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The Rules of Golf – a shining beacon for our new world order?

We all need rules. Not only in our everyday lives, but particularly in our sporting activities. Which means that we also need high priests, gurus, lawyers and judges to interpret and apply them.

Last week I was playing in a golf competition and made a mistake through my ignorance of the rules. As a result, I fell on my sword and disqualified myself. I accepted the word of one of my peers that I’d screwed up, even though I felt that the rule in question was bloody ridiculous. I do respect rules, even if I don’t like them.

When I got home, out of curiosity I consulted the rule book, which is a volume produced jointly by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the American Golf Association. They are the governing bodies for golf in the UK and the USA, two of the world’s most prominent golfing nations. What they say goes for the rest of the world.

Now you would think that a game that involves hitting a little white ball down a demarcated piece of land is a simple activity. In essence it is. Or it was until it became a multi-billion dollar business in which fortunes depend on the ability of professionals not only to play the game well, but to do so free from infraction.

The Rules of Golf is a reference book that I rarely visit. In my advanced years, and as I approach my second adolescence, I find myself increasingly disinhibited, and less inclined to take kindly to obscure rules rarely invoked. A bit like Donald Trump, actually, except that I don’t cheat at golf.

As a book, it’s quite interesting in a gruesome kind of way. My version is 228 pages long.

Think about that. 228 pages of rules, clauses, sub-clauses and appendices to get that white ball from one end of the course to the other.

In one respect, it’s an outstanding testament to international cooperation, as well as a relic of imperial dominance. On the back of the book there’s a simple statement:

Golf is a global game and The R&A and the USGA have issued this single set of Rules to apply worldwide to all golfers.

Wow. So golf is ruled by Britannia and Uncle Sam! This surely is one area in which the special relationship survives and thrives. Though I can imagine hours of tense negotiations during which the R&A insisted that it should be referred to as The R&A as opposed to just any old R&A, whereas the USGA was content with leaving the definite article in the humble lower case. Such things obviously matter. Whoever negotiated that one should definitely be leading Britain’s Brexit team currently doing battle with the European Union.

On Page 2, there is a qualification of the statement on the back cover. Apparently the USGA rules golf in US territories and Mexico. The R&A holds sway over the rest of the world. Or rather, “it operates with the consent of its affiliated bodies”. Still, even though the Vanuatu Golf Association could theoretically break free of the R&A’s iron grip and write its own rules, as far as golf is concerned more of the world atlas is coloured British pink than the British Empire ever managed.

I won’t bore you with the details of the rules themselves, which are full of stuff that will be understood only by golfers, including “a player is entitled to place his feet firmly in taking his stance, but must not build a stance”, which presumably rules out the use of spades, mechanical diggers and breeze blocks.

What I do find amusing is that there are groups of people who hold competitions with each other to demonstrate their knowledge of the hallowed book – something along the lines of pub quizzes, I imagine.

Golf has not yet reached the status of a religion, wherein followers gain great prestige by learning a scripture in its entirety – the Holy Quran for example – but it definitely has its high priests. Every golf club has one or two self-appointed pharisees who solemnly quote chapter and verse to the rest of us. Which is a good thing, especially for people like me who need to be put right from time to time. And I’m pretty sure that there are grand masters out there who do know the book by heart.

There may even be people who, for the hell of it, take it upon themselves to memorise the detailed specifications that govern the size, shape and properties of golf equipment. As far as I’m concerned the example below might just as easily enable you to build a nuclear bomb:

As it is with golf, so it is with every other organised sport. Over centuries, thousands upon thousands of hours have been spent codifying and re-codifying, building layer upon layer of increasingly complex rules so that people like me don’t end up embedding our putters in the skulls of opponents with whom we disagree.

The fact that most of us happily whack the white ball back and forth without feeling the need to commit murder, and that regardless of where we are in the world we abide by a single set of rules, is surely an example to our politicians who spend much of their lives negotiating rules scarcely less complex.

And the fact that the leaders of six out of the G7 group of countries, after their annual summit ended yesterday, found it impossible to persuade the seventh to agree on a joint communique that included the statement that they believed in a “rules-based trading system” is somewhat surprising, especially as the recalcitrant Donald Trump is a golfer, which makes his role in renouncing the idea that his country should be bound by rules not of its own making doubly strange.

