d like to draw your attention to a column of Boris Johnson’s that was published on May 23rd, exactly a month before the vote.

    Thanks to an unexpected wormhole in the space-time continuum, I have come across the following passage from a historical textbook a few decades hence. It is a chapter called ’Brexit’…

    And was the word “Brexit” set in Comic Sans?

    He goes on to narrate what he found in this textbook:

    Given the choice between taking back control or being sucked ever deeper into a federal superstate, the British voted for independence on June 23. To no one’s very great surprise, Project Fear turned out to be a giant hoax. The markets were calm. The pound did not collapse. The British government immediately launched a highly effective and popular campaign across the Continent to explain that this was not a rejection of “Europe”, only of…

    …etc etc.

    Despite the superficial similarities, Boris is clearly no Biff Tannen and the time-travelling textbook he discovered isn’t proving a very useful guide to the future so far.

    The markets did have a comparatively good day today, though, which has given rise to a few Brexit talking points which I want to list here in the interest of balance. These are the claims, offered in support of the position that the economic shock is receding:

    • The pound rallied against the dollar
    • The FTSE 100 index is doing well
    • Yields on British government bonds are low.

    Each of these—and therefore the broader claim, that everything is awesome—can be rebutted but it would be too boring to go into here. Maybe another day. I’ll just leave this here for now.

    In the morning, an event of historical import took place in which British dignity and gravitas was demonstrated to the full. Yes, it was Nigel Farage’s address to the European Parliament.

    The person facepalming in the background is a cardiac surgeon who was raised in a gulag, so it’s safe to say that he was never going to be an ally of Farage.

    Other European MEPs were equally unimpressed:

    Although our national hero did have one fan: Marine Le Pen, of France’s neo-Nazi National Front. Good look, Britain.

    Shortly afterwards a very different side of Britain was on display, when Alyn Smith of the SNP gave a genuinely historic speech for which he received a standing ovation.

    Remember this: Scotland, did not let you down. Please, I beg you, chers collègues, do not let Scotland down now.

    Have I mentioned that I’m Scottish?

    OK, enough nice things: on to the racism. I’ve been at pains to mention in these updates that the rise in racist abuse has only been anecdotal so far, but the first official confirmations have started to come in now with the National Police Chiefs’ Council revealing that hate crimes rose by 57% week-on-week in the period immediately following the referendum.

    I also quoted the BBC’s Sima Kotecha’s tweet yesterday in which she said she was called a P**i in her home town for the first time since the 1980s. I found out today that that home town is Basingstoke, where I used to live. Well done Basingstoke.

    But London isn’t immune:

    And a big story yesterday involved a video of a racist incident on a tram in Manchester. The video’s been taken down now because the culprits have been arrested and it’s presumably going to trial.

    Don’t chat s**t when you’re not even from England, you little f**king immigrant. Get off the f**king tram now. Get back to Africa.

    Was this in Boris Johnson’s future textbook?

    For me, Brexit is a bit like going through the breakup of a relationship or a bereavement in the specific sense that, when I wake up in the morning, there’s a brief period—a couple of seconds maybe—when I’ve yet to remember that all this has happened. Then the memories come in and there we go: I’m back in the room, back in the Brexit room where the chintzy carpets stink of stale beer while Farage grins at me over a Hamlet cigar. Not a nice feeling.

    The last thing I’m going to talk about today is what’s going on in the main political parties. They are both in meltdown but Labour is doing a much more spectacular job of it. A no confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn yesterday delivered a gobsmacking result, with 172 MPs voting against him and only 40 in favour. He isn’t resigning though and is marshalling his supporters among the party membership. The Labour party in its current form will not survive this.

    On the Conservative side, it’s hard to know what’s going on really. Boris Johnson’s column on Monday (which I said at the time sounded “too good to be true”) turned out to be, essentially, a load of nonsense.

    Are you looking forward to this man being Prime Minister?


  8. Brexit daily update, 27th June

    Posted June 28, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Welcome to my second dispatch from the land of Brexit.

