The Old Grey Owl’s Almanac 2023

Part 1

As Old Father Time takes his last faltering steps towards the end of 2022, the Owl roots around in the detritus that gathers under his nest in the old oak of The Great North Wood. The mist clears, the twigs and bones settle into their celestial pattern, and the events of 2023 shimmer and shift, until they come, fleetingly, into sharp focus.

This is what 2023, bright and shiny as it approaches the start line, has in store for us all.


The Uk is locked into a new Ice Age, starting on January 9th. Temperatures plunge to minus 15 degrees in cities, even in the soft, sybaritic hub of decadence that is London. On higher ground it falls further and minus twenty becomes commonplace. The far right libertarian warriors are gleeful, taking this as irrefutable proof that global warming is a woke conspiracy of the Deep State. Normal people, with more than one brain cell to rub together, think that they are mad.

The Conservative government open coal mines in every region of the UK, except the Cotswolds, obviously. They also announce a new policy of a “bonfire in every town”. This replaces the “Grammar School in every town” policy which is quietly dropped because their latest focus groups ( consisting, as usual, of retired white people visiting garden centres) have realised that their grandchildren might not get in. Opening three Secondary Moderns in every town is not quite as catchy as a policy pledge.

The bonfires will be sited in key locations where coal can be burnt 24 hours a day, so that the poor, bless them, can gather together and not freeze to death. Only British nationals are allowed in, so that those damn foreigners, refugees, asylum seekers, and dark skinned types can be incentivised to go back to their own countries. This, of course, is to smash once and for all the terrible people traffickers so as to protect the vulnerable. Government spokespeople say this with a straight face whenever they are asked about human rights.

The month ends with three more unnamed Tory MPs being investigated by the police for “serious sexual assault.” They are not named and do not have the whip withdrawn because “people are innocent for as long as we can get away with it”. Oh no, hang on a minute, that’s wrong. “People are innocent until they are proven guilty, in this great country of ours” Yes, that’s it.

Vox pops on national news programmes carry people saying, “These politicians are all as bad as each other.” This is greeted with rapturous round of applause by the Question Time audience.Sir Keir Starmer pledges that under his watch, any Labour member caught in an ongoing trousers down situation, will be tarred and feathered on Westminster Green, that’s how tough he is, oh yes indeed.


A heatwave strikes, as an area of high pressure squats over the UK. The ERG cite this as the long searched for, often thought mythical, Brexit Benefit. Normal people think they are mad and that this is evidence that Global warming is here and is A Bad Thing. Bonfires have to be kept alight because of the contractual obligations drawn up with the Chinese owners of the newly opened coal mines. A pall of smoke hangs over the entire country, apart from The Cotswolds.

The Appeal courts rule that the Rwandan deportation policy is, in fact, illegal, contravening every norm of civilised jurisdiction, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is said to be the work of Woke Lefty Lawyers and the Enemies of The People. Cruella Braverman, the Home Secretary, says she will immediately end Britain’s membership of the European Court of Human Rights and bring in their own Great British version of Human Rights, hosted every Saturday by  Paul Hollywood, Nigel Farage, and Simon Cowell.

The Appeal court is disbanded, and decisions in future will be ratified by Twitter poll and audience phone in. Only people with recognised photo ID will be eligible to vote.

Braverman announces a new immigration policy, in the light of the appeal court’s decision. People in coastal communities will be invited to join newly established armed militias who will patrol local beaches with powers to make citizens arrests of illegal immigrants. This is known as “Taking back control”.

Rishi Sunak, when challenged about the policy, sounds a note of caution. “We will, of course, fulfill our obligations under global treaties and human rights agreements.” There is an immediate challenge to his leadership, on the grounds that he is a “socialist”. He loses a vote of confidence in the house and Cruella Braverman is duly elected as leader of the Tory party, and de facto Prime Minister.

