Do you remember normality? A busy diary. Holidays, parties, pubs. Who hasn’t looked back and wondered how we can return to that life which now seems so free. Sacrifices have been inevitable. After a year in and out of lockdown, are we ready to make some more?
The Covid vaccines promise freedom, or at least some version of it according to government ministers. By the end of next month, if the vaccine rollout continues at its current rate, all over-50s will have been offered their first jab.
Ten years ago, comedian Matt Kirshen’s one-liner was voted the fifth-best at the Edinburgh Fringe. ‘I was playing chess with my friend and he said “Let’s make this interesting”. So we stopped playing chess.’ Not bad, as jabs go, and I’ve heard a few — as has any lifelong chess player. Well, times have changed. Late last year, Netflix TV series The Queen’s Gambit was watched by 62 million households in its first 28 days.
Two months ago, a Russian pipe-laying ship called the Akademik Cherskiy left the Baltic island of Rügen to finish the last few miles of the most controversial gas pipeline in the world. Germany hopes that Nord Stream 2 will improve its access to Russia’s vast reserves of natural gas. In America, however, the project is seen as a way for Moscow to exert influence over Europe. Its completion marks the biggest diplomatic crisis in transatlantic relations since the Iraq War and now, as then, we see Germany pitched against the US.
As a proud resident of Sussex, I had to laugh when I heard that Facebook had threatened to ban references to Devil’s Dyke — the 100-metre-deep South Downs valley which has been a tourist attraction since Victorian times — for ‘violating community standards on hate speech’. The touchy bots even slapped a 48-hour ban on a man who posted a photo of a bus bearing the beauty spot’s name as a destination with the caption ‘Heading up to the Dyke’.
One of the guiding instincts on the political left is that society should be ‘progressive’. Social attitudes, politics and the economy should all advance together, making society fairer and more equal in the process. In this view, a tax can be progressive if it targets the income of the wealthy, just as a law is considered progressive if it protects the rights of a minority. This progressive worldview permeates almost all thinking on the modern left.
If you’ve been following the media coverage of the Church of England over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, one question you might have seen is: ‘Where is the C of E?’
Let us offer an answer. We have been burying the dead, comforting the bereaved, feeding the hungry and praying for our nation. We have been doing this not as superheroes, but as human beings living through the same crisis as everyone else: grieving, home-schooling, worrying, getting sick, shielding, isolating, weeping.
If your local pub ever reopens, don’t be surprised if one thing is missing: the till. The anti-cash lobby is seeking to take advantage of the pandemic to rid us of our banknotes once and for all. When UK Finance — the trade body for the banking and payments industry — pushed the government two weeks ago to increase the limit on contactless card payments to £100 (it was raised from £30 to £45 at the beginning of the pandemic), it was a new offensive in a campaign for a cashless society which has been going on for years.
In the middle of December, for reasons I’m coming to, I woke early in a posh hotel. I lay semi-dozing while my partner, Jo, was in the shower, and eventually worked out how to tune the bedside radio, an internet device, to Radio 4. The six o’clock pips sounded as a bathrobed Jo emerged, earbuds in place: on her digital radio she heard the headlines some seconds ahead of me, and as she sat on the bed, her smile faltered.
There is only one place in the world that has played host to both the Virgin Mary and Benjamin Franklin, and it is in trouble. At St Bartholomew the Great, London’s oldest parish church, the beams of the Lady Chapel are rotting. Rebuilt in the 14th century, the present chapel stands on the site of a much older structure. It was here, sometime in the late 12th century, that a monk named Hubert was visited by the Virgin.