Digested week: stocking up on ceramics and cramming in dinner parties ahead of London tier 2 | John Crace


A follow-up to the auction of the Leonard and Alison Shurz ceramics collection I mentioned last week. As you may remember, their three bedroomed home near Welwyn Garden City had been so full of pots that the auctioneer could barely make his way round the house without breaking anything, and after I bought what I thought were a few very reasonably priced pots, my wife suggested that our own home could soon resemble theirs. Which was a bit of a cheek as she had successfully bid on a few pots herself. What we really need is more shelf space. In any case, I certainly did not suffer any buyer’s remorse. Quite the reverse in fact. My only regrets were over the lots I did not buy. Non-buyer’s remorse if you like. There were several Lucie Ries that seemed to go quite cheaply and I would happily have snapped one up if I had had several thousand pounds to spare. But the lot that bugged me the most was one on which I had put an internet bid at several times higher than the guide price – I couldn’t follow the auction live all day as I had to work – and it had never occurred to me that I wasn’t going to get it. Yet when I checked the results later, I discovered that the pot had gone for over 10 times the guide price. Curiously, though, rather than thinking I had dodged a bullet by not paying a price that would have caused me to gulp nervously, my main feeling was that I must have missed out on something very special. That I hadn’t been the only person to have fallen in love with this pot and seen something in it that the valuers had clearly missed. I was also left with the sinking feeling the pot had gone to a gallery and that in a year or so’s time I will see it on sale for twice the price it sold for.


When I first came across Robert Jenrick, he was the Conservative parliamentary candidate in the Newark byelection of 2014, and he was standing nervously next to David Cameron, who had come to the constituency to campaign on his behalf. I saw nothing particularly remarkable about him then and nothing he’s achieved since has done anything to change my mind. Yet Boris Johnson clearly has spotted something I’ve missed, because Jenrick is now in the cabinet as housing minister. A role in which he seems to lurch from one mishap to another. First there was the Tory party fundraising dinner at which he shared a table with the pornographer-turned-property developer, Richard “Dirty” Desmond and exchanged phone numbers. A month or so later, “Honest Bob” Jenrick unlawfully overruled the refusal by Tower Hamlets of a planning application on the Westferry development and saved Dirty Des £45m with a day to spare. Dirty Des then donated £12,000 to the Tory party. Cheap at the price. Now Jenrick is involved in more controversy as a junior minister in his own department has awarded his Newark constituency £25m: to even things up, the junior minister’s own constituency was also allocated some funding. Nice work if you can get it. But despite all this Jenrick is still regarded as a safe pair of hands and is regularly sent out on the daily media rounds. Or perhaps he is just a convenient idiot. Only today, he was unable to explain why the government had ignored the Sage advice for a short “circuit breaker” – to be fair, the fact that the government sat on the report for the best part of a month suggests it felt like it had something to hide – and was then hopelessly unclear about the coronavirus pub guidelines for tier 3 regions. As a joke, the day before I had suggested in my sketch that a Cornish pasty and a bottle of scotch should pass muster. Now I listened to Honest Bob saying that you would have to eat chips with the pasty to slip under the radar. Writing satire gets harder by the day.


As part of its sustainability drive, Ikea will now be buying back items of its own products from customers who no longer want them, with a view to reselling them at a discounted price. Well-used pieces with a few scratches will get vouchers worth 30% of the item’s original value and pristine pieces of furniture can be exchanged for up to half their value. Not that I actually want to take anything back that I’ve made: most of the Ikea furniture we have bought over the years has held up surprisingly well, despite my being unable to always follow the instructions and finding I am either one screw over or under. The mere sight of a flatpack can reduce me to a cold sweat, though my most recent encounter with a (not Ikea) exercise bike proved considerably less traumatic than expected given the minimalist instructions and number of pieces involved. What I would like to take back, however, is our kitchen, which was well above my assembly pay grade and was put together by a professional installer more than 15 years ago, and is now rapidly beginning to fall apart. It started with a few bits of trimming coming off, something I wasn’t too bothered about as they didn’t serve any real purpose. Since then, things have become rather more serious, with some of the cupboard doors coming loose, with the brackets coming away from the splintered ersatz wood. Worst of all, the whole front of the compartment for the rubbish bins came off its runners, scattering dozens of small ball bearings over the kitchen floor. All efforts to reattach it proved hopeless. Still, I did manage to recycle most of the discarded parts, which I suppose is what counts. And it turns out that after a few months you don’t really miss not having sliding bins.

Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer at a campaign rally

Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer at a campaign rally … ‘Are you the doctor? I came here for a swab.’ Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP


The coronavirus pandemic has understandably dominated the news agenda this year, so it’s been quite easy to forget that the government is still to negotiate a trade deal that would prevent us crashing out of the EU with no agreement. So it feels timely to remind ourselves that today was the deadline Boris Johnson set himself for reaching a deal. If no deal was reached by 15 October, he said, then the talks were at an end. There again you may also remember that this is the third deadline Boris has set that has come and gone. Early in the summer the talks were “do or die”. Then in July it was time “to put a tiger in the tank” or else … So it’s no surprise that with just more than two months to go, there is still no agreement over level playing fields and fisheries, and no one really seems to have a clue whether a deal will be reached or not. Some think both sides are determined to play hard ball and that no deal is inevitable: others that the UK and the EU are just indulging in brinkmanship and that a compromise deal will be agreed that allows both sides to claim victory. But even if the optimists are right, there was a telling moment at yesterday’s transport select committee that shows just how unprepared we are. Everyone knows that queues of up to 7,000 lorries are an inevitability with increased customs declaration, but nothing has been done in Kent to provide for drivers in need of the toilet. On the French side there are lavatory stops about every three miles on the autoroute near Calais, but in the UK there are no such facilities. Already residents are complaining of bottles filled with something that looks like Irn-Bru – but isn’t – being strewn by the roadside and that’s well before 1 January. Locals used to take pride in Kent being the “garden of England”. Now they ruefully describe it as the “toilet of England”.


Given that, at Boris Johnson’s own Downing Street press conference on Monday, the chief medical officer had said the tiering system being introduced by the government would prove insufficient to contain the coronavirus, I’m not particularly surprised that Greater Manchester and other areas in the north-west are strongly resisting all attempts to force them into the highest tier. Partly because why would you close more businesses and put thousands of jobs at risk for something Chris Whitty has said is likely to prove ineffective, but also because when the government stops following the science, everyone becomes their own scientist. The problem is that Greater Manchester and nearby areas have effectively been under tier 2 measures for the last few months – and they haven’t worked either as infection rates have continued to rise. It seems that a national circuit breaker is the only option, providing Boris can swallow his pride and adopt a policy both Sage and the Labour party have advocated. Anyway, as of midnight tonight, London will be upped to tier 2 and I am still not quite sure what its implications are. Will I still be able to visit my mother in her care home which is currently in tier 1? It sounds as if the care home will be left to interpret the rules how it sees best. Just by chance, we had some friends round for dinner and are seeing some others tonight. I felt it fair to first email them to disclose my current state of health in case they were as hypochondriacal as me: I have what looks like an ulcer on my tongue but could possibly be in my imagination, coronavirus or cancer. Surprisingly, neither couple wanted to cancel. Inevitably last night’s dinner was bittersweet as we don’t know when we will be allowed to visit each other in our homes again. Tonight’s will probably be the same. To stick to the rules, we will leave by 11.55 at the latest. And then who knows where any of us are headed?

Digested week, digested: tiers of a clown

The Guardian

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