Before Britain started worrying about a shortage of lorry drivers and petrol, we were fretting about a spike in wholesale gas prices. A couple of weeks and news cycles later, it would be easy to imagine that crisis had gone away. It hasn’t. On the contrary, global gas markets are preparing for a volatile winter. Britain, along with the rest of Europe, will face the full force of the crisis, raising the prospect of factory closures, if not general power cuts.
The stove won’t light. The boiler won’t fire up. Pipes are frozen and the water has stopped running. Welcome to Christmas 2021. Amid a fierce cold snap, with another ‘Beast from the East’ blasting across the country, the UK’s meagre stockpiles of gas have been exhausted and the country is plunged into a crisis. Old people are dying and the rest of us are doing our best to keep warm. The closest thing to the apocalypse most of us will experience in our lifetimes has arrived.
Two years ago, I enrolled on a butchery course. I rather fancied seeing how the sausage was made, and also envisaged taking home handsome pork chops and having an ‘in’ when I needed to order my Christmas turkey. But the amateur course was no longer offered by my local college. So instead of a four-week, two-hour evening course, I signed up for a year-long Level 2 NVQ in craft butchery that involved a lot more anatomical theory and hairnets than I had anticipated.
More than anyone else, John von Neumann created the future. He was an unparalleled genius, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, and he helped invent the world as we now know it. He came up with a blueprint of the modern computer and sparked the beginnings of artificial intelligence. He worked on the atom bomb and led the team that produced the first computerised weather forecast. In the mid-1950s, he proposed the idea that the Earth was warming as a consequence of humans burning coal and oil, and warned that ‘extensive human intervention’ could wreak havoc with the world’s climate.
China’s President Xi Jinping has apparently not yet decided whether to travel to Glasgow next month for the big climate conference known as COP26. That is no doubt partly because he’s heard about the weather in Glasgow in November, and partly because he knows the whole thing will be a waste of his time. After all, the fact that it is the 26th such meeting and none of the previous 25 solved the problem they set out to solve suggests the odds are that the event will be the flop on the Clyde.
The pandemic was bad for criticism with its universal dogma of ‘kindness’. Restaurant, theatre, film and book critics felt compelled to be kind, as if criticism itself was coughing at a death bed. But who does this kindness benefit?
Last year I reviewed Michael Rosen’s book about his Covid-19-related coma: Many Different Kinds of Love. I liked it, but I suggested that publishing the notes people had written to him as he lay in the coma was a waste of both their time and ours.
After the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, I have come to the conclusion that Cressida Dick needs to go. Yes, it’s easy to call for the resignation of a Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Things go wrong in the policing of London and when the mistakes are big enough, there will be calls for heads to roll. Often, such calls are just another way of expressing anger. But not only has Cressida Dick failed to produce tangible improvements over the past four years: under her tenure, things have become significantly worse.
In six years Sajid Javid has had six cabinet jobs. He has been culture secretary, business secretary, communities secretary, home secretary and chancellor — and, just over 100 days ago, he was made Secretary of State for Health. When we meet on stage for an interview at Tory party conference, I ask him about his credentials for the job. He has none. ‘But that’s not unusual for a health secretary,’ he chirps. And experience? He has visited a few hospitals.
We keep hearing about the importance of levelling up. Architects tasked with the responsibility of building new homes, however, might want to consider levelling across. With land prices at a premium, bungalows may not appear to be the most prudent use of limited space but lateral living has plenty to recommend it.
Originally built for early European settlers in India, the first UK bungalows — from the Hindi word bangla, meaning ‘belonging to Bengal’ — appeared in Westgate on the north coast of Kent in 1869.