The next three months may well prove to be the hardest of the whole pandemic. The new variants of Covid-19 appear to be the wrong type of game-changer. After our national lockdown in March, infection levels started falling because of extreme measures — including closing schools, places of worship and non-essential retail. But the infectiousness of the ‘Kent strain’ suggests that as it becomes prevalent, a new lockdown might be unable to contain it.
Hospitals are filling up at a terrifying pace, with more Covid-19 cases now than ever. A new variant is sweeping through the capital and the country, with more than a million of us currently infected. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, says she is more worried now than she has been at any point in the pandemic. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, puts it differently. ‘I am optimistic,’ he says. ‘We’ve got the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter.
In the days following the US presidential election in November, political centrists reached a hasty verdict. Never mind all the squabbling about voter fraud — they had won. The extremes had lost. Donald Trump, the maniac, was out; Joe Biden, the moderate, was in.
Yes, the increasingly radical Democratic party still controlled the House of Representatives, but as long as the Republicans won one of two Senate run-off races in Georgia in January, the crazies would be checked by a Republican majority in the Senate.
One of the things I’ll miss about teaching at Eton is the ever-present threat of an ironic riposte from one of the boys. ‘Cheer up,’ I told one who looked un-enthused by Milton in my first week at the school, nine years ago. ‘Two hundred years ago, you’d have been down a mine!’ ‘Sir,’ he replied deadpan, ‘we’d have owned the mines.’ The class erupted in self--deprecating laughter. I’d arrived.
It was the boys themselves who suggested and named the YouTube channel Knowland Knows, which has since got me summarily dismissed.
Oscar Wilde’s Algernon observed: ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.’
No man? Not quite. Prince Harry is in so many ways turning into a version of his mother. The first sentence of the joint new year statement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their Archewell Foundation website declares: ‘I am my mother’s son.’ For those of us who were around when Diana was on the scene, there’s a pang of recognition here.
It was about as grovelling as a letter can get. In June, the health ministers of Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands were forced by their respective chancellors and prime ministers to write to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, apologising for their efforts to buy Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of their health systems. It was, they conceded, ‘of utmost importance to have a common single and joint approach to the various pharmaceutical companies’.
Our House of Lords is so fat it’s the butt of ridicule. More than eight times as many members ‘sit’ in our second chamber as in the Senate of the United States. True, some Lords in former lives did great or good deeds. Not all in our upper house are mere political paymasters or hoary ex-vote-winners. But we have too many of every sort in there: far too many.
One whole incestuous layer could be dug straight out of the UK honours system: out from the Lords, and out also from below it.
At a time when so many of us are experiencing some measure of isolation, it is hard to fathom the choice to live in extreme confinement in the middle of the urban bustle. But hermits were once unremarkable features of England’s cities.
The 13th-century traveller entering London from the north, at Cripplegate, would have walked within yards of a hermit’s cell. There were also cells at Aldgate, Bishops-gate, Temple Bar and Cornhill, as well as many others beyond the city limits.