RACHEL JOHNSON: What I told Labour when they invited me to join

PUBLISHED: 13:00 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 13:22 07 December 2018

Rachel Johnson speaks about early Christmas cards and bumping into Diane Abbott. Picture: Stefan Rousseau

Rachel Johnson speaks about early Christmas cards and bumping into Diane Abbott. Picture: Stefan Rousseau

PA Wire/PA Images

RACHEL JOHNSON on her encounter with shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and receiving Christmas cards too early.

I bumped into Diane Abbott on the way to the Speccie Parliamentarian of the Year awards dinner which was a fizzing occasion. As we walked out of Holborn tube station I said, “Can we talk to each other?” and she grunted, “I suppose so” but then she was charm itself.

I asked her if she’d read the profile of Seumas Milne in the Sunday Times and she admitted she had. “Very good line about him being Voldermort to Corbyn’s Worzel Gummidge,” I said. “Yes it was,” she said. “Though I don’t think Seumas appreciated it as much as you.”

When I met Seamus at a summer party a couple of years ago he ticked me off for joining the Lib Dems (of which more news maybe another time) and told me that he could tell I was a natural Labour voter and I should “come across.” The last time I’d heard the expression “come across” was in a quasi-romantic context but I hasten to confirm I don’t think that’s what Mr Milne meant at all.

I have not for the record joined the Labour Party – but I told Diane Abbott that if they did a proper and overdue pivot on Brexit I might consider it.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

**************

I do declare ‘tis the season for me to pip everyone to the post for earliest piece of the year complaining about Christmas coming earlier than ever this year.

For years my first Christmas card would arrive like clockwork from Duck Plumbing in the first third of December, which seemed about right.

I would gamely display the crude cartoon of a plumber bending over some scantily-clad housewife’s
U-bend showing his “builder’s cleavage” and cracking some pongy double-entendre.

This would herald a jolly cascade of boastcards from friends showcasing their children, their children’s ponies, their many holidays in the course of the year – Caribbean/skiing/hiking in Bhutan – which would go up alongside the Duck Plumbing offering on the mantelpiece.

(Digression as we mourn the passing of those hilarious round-robins giving news of each child’s A-level results, emergency operations, Duke of Edinburgh awards, degree triumphs, and engagements. Simon Hoggart even used to collect pearls for publication in a seasonal tome).

Family photo-cards... round-robins... I know. Why bother when everyone knows where everyone else has been and with whom and when and even what they’ve eaten because of social media?

Last year I got only got about 16 cards but my mother still gets hundreds, and this is because her friends haven’t succumbed to the immediacy and addiction of Instagram. I admire this. To think that in the old days if someone said, “would you like to see my holiday album/selfie of me at Machu Picchu /my cat on my keyboard/picture of my quinoa porridge” you would run a mile, making a mental note. Now we – OK, I – spend hours with nose in screen looking at pictures of Sarah Vine’s tiny dogs having little naps. We have all turned to the bore on the bus showing you many photographs of her grandchildren.

I certainly won’t go to the trouble of buying cards, selecting the flattering but family photographs to have printed up, finding addresses, and stamps, writing long-hand, popping in a round-robin, posting in a red postbox – and haven’t for years. Why bother when you can put an e-card up on Insta? It all seems so expensive and fiddly – but it’s also undeniably old school and elegant. I have a theory that the busiest and most important people with the least time on their hands are the ones who still do it, as well as the over 70s.

Now for the reveal: This year my first Christmas card arrived in mid-October, which is a personal best (or worst, depending on your level of Grinch, and mine is very high). Before anyone had played Shakin’ Stevens in a single shop. Before Hallowe’en.

It was from Harriet Sergeant, the campaigning journalist. I was rather disappointed that there were only two photos of Harriet on the card, one with each of her adult children, one in a swimsuit. I studied it, marvelling at her commitment to the quaint festive tradition.

I note with regret that two of my regular Christmas correspondents, moleskin magnate Johnnie Boden and the V&A’s Nicholas Coleridge, have both stopped spattering their lavish glossy mega-cards with multiple family snaps. Both of them said their children had banned them from doing it ever again and I presume this is not out of embarrassment, but because they want total control of their images and personal brands from a young age and don’t want Daddy sending round pictures of them looking “fugly.”

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