It’s Monday at 9 a.m. and secondary schools in England have just re-opened their gates to students in Years 10 and 12. I have been looking forward to this moment for 13 long weeks, since that frightening afternoon in March when my colleagues and I gathered around a computer in the staff room and saw a healthier-looking Boris Johnson declare he was shutting schools.
But today I’m not at the comprehensive in Hackney where I teach economics welcoming back my students with a rousing lesson on the financial devastation caused by the crisis.
When the Chinese Central Military Commission drew up plans for a ‘war of extermination’ which would ‘gnaw the flesh off the bones’ of Indian forces in the Himalayas in 1962, China’s leaders believed that they were solving a problem. ‘It was India,’ as vice minister Zhang Hanfu said to the Soviet ambassador at the time, ‘that rejected peace talks to solve the Sino-Indian border issue, while China consistently adhered to a peaceful solution.
Long ago, a friend warned me I was living in a J.G. Ballard novel, but only in lockdown has the plot of High-Rise started to unfurl on the banks of the Thames. Developers are forced to build a certain number of homes for Londoners who could never otherwise afford anything, and height comes at a premium. So we’re stuck on the lower floors, in small, airless flats, overlooking land we’re not allowed to stray on to, as the rich exist in splendid corona-isolation above, peer down from their balconies and call security — to persecute us by making hints and suggestions.
First they came for the statues, then Basil Fawlty got ‘cancelled’ and three spoiled millionaires turned on their creator. So it was with J.K. Rowling’s woke progeny. Harry Potter, it would seem, is deathly shallow. Rupert Grint looked for a moment like holding firm, but he too quickly succumbed to the growing pressure to slip his golden dagger between Rowling’s shoulder blades. Surely these rich list regulars are perfectly placed to say what they actually think, protected from the ever-tightening vice of censorship? Apparently not.
When Priti Patel told Labour MPs that she didn’t need any lectures on racism, they seemed to take it as a declaration of war. Last week, 32 of them signed a letter accusing the Home Secretary of ‘gaslighting’ black people’s experiences. The social media warriors were out in force, rebuking her for not being authentically ethnic. She was attacked for being a ‘coconut’, brown on the outside and white on the inside. It’s not the first time she has faced hostility for not conforming to expectations: one article last year called her ‘a product of internalised whiteness’.
The most useless technology is the one you invent but fail to exploit. The Incas invented the wheel, but seem only to have used it on toys. Hero of Alexandria designed the first steam engine in the 1st century ad, but it was seen as a gimmick. The technological opportunity to escape from city-centre offices has been stuck in a similar limbo between invention and implementation.
In the 1970s, Nasa engineer Jack Nilles envisaged ‘teleworking’ from local work centres.
Police were no match for the Black Lives Matter mob that pulled down a statue of Edward Colston last week and threw it in Bristol harbour. But the Scouts are evidently a force to be reckoned with. No sooner had Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council announced that it was planning to take down a statue of Lord Robert Baden-Powell on the harbour front at Poole than the Scouts had mobilised themselves to defend it, setting up camp at its base.