RACHEL JOHNSON on her latest TV venture, the Covid restriction that most troubles her and a dawning realisation about Brexit.
By the time you read this I will have made kedgeree for Mary Berry on national TV as well as a macaroni cheese for Michelin-starred Angela Hartnett, alongside former shadow chancellor, Ed Balls (Celebrity Best Home Cook, BBC1). Leaving Mr Balls aside for a second, everyone asks, “What is it like?” To be honest, every time we threatened to approach Dame Mary a Covid Marshal with a long stick intervened shouting, “two metres!”
I was particularly rattled when I had to rustle up a delicious dish with a hunk of cold ham. Opening the fridge, I saw parsley. Well gammon with parsley sauce is one of my favourite things (with mashed potato), so I decided to serve a ham and parsley pie. In one hour. As there was puff pastry provided I obviously used that but Mary Berry said, as she saw me hacking leeks for the filling, “I hope you’ve made your own shortcrust”. I almost collapsed. The hard part is not the cooking. It’s the crazy cooking to a mad clock (I ended up grilling the pies) while chatting an answer to “How do you feel about your pie?” every five seconds to camera. I ended up swearing like a squaddie but luckily – like my celebration cake, see the trailer – that ended up on the (cutting room) floor.
It’s as if it’s written into my contract that I have to say something utterly ‘cringe’ every time I appear on television (and by the way, I have no plans to join GB News, since you ask). I responded to praise for my Ultimate Breakfast by pealing across Ealing Studios: “My brother may be PM but Mary Berry liked my kedgeree” and answering a question by quoting an Ancient Greek expression – “know thyself” – in Ancient Greek. Ghastly. If you want to see yourself as others see you – and trust me on this, you really don’t – do reality TV.
As everyone keeps saying of the rules and regulations that now govern every second of all our lives (as I write it has today been made illegal to leave the country), if the public don’t understand the little rules, they won’t obey the big ones. I urge everyone to obey the rules and leap at vaccines, so we can all start living instead of merely being alive – big difference – but the one I can’t get my head around is the ban on outdoor sport.
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The evidence of transmission from golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools/lidos, playgrounds, skate parks, outdoor gyms etc is, I reckon, a solid zero. Yet councils have had to erect barriers and police tape off any recreational facilities and amenities to keep us ‘safe’. The fact that by doing so it makes the nation sad, fat, unhappy, stressed, murderous even, doesn’t seem to be a factor in anyone’s calculations, even though obesity – as well as age – is a key determinant of mortality when it comes to Covid.
Legislation to outlaw sport almost compels a nation to become fat (among the only shops that are open are supermarkets) and depressed, and is therefore opposite of ‘safe’. I don’t think any child has so far died of the virus after visiting a playground. The statistic that more children have been admitted to hospital for psychiatric reasons than Covid over the last 12 months should be front of our rulers’ minds. I dwell vengefully on the revelation that the main recreational activity of Michael Gove – a keen lockdown hawk who seems to want to keep us under house arrest indefinitely – is online bridge, which he plays fanatically in his “spare time” as his wife Sarah Vine has it.
Having nothing else to do I watched Iain Martin, the reasonable voice of EU-scepticism on the Times, interview Robert Tombs, the acceptable and increasingly fashionable face of Leave in academia, on a Zoom event organised by Reaction. Apart from a diversion into vaccine nationalism it was a run-around Tombs’ thesis that the EU is another country, they do things differently there, and that joining was a compass error – ie the longer we travelled on our path together the further away from the UK’s desired destination we found ourselves, trade was dropping, as was enthusiasm for the project, und so weiter. Tombs is a rara avis who recognises the 2016 referendum was inevitable, because in our case it was possible: we were not part of the Euro and a vote to leave wouldn’t crash the financial system.
Forget David Cameron, then, and his failed renegotiation! As Tombs spoke, I realised who was ultimately responsible for Brexit (nerds will remember we didn’t join the Euro because the “five tests” designed by chancellor Gordon Brown’s special adviser, a former leader writer on the FT).
You guessed. It was none other than my kitchen nemesis, Ed Balls. Small – and strange – old world.
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