I had always naively imagined that parenting would get easier the older the children got. And in many mundane ways it has. I no longer have to worry so much about keeping them alive, about making sure they have done their homework or whether they are happy at university. They are now their own people, making their own decisions and sometimes even telling us what they are. Parenting has moved from practical problems to existential ones. Our daughter, who was over from Minneapolis for the first time in six months to direct a play at the Latchmere theatre in London, has gone back home. Her home. I find that hard to imagine because part of me still thinks of our home as her home. But it isn’t. She has moved on, even if I haven’t. My wife and I are no longer such key figures in her life. Not that she doesn’t love us, but we are no longer as important as we once were. Which is as it should be. If she was still living with us at 27, we’d all be driving one another mad. And for the most part, I have got used to the 4,000-mile distance between us, but having had her back for three weeks I feel bereft once more – despite the towels no longer being left on the floor. This is my new reality of getting older. A series of ever more frequent losses, each one diminishing me a little more. Until the rest is silence.
The spin rooms for televised political debates are usually dripping with sweat and adrenaline, as MPs and supporters of the rival participants do their best to push themselves centre stage of lobby reporters to persuade everyone that their candidate has landed all the killer lines. Tonight’s debate at the ITV studios in Salford was rather different. A large number of Tory MPs had been expected, but at the last minute they were forced to remain in Westminster as the Conservative whips did not trust Labour to honour their pairing commitments in the crucial amendment put forward to the Northern Ireland bill by Dominic Grieve that would make it difficult for Boris Johnson to prorogue parliament. Not that it did them much good as the government still contrived to lose by one vote as one MP got caught short in the toilet. So up in Salford, the spinner-in-chief for Team Boris was Jason McCartney, a former Tory MP who lost his seat at the 2017 election. Understandably, McCartney had little idea of why Boris was so marvellous because no one had bothered to tell him. Team Hunt was led by another former Tory MP, Rob Wilson. Not even Wilson seemed to know who Wilson was. This meant that most of the spinning was journalists asking other journalists who they thought had done well, which led to a much more agreeable and better informed level of analysis. The general consensus was that my dog would make a better prime minister than Boris or Jeremy.
Normally the TV schedules are rather thin at this time of the year as the broadcasters save up their best shows for the winter months. But this summer has been rather different. For me at least. Thanks to the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing there have been countless documentaries, both on the terrestrial channels and the satellite networks, about the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions of the 1960s and 1970s. And I am a sucker for each and every one of them, even though almost all of them have a nearly identical story to tell and I must have watched the same archive footage dozens of times over the years. I was 12 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon – making me one of the increasingly small percentage of the population who was alive at the time – had kept scrap books of all the previous Apollo missions, and was absolutely captivated. I still am, though I don’t fully understand why. It wasn’t as if I ever wanted to be an astronaut: the idea terrified me. The weird thing is I can remember so little of my early life – most years are rolled into a blur of boredom, anxiety and a sense of not quite fitting in – but that summer of 1969 stands out as beacon of clarity. Even now when I look at the moon, I can almost smell the days of that summer. It was as if, for the first time, I felt a sense of wonderment. The feeling that a better life was possible.
Maybe it was my old inner hippie, but I was rather endeared to the Australian cricket coach, Justin Langer, for getting his players to wander round Edgbaston barefoot prior to their World Cup semi-final against England in order to channel the positive vibes of the turf. I can’t imagine doing the same around Westminster as many of the carpets are so old and sticky – the one on the stairs up to the Guardian’s office is a threadbare sludge brown: no one can remember what colour it might originally have been – that you’d almost certainly catch a foot infection. Maybe Langer’s pre-match ritual only works on a solstice because England played the almost perfect game to win at a canter. My plan not to watch England matches – yet again the cricket was only on in the background with the sound turned down – is paying dividends. All I need to do to ensure our first World Cup victory is to make sure I miss large chunks of Sunday’s final. It will be a sacrifice, but my sense of public service demands no less. It will also be an act of atonement. I was at the last World Cup final in which England took part 27 years ago in Melbourne and was unashamedly cheering on Pakistan; I had been following the team throughout the tournament as I was writing a book about Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and had become close to many of the players. This time I guarantee to be England through and through. With 27 years between finals, I may not get another chance.
Theresa May has given a rather lovely farewell interview to the Daily Mail in which she takes a pop at Boris Johnson, observing that being prime minister is a position of public service rather than power. A warning that has almost certainly come too late for the 160,000 Tory members and will go unheeded by Johnson, who has never knowingly done anything that doesn’t feed his personal ambition. May also inadvertently reinforced her Maybot image while trying to prove that it was an unfair characterisation by saying she had drunk a couple of Aperol “spritzers” on the recent flight back from the G20 summit in Japan. Running through fields of wheat revisited … Though maybe if she had had the occasional Aperol spritzer before her public performances, she could have faced down the hard Brexiters in her own party and secured herself a better legacy. I know May has largely been the architect of her own downfall – primarily because of her unnecessary negotiating red lines and by calling a general election – but part of me will miss her. She may have been a disaster for the country but she has been very good to me. And I also suspect she will come to be thought of as a class act in comparison with what is to follow.
Digested week, digested: Taking back control (part 73): letting the US choose our ambassador.