‘Bishops are a part of English culture,’ T.S. Eliot wrote in 1948, ‘and horses and dogs are a part of English religion.’ It was a joke. Is it still? Today the fervour for animal lives is so strong that at times it can certainly feel religious. Politicians like to tell us that we are a ‘nation of animal lovers’ because it is such an uncontroversial truth. But if love for animals comes at the expense of humans, that’s not an example of moral worth.
Two years ago, Lauren Goode, a senior writer at Wired magazine, cancelled her wedding and it was awkward. These things always are, but you get over it because the brain slowly learns how to skip over painful memories. Or it did, before social media.
Goode has made a career out of wittily stripping away the pretensions of consumer tech, and when her wedding plans blew up consumer tech had its revenge. She ended her eight-year relationship in 2019 — but the internet didn’t get the message and kept confronting her with ‘a cyborg version of me, a digital ghost, that is still getting married’.
Britain’s evacuation of Kabul began with an admission of defeat. Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said that the UK would probably leave having failed to assist everyone who had been promised safe passage. ‘Some people won’t get back,’ he said in tears in one interview. When asked why he was taking it personally, he replied: ‘Because I’m a soldier.’
He’s the first defence secretary for 29 years to be able to make such a claim.
As Covid-19 swept through care homes in the spring of last year, the public watched on with horror and helplessness. About a third of all Covid deaths in England took place among residents of these homes. It was worse overseas. In Spain, care home residents accounted for 40 per cent of Covid deaths last year. In the Netherlands and Sweden, it was around 50 per cent. In Canada, almost 60 per cent. But this doesn’t provide much comfort.
In London for the first time in 18 months, I was as excited as a child on a birthday outing. We were desperate for a dose of up-close culture after months of Zoom, so we crammed in three exhibitions, two plays and a couple of first-class meals that I didn’t have to cook. Glorious. It helped that we had two of the few blue-sky days of this otherwise wretched summer and that I’d deliberately fallen off the wagon. My husband John says that I’m much nicer when I’m drinking.
I always knew that I didn’t want children, but also always knew that I wanted godchildren. Lots of them. One of the less-discussed aspects of the decline of the church in our secular age is the fact that this precious relationship, more than a millennium old, is increasingly scarce. Previously godparents were there to ensure a child’s spiritual development, as well as to have in reserve some handy grown-ups should something awful befall the parents.
When the Church of England talks of trying new things, I prick up my ears. Back in 2004 it announced the need for ‘fresh expressions’ — new ventures alongside the normal parish system. Maybe some vibrant arty experimentation would ensue, I felt. But the main result was lots of nimble little evangelical pop-up churches, mostly lay-led. The idea of innovation seems to energise the evangelicals, although their version of innovation doesn’t always energise me.
Jules Léotard was blessed in his name. It might have been quite different had he been called, say, Jules Droupé. As it was, his family name was lithe, elongated, taut. It was a name with stretch.
Léotard was born in Toulouse in 1838, the son of a gymnastics teacher. The young Jules might have become a lawyer. He passed his legal exams, but twisting words wasn’t enough. He wanted to be twisting, turning, falling, flying.