‘From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction — you must stay at home,’ Boris Johnson declared on 23 March. At the beginning of the pandemic, when infection levels first began to rise, the country was all in it together. The prescription was a national one, and the Prime Minister could speak to the nation as one. Though infection levels have begun to surge again, the restrictions are now specific and local.
The announcement of the ‘Rule of Six’ policy last month was met with much furore – in the south of England. Those of us in the north will have thought: lucky old them. To have a dinner for six is a liberty that has been denied to us for months now. We had a meal booked with friends in April which had to be rearranged for August because of the lockdown. The rearranged meal had to be cancelled in the end because it was for six of us: we could not (and still cannot) meet anyone from different houses.
I have invented a new literary category, chic lit, to describe all the books written by elite females (Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran, Elizabeth Day, Dolly Alderton, Sally Rooney, ad infinitum) for elite females. If you’re not one and can’t stand any of them, god help you. Their books will be forced on you anyway. Publishers can’t hear you scream. There is no metric for books kicked around living rooms or dumped in charity shops.
As Perseus was flying along the coast on his winged horse Pegasus, he spotted Andromeda tied to a rock as a sacrifice to Poseidon’s sea monster Cetus. It was love at first sight. Perseus slew Cetus and married Andromeda. Thus began the damsel-in-distress archetype that has been a mainstay of western culture ever since. Riffs on the archetype have been used by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens and Wagner. Perhaps it was these examples that inspired the global liberal establishment (the BBC, Hollywood and the Nobel Peace Prize committee among others) to create, in the 1990s, the mythical version of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s ‘imprisoned princess’, the saintly spiritual heir to Mahatma Gandhi, as Time magazine described her.
If you haven’t heard of Thérèse Coffey, then this will be — to her — a sign that she has been doing something right.
As Work and Pensions Secretary she has had to sign people on to benefits faster than anyone who has held the position before. If this had gone wrong during lockdown, she would be as infamous as Gavin Williamson. But the system, Universal Credit, managed 1.5 million claims in four weeks. Many things have gone wrong for the government over the past few months, but the welfare system has (so far) held up.
Recently Greenpeace dropped a boatload of granite boulders on to Dogger Bank, a permanent threat to any boat that attempts to drag a trawl net across the sandy sea-bottom. One of the biggest boulders had my name painted on it, because Greenpeace asked and I said yes. And in saying yes, I crossed a line that I have never crossed before in 40 years of writing about the environment. I joined the activists, in I hope a measured way, because it’s so very important to give the North Sea a chance to revive itself.
Before lockdown we got a two-month-old cockapoo. We called her Ziggy, like so many dogs these days. We didn’t insure her, even though she cost £1,250. My last dog, Coco, changed hands for a grubby £20 note at a farm gate on Exmoor. I didn’t bother with insurance and she never had a day’s illness or accident, apart from the time her tail temporarily went crook after swimming in the icy Exe. I thought I would do pay-as-you-go for her replacement.
Americans are, in my experience, the warmest, most kind-hearted and open-minded people in the world. I have found this to be true for my whole life, despite being the niece of Osama Bin Laden and sharing the same surname (albeit spelled slightly differently — Bin Ladin is the original translation). Americans base their judgment on the content of someone’s character and actions, not on the colour of their skin — or their last name.
They’re one of the country’s most famous married couples. You just need to spot his colourful jester outfit and the long tassle bobbing from his sugarloaf hat, and you know it’s Mr Punch and his wife Judy. But now, with the Covid restrictions, this familiar sideshow is under threat. Mr Punch may be swinging his final blow.
Punch and Judy’s red-striped puppet booth has been popping up in Weymouth, Dorset, since 1880. Mark Poulton first saw the mayhem caused by hooked-nosed Mr Punch and his giant baton in the 1970s when he was four years old.