Rachel Johnson discusses the country’s desperation to talk and row about something else.
My record of bringing the rain this summer is so far unbeaten. I left London to spend a few days in Scotland, and it rained. Then I came down to London last week and it rained. And now I’m in Somerset and it’s not just raining, it’s stair rodding. It’s hammering. How many words for rain do we have? And yet, no complaints. The family farm on Exmoor depends on rain. I have vivid memories of the summer of 1976, when we had to wash in the Exe river, empty the loos with buckets of water fetched from the parched stony dribble that was the duck pond, and at my father’s suggestion, the two au pair girls simply took their clothes off as it was so hot and there was no possible way of doing laundry. Our water comes straight off the hill and into a tank, located up a rocky ancient bridleway called Furze Ball. Even after recent deluges, the flow has dried to a trickle. We have friends from London coming to stay who will expect to wash and flush, the softie snowflakes. My father trudged up the hill to inspect the watertank that serves four properties in his valley. ‘The pipe is still leaking which means the underground tank is full,’ he reported back, which sounded like a gloomy Chinese proverb. As I write we have water but that could change at any second and I am dreading telling friends when they arrive after long drives expecting refreshment and hotel-style five star facilities that they’ll have to save their ‘number twos’ for the pub.
Was Burkagate the new Brexit or the same argument? I’m not sure. What I do know is that everyone is fed up by Brexit, is longing to talk and row about something else. According to a new poll of 2,047 adults, 76% of Tory Leave voters and 75% of Labour-leaning Brexit supporters ‘just want to get on’ with leaving the EU. I find the ‘get on with it’ folk in a crowded field very annoying. They are the ones who issued the government with a one-word order. I want from them some acknowledgement that Brexit is like a piece of furniture the UK ordered from IKEA which arrived broken, minus instructions and tools for assembly, and with crucial parts missing (the solution to the Irish border), and yet it has to be made good by March 29. And to pipe down. The government is bodging it together anyway under impossible circumstances. I still think the best way forward is to send everyone who voted Leave – OK, everyone – a new passport. The current burgundy ones say European Union and underneath that, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Send them an old-fashioned blue-black hardback one just saying BRITISH PASSPORT like they remember from the 1990s, with a note from the prime minister saying this is to commemorate our departure from the EU. Job done.
I was amazed to discover that we produce 60% of our own food in the UK and therefore August 7 marked the notional day when the larder would be bare without food imports and we would run out of home-grown grub. Two thirds! As much as that, I can hardly believe it! I drink coffee from Colombia, eat cheese from France, pasta from Italy … having said that, I’ve just been south of Edinburgh by Biggar where my sister in law Sarah has a magnificent walled garden and I gorged myself on her peas, broad beans, kale, raspberries, cabbage, and ruby chard. If you have your own kitchen garden you can live like a king. No wonder Brexity Jeremy Corbyn spends so much time on his allotment. As the cliff-edge and queues and lorry parks and so on hove into view, we’ll all have to become far more self-sufficient. And we will also have to embrace the Fifties fayre of the village shop – frozen mince, tins of spam, Fray Bentos pies, tinned mandarin segments, Cheswood button mushrooms, to compensate for the absence of imported ‘fresh’ goods. Augmented, of course, by seasonal gluts of runner beans, marrows, and courgettes. What a time to be alive!
I like this diary to be something of a reader service so allow me to pass on a tip: my motor renewal was up in August, and I don’t think I’ve claimed for many years running. Instead of allowing the policy to roll over I called Direct Line and told them I had a cheaper offer from Saga (true) and they knocked a hundred quid off the premium. I know the pound is play-money low but a hundred quid discount is never to be sneezed at.
• Rachel Johnson is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.