Week five… which is to say I’ve been self-isolating in the country since 6 March. Meanwhile, engagements which threatened a return to town have been falling over like a row of dominos. If it were not for the terrors surrounding us, this is the life I’ve always wanted — social distancing without social disapproval. My wife Sabrina, who to my amazement is a techno whizz, has expanded her social life digitally, sometimes with pals by the roomful. I am learning not to blow my cover story (‘Tom’s working’) by passing behind her while she’s on FaceTime. Meanwhile, the days are not long enough for me to not work and keep up with my magazines. Here is what comes through the letter box: The Spectator, the TLS, the New Statesman, the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, the Week, Prospect, and Standpoint. If I couldn’t read them in print, I’m not sure I would read them at all. It’s as though they wouldn’t matter any more. What is wrong with me?
If I were not so busy not working, I would make time to start a campaign to bring back ‘he or she’. The movement to make amends for the excludingness of the male pronoun is becoming ridiculous. Recently on the radio it was said that Carl Friedrich Gauss (b. 1777), the Prince of Mathematics, annoyed some of his readers by omitting the steps leading to a proof. Gauss was defended by Professor Marcus du Sautoy, who told us that Gauss ‘replied that an architect doesn’t leave up the scaffolding when she is completing a building’. I don’t think he meant that Gauss was woke before his time.
Lately Will Boyd had a piece in the TLS about being in Tokyo for a few days, committed to writing a short story as payback for a freebie.