My great-great-grandmother, born on a Barbadian plantation and transported to what was British Guiana in the 19th century, gave rise to a tribe that has spread across the globe. Weirdly, Covid has brought us together (via Zoom) in a way that used to be reserved for weddings and funerals. My New Yorker nephew found a time of day that could accommodate the Californians, the Canadians and the English rump in London, Cambridge and Nottingham. Harlem’s lights glimmered from another nephew’s screen, while the Florida gang kept their windows shut just in case the neighbours not so far away in Mar-a-Lago decided to drop by. Sadly, someone forgot to let the Trinis, the Bajans and the Welsh know about the meet-up, and it was way too early for Jakarta. Next time, it’ll be London’s turn to stay up late.
It was my eldest sister’s desire to become a nurse that prompted my parents to get on the boat from Georgetown to London. Nobody in our family questions the need for the vaccine, but there are charlatans out there telling minority communities that their distrust of the authorities should be translated into a suicidal rejection of the jab. One such bunch of idiots, flying under the banner of the ‘Taking the Initiative’ party, emerged from the so-called Black Lives Matter movement. Its leader, Charles Gordon, told an online event: ‘If you take that vaccine and you die, it’s on you.’ Thank heavens for the cross-party group of black MPs who put out a video saying they’d be taking the vaccine, and for the Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch, who volunteered to be filmed trialling the Novavax jab, shown to be 89 per cent effective last week.
There’s not much griping about lockdown. Maybe it’s an immigrant thing; we tend to assume that life will come armed with jagged edges. And the elders among us have seen lockdown before. In 1962, the coldest winter of the century, recently chronicled in Juliet Nicolson’s engaging memoir Frostquake, the sea froze for a mile off Herne Bay, schools were closed and leaving your home was pointless. In 1974, my final year at university, the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike and Edward Heath ordered a three-day week to show ‘who governs Britain’. Labs and libraries were plunged into darkness and TV shut down at 10.30 p.m. We students gave our rooms to striking miners from Kent and bunked with friends. The new sleeping arrangements introduced many to what Communist wags called ‘the horizontal road to socialism’. For Heath, it wasn’t such fun; the electorate decided that whoever was in charge, it sure as hell wouldn’t be him.
Several of the American youngers are in business, executives in banking, media, management consultancy and the like — careers that would have been unfathomable to previous generations of black workers. But according to research published by Green Park, the executive recruitment firm I chair, they wouldn’t have got past the front door in big British-based companies. For the first time in six years, there is not a single black chairman, chief exec or finance director of any FTSE 100 company. Yet these are international enterprises. It takes serious boneheadedness to ignore the talent of 1.2 billion people of African descent; to do so in the year of Black Lives Matter is an act of malign genius. I do see why signing up to BLM appeals: it’s easier than actually doing something about diversity. Thanks for taking the knee, guys. But next time, forget the virtue-signalling; start to break up the vanilla boys’ club in your boardrooms.
There’s nothing like a big family for cutting you down to size. My eight surviving siblings delight in reminding me that I’m far from the best-known member of my own tribe. My brother Mike, a writer of crime fiction, has sold more books; and my niece Danielle, a dancer and fitness guru, has 1.1 million followers on Instagram. The youngers would be properly modest if we went in for English coyness. So on our Zoom calls, we don’t. ‘So boy I hear yuh do a deal in Hollywood. How much money yuh mek?’ My nephew in Toronto, whose company has been signed up to provide visual effects for a new Marvel movie, coughs politely.
My Nearest and Dearest Zooms pretty much daily with her parents and sisters. Our niece Amy, who has Down’s syndrome, celebrated her jab last weekend with a badge and certificate. Today I was able to report my own vaccine invitation. It arrived by text at 8 a.m. and I immediately booked for the end of the week. Six hours later I got a second invitation, from my previous GP practice. Hearing this, my father-in-law, not a fan of the Labour party, chortled, ‘Ha. Now you’re Trevor Two-Jabs.’