Perhaps he has forgotten the overriding principle of the game he loves: “when two or three are gathered together in the name of golf, the R&A and the USGA will be among them”.

But then maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, because Trump, if we are to believe his critics, wrote the rule book on cheating, if not at golf, almost certainly in other aspects of his life.

If so, he will probably meet his match in Kim Jong Un, whose dynasty has a rich history of cheating. Kim also has distinguished golfing antecedents. His father, Kim Jong Il, apparently once took a mere 34 shots to go around the Pyongyang Golf Course, a round that included no less than five holes-in-one. The elder Kim’s feat was witnessed by no less than seventeen armed guards. So it must have happened.

No doubt they will have much to discuss. It’s a pity the lawmakers of golf won’t be there to keep them honest.

So it’s time to stamp out cruelty to small words

If there’s a word that hacks me off when used by a politician, a “spokesperson” or anyone else doing a media interview, it’s “so”.

As in “tell me Minister, what are you doing to fix this problem?”. The answer comes back: “so we have a number of measures that we will be introducing…blah blah blah”.

Why so? This little word has many uses, and it has the advantage over its synonyms of being short and sweet. As in “do it so”, or “we were hungry, so we went to the pub”. Or just “so?”.

But who or what has persuaded so many people to open their statements in answer to questions with so, and thereby turn its use into a cliché that makes me howl every time I hear it? I’m usually in my car when this happens, by the way, so I do worry about road safety in my immediate vicinity. So far, no accidents, fortunately.

I do use the word myself at the beginning of a sentence as an alternative to “therefore” or “as a consequence”. But its deployment as a device that helps the speaker to avoid diving straight into an answer is, to me, as bad as starting with “well”, or even “um” or “ah”, though not quite as bad as “that’s a great question”. It jars. It smells of media training designed to instil the art of obfuscation. Probably the same training that teaches sportspeople to precede every answer with “look”.

Another way of putting it, to quote from a website called urbandictionary.com, is to define so as:

“The first word of any answer given by a know-it-all douchebag, said to give the effect that they were already speaking when you asked your question or requested their opinion, in order to feign superiority or to imply that they knew what you wanted to know before you inquired.”

That just about sums it up for me, even though not every offender is a know-it-all douchebag. In fact, many are highly intelligent people with something interesting to say. They’ve just been misguided, or are copying everyone else.

I write lots of words, but rarely much about them. I regard them as my friends, and I’m quite fond of so. So I hate to see a little word stripped of its meaning, mutated into a bland precursor for use by people who don’t have the confidence to get straight to the point.

Which probably explains why one of my favourite characters is Saga Noren, the autistic detective from the Swedish TV series The Bridge, who has never been known to mince words. She annihilates them.

Taking a cue from Saga, here’s a word of advice to would-be interviewees. Next time you are asked a question on radio or TV, try taking a leaf out of her book. Instead of answering with a stream of blather preceded by “so”, try replying with “this is not relevant”, or “that is a stupid question”. Or possibly, under extremely rare circumstances (on Love Island, for example) “do you want to have sex?”

Yes, I know – that would never do. And trying to stop the mutation of a language is pointless and futile. But occasionally, spending an hour or so on a pedantic rant is a welcome diversion from Brexit, Donald Trump, the World Cup, Italian politicians, fake news, snake heads that bite people, Melania’s absence, knife crime, plasticised oceans, pooping joggers, murder, mayhem and all the other consequential stuff that demands attention.

Small things also matter. So it’s time to stop victimising small words that can’t defend themselves. So there.

Shame, Redemption and the American Way

Roseanne Barr, it seems, is blaming a sedative for the repellent tweet that led to her series being abandoned by the ABC TV network. Perhaps because I have no experience of Ambien, the drug in question, or of any other kind of sedative, I fail to understand why someone in a sedated state should be any more likely to come up with a racist tweet.

Indeed Sanofi, the makers of Ambien, have been quick to point out that racism is not a known side-effect of their product. But I suppose there’s always a first time.

Anyway, until today, Roseanne appeared to be following the classic path for celebrities who have been shamed for whatever reason. It goes like this:

Step One: commit some act that causes widespread disapproval, up to and including being cast into the outer darkness.

Step Two: prepare yourself for a host of fresh revelations about your unsavoury conduct, and get a lawyer, just in case someone tries to sue you.

