With sketch writers banned from his press conference with Theresa May, I was forced to endure it on TV
Sometimes I worry I am more psychically connected to Tottenham Hotspur than is healthy. Having done my two events at the Hay festival, I went back to the friends I was staying with to watch the Champions League final. Only to find they didnt have BT Sport and their internet connection was patchy at best. So I ended up viewing the game on my iPad with a screen that kept buffering and then freezing. Which of course was entirely appropriate, because buffering and freezing appeared to be Spurs main game plan. The biggest match in the clubs history, against a team playing well below its best, and Spurs also chose to have a complete off day. Even down to giving away a dodgy penalty inside the first minute. You cant get more Spursy than that. It almost made me proud. Still, there was one upside. The two friends, Matthew and Terry, who ended up using my tickets kept me updated with photos throughout their trip, from their arrival in Toulouse to their eight-hour car journey to Madrid to their picnic on the beach on the way back. What struck me most was that they were both smiling in every shot. Something I would never have managed. I would have been sick with anxiety before the game and acutely depressed after it. There was no avoiding it. The right two people went to the game. Though it was a little upsetting to realise all my friends almost certainly have a better time without me.
There were plenty of spare seats among the US press corps and there was masses of space for more chairs to be laid out for the British media in the cavernous Durbar Court in the Foreign Office. Yet neither I nor any of the other sketch writers managed to secure accreditation for the Theresa May and Donald Trump press conference. Instead, the night before, we all received a rather sniffy email from No 10 regretting that it was unable to squeeze us in. A cynic might wonder if two of the most powerful leaders in the western world arent totally in favour of a free press. So, like everyone else, I was obliged to follow this particular episode of the US presidents family holiday to UK Disneyland on television. It was painful viewing. Not because of the inevitable lies, distortions and embarrassments that have long been priced in to any Trump public appearance. But because of the effect it was clearly having on the prime minister. When May had invited Trump, she expected to have negotiated the UKs withdrawal from the EU by the time of his arrival and to use his visit to project an image of power. Shoulder to shoulder with the president, negotiating a new trade deal. Instead, she cut a forlorn, diminished figure as she was both patronised and ignored by Trump, who made no secret that he was far more interested in her successor. It was like watching the prime minister vanish before your eyes.
My mother was 20 in June 1944 and had served for two years as a Wren a member of the Womens Royal Naval Service – in Portsmouth. When I was growing up, she would frequently tell me how she observed the buildup of troops, ships and military hardware in the days leading up to D-day, and how she went back to her billet each night thinking it would only take one stray German plane to fly over and the whole element of surprise would be lost and the invasion force wiped out. That the secrecy was maintained was always the biggest miracle to her. Ive found the 75th anniversary commemorations profoundly moving, especially the handful of surviving veterans and letters from the dead. But theyve also generated some anger, because politicians may talk a good game about the importance of honouring the sacrifices of the wartime generation, but they dont follow up on it. My father was mentally scarred by his experiences in the war, but was merely told to get on and make the best of it. No one was interested. The war was over, just be grateful to be alive. The horror of what he had been through never left him and he struggled to express his feelings. My mother is now 95 and in a home. She often says she feels like an inconvenience. Remembrance seldom lasts more than a day. It should be an action, not a thought.
Even though its been more than 30 years since I took any drugs, I still have dreams in which I am using heroin at least two or three times a year, and they never fail to leave me profoundly disturbed. Last night, I had one such dream. Though the characters and location vary each time, the set-up is always identical. I never actually take any heroin. Instead, I have always almost run out of the drug, terrified I am about to go cold turkey and engaged in an invariably futile search for a dealer. All the while trying to avoid meeting anyone I know and feeling a deep sense of guilt and failure that I have relapsed. Each time, I wake up with an acute sense of anxiety, as the dreams are so vivid Im not immediately sure whats real and whats not, and feel unsettled for most of the following day. Its as if my subconscious will never let me forgive myself or forget, and is determined to make me relive the shame at regular intervals. On Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of interviewing the bestselling US author Michael Pollan at a packed event in Westminster about his new book How to Change Your Mind, a study of the new science of psychedelics. It turns out that under controlled conditions LSD and psilocybin have proved beneficial in the treatment of conditions such as depression, OCD and addiction. Personally, I will be giving this a swerve my mental health is already rather too fragile and I took enough psychedelics in the late 1970s to put me off for a lifetime but the evidence Pollan put forward that LSD can help people who are stuck in their lives was compelling. I did wonder whether we should be feeding psychedelics to our politicians to resolve Brexit, an idea that was overwhelmingly endorsed by the audience. At best, it could effect a change of thinking. And if it gave some of them a bad trip, they would at least know how the rest of us are feeling.
Usually I like to binge-watch TV series, and my wife has to talk me down from squeezing in just one more episode before going to bed. Chernobyl has proved the exception. It is just so brilliant and so devastating that both of us can only take one episode at a time. After an hours viewing, we are both physically and mentally exhausted and need a break. I cant remember any other TV show that has ever had that effect on me, and the script and acting are every bit as superb as many other critics have said. I was 30 at the time of Chernobyl and I can clearly remember feeling first worried and then reassured it had been a minor incident, and that only only 40 or so people had died. Over time, I came to realise it had been much more serious, but its taken a TV drama to make me aware of the full scale of the disaster. Soviet secrecy somehow managed to survive the collapse of the Soviet Union. Talking of which, old-school communist bloc traditions appear to be back in fashion. In recent years, China has taken a rather commercial approach to its pandas, loaning them out to zoos for $1m (790,000) a year. But now, panda diplomacy has returned with the news that Chinas president, Xi Jinping, has handed over a couple to Moscow zoo as a personal gift to Vladimir Putin. Back to the future. Arguably Ted Heaths greatest achievement as prime minister was to secure a couple of pandas from Chairman Mao. If Theresa May could nab a pair before 5pm today, she may yet have a legacy.
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