It was one minute to midnight on Christmas Eve (or ‘Thursday’, as it was known to the couple) and the man knocked loudly on the door of the hotel.
“I’m on a knife-edge here, Jo,” the woman said, looking frantically at her fellow traveller.
He briefly stopped rapping on the door and looked at her. ‘Not entirely my fault, dear’, he thought a little unsympathetically, tired by the journey.
“I’m not kidding,” she added, “if we don’t get an answer I’m going to hole up in that shed over there.” She nodded at a dark angular shadow towards the rear of the property. “It’s not as if anyone is ever going to find out.”
Here in the NTI newsroom we have often thought that of all the utensils, the knife gets the poorest deal. Loved ones ‘spoon’ in bed, we gasp in awe at a ‘fork’ of lightning, but phrases such as “she was knifed” and “on a knife edge” conjure up unattractive, often, violent images doing nothing for the implement that can slice through a crispy roast potato on Christmas Day.
The phrase ‘on a knife edge’ was used in much of the media today, to describe the precarious position we find ourselves in on Sunday 13 December 2020 judged against the chances of an agreed Brexit deal 1,633 days after 15,188,406 people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. We know it’s close, as Boris (of ‘NHS on the side of a bus’ fame - remember June 2016?) has multiplied by a factor of two the number of ‘verys’ he chooses to place before the word ‘unlikely’ in describing the chances of a negotiated trade deal with those sticky hagglers of Europe by the end of school today.
Despite being told it is today or never, the vanilla Dominic Raab, somehow our Foreign Secretary, has just told the nation that the ‘timeline for a final deal had slipped’. Really, Dom? Surely not, us Brits have had today in our diaries since forever, as the definite, incontrovertible, inarguable end to the longest story ever told.
So, what does this mean? The spirit level laying on the field can be nudged one way ... or another? Has Mrs Merkel given someone a good talking to? Does Laura Kuenssberg have time to dry clean her red power jacket with the floppy lapels before announcing the beginning of the end (of the beginning)? Should our fishermen be up in arms, or our arms dealers think this is just too fishy? We just can’t know.
But it is not 'just about the fish' and a playing field slightly less level than in the one at Ewood Park on which Teemu Pukki neatly deflected a shot by Emi Buendia to clinch the three points that kept Norwich City atop the Championship yesterday afternoon. It is about the principle of the thing. Having got over self-imposed and barely disguised racism, the idiocy of Farage and his numpties and lies about millions being made available to the NHS, the argument has waivered and eventually narrowed to heated debate about fish and possible tweaks to environmental and employment legislation. However, it is really now about sovereignty.
Many of us who voted ‘remain’ don’t now want to remain with people such as Micheál Martin, the Irish Taoiseach, who say that the deal is 97 per cent done and urge us to push the remaining 3 per cent over the line. No, Micheál, the deal is indisputably not done and won’t be until Great Britain is recognised not as a noisy neighbour, but a country with the oldest Parliament in the world, more European than most of our continental cousins who are unnerved by us standing up for ourselves now, in the way we have done throughout history (okay, the Vikings aside).
We are happy to play an improvised game of football with you on a muddy pitch above the trenches on Christmas Day, but we will not be tutted at by those who want our fish, our world-class security services and our language as the common-tongue of nations across the continent. Do the deal, or don’t by teatime on yet another day, but stop inferring the line is within touching distance, when in fact it describes an horizon in the far distance.
On the front of the Observer and Sunday Telegraph this morning there was no sign of either Covid or it’s nemesis, the many vaccines lining up against it. On the business pages within, a word search beginning ‘Debe’ failed to raise a ghost of a story that is the second longest of the year (well, maybe third).
However, we found something under ‘Hil’; the word Hilco struggled to the surface and an apology of a story informed us that Mr Ashley is close to securing a deal for purchase of an undeclared number of Debenhams stores. He will be grinning more widely that the chasm between messrs Barnier and Foster this morning.
The wordsearch was worthwhile, however, as we discovered a story about Primark closely considering a deal for some of Arcadia’s brands. Marks & Spencer, Next and River Island are also sizing up bids for the brands, which are being sold by the Deloitte Administrators.
There have, apparently, been dozens of expressions of interest in the rather ragged but potentially profitable brands of Arcadia, but firm offers are something quite different and it is far too early in the game to be declaring you have two kings and two eight when others around the table are taking just one card. Offers are due by the end of this week, but at least we know that deadline is going to slip.
In search for something just above the satsuma for her husband’s stocking Mrs Ashley is amongst those surrounding the Arcadia group, sniffing for tidbits and wondering what goes well with twelve or thirteen stores in city centres.
And across the City at BDO partners have decided, after all, to pay back the four to four and a half million Sterling claimed from the Treasury in furlough payments and reduce the £125 million available as bonuses to their partners. Good shout BDO partners. You knew you had to, it just took a couple of days of bad headlines to put you in the festive mood.