Step Three: announce that your action is the result of drug/alcohol/sex addiction. Failing that, blame your parents, an abusive spouse or some traumatic aspect of your early life for your troubled present.

Step Four: announce that you’re going into rehab so that you can deal with the issues you’ve identified. Ask for “privacy at this difficult time”.

Step Five: assuming you haven’t been thrown into jail, lay low for a few months or years (depending on the severity of the act).

Step Six: have your publicist arrange an interview with a sympathetic journalist, talk about your tough times, and announce that you’re cured. You might also add that you’ve found Jesus. Oh, and beg for the forgiveness of your adoring public.

Step Seven: sign up for a new TV series/movie or whatever you’re famous for. By this time your adoring public, most of whom are also addled with opioids or Jack Daniels, as firm believers in the power of redemption, will give you a second chance, on the basis of “there but for the grace of God go I”.

Of course there’s nothing immutable about these classic stages, especially when you have Donald Trump on your side. Roseanne appears to have gone through Steps One to Three, but hours after her apologetic tweet, she’s spitting venom at all those who accuse her of racism. Clearly Trump has found the time to give her a quick tutorial on doubling down.

I suspect, though, that she will return to the path once she realises that Trump and her lawyers can’t restore her career or her reputation.

Like many great innovations and trends that were created in the USA, this classic celebrity redemption path has spread to the UK and other parts of the world.

We in Britain, of course, have our own time-honoured methods of wriggling free from reputational damage, though they’re generally of use only to certain strata of society. Whereas in America wealth loads the dice in your favour, class and snobbery have been known to do the trick over here.

Take the Jeremy Thorpe trial, which is currently being dramatized in a well-regarded TV series starring Hugh Grant as the Liberal politician. Were it not for Thorpe’s impeccable manners and his elevated place in society, I can’t imagine that the jury would have found it so hard to believe that he was capable of ordering a hit on his gay lover.

Then there was the judge’s summing up at Jeffery Archer’s successful libel action against The Star newspaper, in which His Lordship described Archer’s wife as “fragrant”, as if her body odour had anything to do with her husband’s penchant for paying large sums of money not to have sex with a prostitute. At least Archer was subsequently banged up for perjury, a fate Thorpe managed to avoid.

And back in 1895, it was poor old Oscar Wilde, son of a middle-class Irish family, who took the rap for sodomy. The object of his adoration, Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquess of Queensbury, was apparently an innocent party who had nothing to do with Wilde’s depravity. Well, he would be, wouldn’t he?

These days class tends to play less of a role in British personal redemption sagas. But we are embracing the US model with enthusiasm.

There is one significant difference though. Whereas in America the arbiter of forgiveness tends to be God, whose wishes and intentions are generously interpreted by His legions of believers, over here we are not so overtly religious. The role of supreme judge of morality is usually assumed by the tabloid newspapers, or more specifically by their editors, who are invariably persons of unimpeachable rectitude.

But society never stands still, and the supremacy of the tabloids is being challenged by a multitude of self-appointed judges who populate Twitter with their opinions, each with devoted followers ready to troll on cue.

The path of redemption is never easy, especially when there appear to be so many gods to appease. Even so, it’s my guess that the seven steps will continue to work for most celebs who fall from grace, though they’ll need to spend ever-increasing sums on hiring smart lawyers and publicists.

Either that, or they could try investing in one of Donald Trump’s businesses.

Fog signals, lightning strikes and obituaries – a wander down the byways of the mainstream media

I learned a thing or two today, when ambling down the byways of the national newspaper that gets delivered to my door every morning.

The first item is that during the nineteenth century, there were devices called fog signals. These little beauties were laid on railway lines to alert train drivers to fog ahead. Fog was a problem because signals – such as those warning you to slow down on a tight corner or alerting you to workers on the line – couldn’t easily be seen.

The Victorian solution was explosive charges that were detonated when the train ran over them, thus making a large bang and presumably scaring the daylights of driver and passengers alike. You can imagine the effect of such bangs today.

The reason for this bit of history was that in my home town of Birmingham there was a factory making these mini-bombs, and on this day 150 years ago, before the widespread use of lightning conductors, the factory suffered a lightning strike. The result: boom. 43,000 devices went up. The effect was similar to an ammunition dump exploding. Four people were killed, and I imagine that train drivers had to proceed very carefully for a while afterwards.

That unfortunate incident was only the prelude to other startling information that The Times article had to offer.

