When the fate of Hong Kong was last seriously considered by a British prime minister, the world looked very different. It was argued — naively — that not much would change when the colony was handed back to China in 1997. A deal had been struck. Beijing would run defence and customs control, but otherwise Hong Kong would still be self-governing. It was always unlikely that China would honour this promise, but the pretence was useful to a Tory party terrified of admitting the alternative: that Britain had a moral duty to let the Queen’s subjects stay British.
When my husband died last month, I was as prepared as a person can be. Howard had been afflicted for many years by early-onset dementia and that, as we all know, is a one-way street. What I was totally unprepared for was the lockdown factor. Could we even have a funeral? Yes, we could, as long as we adhered to some rules. And would I like the ceremony live-streamed to those unable to attend? Well yes, I suppose I would.
Officially, more than 44,000 deaths in England and Wales have involved Covid-19. But how many have died as a direct result of the disease itself and how many are victims of the fear and neglect that it has engendered?
It is remarkable how many deaths during this pandemic have occurred in care homes. According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly 50,000 care home deaths were registered in the 11 weeks up to 22 May in England and Wales — 25,000 more than you would expect at this time of the year.
The killer came from the east in winter: fever, cough, sore throat, aching muscles, headache and sometimes death. It spread quickly to all parts of the globe, from city to city, using new transport networks. In many cities, the streets were empty and shops and schools deserted. A million died. The Russian influenza pandemic of 1889-90 may hold clues to what happens next — not least because the latest thinking is that it, too, may have been caused by a new coronavirus.
‘The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,’ said Donald Trump on 21 July 2016, as he accepted the Republican party’s nomination for the presidency of the United States. ‘Safety will be restored.’
Mark that down as a broken promise. On Friday, as a seething mob menaced the White House, the Secret Service rushed Mr Trump down to the emergency bunker under the East Wing. Downtown Washington has come to resemble a war zone.
A few years ago I was sitting in Carl Safina’s yard on Long Island, drinking tea, occasionally patting a dog who was lying at my feet. Safina was talking about the magnanimity of wolves. A wolf in Yellowstone National Park, known as Twenty-One, never lost a fight, and unlike most wolves, never killed a vanquished opponent. Park rangers called him the perfect wolf.
‘When a human releases a vanquished opponent rather than killing them, in the eyes of onlookers the vanquished still loses status but the victor seems all the more impressive,’ Safina said.
I’d never have thought I’d be good at doing nothing. Or rather walking the dogs, loafing in the sun, trying to match Paul Hollywood’s tête de brioche (third time of trying), doing jigsaws and reading hefty books. But I’m lovin’ it. The only thing that stresses me — indeed brings me out in lower-deck language most unbecoming to an octogenarian — is doing live shows or podcasts on Zoom or Skype while our broadband buffers, stutters or crashes.
Amid all the Covid-19 coverage, it’s hardly surprising that the collapse of a coach-tour operator last week didn’t make too many headlines. But the end of Shearings, the largest such operator in Europe, could mean the end of coach holidays in the UK, and if that happens, something very special will have been lost.
Coach holidays are unique. They engender a sense of camaraderie which is so hard to find nowadays in our very atomised world.