The Azerbaijani Variant

PLUS: Proud Boys, rude boys, Gregg Wallace, Diddy David Hamilton and much, much more!

Less than a week into the latest national lockdown, I detect none of the demented togetherness of the first.

There is no appetite for banana bread, no tears for Captain Tom, no clapping for carers. Nobody is drinking Quarantinis or organising mass Zoom-ins. Joe Wicks says he’ll be resuming his daily YouTube workouts, but I suspect he will be disappointed by his single-digit viewing figures.

Britain, it seems, is gripped not by the Blitz Spirit of 1940 but by the existential angst that comes with hiding in an air raid shelter every night to avoid being blown to bits by the Luftwaffe.

The new mutant strains haven’t helped the national mood of anxiety. And while I know the one thing more contagious than coronavirus is irrational fear, I can’t help thinking there’s something Chris Whitty is not telling us — like they’ve just discovered a new Azerbaijani variant which is 100 per cent fatal, for example.

I am fortunate to live in the heart of the Cumbrian countryside rather than a plague-infested hi-rise estate in Lewisham, but even here we fear the Reaper.

Barely two miles away is the market town of Brampton, which this week registered the biggest increase in Covid cases in the UK. Paranoia here is rife: accusatory eyes peer over surgical masks and number plates are routinely checked; on Wednesday a mother-of-three, suspected of being a super-spreader and a witch, was hanged from the Moot Hall clock tower by a baying, socially-distanced mob.

Here in Irthington there is added tension because the nearby airport is being used as a Covid testing centre. Colonel Long, who lives at the Old Vicarage, has taken matters into his own hands and ordered the construction of roadblocks to prevent the infected hordes from using the village as a shortcut to the A6071.

But that’s not all. As a warning to lockdown-breakers the severed head of a second-home owner from Kent has been stuck on a pike next to the boarded-up pub, and local farmhands roam around on quadbikes, shooting on sight anyone who even looks as if they come from outside the CA6 postcode.

Meanwhile elderly villagers cower indoors, counting down the days until they become eligible for the vaccine, terrified in case they die and lose their place in the queue.

This used to be such a nice place, full of life and laughter. We even won Cumbria Village in Bloom three years running. But now the once tranquil fields echo with the crackle of gunfire and the sound of tribalistic whoops.

May God have mercy on our tormented souls.


Still, even in these darkest of times there is room for humour. While walking the dog I bump into Eddie from up the hill.

“What’s 666?” he asks.

“The Number of the Beast,” I reply.

“Then what’s 668?”

“I don’t know.”

“The Neighbour of the Beast.”

It’s good to see Eddie so chipper, but behind the laughter I know he is in turmoil.

Last year, while Eating Out To Help Out at the pub, he pronounced his steak to be “as dry as Ghandi’s flip-flop”. At the time he thought no more of it, but as a humble farm labourer he was not aware of the current thinking about Britain’s shameful imperial past.

Now he is worried his comments may come back to haunt him, and when the pub re-opens he will find himself cancelled.


Watching the scenes unfolding in Washington DC this week, I was reminded of the Extinction Rebellion protests in the UK back in 2019.

In particular I thought of the elderly gent who, having glued himself to a London bus, told annoyed commuters, “I’m dreadfully sorry for the inconvenience,” as he was chiselled free and marched into the back of a police van.

I don’t know who he was, but I imagine he would have been mortified at the sight of gun-toting Trump supporters kicking down the Capitol doors, vandalising property and even lounging in the Speaker’s chair without so much as a by-your-leave.

After all, protest is one thing but good manners is another entirely.

Trump is an elderly man , but his manners leave much to be desired. Indeed had he shown just a fraction more decorum during his Presidency, then I suspect he would have won the election at a canter, as he claims, and none of this MAGA insurrection would have happened.

That said, I firmly believe that had his critics in the media not been so rude about his candy floss hair, his small hands and his orange skin then Trump wouldn’t have been elected in the first place. Decent people will always side with the victim rather than the bully, no matter who the victim is.

I’m no fan of Boris Johnson, but whenever the comedian Nish Kumar opens his mouth to pass comment on the PM I’m more inclined to vote Tory, just to piss him off.


In the last newsletter I wrote that James Bond’s drink of choice was a martini made of four parts vodka to one of dry vermouth.

I should have known better.

Sure enough within minutes of pressing “Send” I receive a text from my old schoolfriend Aidan, not to wish me season’s greetings or to inquire after my health but to berate me for getting it wrong.

“007 drinks Vespers,” he writes curtly, “which is three parts gin, one part vodka and half a part of Lillet Blanc.”

Aidan knows this because these days he works in the world of high finance, where the Vesper is the drink of choice and where the mark of a true international moneyman is knowing what Lillet Blanc is, and where to buy it.

I suppose this explains why you rarely see high-flying financiers in my local branch of Booze Busters, or spies for that matter — although I once saw a bloke who looked a bit like Oddjob buying six cases of Carlsberg Special Brew.


Last night I awoke in a cold sweat, having had a terrible nightmare in which I was being chased across a featureless landscape by a grinning, bespectacled penis in black trunks.

Reflecting on this, I can only think it was because of all the photographs of Gregg Wallace on social media recently.

If you didn’t know, Gregg used to be fat, but now he’s lost weight. And with Masterchef off the air, he’s been filling his time by photographing himself in the mirror.

Admittedly if I had a six-pack like Gregg’s I’d want it splashed all over Instagram too, and maybe my nightmares say more about the state of my own twisted subconscious than Gregg Wallace’s honed abdomen.

If only Freud were alive to give me advice. Is Dr Raj Persaud still taking calls, I wonder?


Finally, allow me to recommend a podcast called Radio Moments, in which leading figures from the world of broadcasting talk about their careers, and in particular the episode featuring “Diddy” David Hamilton.

Those of a certain age will recall that “Diddy” was a major star in the heyday of Radio One back in the early Seventies, and the section in which he reminisces about sharing the airwaves with likes of Tony Blackburn, Noel Edmonds, Emperor Rosko and particularly Jimmy Savile is worth a listen on its own. (As is the bit about his early career, for that matter: I never knew he used to read the news on BBC Look North!)

However it is the subsequent years of his career that are most fascinating, as “Diddy” slides ever deeper into obscurity on such stations as Radio 210 in Reading, Saga FM in the Midlands and finally The Wireless, an internet-based radio station run by Age UK. (By my reckoning the only station he hasn’t worked for is North Norfolk Digital, although there is still time.)

The thing is, it would be like listening to a slow-motion car crash were it not for “Diddy”’s seemingly boundless and genuine enthusiasm for each and every job he’s ever had. Here is a man who, at 82, still believes he is the luckiest jock in the world. What’s more, he sounds exactly like he did when he hosted the mid-morning show on Wonderful Wireless One.

In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s the most uplifting hour’s listening you’ll hear this year. So yourself a favour and check it out — while you still can, of course.