Digested week: I’m falling apart in this heat. Someone call Gillian Keegan | Lucy Mangan


Now? Now? In September? Now you do it to us, you utter meteorological bastards?! We were so close!

This heatwave is killing me. With the actual heat, obviously, but with the raging unfairness of it all too. I mean – come on. Summer was over. For all us sun haters it had been the most perfect, unprecedented washout. We had got all the way to September barely having to remove a cardigan. And in September you can officially relax. Mists and mellow fruitfulness beckon, not sun, sweat and sweltering misery. And now, just as we push the last fan back into the loft, throw the depilatory equipment to the back of the drawer and bring out the sweaters in happy anticipation of imminent chills – bam! Here comes the sun. What a brutal, brutal betrayal of us all.


I’m beginning to wish the Tories had never pushed that Make Metaphors Real button, you know.

Our schools are crumbling. Literally, thanks to the button. Well, also thanks to being built with crappy concrete (I paraphrase, but only slightly) that was discovered about 30 years ago to have a lifespan of … about 30 years. But – you’re hardly going to believe this – virtually nothing was done about it. No, not even when a roof caved in at a school in Gravesend, Kent, in 2018, at a weekend, fortunately, and no one was hurt. Which poses the interesting philosophical question: if a school collapses and no children are killed, does a government need to bother about it at all?

Enter education secretary and minister for making a bad situation worse, Gillian Keegan. She gave an interview with ITV in which she noted – for reasons that passeth understanding unless her mind was giving out faster than reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete – that “Schools can collapse for many reasons”. And before she was de-miked, she loudly bemoaned people’s lack of gratitude. “Does anyone ever say, ‘You know, you’ve done a fucking good job because everyone else has sat on their arses and done nothing’? No sign of that, no.”

No, Gillian. No. See the entire world after class if you want to know why.

‘So, at the first sound of concrete shearing, you jump in this and roar away, OK? Lickety-split!’ Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty


It’s National Read a Book Day, is it? Oh, well – go on then, I will! Shall I continue with Lucie Britsch’s brilliant Thoughtless, reread one of that sorcerer Claire Keegan’s devastating stories, or do a few pages more of The Mirror and the Light by the late, great Hilary Mantel and try not to think about the book she was writing when she died (a sequel to Pride and Prejudice from Mary Bennet’s point of view? The agony of loss is ridiculous and piercing).

I love all these special days there are now for books, reading, literacy (excepting World Book Day because that is now Force Your Parents to Fart Around With Costumes at the Last Minute Day). I was made so unhappy at school because I liked to read, that I love to think of a quiet underworld of bookworms being validated and their favourite pastime publicly celebrated. Such days seem to be part of an effective push over the past few decades to make reading a less damning occupation for children than it was in my day. Apparently you can do it quite openly now – still not too much, obviously – and even talk about things you have read without being instantly punched in the face. Such beautiful progress.

It’s strange that it has marched in lockstep with draconian attempts to constrain the consequences. I cannot get my 12-year-old to commit to a heartfelt, truly expressive sentence in an essay. He is too aware and fearful of the marking scheme that counts adjectives rather than measures truth or delights in style. I look forward to the advent of National Write a Thing That Pleases You and Gets No Marks Day.

Prince William in kitchen with sandwiches and chefs
‘More requests for snacks – and all the other ills that having heirs brings.’ Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty


There is, of course, one thing this late heatwave cannot ruin and that is the summer holidays. Not the school summer holidays of course – they are awful if you have children and not much better if you don’t because other people’s crotchfruit are running amok everywhere regardless of your own contraceptive diligence.

No, I am talking about the two weeks after the children return to school (Raac permitting, of course. The heatwave may not affect you but decades of underinvestment in infrastructure may have other ideas).

This is my holiday. The sweet, sweet knowledge, upon closing the door on a departing child at 8.30am, that you have at least seven hours of peace to get on with all the things you need to get on with without being disturbed by requests for snacks, conversations about video games I could not give a mouse-sized shit about, permissions for in-app purchases (“I need incest points for Paedophile Crush!”), lifts to friends (“Friends?! I didn’t have friends until I was 19 and could go and visit them by myself!” “But Mummy – you were a Sad Case”) more requests for snacks – which do not seem to curtail the need for six full meals a day – and all the other ills that having heirs brings.

Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of Rolling Stones pose during the on-stage photocall at Rolling Stones’ Hackney Diamonds album launch event
‘Lads, I’m so tired. Could I just … stay home?’ ‘Shut your famous, overly labile mouth, Mick, and strut your stuff.’ Photograph: Hogan Media/Shutterstock

It’s not that I’m doing anything fun or relaxing, you understand. I am catching up on work I have missed and all the admin undone (or, my favourite method, done so poorly it requires redoing in a way that takes 10 times longer than if I had actually been able to do it properly in the first place) over the last six chaotic, unforgiving weeks. But I am doing it alone, uninterrupted and efficiently. It feels enough like a holiday to me.


My poncho has arrived. I ordered it before the weather turned on me. I clutch it to my bosom as a woolly harbinger of better, colder days to come. And, regardless of the conditions without, it marks a happy shift within. Because I think we can say that when you order and take receipt of a poncho it is an unambiguous – possibly even definitive – sign that not only your poncho but your poncho years have arrived. It goes: napping; deadheading roses as you walk past; wanting an affair; laughing at the idea of an affair; wanting a dog; getting a poncho. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you will. PONCHO.



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