Before Covid-19, if you can remember such a time, this was supposed to be a difficult year for Nicola Sturgeon. Her party had been in power in Edinburgh since 2007 and, like all ministries of such antiquity, was beginning to look jaded. There was never any doubt that she would remain First Minister following next year’s Holyrood elections, but the prospect of her winning a majority seemed to be receding.
Opposition parties believed that a relentless focus on the SNP’s record in office would be enough to clip Sturgeon’s wings.
The other day I made a couple of calls to a bank about a loan. After the usual jumping over hoops to get to talk to a human being — the failure of voice-activated systems to understand a word I say, even when it’s the word ‘loan’, is particularly wounding — I got through to a young man who passed me on to a young woman. In both cases the answer to my actual query was no; they ended the call with ‘Have a good one’ and ‘You take care now’.
Last year, in the cigar bar of an opulent London hotel much favoured by visiting Arabs, an interesting conversation took place. My friend was rich enough to have two private jets and claimed to be doing private shuttle diplomacy between Israel and one of the Gulf states. Smoke curled around our heads and a young Qatari in Gucci trainers passed by with a woman my friend assured me was a Russian prostitute. My friend’s phone was out now and he was on a video call with a man he said was a senior official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Have you ever claimed to be ‘not racist’? If so, sorry, but you’re a bigot. Should this seem incoherent, then you’re clearly not well versed in critical race theory: a once niche academic field that has gone mainstream and popularised concepts such as ‘white privilege’, ‘white fragility’ and ‘systemic racism’. According to Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, ‘the claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism’.
Imagine a country where there is no rule of law, where you might be scooped off the street without warning, put before a kangaroo court and sentenced to life in prison without parole and without right of appeal. You have no idea of the charge against you because no one in authority will tell you. You are innocent of any crime, except you don’t know what your crime is; the full might of the law has been brought down on your head and you have nowhere to turn.
Outside the Catholic mission I walked through rows of women in traditional hide skirts, squatting or sitting with legs astride, palms upturned in supplication. Many suffered from scabies and cradled emaciated babies, and all looked 20 years older than their true age. These are my memories of the Uganda famine in 1980 and these were the survivors. Africa is a different place today and so are the methods used to combat famine.
Just a few months ago it was not certain that we would find a vaccine for Covid-19. Now, we have three, with potentially more on the way — and the rollout of the Pfizer jab due to begin next week. It’s an extraordinary achievement for the research community, our best hope of restoring normal life and a bloody relief after a year of disappointments. But the government, at least, should beware of geeks bearing gifts. To get us to herd immunity, they have to persuade somewhere between 60 per cent to 90 per cent of us to get vaccinated.
Cricket is not renowned for embracing change. The introduction of the middle stump, overarm bowling and Kevin Pietersen were all greeted with great suspicion. But now the biggest change of the lot is proposed. Forget the Hundred: the traditional cricket tea is under threat.
This summer, as a result of guidelines to tackle Covid-19, amateur cricketers were not able to use changing rooms, shine the ball with saliva or sweat, or enjoy the customary tea provided by the home club.