    Today we saw an attempt to get back to politics as usual with senior Conservative politicians emerging from the bunkers they’d been in over the weekend. Following on from Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article (which I mentioned last night) George Osborne gave a statement at 7am with the intention of calming the markets—“Britain is open for business”—but nevertheless the pound dropped sharply against the dollar soon afterwards, possibly prompted by Boris Johnson’s comments that it was “stable”.

    Around the same time, the share prices of two large British banks, Barclays and RBS, lurched downwards so sharply that trading was temporarily suspended. Perhaps Osborne’s speech hadn’t had the desired effect after all.

    The Vote Leave campaign switched its own website into victory mode, unveiling a picture of a bus which claimed that Britain gave the EU £50m per day.


    Some people initially mistook this bus for its more famous sibling which had spent the campaign advancing the claim that the EU cost the UK £350m per week. And then, noticing that the number was different, some suspected that yet another Leave lie had been uncovered.

    Just as Twitter began to convulse with rage, someone remembered that days and weeks are different units of time.

    Still, it doesn’t matter as the whole thing is nonsense anyway.

    People who’d failed to fully understand the economic arguments of shiny red buses weren’t the only apologetic ones today. Kelvin McKenzie, the former editor of the Sun, expressed “buyer’s remorse” for having voted Leave.

    There was a lot of outrage about that but fair enough, I thought, at least he’s admitted it. More people should. It doesn’t help that so many are refusing to acknowledge that we face serious difficulties. To wit:

    Those looking for a non-gloomy spin on things would be best advised to avoid any conversations about race relations, which continued to add an undercurrent of genuine horror.

    This person is a BBC newsreader and reporter for the Radio 4 Today programme. And if you don’t trust people who work for the BBC then what about people who work for Murdoch-owned Sky? Presumably they’ll tell it like it is and assure us that there’s no problem with racism here.

    Again, it’s too early to know for sure if there has been a surge in racist abuse post-referendum, but the anecdotal evidence does not look good.

    One of my big worries is what’s going to happen as it dawns on the far right that the Leave campaign blew the dogwhistle in vain and that immigration isn’t really going to be curtailed by Brexit. The politicians who made those claims won’t be the ones on the sharp end of the backlash; it’ll be immigrants on the streets, who asked for none of this. Leading Leavers are of course denying that their campaign had anything to do with immigration whatsoever:

    And it’s worth watching this clip from Dan Hannan’s appearance on Newsnight last Friday for another example of this.

    But there was one organisation that wasn’t about to U-turn so shamelessly and has instead stuck firmly to the notion that Brexit is all about expelling foreigners and reclaiming Englishness: the Sun. Here’s a screenshot of a piece of execrable journalism which in a sane world would be career-ending:


    In the minds of these people this is an Agincourt moment, with England ascendant once more and the world cowering before its mighty flag. And then this happened:

    Yet another national humiliation as England lost 2-1 to Iceland. At least this one was pure comedy though.

    I know I haven’t really touched on what’s happening in the Labour party today but as you can imagine it’s a complete mess. Stay tuned, because it’s a fair bet that more things will be happening tomorrow.

  9. Brexit daily update, 26th June

    Posted June 27, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Last Friday morning—a couple of days ago now—the UK voted to leave the EU. As you can imagine, it’s a time of turmoil. Things are moving so quickly that events from 24 hours ago can seem like musty memories from a bygone era. And most of the conversation is taking place on Twitter and Facebook, those ever-burning fires of our memories, so it’s essentially lost from history.

    For this reason I’m going to try to keep a log of what’s going on here, in this blog, on which the pathetic paucity of new content ensures that old material will be perpetually discoverable.

    Today has been Sunday. The main news story has been the self-immolation of the Labour shadow front bench which began after Hilary Benn was sacked at 3.30am after telling his boss that he had no faith in him. The resulting torrent of resignations has dominated the news cycle, giving rise to a fleeting meme.

