Social distancing

How does the ‘red wall’ story end?

At Redwall Abbey Does fiction provide any guide as to the ultimate fate of Labour’s Red Wall? — Redwall Abbey was the setting for a series of children’s novels written by Brian Jacques between 1986 and his death in 2011. It revolved around the peace-loving creatures of Mossflower Wood who were forced to fight invading vermin. The first of the novels, called Redwall, featured an orphaned mouse who had become a novice monk and was forced to fight off an evil, one-eyed rat. At the end of the final novel, published posthumously, an otter and hedgehog emerged triumphant over the ‘vermin’ — a loose band of creatures which included rats,

Hugging gets the green light

The next stage of the roadmap is set to go ahead. At tonight’s No. 10 press conference, Boris Johnson announced from next Monday, 17 May, groups of up to six (or two households) can meet indoors, while up to 30 people will be able to meet up outside. Face coverings in school classrooms will be scrapped, and there will no longer be a cap on the number of people attending a funeral. Indoor hospitality can reopen, including restaurants and pubs, while hotels, cinemas and theatres can also open their doors, albeit with social distancing still in place. The one-metre plus rule means that while many may start to feel like

The curious case of the Brussels ‘orgy’

Belgium has had some of the toughest coronavirus restrictions in Europe during the second wave of the pandemic, with hospitality venues closed and socialising severely restricted. So Mr Steerpike was surprised to note this interesting story in the Belgian press today, which suggested that some may not be following the rules as closely as expected. According to La Dernière Heure, 25 men were arrested this weekend after their lockdown festivities were interrupted by the police. The paper writes: ‘Twenty-five men in their birthday suits were interrupted in the middle of a gang bang on Friday evening in Brussels, close to the central police station of the capital’. Even more intriguingly,

Nationwide vaccination could end social distancing in April

The NHS plans to vaccinate everyone who wants a jab by early April, according to leaked documents seen by the Health Service Journal. This marks a shift in strategy from the government’s previous plan to only vaccinate the vulnerable. If successful, it would mean that all social distancing measures could be ended in April. The documents operate on a 75 per cent take-up rate for the vaccine among the general population, which seems a touch high given polling on the subject. It assumes that the NHS would be vaccinating 4.5 million people per week and for both the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines people would need to take two doses, 28 days

I removed my mask and all hell broke loose

The girl in the posh soap shop put her right arm out, palm flat in my face, and shouted: ‘Stand back! Step away from me now if you are going to remove your mask!’ I had been advancing on the Vetiver handwash, having failed to make myself clear through my mask to the assistant in her mask that this was what I wanted to buy and, being prevented from picking it up myself as the shop had a no-touch policy, I was driven to the brink of lawlessness. ‘Vetiver!’ I had begun pleading through my face mask as the girl lifted the wrong product off the shelves, over and over

It is time to fight for the future of racing

Fortunately for me and the politicians we entertained over my years covering the darkest profession, Mrs Oakley didn’t do a Sasha Swire and keep a gloriously indiscreet diary. Indeed her rule was that politicians who came to our house and talked only about themselves didn’t get invited a second time, a test that was frequently failed. The Swires’s guests, especially the Cameroons, seem to have talked about nothing else. But Mrs Oakley can on occasion do the Swire sardonical. As our young flatcoat retriever, who longs to grow wings, disappeared over the horizon last weekend in pursuit of an indignant partridge, a one in three gradient loomed and I puffed

The lunacy of customer service in the time of Covid

‘Please be aware there is now a Covid surcharge,’ I told the builder boyfriend one morning, as we discussed the bills. ‘I have carried out a risk assessment in accordance with government guidelines and I’m afraid I need to pass on the cost of the personal protection equipment I now need. Please also be aware that, as of this month, you will be required to register to be with me by downloading the app.’ He ignored me, of course. There is no one to whom I can pass on the cost of everyone else passing on the cost of Covid to me. It started with the dentist. I rang up

Dear Mary: What can I do about fellow passengers who won’t wear face masks?

Q. On my way to Devon recently I stopped for lunch with an impeccably mannered friend. He produced first crab meat, then smoked salmon with a delicious salad of avocado, lettuce etc. Halfway through I noticed he had four or five prawns on his plate and I had none. As prawns are one of my favourite foods I vocalised my disappointment. He was mortified but could not transfer any prawns to my plate for fear of coronavirus. Should I have kept my mouth shut, Mary?— E.S., Ripe, Sussex A. No, but you could have proceeded differently. You might have set your host at his ease by gushing: ‘Oh you haven’t

Mary Wakefield

The dismal rise of the modern elopement

I didn’t realise how attached I was to the traditional British wedding — the whole messy, pricey, drunken business — until I discovered it was under threat. The new fashion is for elopement, just the happy couple, one or two friends and a photographer, all perched on the edge of some picturesque cliff or on a mountain top. It makes sense while we’re all social distancing, but I suspect the elopement trend is set to continue — and I think it’s dismal. I first saw the signs when I asked a friend what he was up to this Saturday. ‘Oh, I’m just off to an elopement,’ he said. My immediate

Dear Mary: Where should we seat wedding guests who hold unfashionable views?

