Out with pub bores, back in with the experts

Stewart Lee

“When the government closed the pubs, I said –
I didn’t mince my words, I said to them myself,
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.”


MS Toilets, The Wetherspoonland, 1922

A public health official friend tells me her colleagues now call the Covid-19 virus “Wetherspoon’s Mumps”, a darkly comic response to Wetherspoon boss Tim Wetherspoon’s initial resistance to closing his pubs for the safety of his customers.

It isn’t for civilians to criticise the black humour our brave health professionals deploy to combat the traumatic stress of the war on the coronavirus, especially as I made up the phrase “Wetherspoon’s Mumps” myself out of my own head. Twitter rumours that the virus first jumped species here in the UK after a certain Wetherspoon’s regular had sex with a Wetherspoon’s Steak & Kidney Pudding ™ ® in the toilets at the William Withering in Wellington are similarly imaginary.

But even as a diehard Remoaner, I have some sympathy for the Wetherspoon’s project. In many areas of the country, Tim Wetherspoon’s cheerful outlets are the only plug for the yawning social chasms left by his friends the Conservatives’ gradual closure of various community hubs over the past decade. And they are warm. And dry.

Tim Wetherspoon’s booze palaces are pie-and-a-pint flophouses for the daytime diaspora of the austerity era, where inexpensively nourished customers are hypnotised by bespoke and quite brilliant regionally specific carpet designs and beguiling guest ales, before being seduced by slogan-strewn anti-EU beermats while at their most mentally pliable.

One can hardly blame Tim Wetherspoon for making the scientifically unverified claim, on Sky News on Friday 20 March, that there had “been hardly any transmission in pubs”. If, like me, you have contentedly spent entire days in Tim Wetherspoon’s premises, you will know they are magical environments where the laws of science are routinely defied, leaving customers unsure of how they got home, which kind of pie they ate, or even of who they are. And Tim Wetherspoon himself fronted a factually fluid Brexit campaign, endorsed and abetted by our current prime minister, that eschewed evidence and experts as if they were the sort of things only traitors valued.

But experts are suddenly back in fashion with a vengeance, emerging blinking from the hidden priest holes of the academic institutions that sheltered them during the public book-burnings of the Brexit campaign, waving their statistics and their strategies like prayer flags. Help us, experts! We are sorry!!

In a strange synchronicity, the people who encouraged distrust in experts are quietly disappeared. Michael Gove is rarely seen, and the results of recent wastewater tests in London, which suggest cocaine use in the capital has fallen by a third, can be attributed solely to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s absence from Notting Hill street corners.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is also silenced, presumably in case he suggests the victims of Covid-19 had brought their suffering on themselves, by not having the common sense to stay inside their country mansions eating only food foraged from their private estates by their personal servants and their hounds.

Our prime minister, Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Vampires Haircut Wall-Spaffer Spunk-Burster Fuck-Business Fuck-the-Families Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Girly-Swot Big-Girl’s-Blouse Chicken-frit Hulk-Smash Noseringed-Crusties Death-Humbug Technology-Lessons Surrender-Bullshit French-Turds Dog-Whistle Get-Stuffed FactcheckUK@CCHQ 88%-lies Get-Brexit-Done Bung-a-Bob-for-Big-Ben’s-Bongs Cocaine-Event Spiritual-Worth Three-Men-and-a-Dog Whatever-It-Takes Johnson, however, is still afoot.

But Turds is rarely seen these days without being flanked by the mitigatingly solemn countenances of informed experts, his public performance mode of flippant and deliberate dishonesty suddenly forced into an ill-fitting rubber mask of knowledgeable concern, like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood pretending to be the grandmother by pulling the bedcovers up over his snout and speaking in a high voice.

Covid-19 doesn’t just call the Brexit campaign’s bluff. It questions the way we have allowed our society to be run

You don’t have to be able to go outside your front door to see that senior Conservatives’ offer of a “Covid coalition” with Labour is a trap for Keir Starmer, the Conservatives’ Labour leader of choice, and the Little Red Riding Hood of this lupine ruse. Starmer could share the blame for the pandemic’s mismanagement, sparing Turds. It’s a trick as transparent as the warm pat on the back David Cameron gave to the slaughtered lamb of Nick Clegg in the Downing Street rose garden 10 years ago, before spinning him round to use as a human shield in the ensuing hail of press-corps machine-gun fire.

Is it any wonder that the British public haven’t taken the social distancing advice of this gang of twats seriously when the whole thrust of their campaign this past half decade was that experts are not to be trusted, and that Blitz-spirit Britain could prosper whatever so-called facts were flung at it? But Covid-19 doesn’t just call the Brexit campaign’s bluff. It questions everything about the way we have allowed our society to be run.

And as I write this, homeless people housed in Travelodges have just been thrown out into the officially unsafe streets, and we don’t know if kids whose only square meals come from their schools are even eatinge.

I don’t consider myself as someone with a significant network of friends, because I spent the past three decades pursuing antisocial evening entertainment work, and because I am arrogant and ill-tempered. But suddenly I find myself in the middle of a massive and mutually supportive email conversation between dozens of like-minded self-employed misfits worldwide, most of whom now have no obvious means of support.

The secondhand bookseller touched me the most, who plies his wares from Word on the Water, a barge floating on the canal behind King’s Cross station. He has headed north, unwaged and building a mail-order website, up the River Stort to an uncertain future, like Arrietty making her escape in a floating teapot. He writes: “Capitalism itself is looking like the shiny-suited boyfriend that didn’t bring a bottle.”

“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Goonight Johnson. Goonight Gove. Goonight Raab. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.”