Notebook

Petronella Wyatt: I’m not surprised Michael Gove is a lockdown fanatic

19 December 2020

9:00 AM

19 December 2020

9:00 AM

What this government needs is a good dose of the London mob, which at its height in the 18th century would express its displeasure in no uncertain terms. In those days, the political system, as I once observed to Boris when he believed in rights, was one of aristocracy tempered by rioting. The mob, whose members ran from tinkers to duchesses, acted as a curative to despotic politicians, whose carriages would be waylaid and their occupants turned upside down. The word ‘liberty’ was then chalked on their shoes. A bystander in 1770 described an apparently good-humoured riot of ‘half-naked men and women, children, chimney-sweepers, tinkers, Moors and men of letters, fishwives and females in grand array’. This fills me with nostalgia, as we are less free now than 300 years ago. Our democracy is certainly not democratic. It does nothing but feel our collars and lacks both honesty and courage. There is no body of opinion behind it that is liberated, and its chief exponents are marked by a haunting fear of losing their jobs. Oh, the joy of seeing Matt Hancock hanging upside down with his breeches around his ankles.

Love in the time of Covid has been an unsatisfying business. Speaking as a girl who resides alone, it’s a fine state of affairs when you can sleep with your own live-in partner but not someone else’s. The upside is that in St John’s Wood, where I lay my hat with my Papillon dog, Mini, never have so many men been gathered outside so few shops. In the rippling shine of the tumbling winter sun, I have been falling in and out of intemperate crushes. Outside Panzer’s, my high-end local deli, I have been beguiled by men who look like Alcibiades reborn and whose eyes shine with the melancholy of no coital activity and of tiers before bedtime. Round the corner, by Tesco, the males aren’t so well-heeled, but there has been an attractive urgency to their approach. As one put it: ‘Come on, babe. Get your rocks off.’ At least I can say with accuracy that this year my admirers have been forming a queue.

The other day, one followed me home (I had forgotten to lock the front door). I became somewhat choleric, however, when he followed me into my bedroom. His excuse was inventive: ‘I’m looking for my wife. I thought she might be in here.’


I am amused to learn that Carrie Symonds interrupts cabinet meetings to complain about newspaper stories featuring her dog Dilyn. I was surprised that Boris agreed to a rescue dog in Downing Street. In all the years I have known him, he has never seemed very fond of animals; at least he has always shown a rather cavalier attitude towards Mini. Mini is a gentle soul, with the milk of canine kindness bursting from every pore. The only person she has ever attacked is our current Prime Minister. One could plead this was out of self-defence. Boris had just sat on her.

My friend Daniel Craig has been peddling hot dogs. I speak, of course, of the manager of my local Corbin & King eaterie Soutine, which doubles as my office. Dan is a Runyonesque character who moves as niftily as Nijinsky. During lockdown, he injected some early Christmas spirit into the community with mulled wine and frankfurters. I would loiter outside until I was so full of Christmas spirit it was squirting out of my head. Now, thank heaven, Soutine is open again, and, as Harpo Marx once wrote of the fabled New York restaurant Lindy’s: ‘I have my home again.’

It comes as no surprise that Michael Gove has been the chief proponent of lockdown. Ever since I first met Michael two decades ago, he has gleamed with fanaticism and has a lacuna where common sense is concerned. For a cause in which he believes, he becomes like one of the late Eugène Terre’Blanche’s Dobermans, baring his teeth and foaming at the mouth. He is, moreover, an incurable hypochondriac, and every ache and pain feels to him like the bite of a tiger. Worst, he continues to call me ‘Petsy’ even though it is a name I loathe.

How foolish are those who say Christmas is for children and not for grown-ups. The one thing none of us can ever be is grown up; a spirit clothed in wisdom alone, free of all mischief, envy and malice and guilt. Even Voltaire lived with a child inside him, jealous and angry, a little boy always smelling his fingers. He carried that child to his grave, as we all will to our own.

Some of my acquaintances insist on regarding the Covid vaccine as possessing occult powers, as if coronavirus were the only death. This is almost as foolish as the 18th-century belief that the breath of young women helped to prolong life. One physician even took lodgings in a girls’ boarding school for this purpose.

A text arrives from Uber: ‘This holiday season, stay at home as much as possible.’

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