We know everything about Sars-CoV-2 and nothing about it. We can read every one of the (on average) 29,903 letters in its genome and know exactly how its 15 genes are transcribed into instructions to make which proteins. But we cannot figure out how it is spreading in enough detail to tell which parts of the lockdown of society are necessary and which are futile. Several months into the crisis we are still groping through a fog of ignorance and making mistakes.
Most people consider going for a walk or a run as a sort of optional leisure activity, something you get round to once you’ve been to the shops. But when the government announced its coronavirus restrictions, there it was in its own category of ‘essential activities’: daily exercise.
Yes, there have been rows about whether sunbathing or sitting on a bench to eat a snack are acceptable, but by and large the message has been clear: we need to get outside to stay well.
Just over a decade ago, I published one of those books with an annoying subtitle beginning with the word ‘how’. It was called Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History. My targets included Michael Moore, Creationists and homeopaths. I concluded that we couldn’t stop anyone circulating their ‘counter-knowledge’ on the internet, but we could at least hold to account ‘lazy, greedy and politically correct academics’ who had abandoned scientific methodology in favour of postmodernism.
So Mrs American Voter, which septuagenarian sex abuser do you want to be President?
The whole ‘#MeToo’ business probably should have taken a back seat in 2020 — given the epochal health crisis, the vast Covid-19 death toll and the collapsed US economy. But sex always makes headlines and this month Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, finds himself wrestling with the shocking allegation that in 1993, he ‘digitally penetrated’ a young woman staffer called Tara Reade.
In my line of work I sometimes owe a cock to Asclepius. The ancient Greeks believed that a sacrificial offering to Asclepius, the god of good health, could buy you time. Perhaps it worked in the case of Boris Johnson. On the night he was taken into intensive care, I had the digital team of the Times breathing down my neck. They wanted to know if I, the paper’s obituaries editor, had an obit ready to go straight up online, ahead of the print version.
National Autism Month in April coincided with our strictest phase of lockdown. My son, 36, who has Asperger’s, has consequently been unable to stick to all his routines — one being the Sunday car boot sale on Brighton Racecourse — and I was worried about how he’d cope.
He suggested we watch classic EastEnders
together from our separate homes and text each other about the personalities and plot. It worked. The episodes from the early 1990s are fast-moving and the characters very real.
Much mention has been made in these past weeks of ‘Blitz spirit’. The Queen even hinted at it in her address to the nation, referencing Vera Lynn in her ‘We will meet again’ closing remarks. TV presenters, journalists and indeed our own Prime Minister cannot resist these stirring references to the resilience of the Home Front, the sense of national solidarity, the pluck and grit of the British people, especially as we reach the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
You can find the answers here
My tawny owl has been self-isolating. I say mine but in truth she chose the nest box in my neighbour’s garden rather than the one I almost killed myself to install, balancing it on my head as I scaled a rickety old ladder.
A couple of months ago I spotted the owl, happily sitting in the box’s entrance in the weakening sun. A pattern was established. Every evening as day drained away, I went into the garden, balancing my old Zeiss binoculars alongside a glass of white.