Not much makes sense during a pandemic but in recent weeks the Covid puzzle has become a deeper mystery. When local lockdowns failed, the solution was to try even more of them. Manchester was put into Tier 3 restrictions when its Covid cases were falling; now there’s talk of a Tier 4. Infections are nowhere near the 50,000 a day that Boris Johnson’s scientific advisers warned about last month but the panic now seems far greater.
When I met Michael Cohen in New York two years ago, he was a man visibly crushed by what life had done to him. His whole face sagged: he could have defined the word ‘hangdog’, a beagle caught peeing on the Persian rug. We stood outside his apartment building, which was Trump Park Avenue, Trump’s name bearing down on Cohen’s head in gold letters three feet high. We’d already had a long lunch and I was trying to say goodbye but as he spoke about one injustice or humiliation he remembered another, a torrent of self-pity.
Cinema is fading. Borat went straight to Amazon Prime, where he is smaller, and Bond 25 — no time to die eh? — is delayed until next year. In response Cineworld has ‘temporarily’ closed its cinemas and the smaller film houses are struggling. Millennials and Generation Z don’t mind, but I am no such creature: I was an usherette at Options in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1990. Do they know that cinema remains, despite its best efforts, the most inspiring kind of mass culture?
Dreams mean nothing to the gilded and interesting: they do not need them.
Six years ago, at the celebratory opening match of the new Basaksehir Stadium in Istanbul, an unlikely football star emerged. The red team’s ageing, six-foot tall centre-forward lumbered toward the white team’s goal; a delicate chip over the advancing keeper brought a goal that sent the stadium into ecstasy. The scorer was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was the run up to an election in which he expected to become his country’s 12th president.
Imagine a country where you’re allowed to buy vodka and cigarettes but not baby clothes, because they are ‘non-essential’. A place where supermarkets can sell you socks but, mysteriously, neither tights nor lightbulbs. All right, you may plunge to your death down a dimly lit staircase in Pontarddulais, but at least you didn’t get that terrible Covid.
Often the butt of ignorant jokes, my homeland Wales is now quite rightly a laughing stock.
Earlier this summer left-wing activists announced a ‘semi-autonomous zone’ in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. Denuded of law enforcement and any other signs of the American state, these activists deluded themselves that they were creating a blueprint for the perfect society. After a number of wholly predictable murders and rather more rapes, the state retook control. The area where the state formerly known as CHAZ briefly stood is now just another homeless encampment, overlooked by empty luxury apartments.
Three years ago I sat down to write a novel set in my adopted home city. Placing its claustrophobic action in the near future, I had no trouble imagining my mostly foreign characters haplessly trapped inside a decaying high-rise apartment complex and surrounded by political upheaval. Thailand has endured more military coups since 1945 than any nation on Earth, and I myself have lived through two, in 2006 and 2014, while the violent uprising of 2010 occurred while I was far away in New York.
Some believe that All Hallows’ Eve is adopted from a much older Celtic holiday, Samhain, that marked the change from harvest’s living richness to the darkness of winter. In its modern guise, Halloween still retains something of that pagan philosophy — a time when the borders between the living and the spirit world are supposed to be at their weakest. For our pre-Christian ancestors, this sense of the in-between was felt not only in the mulchy decay of autumn but also in the land around them.