Typical. We had one job … Our daughter, whom we hadn’t seen for the best part of 18 months, was coming to London and all we had to do was to get to Heathrow in time to meet her as she passed through immigration and customs controls. It didn’t quite work out that way. First, we were halfway to the airport when my wife, Jill, remembered she had forgotten the “We Love You, Anna” placard she had made that morning. Then Jill checked the flight tracker and discovered Anna’s plane had landed 45 minutes early, rather than the 30 minutes early the app had suggested when we last looked. No matter, I said. There are bound to be long queues at arrivals to make sure everyone’s Covid certification is in order. After all, there had been reports of six-hour delays the previous week, which is why we had both bought books with us. Not long afterwards, we got a text from Anna that her vaccinations, pre-booked Covid tests and passenger locator form were all in order and she had cleared immigration. OK, I said. She still needed to collect her suitcase, and that would be at least another half an hour. Ten minutes later, just as we pulled into the short-term car park, we got a further text to say Anna had got her case and was on the way out. We parked the car, raced into the terminal … Only to find Anna already waiting for us. It was a wonderful hug. One that felt both very special yet weirdly normal at the same time. Almost as if 18 months of separation had been condensed into 10 seconds of physical contact. Jill and Anna did almost all the talking on the way home as I was lost for words. Still, I now have two and a half weeks to find them.
Most of the attention about the Downing Street refurbishment is understandably focused on who paid for what and when. But I am also fascinated by some of the details of the decorations themselves. Like, since when did any furniture from John Lewis become downmarket? Much of their clobber would look fairly classy compared with the furniture in our house. But what I really fail to understand is why you would go to the extravagance of wallpaper at £840 per roll, a sofa at £9.6K and a rattan chair at £5.9K when you have a one-year-old toddler, a badly behaved dog, Larry the cat and a man who has form for spilling wine living in the flat. If you want a home that looks like something out of World of Interiors then dispense with all pets, children and messy adults, as otherwise it seems a no-brainer that the place will get trashed with sticky fingerprints, scuff marks and unwanted bits of food in a matter of months. Our house is still to fully recover from the full impact of us having brought up two kids inside it. Not to mention the two cats, one dog and me. Despite at least one paint job and the odd bit of filler when our children moved out, there are still chips to the plasterwork, marks on the walls, and much of the furniture is best described as distressed.
Thanks to the responses of several readers, the riddle of the leaking shower that I wrote about last week may well be solved. And, as so often, the answer doesn’t reflect particularly well on me. For it turns out that the reason why it leaked intermittently when I was using it was because when I stood in a certain area of the shower, the tray was separating from the silicon and grouting to allow the water to escape through the hole and down through the floorboards to the ceiling below. In other words, I was just too heavy for the shower, which is why there were no leaks when my wife used it or when the plumber came. Or to be blunter still, I was just too fat for the shower. Still, at least it’s relatively cheap to fix with some new grout and silicon. Another mystery was also partially solved when Dr Peter McClure, joint editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, emailed to say that, contrary to the family folklore that our surname derived from Jews escaping persecution in Krakow, there were Craces knocking around in the UK before the 18th century. Among many others, there was a Ricardus Cras in Surrey in 1381, a Margarett Crace in Berkshire in 1547 and a Robert Crace in Somerset in 1607. Apparently, the modern surname is most commonly found in the London area, but in earlier times was more commonly a variant of the surname, Grace, which itself was a nickname taken from the old French cras or gras, meaning fat. So given the shower issues, it seems there is something to nominative determinism.
A large number of car owners in France are said to be furious that from now on Renault and Dacia models will be fitted with controls limiting them to a maximum of 180kph. AKA 112mph. No matter that it is illegal to go that fast on all roads – the maximum speed allowed on a French motorway is 130kph – drivers regard the removal of their right to choose not to break the law as yet another example of interference by the nanny state. Despite the fact that no one has yet seen a Clio or a Twingo travelling at 180kph, Pierre Chasseray, the head of 40 Million Drivers, the main motorists’ lobby organisation in France, said: “This ridiculous measure is typical of the politically correct urban chic mentality.” There might have been a time when I was in my late teens when I would have had some sympathy for this – though my problem back then was always about getting my clapped-out car to reach the top legal speed of 70mph on the motorway – but now it just seems absurd to complain about not being able to go 50kph faster than the maximum speed limit. Indeed, the complaint I now get from my family is that ever since we got a Toyota hybrid I have taken to driving too slow. Rather than focusing on the speedometer, I am now glued to the control that tells me how much petrol I am using. Finding out that I have completed a journey getting more than 50 miles to the gallon gives me a far bigger thrill than maxing out at 70mph. I like to think it’s because I’ve become greener, though I suspect it’s as much a reflection of my age.
Like many millions of others, I will be watching the final episode of Line of Duty this Sunday. Though even when it’s over I’m not expecting to be too much the wiser, as I’ve completely lost track not only of most of the threads of previous series but quite a few of the current one as well. Every week my wife has come back into the room after making herself a cup of tea and asked me to fill her in on what she’s missed, only for me to have to admit I haven’t got a clue what’s going on. I’m assuming we will at last get to find out the identity of H, but I’m not holding out much hope that anything will become much clearer as a result. I’d quite like the writer Jed Mercurio to have played a long-game double bluff all along and that Ted Hastings is revealed as the top bad cop, but the truth is I don’t have a clue. It could be Vicky McClure all along. Just on the grounds that if you reverse her initials and put an H in front, you get HMV. It makes about as much sense to me as anything else. Quite why I’m struggling so much with the current series, I can’t put my finger on. Whether it’s one season too many syndrome and the writing just isn’t quite so sharp – last week’s extended interview felt somewhat formulaic – or I’m suffering from TV overload, I can’t be sure. I suspect more the latter. Most evenings are spent watching television and I think I’ve reached my saturation point. There’s only so many plotlines I can keep in my head at any one time – not least when I can’t binge-watch and have to wait a week – and with at least five series on the go, I’m in meltdown. Weirdly, the end of lockdown could significantly improve my TV watching.
Digested week, digested: A £56,000 bill, three inquiries and the Tories 11% ahead in the polls. Nihilism rules.