Scrapbook: Week 52, 2021

December 25-31…

SATURDAY John Lanchester has an essay in the London Review of Books (LRB) on Covid. In it he illustrates the incompetence of the UK government’s handling of the pandemic by pointing to an example of good practice. Infectious disease on a global scale was an urgent issue ignored by the UK government for many years prior to the outbreak of coronavirus. But…

“In 2003, having learned from the experience of Sars, Wimbledon began paying around £1.5 million a year to insure against the cost of a pandemic. As a result, when Covid hit, the club trousered cheques totalling £174 million to cover the cost of the cancelled 2020 tournament. That is what competent governance looks like. What would the UK response have looked like if the All England Club had been in charge? What would the Wimbledon Number – the death toll assuming competent government – have been?”

John Lanchester, LRB

📌 Our neighbour’s two children, Maya and Nina, delivered our Christmas card last night and it contained this gem…

Tinsel, by Maya and Nina…

📌 A social history of London’s pubs, plus tickets to see The Unthanks in Liverpool. There was no room in the shot for the Japanese kitchen knife.

📌 Got an emergency message from a neighbour, a social worker, requesting a put-up bed for a carer faced with flood damage. We were happy to donate the one we had in the shed.

📌 Boris is stuffed. The lunatic fringe of the Conservative Party have told him to ignore the scientists and let Covid run free.

SUNDAY RIP Desmond Tutu, 90.

📌 Nick Cohen attempts to describe the chaos that now sits at the heart of government in terms of the gradual disintegration of Conservative Party thinking.

They have dissolved into an extremist rabble that is contorted by magical thinking, heresy hunts, fits of temper and doctrinal spasms.

Nick Cohen, the Observer

📌 While watching the dopey detective in the Christmas Special of Death in Paradise my wife reminded me about the time, early in our courtship, when I was the victim of a drive-by egging while walking home from the pub in Surrey Docks, south London. The black leather biker jacket I was wearing, sold to me for £35 by an American music journalist who claimed it once belonged to a Ramone, was crusty with dried yolk for weeks afterwards.

MONDAY In its report about the man with a crossbow arrested on Christmas Day at Windsor Castle, the Guardian refers to a previous attempt on The Queen’s life, by a half-witted cabbie: “The Uber driver tried to use his satnav to get there, but managed to go to a pub called Windsor Castle instead.”

📌 I caught the tail-end of a story saying Joan Smith was in trouble again on social media for pointing out the difference between sex and gender. She doesn’t want gender-spectrum directives to be so permissive as to allow rapists to walk into the Ladies toilet. My investigations revealed that globally there is still too much confusion as to what is male/female, masculine/feminine. I was secretly hoping in my endeavours to discover a little-known dissertation by a Sussex University student applying the gender-fluidity arguments to French and Spanish (Amigo, Amiga, Amige?), but only got as far as what the UK’s Office for National Statistics has to say on the matter.

📌 “Ta-ta Tutu” was my wife’s suggested headline for the Desmond Tutu obituary.

📌 Kempt, ruly, wieldy, ept and gruntled sound like a comedy prog-rock band from the 1970s. But they are, according to etymologist Susie Dent, the “orphaned negatives” of unkempt, unruly, disgruntled, etc. They sit alongside a batch of words Dent is determined to bring back to life. And her collection even includes words from overseas. My favourite is the Italian word sprezzatura: “a careless, thrown together nonchalance or indifference to life’s curveballs.” Might make that a mission for 2022.

TUESDAY A united Ireland in my lifetime is a fascinating prospect. In younger years it was always such a remote possibility that I never even dared to think too seriously about it. If Mary Lou McDonald really is “Ireland’s Tony Blair”, then maybe it’s time to start.

📌 Managed to shake ourselves into action and visit the Isamu Noguchi exhibition at the Barbican, which resembles a glorified Habitat window display. I never knew that after Pearl Harbor there was an anti-Japanese “round up the usual suspects” law passed in the US.

Read the Guardian review here…

WEDNESDAY It’s always nice to hear Yanis Varoufakis shoving a radical new argument into an empty space, even if the economic theory gets a bit heavy sometimes. In the Morning Star, he argues for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) paid for by the “techno-feudalist” social media giants. And I admit that I like the idea that every time I knock off a Twitter post, pennies drop into our national UBI fund.

📌 Raheem Sterling is guest editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. His father was murdered when he was 2.

📌 We scheduled to visit an outdoor light show in the heart of the City at 4pm, then discovered it finished on December 22. We went to Marks & Spencer food hall instead.

THURSDAY Jeremy Corbyn is optimistic that the kindness and compassion citizens have shown each other in a time of crisis can be harnessed to forge a better future. In the same breath he is damning of the world leaders who fall short of the mark and manages to tout the kind of socialist internationalism modern Britain has never quite had the stomach for.

📌 Some Welsh and Scottish people are planning to cross the border into England on New Year’s Eve to make the most of Boris’s light-touch Covid rules. The leaders of their own countries have been more stringent in the regulations on partying over the New Year period.

📌 The start of a new system of storing and categorising our old junk is underway. One of the categories is “Need a Bigger House”.

📌 Weird thought of the day is that Boris has gone easy on the festive restrictions because he wants all those who have chosen not to get vaccinated to get Covid. It’s his punishment for those who don’t do as he says.

FRIDAY Someone on Quora asks, “Why does Boris Johnson always look like he just rolled out of bed?” The top answer, written by Ian, who self-identifies as a “polymath”, starts by saying that Boris is playing an elaborate game. Boris is an intellectual colossus, Ian says, who went to Eton on a scholarship – a King’s Scholarship, no less – and only truly exceptional people do that. Ian then reveals how truly brilliant people like Boris (and by implication himself) devise cunning ways to conceal their brilliance from the little people, and the scruffy toff just back from a spiffing night out farting in the faces of homeless people is what Boris has perfected as his main character in the play called Life. Ian then throws a few Latin phrases into his analysis and finishes by congratulating Boris for having done one over on “all the pseuds” who think politics is something to be serious about.

📌 Also on Quora, a desperate person writes: “I accidentally swallowed a button battery. What should I do?” Pedro in Miami, replies: “Call 800–498–8666 immediately. This is the National Battery Ingestion Hotline.”

📌 Psychologists have finally identified “Blah”, which must count as one of the year’s top breakthroughs.

📌 Putting Sam’s Legs into stitch started with the left foot. This is going to be a marathon.

Best foot forward…

📌 At the Royal Academy for the Late Constable exhibition, we exited past a copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper, and you can’t help noticing the crisp folds in the tablecloth and the generic feet beneath.

📌 At Fortnum & Mason’s café I was reminded of my wine teacher’s tip that the sign of a good champagne is small, rapidly ascending bubbles.

At Fortnum & Mason, 31.12.21

📌 The service in Côte tonight was unusually good (it’s normally rubbish), but the silver lining faded when we arrived home to discover that one of the Golden Girls had died, aged 99.

Read all of my scrapbook diaries…

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