In 1769, in the Italian town of Brescia, the tower of St Nazaire church was struck. In the vaults lay 100 tonnes of gunpowder. The detonation destroyed the church, killed 3000 people and reduced a sixth of the city to rubble.

But there’s more. In 1856, the church steeple of St Jean in Rhodes took a lightning strike. It too had gunpowder in the vaults. The explosion killed 4000 people.

I learned about these tragedies as I sat listening to a nearby thunderstorm. Very comforting reading. We do however, have a lightning conductor on the roof, and unless my wife is planning to graduate from burning autumn leaves to something more exciting, I don’t believe we have any stashes of explosive materials.

This illuminating article by Paul Simons, in his unmissable Weather Eye column, came a couple of days after my daughter, his partner and their firstborn spent the night in a tent somewhere in Gloucestershire. It was the night when, according to meteorologists, there were around 15,000 lightning strikes across Southern England. Apparently the three of them, blissfully unaware of the coming storm, slept right through the celestial firework display and woke the next morning surprised to find themselves in the middle of a bog. No doubt they would have slept through the Brescia explosion, too, assuming they were far enough away to avoid the falling masonry.

The article unfortunately didn’t explain why people kept gunpowder in the vaults of churches, though I’d hazard a guess that they were the driest places available, and a timely contribution of church funds probably clinched the deal.

But it does illustrate what might have happened if the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament in 1605 had been successful. It would have been the Jacobean equivalent of a nuclear bomb.

Weather Eye is one of the reasons I read The Times. Simons’ column is a treasure of science, history and stories about the subject we British love above almost all things.

Another joy is the obituaries. Today I read about a marine biologist who terrified members of the Tavistock History Society by subjecting their work to the highest academic standards of peer review. She also discovered that ichthyosaurs were reddish brown, though the diligent writer leaves room for doubt by saying “attempted to discover” without explaining why.

Then there’s the cricket umpire who objected to being made to wear a blue jacket when officiating in one-day-matches alongside players who had to wear coloured pyjamas, and registered his displeasure by marching on to the pitch with a basket full of milk bottles.

Not to mention the brigadier who was Prince Philip’s private secretary. He was a former Ghurka commander who had the distinction of captaining a team in the World Elephant Polo Championship. And finally a neuroscientist who learned to walk at the age of eight months, something that will be of great interest to my daughter as she monitors her son’s development.

I’m sure that The Times has many readers who, besotted with Trump, Brexit and the collapse of civilisation as we know it, don’t have time for these relative backwaters of natural phenomena and human eccentricities.

But for me, as I develop into an ageing man of habit, they offer a comforting daily counterpoint to the sound and fury to be found on the main pages, on Twitter and on the TV news. Not only that, but an alternative to the “you’ll never guess what happened next” advertising honey pots masquerading as human interest stories to be found on Facebook and elsewhere on the web.

Having said that, there are times when serendipity and hard news coalesce. I can hardly wait to see what The Times obituary writers do with Donald Trump when he finally shuffles off. Assuming of course that he goes before I do. An outcome for which, with no malice intended towards the man himself, I profoundly hope.

The Irish Referendum

Five quick thoughts on the Irish abortion referendum:

First, it was a single issue, exhaustively explained and passionately argued. The Brexit decision was a multiple issue masquerading as a single issue, inadequately explained and widely misunderstood.

Second, the verdict was so clear that there will be no room for argument, no scope for accusations of Russian influence. And nobody will be able to blame George Soros.

Third, it’s ironic that the votes of a couple of million people, in successive referenda, have led to freedoms that tens of millions of their emigrant relatives in America have enjoyed for decades. And what is America becoming now?

Fourth, Ireland is no paradise. It has many social problems – drug abuse, gang violence, corruption and yes, immigration, among them – but it would appear to be on its way to becoming the tolerant, open-minded society that most of us in Britain thought we were living in, until the EU referendum ripped us apart. I am lucky enough to be married to an Irish woman. I have always respected her home country, but now I am starting to envy her nationality.

Finally, the only thing that Ireland has to do to turn itself into a country that I’d be happy to live in is to have a referendum on the weather.

This is what entitled looks like

It’s a gorgeous sunny day in England. This picture could have been taken any time in any part of my country and, for that matter, a lot of other people’s countries over the past twenty years.