In a major policy speech given by Sir Keir Starmer during a celeb spot on Britain’s Got Talent/ Strictly Come Dancing/ I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Starmer declares, “We’re the Nasty Party now!” He slams Braverman for being soft on immigration, and says, “There’s no place in Labour Britain for foreigners”. He is wearing, for the first time, the new red baseball cap emblazoned with the slogan, “Britain Under Labour Looks Lovely”. BULLL


Braverman’s first move is to appoint Nigel Farage to be Home Secretary,  and Patrick Mindford as Chancellor. The Telegraph calls it , “A Government of all the talents” while The Daily Lie trumpets, “ At Last! A proper Tory Government!” In her honeymoon period of seven day, she meets with senior Treasury Officials and the Governor of The Bank of England, who explain economics to her, in a PowerPoint presentation in Comic Sans MS

On day 8, she sacks the Governor, appointing Boris Johnson in his place. Johnson is said to find working in close proximity to all of those fifty pound notes impossible to turn down. Senior Treasury Officials seek an urgent meeting with Cruella, feeling she had not been listening during the PowerPoint, instead continually scrolling through her notifications on Twitter. Braverman does not show up for the meeting and sacks the people waiting to see her at Downing Street via Twitter. She posts a TikTok video of herself wielding the axe, which goes viral.

Film of Johnson appears on Twitter. He is wearing a stripy T-shirt, woolly hat, and pair of tights over his head,  sneaking out of the Bank of England in the early hours of the morning with a stuffed bin liner over his shoulder. This is deleted after five minutes and is not reported by the British media.

Braverman does not turn up to the Commons for PMQs – Jacob Rees Mogg, confirmed as Minister for the 18th Century does the media rounds saying it’s perfectly constitutionally appropriate not to appear to take Questions from the Leader of “The Remoaners”. He later clarifies this, after repeating it in the House, by saying he was referring to the Constitution of France in 1790.

Braverman, from deep within her bunker underneath Number 10, slashes taxes to 5%, and abolishes The Welfare State, including the NHS. Because the State no longer has responsibility for Health, Pensions, Transport, Education, she brilliantly, at a stroke, balances the books.The Daily Lie, the Telegraph,and the rest of the rags, carry these Headlines: “Keep your nerve!” “Be Brave ( r ) Ma’am”, “Scroungers, Shirkers, The Woke, and Illegal immigrants beware! Suella is coming for you”

Britain PLC tanks when the stock markets reopen. Interest rates shoot up to 17%.

A series of Tory lickspittles are trundled out on The breakfast media round to rally round Braverman, including Nadim Zahawi, a man who will tell any incredible lie with a straight face, as long as he is guaranteed a ministerial job. By the lunchtime news on BBC Zahawi is back on the air waves withdrawing support from Braverman, who, he says, recognises that she went “too far too fast” and throwing his weight behind Margaret Thatcher, who has emerged as the shock favourite in a poll of Tory members. It later emerges that the people behind the ABBA avatars have constructed a Thatcher version, and focus groups reported rave responses. Zahawi is a major shareholder in the company that designs and makes the avatars. “No conflict of interest” declares the new Independent advisor on Ministerial matters, Michelle Mone.

The 1922 committee change their leadership election rules and the Thatcher avatar is voted in, in a secret phone “sampling exercise”..

Polls before Thatcher’s appointment put the Tories on 9% trailing, Labour by 40 points. Polls taken after the announcement put them on 25%, trailing Labour by 7 points.

“The Iron Lady is back – forever!” screams The Daily Lie. On the day of Thatcher’s election, in a delicious example  of pathetic fallacy, torrential rain  begins across the UK.


Energy bills rise by 400%, just as government support is withdrawn. “No more Nanny State!” says the Daily Lie

All NHS A and E Departments are officially closed to be reopened a week later under new management, rebranded as Amazon Health, available as Prime or Standard. Queues for treatment, ambulances waiting outside of A and E, all disappear overnight. No figures are available for excess deaths, despite FOI requests. A variety of Right Wing Shock Jocks: Julia Hartley Brewer, Richard Tice, Nigel Farage, Dan Wootton, Katie Osborne say, “Shit happens, get over it, Snowflakes!”

