Last week, Europe started its liberation from lockdown — and it all feels like a study in national political identity. Belgium took its first step towards ‘deconfinement’ but no one seems exactly sure what that means. France is opting for complexity rather than simplicity. Italy’s national plan for the easing of its lockdown is more convoluted still, but few regions bother to follow it anyway. Spain, goes a national joke, went more slowly and started with a reopening of the siesta.
‘There have been as many plagues in history as there have been wars,’ wrote Albert Camus in The Plague, ‘yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.’ So it was this time. The arrival of a new coronavirus blindsided governments of most advanced nations as they reached for a tool that few had ever really considered before: lockdown. It all happened too fast for a proper discussion about the implications.
After the post-apocalyptic fall-off in traffic at the start of lockdown, cars are now slowly starting to return to the roads. Well, if you’ve seen a smug git cruising through north Perthshire in a 1989 Atlantic Blue BMW 320i convertible, that’s me. I’m rediscovering the love of the car.
I started lockdown in London, hurtling down Edgware Road blasting out ‘Ghost Town’ by the Specials. Having decamped to the Highlands (in defiance of the SNP edicts to stay away), I now chug along at 20 miles per hour below the speed limit, with a gentle accompaniment of Hall & Oates.
As if 2020 hasn’t already scared the hell out of us all, a plague of locusts is upon us. When I first witnessed a swarm swirling across my farm in Kenya, it was hard to see them in the nightmarish way they’re depicted in Exodus or the Book of Revelation. They were millions of pink and golden Tinker Bell fairies, flying in a halo around the sun, filling the air with the sound of rustling skirts. But the breeding cycle of a locust is only a few months and they are growing in numbers exponentially.
Six years ago, Neil O’Brien was working for George Osborne when the then chancellor was enthusing about a ‘new golden era’ in Sino-British relations. But now O’Brien, who became the Conservative MP for Harborough in 2017, is one of the founders of the new China Research Group, a group of Tory MPs who are pushing for the government to take a tougher line with Beijing. His best-case scenario is one where the UK and its allies ‘manage to restrain some of the worst behaviours of the Chinese government’.
Donald Trump said in October 2018 that the Saudi royal family ‘wouldn’t last two weeks’ without American military support. Last week, on the back of the collapse of the US fracking industry, he finally acted on his long-standing anti--Saudi instincts. He ordered the immediate withdrawal of two patriot air defence batteries, sent to defend the kingdom’s oil infrastructure in September after a missile attack blamed on the Iranians.
To my surprise, what I miss most about life before the lockdown are parties. As others pine for restaurants and theatres, I am longing for sticky floors and 4 a.m. Ubers. Give me plastic cups and music so loud you feel it in your kidneys. Sylvia Plath wrote disparagingly of the ‘shrill tinsel gaiety of parties with no purpose’. It’s precisely that shrillness and pointlessness that I’m yearning for: drunk young bodies cramming together for no reason other than to be close to one another.
The lockdown could have been the moment I was waiting for: a chance to make those long, slow recipes whose immense time commitment has previously wrong-footed me. Briskets. Cassoulet. Anything that involves soaking a dried bean. Alas, all that must be saved for the next pandemic. This one has so far been devoted to pasta puttanesca.
For the uninitiated, it’s simple. Heat oil. Add chilli flakes. Add a tin of tomatoes. Add half a tin, or a tin, of anchovies to taste.