It happens that I live in prosperous Surrey. Just down the road from my home is the park where I take the dog for a walk. It has tennis courts, a basketball court and a kiddies play area fenced off from marauding dogs. On days like today, the play area is packed with mums, dads and their offspring having the time of their lives on swings, slides and all manner of other things that adults think kids enjoy.

Outside the fence there are even a couple of table tennis tables, sufficiently rugged to defy all but the most determined vandal.

All around the large expanse of grass are people like me taking their dogs for their afternoon constitutionals, bags at the ready to scoop up the poop. There’s an ice cream van, a posse of sub-teens taking group lessons on the tennis court, and another bunch dribbling footballs around plastic cones. Families are having picnics on rugs spread over the grass.

We took my kids to this park when they were young. Later on, when they became more interested in ponies, we went to the nearby stables instead.

Still later, our elder daughter, then in her early teens, returned to the park, this time for the purpose of hanging out with her mates, something we weren’t too comfortable about, but hey, you can’t keep them locked up forever.

Our kids are long gone, and the dog is too old to chase tennis balls, but we still meander through the park at a pace that allows her to sniff hedges, pee where others have peed and occasionally do more than pee. She pays little attention to yappy little dogs who come up to her – just a perfunctory sniff and on she goes.

This afternoon, as we approached the tennis courts, which mark the far end of our customary circuit, I came upon the pile of garbage that you see in the photo above. This is not an unusual sight, and sometimes I collect what I can and put it in a nearby bin, of which there are plenty.

But this was a bit more extensive than the usual mess. Unusually, it included strips of white cloth. You can accuse me of being a crabby old fart who blames our youth for all manner of misdemeanours, but it was pretty obvious to me that a group of teens – just like my daughter and her mates all those years ago – had been there after school, guzzling soft drinks and junk food, and probably sharing a crafty ciggie. I’ve seen kids before with large amounts of trash around them, and I’ve sometimes suggested to them that they should pick it up. They usually do so, although with bad grace.

Why the white cotton strips? Possibly because exam time is approaching, and some kids no longer have to attend class because they’re revising. Could it be that one of them had taken great delight in ripping one their into shreds? This is a time-honoured ritual I’ve come across before, though it never happened when I was at school.

Such a pile of garbage is a source of great delight to the dog, who swoops on the crumbs in a cake packet before I can grab her. Though I’m not sure why I worry about her developing canine diabetes at her advanced age.

Time and again, the same thought enters my head every time I encounter the detritus of a teenage picnic: why not spend sixty seconds picking it up before you leave, and then another sixty seconds putting it in the bin?

But then I remember that this is what entitlement is all about. No need to bother. Someone will pick it up. And someone always does, that someone being a council employee whose job it is to pick up the trash, check the grass for dog poo and empty the bins in time for the next day.

It’s what we – or rather our parents – pay council tax for, right?

And I wonder at what stage do the litter-strewing brats turn into “good citizens” who always clear up their mess. For some of them, perhaps, when they end up in student flats, and the mounting piles of dirty washing, filthy dishes and general grime becomes too much to bear. Some never evolve, and spend their lives complaining about what others are failing to do for them.

Then I get to thinking about the messes I’ve never cleared up. There must be plenty. Emotional stuff, probably things I’m not even aware of. How many times have I not stood up to be counted, and said “enough”? Too busy making a life to worry about other people’s. Too busy ducking, diving, avoiding unpleasantness and turning a blind eye to all the bad stuff that goes on around us.

Too late to do much about all the stuff I’ve let pass. But now? Yes, I suppose I could immolate myself in front of the House of Commons in protest against our politicians who, with their one-eyed approach to Brexit, are arguably blighting the future lives of kids like the ones who littered my local park. And yes, as a slightly less extreme alternative I could go on demos for as long as my knees could take it.

All the same, as I walk back to the house, and as the dog takes a dump outside our next-door neighbour’s place and I dutifully scoop up her offering with a Waitrose bag, I tell myself “not enough”, reflecting on the amount of times I’ve relied on others to do the dirty work.

The sad reality is that it’s not just gatherings of self-absorbed teenagers who consider themselves entitled. With a few honourable exceptions, it’s all of us. If it were otherwise, what a different country we would be living in.

