March 1, 2013 7:36 pm

Welcome home! You’re downgraded

On return from holiday the house was intact but the country was in a shambles
An illustration by Lucas Varela depicting the UK downgrade©Lucas Varela

There is always that concern when you return to your house after a holiday. Will the pipes have burst? Have you been burgled? Does one of the letters on the doormat contain details for a planned new high-speed rail link that will pass directly through your kitchen? These fears flit through your mind as you pull up to the house.

Even so, it came as something of a shock to return home and find the country had been downgraded by a rating agency while we were away. We’d left the triple A rating with the boy Osborne but he managed to lose it while we were being hurled around on the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios. I’m only glad we didn’t ask him to look after the hamster.

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Robert Shrimsley

We’d taken every precaution before we left. We’d checked the plugs; locked the door and bought some index-linked National Savings Certificates. I’m not sure what else we could have done to protect our investment grade status. Apparently, there’s been a spate of lost credit ratings recently. France had its triple A rating swiped while on a long weekend at Euro Disney.

Naturally, we feel bereft. Friends have tried to console us, stressing that we are not actually any worse off and that the downgrade was nothing more than a reflection of what we already knew. They remind us that we still have two other AAA ratings but that’s no consolation when you had the full set. Osborne swears he’ll get it back but, frankly, we think it could be some time. Next time I think we’ll just hide it under the bed.

And it wasn’t just the credit rating that had gone in our absence. Apparently, as we basked in the warmth of the sunshine state, the country lost faith in the jury system and our greatest living author launched a vicious attack on our future queen. Frankly, I might as well have left the kids in charge.

The jury service crisis was particularly shocking. The failure of the jury to reach a verdict in the Vicky Pryce speeding points trial sent the commentariat into foment. Columnists wheeled out their own jury service stories to prove that the system had failed entirely, that Henry Fonda was dead and that it was time for a period of martial law. It seems curious to think that the failure of one jury should stir up such emotion. But this is the thing about returning after a period away. It is like recovering from a spell of amnesia but being aware of certain black spots that don’t entirely make sense.

Reading Hilary Mantel’s speech about Kate Middleton and monarchy, one is struck by its elegance and perception. Yet to some newspapers it was venomous and bizarre. David Cameron called it wrong and misguided – mind you, it was he who recommended we let George Osborne look after our credit rating. One (admittedly arch) Facebook friend even wanted to start a campaign to get Mantel’s work out of our leading bookshops. One of those ludicrous “royal commentators” opined that the Duchess was “four months pregnant and completely unable to answer back”. (I don’t know what stuff we make princesses from these days but when I recall my wife during her pregnancies, reticent is not an adjective that leaps to mind.) But a week later it seems less than a huge and treasonous row, though it was undoubtedly a tad discourteous. Then again, given the author’s work on Anne Boleyn, the Duchess may reflect that there are worse things for a monarch to be than insipid.

This then was the shambles to which we returned, an apparent sterling crisis, a jury crisis and the treachery of a great writer. We may not have been burgled but in just a week the country had fallen to pieces. A couple of days on and a new jury is hearing the Vicky Pryce trial, Hilary Mantel’s books appear to be selling well and the pound fell a full 0.2 per cent against the dollar on the first day of trading after the downgrade as investors had already priced in its weakness.

The house was intact, the hamster was well and the high-speed rail link must be going through someone else’s kitchen. On the other hand, it does seem jolly cold.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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