There are times I feel I’m losing my touch as a hypochondriac. There were long periods during my 40s and 50s when I would only have to exhibit the mildest of symptoms and I would be on the phone to the doctor – with Google almost any symptom can be potentially fatal. I’ve lost track of the number of blood tests and more invasive procedures I’ve had in order to find out I’m not about to die.
Yet when it came to my prostate, I somehow went into denial. Even though for several years I’d had all the classic symptoms associated with peeing, I somehow never got round to seeing a doctor. Until last week, when I woke up in the middle of the night and realised I might have prostate cancer.
An examination from the doctor confirmed that my prostate was indeed “very enlarged” and I was sent for blood tests to determine my PSA levels. Much of last week was spent in a state of panic wondering whether I did have cancer and what I should do if I did. Speaking to friends who had had prostate problems was not altogether reassuring as they each seemed to advocate a different course of action.
But I got lucky. My PSA results came back this morning on the low side of normal, and the doctor confirmed I had dodged the cancer bullet. My enlarged prostate was benign. Needing to pee several times a night may be a drag but wasn’t going to kill me. I can certainly live with that. I’m just going to try not to ignore my hypochondria again.
When I first heard that the UK was considering nominating the disgraced Tory MP Liam Fox to be the next director general of the World Trade Organization, I thought this must be some kind of joke. Apparently not. Fox now has the official backing of the government. So let’s just remember a few of Fox’s career highlights. In 2011, he was forced to resign as defence secretary over allegations he had given a close friend, Adam Werrity, inappropriate access at the Ministry of Defence as well as inviting him on overseas ministerial trips.
After an undistinguished return to the backbenches, Fox was given a second chance when Theresa May appointed him international trade secretary in 2016. He was promptly sacked when Boris Johnson took over in 2019. Which raises the question why, if Fox was such a successful expert in international trade, Johnson felt the need to sack him. Surely if he is good enough to run the WTO he would have been at least worthy of a junior cabinet post. And if not, what is it Fox has done in the last six months for the prime minister to reconsider his abilities and to recommend him for the top job at the WTO?
I have been spending some more-or-less socially distanced time with friends, but I feel far from ready to take advantage of some of the government’s other relaxations of lockdown guidance. I do most of my shopping online as it is and I can’t see myself going to a restaurant again anytime soon. Partly because I’m naturally cautious but mainly because I have no faith in the government’s ability to determine acceptable levels of risk. It got it wrong on care homes – Johnson’s attempt to shift the blame to care workers when the government already knew there was a significant risk of asymptomatic transmission was shabby even by his standards – and it increasingly looks as if economic expediency is taking precedence over public health. I still can’t work out if it’s worth braving Gatwick and Malaga airports, not to mention sharing a three-hour plane journey in close proximity with 200 or so other passengers, to spend time with friends in Spain in August. At present my plan is to delay any decision until the last minute to see if there is a rise in infections due to the opening of air corridors. I also feel my days at the gym may be numbered. I’ve been going to the same gym in Streatham for the best part of 25 years, but now it’s on the verge of re-opening, I don’t think I will be renewing my membership. This decision has less to do with my health concerns, though, and everything to do with my having bought an exercise bike. That bike was a godsend last week when I was worrying about prostate cancer because I could pedal for hours on end at any time of night, such that the physical pain of the exercise could block out my fears. The state of mindlessness can never be underestimated.
It has never been the opposition’s reply to a budget statement that a government has most feared. The shadow chancellor will have had little time to unpick even the broader details, so the response can only ever be phrased in vague generalities. Something that any chancellor can easily brush aside as partisan politics.
The real test comes the following day, when the independent thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies delivers its verdict, and today’s was particularly terrifying. Not just because it had found major flaws in Rishi Sunak’s economics in regard to the £1,000 job retention scheme, the timing of the VAT and stamp duty reductions and the “meal deal” approach to opening up the economy, but also in the assumptions it made. Namely that a £30bn spending programme was just a drop in the ocean and that more money would inevitably be required in the coming year.
Borrowing as a percentage of GDP will be at its highest in 300 years outside the two world wars. But the IFS director, Paul Johnson, said that neither this year nor next was the time to worry about how we could afford all this, albeit there would be a reckoning involving tax rises some time down the line. In other words, we were so screwed that almost any bailout risk was worth taking now.
Which was more or less what Sunak had told the Commons the day before, though he had presented it in more honeyed, less alarmist tones to make it sound as if the government was in control of what it was doing. But even Sunak and the IFS hadn’t predicted that Boots and John Lewis would be announcing mass redundancies on the day after the “jobs, jobs, jobs” budget.
Labour and the Lib Dems have long since cancelled their conferences, but it was only this week that the Tories finally got around to scrubbing theirs. Quite what took them so long is a mystery, but presumably they were busy haggling with the Birmingham conference centre on how much of their deposit they were going to get back. No doubt Robert Jenrick has been sent out to approve various controversial planning developments to help recoup the lost revenue. This year, then, all the conferences will be live-streamed and it will be interesting to see how many people log in to some of the fringe events now that there will be no sandwiches and bottles of wine on offer as inducements. There’s much I will miss about the live format – I don’t think anything will ever top Theresa May’s speech when she was offered her P45, lost her voice and the scenery collapsed around her – but it will be a relief not to have to go to some of the Labour fringe meetings where the speakers, as well as the audience, often spent more time slagging off the Guardian than the Tories.
It will also be a major relief when this year’s football season comes to an end. For Spurs, lockdown appears to have made no difference as we are playing just as badly now as we were back in February. The last time it was so depressing to watch the team was back in the mid 90s. I still watch each game live but find myself curiously torn between hoping that we finally turn on the style and being secretly relieved when we don’t as I am desperate for us not to qualify for the Europa League. This Sunday we play Arsenal in the North London derby and my expectations are suitably low. Spurs also chose a week of a nadir in the quality of its football to announce its season ticket renewal arrangements. Which of course I will be doing as masochism is all part of the deal. My therapist once described me as the second most destructive man she had ever met. That still niggles. I’m still gunning for the top spot.
Digested week, digested: blame the care homes