Digested week: A joke dying on its feet won’t stop Boris using it again, and again | John


During the half-time break at the Spurs v Leeds game yesterday, I was chatting to my friend Matthew, with whom I have been going to the football for longer than either of us cares to remember. It had been a particularly bleak first half. Tottenham were supposed to be reinvigorated under their new manager, Antonio Conte, but there appeared to be no difference to how they had played under both José Mourinho and Nuno Espírito Santo. The team still lacked any creative ideas – the default mode of every player was to pass the ball sideways – and Leeds, a side just above the relegation zone, were in complete control. What’s more, Spurs had not managed a single shot on goal, let alone one on target. So I told Matthew what had been on my mind. That I wasn’t sure how much longer I could face putting myself through such unremitting suffering, something that I had previously effortlessly taken in my stride. Indeed I had always worn Spurs’ capacity to let their fans down as something of a badge of honour. I had expected Matthew to tell me to get a grip and stop moaning. If I expected to win a major trophy I should support another team. Instead, he told me that his father – a longtime season-ticket holder back in the day – had also reached the same point at roughly the same age as me and had stopped going to games. Which got me wondering if there was a quantity theory of disappointment in football and that I had reached my limit. I’ve a while to find out. Spurs came out for the second half looking like a different team and went to dominate the game and win quite comfortably. We left the ground making plans to meet up for the Brentford game next week. Maybe I’m just incurably shallow.


Just over halfway through his speech to the CBI’s annual conference – after the strange car noises and comparing himself to Moses – Boris Johnson made a gag about fintech, medtech and nanotech all sounding like something out of 15th-century Mexico. It didn’t get a laugh. Then it hadn’t when he had made exactly the same joke during his speech to Cop26 a few weeks earlier. But not getting a laugh doesn’t seem to worry Boris. If I made a gag that had died on its feet, I would assume the material wasn’t up to scratch and make sure I never used it again. Boris merely assumes his audience is too thick to get the punchline and carries on telling the same joke. He was at it again later on in the day. After losing his place for an excruciating 20 seconds, he went on a long ramble about Peppa Pig, which he clearly expected everyone to find amusing. They didn’t. But Johnson was completely undeterred and went on to tell the same Peppa Pig story twice more on the same day. First in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies and then at a Tory fundraiser. Either Boris has sociopathic levels of self-belief or he just can’t judge an audience. Or maybe the crowd at the Tory fundraiser humoured him with a laugh. They certainly humoured him with their cash. One punter paid £35,000 for an hour playing cricket with Rishi Sunak, another coughed up £22,000 to do karaoke with Liz Truss. Dinner with Michael Gove went for £25,000 while a “Get Brexit Done” poster made a cool £30,000. Halfway through the black-tie event, ministers had to nip off to the Commons to vote for a government amendment to ensure that the least well-off parted with the greatest percentage of their capital to pay for their care. On reflection, that might have been the sickest joke of the day.


Recovering from depression is a weirdly disorientating process for me as it’s always at least a month or so after the event that I realise I am actually feeling a little better. Take my sleeping patterns. I’m still having vivid anxiety dreams every night – I long to get time off from my psyche – but it’s taken me several weeks at least to notice that I am no longer completely debilitated by them in the morning and can start the day more or less normally. It’s almost as if I can’t allow myself to trust the process of recovery in case things return to their bleakest. The same applies to going out. At my lowest point, I either couldn’t leave the house or, if I could, then it was an endurance test, but it’s only recently I’ve registered that I have been enjoying being more sociable. Only last night I was at the Nightwatchman (a cricket magazine to which I have contributed) quiz – the first for nearly two years due to the pandemic – and felt quite emotional to be among friends I hadn’t seen for such a long time. A month ago, I would have been sat there, assuming I had gone, wondering how soon I could leave. Our team didn’t win, but we never do. Our lack of knowledge about the Faroe Islands, Henry VI, astronomical units and Sunil Gavaskar let us down, but we didn’t disgrace ourselves. The one downside was that I missed the Bake Off final and was unable to avoid the dozens of spoilers on Twitter and online that Giuseppe had won when I got home. I won’t be watching on catchup, mind. Because the real winner was definitely Jürgen. We’re still waiting for a stewards’ inquiry into how he got knocked out in the semi-final.


It will probably come as no surprise to you that I haven’t heard the new Adele album. But then I haven’t heard of any of her previous albums either. My loss, possibly, but there’s only so much time to listen to music and I prefer to spend it with Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen. As well as opera and classical music, of course. It’s an age thing, I guess. So I can’t say for certain whether her new record is immeasurably improved by Adele insisting that Spotify hide the shuffle function and play the album in the order in which it was listed or if she is being a little precious. My guess is the latter. It goes without saying artists curate their music and take a lot of trouble over which track should follow another, but surely listeners should also be free to make their own judgments? Just as authors can’t choose how people read their books. I, and most other people I know, frequently read nonfiction books out of chapter sequence and one of my sisters likes to read the end of novels before going back to start at the beginning, so singers and composers can’t dictate how people consume their music. Occasionally it’s simply a matter of time. Listening to an entire opera requires you to have at least two and a half hours spare, something I rarely seem to have, so I’m more than happy to listen to selected highlights. There’s no self-deception going on. I know I’m not treating myself to the composer’s full artistic vision, but I am settling for what I want at the time. Which seems to me fair enough.

care home residents holding a 6ft-long albino snake.
‘Yet another politician turning up for a photo op.’ Photograph: Tristan Potter/Care UK/PA


For the first time in 12 years, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has developed new guidelines for treating and managing depression in adults. Those identified with less severe depression will be offered psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), meditation and exercise as first-line treatment alternatives to being prescribed antidepressants. This sounds eminently reasonable and long overdue. Over the years I’ve tried them all and have found them all helpful, even with episodes of severe depression. Especially exercise and psychotherapy, which have been lifelines to me for decades, along with my medication. My concern about the new Nice guidelines is the logistics. NHS mental health services are already patchy at best, which is the main reason why so many doctors prescribe drugs as the treatment of first resort. When you’re depressed you don’t want to have to wait months for CBT or psychotherapy, you need help much sooner than that. So if the therapy services are already overstretched then God knows what they will be like if there are suddenly an extra 2 million people on the waiting lists. Nor does it seem likely that the government will make more cash available to fund more therapy. The recent 1.5% increase on national insurance contributions is already earmarked to be spent on other NHS services and another tax rise would be politically unacceptable. So, for all Nice’s good intentions, my bet is that doctors will still be handing out the pills.

Digested week, digested: Peppa Pig World

A Farewell to Calm by John Crace (Guardian Faber, £9.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Read More: Digested week: A joke dying on its feet won’t stop Boris using it again, and again | John

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