I recently read a little bit of James Joyce's final novel Finnegans Wake:
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had passen-core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggyisthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer's rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County's gorgios while they went doublin their mumperall the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe totauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had akidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all's fair invanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe.
If you think that's hard to understand, well, just try this slogan:
Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives
They've stared at it and stared at it and stared at it, and still haven't been able to make head nor tail of it.
Their collective journalistic brains presumably know the dictionary definitions - that 'stay' means 'remain in a specified state or position' and that 'alert' means 'the state of being vigilant, aware of possible danger' - but put those two words together to make 'Stay alert' (i.e. 'remain in the state of being vigilant, aware of possible danger') and, like a wave that sweeps up and carries off every like-minded MSM journalist, everyone from Andrew Marr to Mark Mardell seems to have struggled to even begin to comprehend what 'Stay alert' could possibly mean.
And then minister Robert Jenrick tried to explain it on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, saying:
Stay alert by staying home as much as possible, but stay alert when you do go out by maintaining social distancing, washing your hands, respecting others at work.
Now, I must be seriously dense because I completely understood that sentence straight away, yet better (journalistic) minds than mine were totally nonplussed by it.
The super-intelligent Piers Morgan quoted it and called it "utterly incomprehensible" and "jibberish" (his spelling) and ITV's sagacious Paul Brand offered up a mocking "Clear?" in response. Piers, warming to his theme, then re-quoted Mr Jenrick's statement and said, "No offence, but what the f*ck does it mean?"
Like Laura Perrins of The Conservative Woman, my immediate response to Piers's tweets was to think, "FFS. Stay Alert is fine. Stay home if you can. Avoid public transport if you can. Wash your hands. Keep 2 metres. Now, go live your life in a sensible and responsible manner. The end", and my immediate reaction to Paul's tweet was to think, "Yup. It’s clear. And anyone who thinks it isn’t clear should go back to school with their kids when they one day reopen", but - as they are serious broadcast journalists and we all trust them - Piers and Paul's puzzlement must mean that we simply haven't understood just how unclear the unintelligible Mr Jenrick was being.
And it got worse. The Government then tweeted the following:
The bit that said "Keep your distance if you go out (2 metres apart where possible)" especially baffled and bewildered the bulging superbrain of Robert Peston. "What does 2 metres apart “where possible” mean? Shouldn’t it just be “2 metres apart”?" he tweeted, to massive derision. Bruce Lawson, who I follow on Twitter, echoed my first thoughts: "I despair...... It’s almost as if Robert Peston has had a massive bet to prove to the world he’s a complete idiot. He's won"...
but, to be fair...(a) Robert Peston is an honourable journalist (they're all honourable journalists. I come to praise them not to bury them) and (b) I think someone else pipped him to the post in the complete idiot awards stake...
Yes, Piers's fragrant sidekick Susanna Reid evidently wasn't going to be out-stupided by either Piers or Paul or Peston. (Good on her!) It was the phrase "Limit contact with other people" that befuddled her fine-tuned mind. Please can you explain “limit contact with other people”. Does this mean we can have contact with other people as long as we keep it limited? What is the limit? Which other people? Because all of a sudden there is no mention of keeping contact within households", she asked to a chorus of raspberries.
I feel so proud of our media. They're never afraid to fake incredulity and incomprehension in a good cause.