Strikes by nurses, rail workers, teachers, Barristers, bus drivers continue. A General Strike is called for May. This is denounced by the Tories. “The Enemy Within” fumes Thatcher.

The rain continues and Britain is deluged. There are Major floods in every region of the Nation. Except The Cotswolds. Thatcher declares this as evidence of “Levelling up working”. After forty days of continuous rain, the bonfires eventually all go out. Floods cause raw sewage to be released into every High Street in Britain. Except The Cotswolds.

The Daily Lie proclaims this a major triumph for Privatisation because for the duration of the floods, no sewage is discharged into the sea near any resort. They’ve finally run out of shit. 

After an exhaustive investigation into the three Tory sex criminals (Q: Did you do it? A: No. Q: Fair enough. Close the door on the way out and mind how you go.) all charges are dropped. Coincidentally, Boris Johnson throws a lavish party the next weekend. Special guests of honour: Cressida Dick, Mark Francois and an avatar of Jimmy Saville.

In Sport, Newcastle United find themselves twelve points behind Arsenal and ten points behind Manchester City as the season moves into the last month. Saudi owners not happy about the return on their investment. They announce that they intend to buy Arsenal and Man City.

The Premier League issues stern warning of the severe consequences if Newcastle go through with the purchases, because of their rigorous rules: points deductions, relegation, financial penalties, transfer embargo.

Newcastle announce they have bought The Premier League. Premier League issue statement welcoming the stability that the Saudi takeover of the PL will bring.


Newcastle crowned Premier League champions, after Arsenal and Man City are officially dissolved (in a vat of acid) and therefore removed from the league table. Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta disappear on a Charity event visit to the Saudi embassy in London. They are seen entering the building, but not leaving. They are never seen again.

Snow begins falling on May1st and does not stop again for the entire month. Floods turn into treacherous Ice rinks. No-one can light the sodden coal bonfires in every town in England (Except The Cotswolds), but the contract requires coal to be piled up on each bonfire. By the end of May, each bonfire is the size of The Houses of Parliament.

Boris Johnson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has not been seen for two months. When questioned about this, the Thatcher avatar says, “Well, Boris is Boris..” After threatening to challenge the D notice that had been slapped on his whereabouts (“issues of National Security”), Johnson is finally spotted leaving The Saudi Embassy in a state of dishevellement, red wine stains down his shirt, no tie, carrying two large bin liners. He stumbles down the road to be picked up by a limo from the Russian Embassy driven by his best friend, Evgeny Lebedev. As he gets in, one fifty pound note flutters down the street,having escaped from the bin liner.

The Tories announce a Festival of National Renewal and Brexit Celebration to take place in June. Every Bonfire wll be lit using the Army and each one will carry effigies to be decided by Twitter poll. Favourite candidates are: An Illegal immigrant. Prince Harry and Meghan. A Lefty Lawyer. President Macron. Angela Merkel. Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion types.There’s a bonus local spot reserved for each bonfire for regional figures of hate. This is known as “Devolution”

Government spokesperson says, “We know times are tough. We get it. But difficult times call for difficult sacrifices, and this festival is just a bit of fun to help people through these times. After all, we survived the War! And The War time spirit is just what this country needs now.”


A cloud of gloom and crisis hangs over Downing Street. There are signs the brilliant Thatcher Avatar scam has not worked. Average polling now puts the Tories forty points behind Labour, on 7%. Have people finally had enough of dead bodies in the streets? Months of floods followed by Arctic snow fall, with no-one able to afford to heat any part of their homes is having an impact, even amongst the stubborn Red Wall Leavers in Hartlepool. The impact of Interest Rates now at 20% begins to come through and there is a wave of evictions, and repossessions. A million and a half people join the homeless figures.

