Sometimes I think the only people who truly understand the human condition are the great songwriters.
The thought crossed my mind again as I pored over some of the coverage of whatever it was Boris Johnson wrote about in his now-infamous, sprawling scrawl of 4,000 words in The Daily Telegraph. I did not actually read the 4,000 words, on the basis that anything The Daily Telegraph commissions that is 4,000 words long will be reduced to its pith on page 2 of Monday morning’s edition of the i and in two very short paragraphs.
Every reporter and commentator in the diverse media formats I explored was determined to emphasise the number of words, as if it marked some new frontier of space exploration, something Cassini might have been redirected towards had it not been preoccupied with the rings of Saturn.
If you are unfamiliar with the grey moonscape of The Daily Telegraph (and let’s face it, most Scots are) and you can’t imagine what a single outpouring of 4,000 words looks like within it’s creaking, Churchillian ramparts, they cover an area roughly the size of two table football pitches.
For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for Scottish Conservative voters. Yes, I know, I must try and keep these occasional fits of uncharacteristic compassion under control, and I will try and do better in the future. But it’s just that I have always subscribed to the theory that the first commandment of a healthy lifestyle is that you must have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And these wretched, dispossessed people have none.
I imagine them peering fearfully over the edge of the duvet each morning and shuddering at what a dysfunctional troupe of clowns the British Government has become, and what with the self-promotional antics of those darling thugs of Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the prospects are only going to get more clownish.
Speaking of clowns, that reminds me, I was talking about the wisdom of songwriters. I give you Stephen Sondheim and Send in the Clowns:
Isn’t it bliss,
Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can’t move…
There is the relationship between the foreign secretary and his prime minister in the nuttiest of nutshells, this despite the fact that the song was written in 1973. And here’s Boris flourishing his vast tonnage of carefully cultivated verbiage all over the pages of the only newspaper in the land with that kind of acreage available, then looking round to admire the effect on his adoring cabal of admirers:
…Making my entrance again with my
Sure of my lines,
No-one is there…
Sondheim was sure of his lines, though. The very next one is:
Don’t you love a farce?
Send in the Clowns is a truly beautiful song and a truly beautifully-wrought insight into the human psyche. It was written to tell a particular story in the musical, A Little Night Music, but see how timelessly it encapsulates the tragi-comedy that is British political theatre four decades later.
I foresee two problems here (I foresee many more than two but let’s stick to what can be accommodated within these 800 words). The first is that if you were to interview the entire troupe of clowns one at a time in a sound-proof room so the others couldn’t hear, and asked the same question about their idealised vision for the Brexit negotiations, you would hear seven different answers.
Secondly, if, in the unlikeliest of all outcomes, you could persuade them to answer honestly and in strictest confidence and off the record if they thought that Brexit was a good idea, they would all answer no.
Actually, I have a third problem I would like to share with you. Do you think that Boris thinks he is actually Winston Churchill reincarnated? I only ask because I think he does.
I think he thinks the entire British nation hangs on every one of those 4,000 messianic words. I think he thinks he and only he can save Britain from what he would have us believe is the hideousness of the status quo. He doesn’t believe it, of course, because he was backing David Cameron until he thought that Brexit was his path to fulfilling his Churchillian destiny.
Anyway, back to the song, because it’s time for the finale. This is when the whole troupe of clowns lines up on stage, joins hands and, for the first time since one of the departed clowns thought that a referendum on Europe was a good idea, they all have the same belated glimpse of reality at the same time:
Isn’t it rich?
Isn’t it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career…?
There you go, that’s 800 words.