    Earlier today there was a flurry of interest in a piece that Nick Clegg had written a couple of days before “Independence Day” or “Black Friday” or whatever you want to call it (I call it “the fash crash”) which has come to seem eerily prescient:

    As politicians bicker, you become increasingly unnerved by what’s happening in the economy, too: overseas investors take fright; money flows out of the country; our credit rating is slashed; the interest on our borrowing goes up; unemployment rises; sterling tanks; prices in the shops go up.
    Nicola Sturgeon soon announces that preparations have started for a second independence referendum, claiming it is the only way to keep Scotland in the EU. And this time most commentators think that she will win.
    Still, at least they will finally sort out our borders, right? After all, ending mass immigration was the Brexiteers biggest claim of all.
    So imagine how you’ll feel when you discover that they don’t have a plan for that either?

    Nick Clegg’s name hasn’t come up much in conversation since his party was annihilated in 2015 but this article was very much on the money. It works well because it’s very dry: the predictions are delivered without a side dressing of campaign rhetoric so the signal-to-noise ratio is high. It’s basically a list of future events with so close a resemblance to current reality that they almost seem mundane.

    There has been a little sideshow too involving a Winnie the Pooh related meme that was doing the rounds. I can’t find the original tweet but here’s the image:




    I hate how it combines a twee message (“why can’t we all just get along?”) with a lame attempt at ribaldry in the final sentence. Plus…

    Someone came along later and fixed it.

    There also seems to have been an upsurge in racist and xenophobic incidents since the referendum, as some Leave voters—unsurprisingly given the tenor of the campaign—begin to act on their perceived mandate to expel all foreigners. Reading about these incidents and then reading the below-the-line comments they attract provides you with an insight into an odious English racism which many thought consigned to history but is now slithering back into full daylight, no longer apologetic or subtextual but proud and emboldened. I’m not going to link to any of those commenters as they’re truly toxic but here are some of the incidents:

    (this person is a professional journalist but of course he’s lying about it)

    It’s too early for official statistics to confirm if it’s true but it makes sense given how the Leave campaign was constructed. And on that note, here’s some polling from Lord Ashcroft on how the attitudes of Remain voters compare to those of Leave voters:


    But it’s all OK though because Boris Johnson has written a column in the Telegraph (he gets about £5,000 a pop for these) in which he tells us we’ll have all the benefits of being in the EU with none of the costs. Sounds too good to be true if you ask me. Here’s a more constructive proposal for getting out of this mess:

  10. I Moved House So You Don’t Have To

    Posted September 24, 2015 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    I moved house recently.

    Just before the Moving Company in Grande Prairie came that morning I sent this tweet:

    But when the horror started, the last thing I wanted to do was to “live tweet” about it—I was far too busy enduring it.

    And I wasn’t able to “live tweet” about it when it ended either, because it has yet to end. Let’s put it this way: despite moving home nearly two months ago I’m writing this post from a Premier Inn in Chingford because our house is essentially uninhabitable at the moment. So you see, the horror endures to this day.

    I was going to write a kind of retrospective diary-style post about the whole experience of moving but then I decided that would be too dull.

    Instead, there’s a blog post I read just before the day of the move which is titled “13 Killer Moving House Tips”. I’m going to quote each “killer” tip and then talk about it from the perspective of my own move, which I wouldn’t describe as “killer” (although it did nearly kill me).

    Be warned, though, it is still pretty dull.


    At first I thought I was on to a winner here, because I was moving on a Friday which is generally regarded in the UK as being “during the week”. But when I read on I found out that Friday was not just part of the weekend but actually the busiest day of the weekend.

    …weekends and especially Fridays are the busiest when it comes to moving house.

    I wish someone would tell my boss that Friday was part of the weekend.


    Simple searching in Google alone is not enough.

    I was on a bus going round Old Street roundabout when I saw a van with the name of interstate movers company on it. I googled them on my phone and when I found that they had a website, I was sold.