As time goes on, and as those we rely upon become less reliable, less available and less affordable, we might just have to become that different country, even if it’s by accident rather than design. Let’s hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

Harry and Meghan – we pulled it off again

I didn’t want to watch it, but in the end it was unavoidable. When I got back from a round of golf my wife and a friend were sitting in front of the TV oohing and aahing at the dress, the flower girls and all the other accoutrements of Harry and Meghan’s wedding.

I didn’t want to watch it because I hate having my emotions manipulated by the music, the ceremony and the choreography. It happens every time. Diana’s funeral, William’s wedding, even the Queen Mum’s funeral for goodness sake.

But then I reminded myself that every fictional drama I watch on TV or at the cinema tries to wind me round its little finger, so why resist the real thing?

So I allowed myself to be drawn in. And who could resist Bishop Curry’s magnificent upstaging of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Poor Justin Welby had to stick to the liturgical script, whereas Curry was free to emote as he pleased. The contrast between the flat lines of the marriage ceremony and the soaring rhetoric of the Bishop’s address was as between drizzle and thunder. No still small voice could possibly make itself heard, except perhaps in the inner ears of the Queen and Prince Philip as they sat through the sermon displaying their extraordinary talent for watchful catatonia.

In between involuntary alleluias, I kept an eye on Twitter comments, one of which suggested that Kate, William’s wife, looked as though she had swallowed a wasp. Or could it have been Camilla, Charles’s beloved? Surely not, because she was wearing a huge hat that must have been designed by aliens who had just visited the Chelsea Flower Show, and her face was thereby completely hidden from the cameras.

The Bishop’s performance was the best drama we’ve seen in an English church since Earl Spencer ranted on about blood relatives at Diana’s funeral.

Then there was the gospel choir, singing Stand By Me. The Church of England is well used to happy-clappy these days, but this was a cut above, as you would expect at a royal wedding.

The whole thing, from the flower-decked St George’s Chapel to the misty look in Harry’s eyes as he gazed upon his bride, was lovely. A breath of fresh air blowing through the dusty corridors of British royalty.

And yet my traditional mini-me, born of generations of stuffy Englishness, kept shrieking that this was all wrong. She’s a divorcee! She’s wearing virgin white when she self-evidently doesn’t qualify on grounds of non-virginity. The Church of England isn’t supposed to allow people who have ex-husbands to marry in church.  After all, wasn’t it Wallis Simpson’s “previous experience” that did for Edward VIII?

I quickly gave mini-me a sharp smack on the head, and he retreated grumpily into his box.

Harry and Meghan’s wedding was proof once more that we British do weddings and funerals exceedingly well. Any kind of ceremony that involves men in uniform, church music and stiff upper lips, in fact. The Bishop has now added an extra dimension: the battle between sang froid and sang tres chaud.

So here’s a thought. Since big set-piece weddings and funerals are about all we do really well these days, perhaps we should aim to become the venue of choice for all the oligarchs, tech zillionaires, presidents and princes of the world who wish to get married in style and exit with a bang. We could rent out our cathedrals, privatise the Household Cavalry, hawk the services of the Archbishop of Canterbury and sign up Bishop Curry as a celebrity sermoniser.

A million dollars each would buy you Oprah, George Clooney or David Beckham as guests, and for another ten million we could close all the streets around the venue for a horse-drawn procession to accompany the happy couple or the deceased dictator.

Who knows, perhaps even Donald Trump might fall for our charms when he next gets married.

The income generated from such occasions would more than make up for the economic shortfall arising out of Brexit, and our politicians would have the opportunity to schmooze with the rich and powerful of other nations on a regular basis. We might even be able to persuade some of them to launder their money in Britain or do trade deals with us.

Such happy thoughts quickly subsided when later in the day I sat down, unaccompanied this time by my wife and her friend – sensible people – to watch the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Chelsea. It was a grim and joyless occasion in comparison with the royal wedding, so much so that I switched off before the trophy presentation.

Not before watching Jose Mourinho, the losing coach, gracefully congratulating his opposite number, whom he heartily loathes. Now there was a man who really did look as though he’d swallowed a wasp. A whole nest of them actually.

Unless we take up my suggestion, we shall have to wait some time for the next wedding on the scale of Harry’s and Meghan’s. But our craving for immaculate ceremony will no doubt be satisfied by some funerals in the not too distant future. And I, no doubt, will be watching.

Unfortunately the FA Cup Final will continue to come round every year. I think I’ll pass on the next one, or at least switch off after the massed military bands have done their thing.

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