Thatcher Avatar brilliantly announces sales of Council Houses, until someone reminds her that there aren’t any left. The greatest minds of the Tory Party think tanks have a brain storming away day session at Chequers. They triumphantly announce the results of their “Blue Sky” thinking. They will replicate the glittering success of the Nightingale Hospitals, and build mass, warehouse-style housing in every town in the country. People will be able to have a safe warm place to sleep, with three “meals” a day, in exchange for some small tasks that have to be accomplished. It’s like “Im a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”

They will be called the “New Work Houses”. Jacob Rees Mogg has this responsibility added to his portfolio and becomes the Minister for Workhouses, the fulfillment of a lifetime’s dream. As part of his role he announces the abolition of paid holidays, maternity and paternity leave and statutory sick pay.

Nadim Zahawi tours the TV studios to say, “The Tory Government can always be relied upon to look after its people. Whatever it takes!” building starts work across the country immediately. The contract to build them goes to some Tory Croney, who once had a lego set when he was a kid. “No Conflict of interest here, “ says Michelle Mone, the Standards Commissioner.

The Tories go down in the Polls. Panic and Crisis grips number ten. There is nothing else for it. They are forced to play their emergency, Get out of Jail Free Card. A thousand Illegal immigrants are filmed coming across the Channel in small boats.

The Daily Lie gives itself an aneurysm, shouting until thrombosis occurs – “ Get A Grip Thatcher!”. Thatcher immediately announces that the building of a Great Wall, that can be seen from space, will begin immediately. It will stretch from The Wash to St Ives, and will be patrolled by local vigilante groups. According to Thatcher, the Wall will be paid for by Mexico. No, France. Yes, that’s right, France.

Keir Starmer says nothing about this for about a week. Then, in a major policy announcement, he gives the Labour Party’s line on this new policy. No one can understand what the policy is. The words of Sir Keir’s statement are fed through the Deep Blue Computer, are pored over by experts in textual  exegesis, but still no clear meaning can be discerned.Eventually, Lisa Nandy helpfully throws some light on the mystery. “What Sir Keir means is that he’s going to wait and see what other Parties say about it, and what opinion polls and our laser sharp focus groups say about , before we decide, as a matter of principle, what we think of the policy and what our official policy will be. It’s the right thing to do.” Ah, so that’s it. Thanks, Lisa.

Labour’s Policy emerges three days later. “Under Labour, we will build a wall, which will be bigger and somehow nicer than the Tory wall. Perhaps in a chrome and cedar wood finish. And with Solar panels, as part of Labour’s New Green Deal, where everyone can feel good about being patriotic and nasty to immigrants at the same time. Remember,  Britain Under Labour Looks Lovely. BULLL – you heard it here first.”

Rumours swirl around Westminster that there will be a vote of no confidence in Thatcher, and that Boris Johnson is being tipped for a move from the Treasury back to number ten. If anyone can find him, that is. Stories circulate that he is currently on Constituency business in Mustique.

As speculation reaches fever pitch, a new piece of breaking news from China, sends shivers of fear through the population. The rising death toll, hard to calculate since the abolishing of the NHS and The Welfare State, but discernible by the mounting piles of bodies on street corners has accelerated. The one last outpost of the Test and Trace unit, obliterated since the Dido Harding crony corruption scandal, but still clinging on in a single Local Authority in Wales, reveals its findings from the last round of testing: A new, deadly  form of Covid is ready to sweep the nation: More transmissible, leading to more deaths, impervious to existing vaccines. It looks grim.

There’s only one answer. The cry came loud and clear: It’s time for Matt Hancock.

Part 2 next month

For more wise words from The Old Grey Owl, designed to entertain and offend, have a look at Zero Tolerance published by Matador books. More coruscating criticism of the ghastly Tories and their appalling approach to education, immigration and all stations in between. With a few titterss thrown in as well.

