Given the ability of Covid-19 to make fools out of everyone, it is not entirely fair to single out an opinion piece penned by Christina Pagel and Martin McKee, members of the self-appointed ‘Independent Sage’ committee on 7 October. But it sums up an attitude which was common just seven weeks ago. ‘England, not for the first time, is the odd one out in Europe,’ they wrote. England had recklessly abandoned Covid restrictions in July, relying on vaccines alone to keep the country open.
Dante’s Beach, Ravenna
Thanks to soaring infection rates in Europe, the war against Covid has entered a new phase, with the prospect of tougher restrictions and compulsory vaccination. Tens of thousands marched in protest through the streets of Vienna and Brussels at the weekend, with many chanting ‘Freedom’ and ‘Down with Dictatorship’. Prominent in their ranks were supporters of the far right, a.k.a. fascists.
It is easy enough to understand why libertarians of the right such as Boris Johnson, and many, though by no means all, Tories would oppose the suspension of the fundamental civil liberties of the unvaccinated.
Shukria Abdul Wahid has nine children, two boys and seven girls. All they had to eat yesterday, she says, were two small pieces of stale flatbread — for the whole family. She and her husband went without. They couldn’t even have tea to quieten their own hunger pangs. The gas bottle used to boil water ran out long ago and there is no money for another one. She tells me it is unbearable having to say ‘no’ to her children all day when she doesn’t have a scrap of food to give them.
Éric Zemmour looks down at a copy of The Spectator and cocks his eyebrows at the unflattering cartoon of him on the cover. He decides he doesn’t care. ‘It takes a lot to offend me, you know,’ he says. He then leafs through the magazine making polite and appreciative noises. ‘Ah, Doooglas Murray!’ he exclaims. ‘I like Doooglas Murray very much. We’ve exchanged ideas.’
Zemmour is in London as part of his still undeclared campaign to be the next president of France — to curry favour with and raise money from the many French voters who live in the capital.
A high-flying Chinese businessman once told me his secret to happiness: ‘Before a man is 35, women are tools; after 35, women are toys.’ It worked for him. He married an educated woman from a good family who helped him climb the career ladder; but once established in his career, he began seeking more exciting female company.
I’ve been thinking about that man since the story of the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai broke.
When I was young, I dated a man who wasn’t in advertising, but had lots of friends who were. Because I am witty, at some point during dinner — usually when dessert was being laid out with a platinum credit card — one of them would say: ‘Have you ever thought of working in advertising?’ I remember feeling real indignation, like someone had spat in my spritzer. I don’t care that Salman ‘Naughty, but nice’ Rushdie and Fay ‘Go to work on an egg’ Weldon started out that way; I had no intention of ending up in such a venal profession.
I used to think that you could spot a literary classic by identifying certain salient characteristics: the writing would need literary quality, for example; the book would have had some historical significance; it would have an enduring reputation among scholars and general readers. But each rule threw up exceptions. Darwin’s The Origin of Species is not an obviously ‘literary’ text. E.M. Forster’s Maurice was first published six decades after it was written.
I was 19 when I became a Hamleys elf. The closest thing I can compare it to is military service. Every elf was given a uniform and it was our responsibility to make sure it looked presentable. It was green and red, with matching shoes and hat, and striped tights that didn’t keep out the cold while we stood outside to welcome people in. Our timetable was extremely regimented: 09.00 hours: unlock front door. 12.00 hours: fake snow falls on Regent Street; appear delighted.