A clergyman admitted to me that he’d recently burst into tears. He’d received an email from his diocese in this latest lockdown ‘strongly urging’ vicars to close their churches. He has an elderly working-class congregation in a poor area. Coming to church was ‘the one thing keeping them going’. Local vicars like him represent the best of the Church of England. They are loving, kind, and they know their flock.
Before the pandemic, the C of E had seen attendance halve in a generation.
This has been a tough year for everyone. Death, mental collapse, grief, unemployment. In my church we’ve lost people to Covid — one of the earliest victims was a regular at our 9 a.m. Communion. We’ve lost people to mental health — one of the homeless men who came to our services, and who used to delight us by playing the piano, hanged himself over the summer.
Money is tight, and ancient buildings need constant repairing.
Until a few weeks ago, the government’s track record on Covid was one of repeated failure. The death toll, the depth of the recession, the public disapproval of the government: Britain’s figures were among the worst in the world. But with vaccines, things have changed. The UK is now on track to be the first major country in the world to vaccinate its way out of lockdown.
The foreign press coverage has turned from mockery to awe, with Britain having vaccinated more people than France, Germany, Italy and Spain put together.
In the genetic diaspora of an epidemic, there is ferocious competition between strains of virus to get to the next victim first. That leads to apparently purposeful outcomes, as if the virus had a mind. One of the things people find hardest to grasp about evolution is that it appears purposeful but the mutations on which it feeds are random. How come dolphins evolved to swim if all they had to work with were random changes in genes? Viruses also mutate at random — but most people talk as though the rise and fall of these mutant versions is mainly down to chance or luck.
I spent most of last week drenched in sweat, launching a vicious assault on Wall Street hedge funds which cost them $20 billion. Along with thousands of other ‘degenerates’, I bought shares in GameStop, a struggling videogame shop whose value has recently soared by 2,000 per cent. Behind the surge is an online community called WallStreetBets, where bored young men gamble on barely researched stock tips and crack tasteless jokes.
Hippocrates prescribed it to allay lassitude, James Bond favoured it as a token of his manliness, and in less indulgent times Gordonstoun school insisted on it: the cold shower. And now it’s having a moment with the wellness brigade. (The very word ‘wellness’ used to send me screaming from the room: a Californian import, I was sure. Then someone pointed out that the word has been in the English lexicon since the 17th century, so that told me.
From the vaccination programme to the NHS intensive care units, much of the British state has risen magnificently to the Covid challenge. But there is one element of the public realm that has lived down to the lowest expectations of its performance. The Fire Brigades Union, long a byword for militant intransigence in defence of outdated practices, has been at its self-serving, uncooperative worst during the crisis. In place of solidarity and dedication, it has displayed an ‘I’m all right Jack’ mentality as it discourages its members from undertaking humanitarian duties.
Coup? What coup? The early morning takeover of Myanmar on Monday by the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) barely deserves the name. The word ‘coup’ suggests that Myanmar was being ruled by a civilian and democratic government before now. It was not.
Although Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in ‘free’ elections in 2015, the constitutional revision implemented by the military in 2008 meant that Tatmadaw retained 25 per cent of seats in both houses of the national assembly.
A few Spectator readers may soon find themselves confined to quarantine hotels, so the magazine thought it timely to find someone familiar with hotel life to share their advice. Since Dominique Strauss-Kahn was somehow unavailable, they settled on me.
Now the first question to ask is: how fancy a hotel should you choose? This is not as simple as it sounds. Indeed, other than buying a yacht, no extravagances pall faster than a posh hotel.