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll yawn politely


After the showing of the two part adaptation of Mayflies on BBC over Christmas, I thought it was a good time to revisit my original review of the book (first published on my other website, last year). It’s a great example, I think, of a TV adaptation being better than the book, although the book has a lot to like and admire. Here’s what I wrote, back in June 2021:

This book looked right up my street – an affectionate memoir of a group of seventeen-year old friends in Glasgow, forever bonded by their shared experience of growing up together as a band of brothers with their love of music holding them together. Then add to the mix a fast forward to contemporary Britain to see how they have fared in the intervening thirty-five years. It’s structured in two halves -then and now-  and it’s almost brilliant. Almost, but not quite.

The first half, an evocative portrait of a group of friends on a mythical weekender to Manchester for a festival, with the obsession of the possibility of catching a glimpse of Morrisey in a club, is beautifully done. Anyone who experienced the salvation provided by a like-minded group of anti-establishment friends at that age, with the same passions, the same obsessions, the same devotions, will read this with a tear in their eye and a smile, as your own memories flicker in and out of focus. The power and significance of the music you listened to when you were seventeen – what pain, joy and agony it can conjure, even when catching a few bars of an obscure track in the gang’s playlist.

The main protagonist, destined to escape working class Glasgow life through his intelligence and determination (and, classically, the devotion of the ubiquitous English teacher who encouraged him and pushed him on his path) is a sympathetic character who is transformed into a very successful writer, critically acclaimed and living in a hipster’s paradise in a beautiful and expensive part of London. He has still remained connected to his roots, however, and to one friend in particular who stayed in Glasgow and who turned his talents to English teaching in a “Challenging “ school where he has spent his entire career, inspiring generations of abandoned Glaswegians through his teaching and his humanity.

The second part reveals very early on that Tully, the Head of English back in Glasgow, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. From then on the remainder of the novel charts how James (“Noodle”) deals with this devastating news and helps Tully end his days at Dignitas. I hope that’s not a spoiler, but the publicity surrounding the novel made the story very clear. There is tremendous sadness and grief and nostalgia, as you would expect, and the novel does not shy away from the anger and unreasonableness people show in these testing situations.

Pic: Andrew O’Hagan

But. And it’s a big but. The second half goes on and on and on, seemingly without the watchful eye of an editor. And then I realised. This was autobiographical. This was O’Hagan’s story. And the novel had become a therapeutic exercise for him, whereby every detail was included because the memory of his part of the second half was too significant to leave anything else out. I googled it, and it was true. This was O’Hagan’s story, almost word for word, and just a year or so earlier. And Tully was, in fact, Keith Martin, his boyhood friend. So O’Hagan deals with grief so recent, it’s still raw and it completely clouds his judgement.

It’s a familiar problem for a novelist, when you are casting around in your own autobiography for material for a novel and the first draft includes a load of stuff that is oh so significant to you, but which means diddly squat to your readers. And the editor was too sensitive to point it out. Or O’Hagan was too blinkered and determined to listen. It’s a pity. I reckon that if O’Hagan had waited a for a few years, he would have written a masterpiece, with the benefit of some perspective.

Pic: O’Hagan with Keith Martin in 2018 (right)

But then, sometimes, what the reader needs is irrelevant. The writer’s human too. And if Andrew O’Hagan needed to write this book to work through his grief, who am I to carp, because it wasted half a day of my time. The friendship he delightfully and brilliantly portrays , a friendship we can probably all replicate in our own back story, deserves the epitaph O’Hagan decides to give it, in his own way and in his own terms. Narrative arc can sometimes take a back seat.

Post script:

The distance between the events portrayed and the writing of the TV script, with the urgent, autobiographical recording of the novel in between, has done the trick, I reckon. And I don’t think it’s insignificant that the adaptation was written by Andrea Gibb, not O’Hagan himself. Mediating traumatic events through a third person has brought much needed perspective, while retaining the raw emotion of the story.

It’s a great piece of work. And the first half of the novel, with its portrait of the obsessive, bonding passions of the gang of seventeen year old friends, remains a beautiful, luminous, evocative piece of writing.