This won’t endure long. Soon enough, the delicate bouquet of wild flowers will fade. But before the underfunded care-home stink of Dettol and despair returns, give thanks for the fragrant vision of Theresa and Philip May on their annual retreat in the Swiss Alps.
Rucksacks on backs, walking sticks in hands, the two clad in outfits that are touchingly identical but for the differently coloured sleeveless shirts and different shaped shades, they are a sight for the sorest of eyes.
The thrifty camping store trousers, which for some reason she wears about as high as Simon Cowell wears his slacks, could not be more unflattering if they came from one of the clown community’s least popular tailors. Since they are the right trousers for the environment, she couldn’t care less.
On its own, the vacational contrast implicitly drawn with her predecessors makes you warm to May. David Cameron’s brief outings to the Cornish sands, to flash his lobster-pink torso and change-shorts beneath the Mickey Mouse towel, were transparent public relations exercises he endured purely to enable the ensuing jaunt to one of Ibiza or Tuscany’s more lavishly appointed villas.
Gordon Brown had to jettison his pre-No 10 preference for elegant New England. When the prime ministerial requirement to pander to killjoys obliged him to pad along rainy Southwold beach in a linen jacket, his sour, scrunchy face bespoke a workaholic fantasising about a national disaster to recall him to London and foreshorten the anguish.
As for Tony Blair, now that Sir John Chilcot has finished him off for good, who would be so vindictive as to list the various hospitalities he thought it seemly for a British prime minister to accept? The lounging on Silvio Berlusconi’s mega yacht, the trips to Sharm el Sheikh apparently as the guest of the cuddly Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, the stints at Cliff Richard’s Bajan villa?
If the holidaying Family Blair was the perfect emblem for post-millennial, gold-taps-and-private-jets Eurotrash vulgarity, May’s Alpine retreat makes her the poster girl for a much earlier age. It’s impossible to isolate the decade she and Philip bring to mind, but it is some point between the two World Wars; a time when decent, God-fearing middle-class English folk, of whichever gender, would no more flash their pinkened bodies on a beach than pop an ecstasy tab and dance until noon to the musical stylings of David Guetta.
Mature readers will fondly remember Goodbye, Mr Chips, the 1939 British film in which Robert Donat’s bashful, painfully repressed public-school classics teacher joins a colleague on a walking holiday in the (Austrian) Alps. When marooned on a mountain by enveloping fog, he comes upon the lovely Greer Garson. To his amazement he charms her to bits with his bashfulness and courtesy. They fall in love and marry, but – look away now if you don’t want to know the result – she and their baby die in childbirth.
The one incongruously glamorous detail about the Mays – who dealt with their own sadness on the reproductive front with the unflinching dignity of Donat’s Charles Chipping – is that they did not meet in an Alpine mist, but were introduced when students at Oxford by Benazir Bhutto.
That detail apart, there cannot be a more reassuringly solid pairing in all the Home Counties. Nothing picks apart a dodgy relationship like a holiday. We’ve all stared with guilty pleasure at the couple spending two hours in seething silence opposite one another at a taverna or bistro. If these two, after 30 years of traversing the Alps, can not only tolerate but actively enjoy one another’s company during those endless mountain climbs, God love them for that.
As John Rentoul reports, an Independent poll discovers that May has leapfrogged Boris Johnson to become the country’s most popular politician. This portrait of her and her old man – surely the least showy Downing Street couple since Clement Attlee was driven to election hustings by his wife Violet in their rusty little car – goes part of the way to explaining why. Some atavistic reverence for non-emoting, non-freebie-hogging, fundamentally decent political leaders has clearly survived the advents of the television and internet ages.
Much of it is also explained, needless to say, by length of any new PM’s honeymoon period. That will end, and monstrous logistical challenges of Brexit, among the usual myriad of other problems, will stale the air around her.
For all that, she looks built to last. Many of us who grew up under Thatcher’s unforgiving yoke regard the act of putting a cross beside any Tory name as no less a physical impossibility than climbing an Alp without a large team of sherpas and a huge oxygen canister. Nothing will probably ever change that. But glancing at the pictures of Theresa May and the plain authenticity they seem to capture, you can glimpse at why her appeal might extend beyond the natural Tory vote.