    Later on, instead of coming to my flat to quote for the move, the manager found my flat’s “for sale” listing on Zoopla or Rightmove and put together his quote based on the photos our estate agent had taken. Rather than being perturbed by this, I marvelled at his ingenuity. It didn’t occur to either of us at the time that in the estate agent’s photos we had made an effort not to include the big piles of junk we own in each shot.

    This led to the first major incident of horror on moving day, when we all realised that there was far too much stuff in the flat to fit into the moving company’s van, and desperate measures had to be taken. So my spin on this tip would be to not just research a moving company, but to make sure the moving company takes time to research you as well.


    Take some time off and start to pack as early as possible. 2 months prior to your move, for example.

    2 months?? You can imagine how I felt, reading this the day before I moved and having done barely any packing. Well, I’d packed my records and books into boxes and thought I was doing pretty well. Little did I know what a small percentage of the overall mess those records and books comprised.


    You would be surprised how many items you’ve collected over the years. [Get] rid of the ones you no longer need…

    I’m totally sold on the idea of decluttering. In fact I’ve even bought Discardia, a book which is all about the joys of decluttering. I still haven’t read it though.

    On the day of the move, however, it became clear that most of my decluttering had involved moving unwanted things into a cavernous floor-to-ceiling storage space in the corridor of our flat as opposed to actually getting rid of them. Increasingly innovative ways of organising the junk had, over the years, resulted in a solid 20-square-metre pillar of dusty old drum machines, Iomega Zip drives and monstrous SCART cables. This tottering tower of detritus was, naturally, not included in the photographs our estate agent uploaded to Zoopla, and the moving companies movers felt sad when they discovered its existence.

    The point is this: I wish I’d read Discardia.


    I can be a bit smug about this because it was one of the very few advisable things I’d done ahead of the move.


    Clean as you pack.

    For a few years the flat we lived in always seemed like quite a small and pokey flat, a bit cramped even. Yet it underwent an unexplained and unnatural transformation in the 48 hours before the moving date, expanding telescopically in size like the interior of the Tardis. Hitherto undiscovered vistas opened up before my eyes as I explored this now vast territory with my overworked hoover. The cleaning I thought would be so straightforward once the flat was empty became an insurmountable challenge. Long after the movers had left in their van, I was still roaming the unconquerable carpeted plains of our flat hoovering up dust and coins, wondering why I did not apply for the moving maid services in Houston.


    I didn’t have to move our freezer and am greatly relieved about that. My advice would be, don’t move your freezer at all. Just leave it where it is. It’s happy there.


    This is another one of the few things about the move which I can look back on and think, “well that wasn’t a completely insane and self-destructive idea”.

    For a few days either side of the move our children were hundreds of miles away, in Cornwall. I can only imagine the chaos that would have unfolded if our three-year-old son had been in the mix. My advice to anyone with young kids moving house would be to forget babysitters and get your children as far away from the blast zone as possible, preferably in a different timezone.


    The way I did this was with the above-quoted and by now ironically prophetic tweet. Because all of my “close ones” are looking at Twitter at 7.30 on a Friday morning, obviously.


    It’s lucky for me that the internet exists because I did most of this stuff online the day before I moved, and some of it on the day itself.


    Same as the above.


    You might think you’ve got all the aspects of your move covered, but unexpected expenditures can always occur.

    Going through a house move is similar to being a financial trader operating in the peak of a wild speculative bubble (or, better, a global economic meltdown) who has chosen to take strong hallucinogens on the way into work. What I mean by that is that your normal relationship to the world of money becomes completely abstracted and the rules of conventional economic logic no longer apply. Huge sums of money will drain from your bank account while you shriek with terrible laughter, utterly unable to comprehend what it means for your finances.

    When things calm down later on—and it’ll be much later on—you won’t even be able to calculate the financial damage so it’s best not to try. So yes, it’s good to have extra money.


    What if your move takes longer than expected? What if you need to leave some of your items in storage?

    This is another great tip. The backup plan I suggest you prepare is quite simple: abandon the move and just stay where you are. I’m sure it’s lovely.