You can argue about the merits of pulling down statues, but it’s hard to make the case that mass protests serve no useful purpose. At the very least, they provoke debate and draw attention to uncomfortable topics that it might otherwise be easier to ignore. The recent protests have forced everyone to have difficult discussions about race, class, poverty and attainment. Any serious examination of the statistics shows that we’re pretty far from equal, but what the figures also show is that it’s wrong-headed and damaging to lump very different groups together.
Why does the most important writer in English, J.K. Rowling, haunt the sewers of the Twittersphere? Why try to deal with the many complexities of transgenderism in a medium that has bizarrely reinvented the brevity of the telegram, but without its Victorian culture of complexity, courtesy and calm? Indeed, Twitter prizes a quite different Victorian moral order, namely that of Jack the Ripper, as the baying muezzins of social media hourly pronounce the end of someone’s reputation in the merciless perpetuity of the internet.
At last, school’s out for summer — although this might be a strange concept for children who have not set foot in a classroom for months. If social media is anything to go by, home-schooling is hell. Since March, the internet has been awash with panicked parents sharing mock timetables with slots for ‘mum quits’ and ‘dad starts drinking’. And who’s to say the madness will end after the summer? A recent survey showed that a quarter of parents don’t intend to send their children back to the classroom in September, and one in ten of those plans to home-school permanently — which at least offers certainty.
The phone rang at 9 a.m. on Monday, with an old friend from Italy saying: ‘Of course I’ll do you a favour, my dear, but you don’t say what it is.’ I thought he’d finally lost his marbles (always a possibility with friends my age) but he said I’d just sent him an email asking if he would do me a favour. I hadn’t sent any emails that morning so I was mystified.
As soon as I put the phone down, another friend rang saying of course he would help, but he was on Hampstead Heath and it would have to wait till he got home.
We classicists peering into the past can sometimes be blindsided by the present. 2020 brings the charge that our discipline promotes racism. Last month, America’s Society for Classical Studies announced ‘the complicity of Classics as a field in constructing and participating in racist and anti-black educational structures and attitudes’. A pre-doctoral fellow at Princeton has enjoined ‘white classicists’ to ‘unlearn white supremacy in themselves’.
It is official: Hagia Sophia, for a thousand years the world’s largest cathedral, and since 1934 a museum, is to be turned back into a mosque. Ever since I heard of the possibility, I have been praying it would not be so because of the impact it will have on Muslim-Christian relations in Turkey, the Middle East and beyond. A suitably purged and compliant judiciary, however, has bowed to the wishes of the authoritarian President Erdogan that Turkey should become more Islamic and less secular.
I’ve been having an office romance. Not with anyone in the office — but with the office itself. I’ve been going into the office every day during lockdown and I love everything about it: the bike ride from my Camden flat to work in Fitzrovia; the professional feeling that comes from being in a place dedicated to work; a chance to see more life than the limited activities that go on in your sitting room.
I even like office furniture, the soft hum of the photocopier and the stationery box, with its neat cellophane packs of Post-it notes and extensive range of envelopes.
Rishi Sunak found himself in hot water last week, though fortunately it was not too hot. Just the right temperature, in fact. The Chancellor was photographed at his desk with a £180 ‘smart mug’, which keeps his drink somewhere between 50°C and 62.5°C for up to three hours on the move or indefinitely if placed on its charging coaster. Very sensible, you might think; but some thought the picture was revealing. Labour MP Beth Winter was quick to point out that her mug, turquoise and shaped like a dinosaur, had cost just £3.