Q. Our daughter is going ahead with her wedding despite the restriction on guest numbers. Although it is a relief not to have to worry about (and pay for) the 150 people originally expected, another problem arises when the numbers are so limited that guests cannot get away from each other. We want to have five tables of six at the reception, but many of our older guests hold unfashionable views and would be incapable of self-censorship. Looking at all possible variants of the seating plan, I can see no way of sidestepping some incendiary juxtapositions. Some of the young guests are especially intolerant of diversity of opinions, and I

The return to ‘normal life’ is going to be fiendishly complex

Welcome to C Day – where the ‘C’ stands for the ‘complexity’ of living with coronavirus. Because when the prime minister announces the return to something like normal living today, our revised way of life will feel anything but normal, and also bloomin’ complicated. For example, we’ll be able to have friends or family inside our houses again. But NOT friends and family from different households at any one time, just those from one household at a time. And we won’t be allowed to hug, and we can continue to socialise with up to five people from different households if we are outside. And if we live alone and we

When will the two-metre rule go?

The Tory parliamentary party is in a febrile mood. As I say in the Times on Saturday, the two-metre rule has become a particular focus of MPs ire. It is now symbolic for them of a cautious approach to lockdown easing, which they fear could lead to the UK having one of the slowest economic recoveries, as well as one of the worst death tolls, in Europe. Optimists in government are confident that the two-metre rule will be gone by the time that pubs and restaurants reopen on the 4 July. Interestingly, the guidance to those establishments that will be given the go-ahead to resume then doesn’t emphasise the two-metre rule. But

Our first outing to the beach was ruined by angry two-metre-ites

We went on our first outing, to the beach at Littlehampton, but I’m not sure it was as stress-relieving as it could have been. We kept getting into trouble with the two-metre-ites. These are the people who are using the two metre rule as an excuse to be damnably rude. We packed a picnic and put the spaniels in the car with our beach mats and swimming things. We stopped at the filling station in Dorking to pump up a tyre and as the builder boyfriend saw to that, I went into the shop and got myself into trouble. I picked out some goodies to add to our picnic —

The joy of pumping iron at 83

Gstaad So the days — and months — drift by. This once peaceful Alpine town is packed with rich refugees fleeing the you-know-what. They come from nearby cities crammed with real migrants. There isn’t an empty apartment left, and the locals are raking it in. Two good friends have died, the village is supposed to be locked down, but God awful bikers are everywhere. Yes, they are biking down the middle of narrow paths which makes it impossible to keep your distance from them. What boggles the mind is the mentality of the morons who refuse to practise social distancing. The hotels, clubs and restaurants are shut, so surely they

This pandemic is showing us for who we really are

The spaniel curled up in her basket with one of my shoes, one of his socks and a packet of biscuits, as if stockpiling. Every time I give her a treat she rushes outside to dig it into the garden. Tucking some essential treasures into her bed with her, she peeped back at me with soulful eyes. Cydney is sensitive. She knows something is up. The other spaniel, big, bear-like Poppy, is oblivious. She’s happy so long as the routine continues. We don’t see people at the best of times. We go to the field in the morning to feed the horses, come back, mooch about the house and garden.

Police must be flexible when enforcing social distancing rules

One recognises the need for firm rules about social distancing and other measures to control the coronavirus spread; but one should also recognise the need to keep things going. We rightly hail the NHS workers. We should also applaud the tremendously efficient businesses which continue to supply grocers’ shops and pharmacies. Given the difficulties and sudden demands, I am amazed by how well these markets are holding up. What on earth would Covid-19 have been like if it had arrived in pre-internet days? The authorities should themselves recognise difference of circumstances and adjust the rules accordingly as things change over the coming weeks.  Take the construction industry. It is obvious

Dear Mary: Can my marriage survive my husband working from home?

Q. Our son and his girlfriend have announced their engagement and we are delighted with his choice. Our problem is with what I regard as the misjudged tone of hilarity among some friends, many of whom we have not heard from for years, who have telephoned to congratulate us. It’s the emphasis on how clever our son has been and how thrilled we must be — the subtext being ‘because you’re all such snobs’ — which rankles. Yes, it’s a fact that our future daughter-in-law is a member of the aristocracy and has a bit of cash — but our son is, by any standards, an exceptional young man. Moreover,

Rory Sutherland

The trick that will let you have a conference call from your home phone

For the past 12 years, Roger Alton and I have shared this half page like Box and Cox: he writes fortnightly about sport and I write fortnightly about technology. Normally it would be Roger’s turn this week to cover sport. Unfortunately there isn’t any. So we’ve reached an agreement. For now, while there’s no longer any sport, I may write a little more frequently about technology. Then, in six months’ time, if there’s no longer any technology, Roger can write more frequently about the newly popular sports: bare-knuckle pugilism, dog-fighting and Mad Max-style steel-cage jousting. He could even throw in some nostalgic pieces recalling the golden age of football, when

Douglas Murray

In this strange new world, where do we find purpose?

Perhaps we are at least past the beginning of this crisis. The phase where the hunt for multipacks of loo-rolls briefly became the national sport. Now we are into the second, perhaps even less glorious stage, in which we all have to sit in our solitude and hope that the storm blows over us. And if this passivity is the great demand of our generation — a demand that brings its own ironies — then now is a good time to ask the question: ‘How do we spend our time well?’ The question is one we ought to ask more throughout our lives. But the truth is that most of