Late Life Crisis - June 2020

White legs. Despite the balmy weather I resisted the temptation to get the shorts on for going outside (approved exercise only). I have been against the grain for many years. In Crouch End the chaps always got the shorts on in March as soon as a sunny Saturday emerged, irrespective of temperature outside. More recently shorts have been appropriate even in winter, worn with a puffa jacket. That is apparently fashion, and the fact I don't get it is immaterial.

So I finally relented, and got the shorts on for exercise walks in what London can manage for pastoral space. I don't want to give the wrong impression: I would not do a daytime summer outing in Europe wearing a three-piece suit. But it has seemed different to get the shorts on in the UK. In said gear I agreed to have my photo taken. The product was as terrifying as I feared it would be. 

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Before we even implement the quarantine restrictions there is talk of air bridges to enable exceptions to the rules. I don't know if you can have a U turn before you go into the U. More worrying is that the difficulty for this country in setting up these structures is not what is acceptable to us for somewhere else to be a qualifying country, but how far we qualify for another country. Our Covid 19 infection rates are not going down fast, our death stats are still frightening, and no amount of sage (sorry for pun) explanations from Chris or Patrick on measurement approaches can shift the perception that we are a problem nation.

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It has been pointed out that if you ask a contact tracer as to who has nominated you, they will refuse to give the information. This appears to give great opportunity to secure revenge on anyone who has slighted you in the past. But of course you won't, as you know that Moralistic Matt would not consider this as discharging your civic duty.

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The problem above would not occur if the "app" were working effectively. But clearly there are problems in the trial. How we have a Boris approved world-beating track and trace system at the beginning of June, I do not know. 

So what then is going on in the Isle of Wight? We can fantasise about this strange community. If we go into the local convenience store there, will we find a swivel eyed Steve Pemberton or Reece Shearsmith refusing to serve us? We must surely feel sympathy for the guinea-pig Wightians. They thought that living there would give them some separation from the mad world of the mainland. I suspect that Dom had the map out, disappointed that a sod off Europe island did not not have much by way of islands of its own. Plenty up in Scotland. but the wretched Nicola does her own thing there. Isle of Man? Dom is advised that it is a self-governing British Crown dependency, and even for the great change agent a bit of an ask to dismantle its governance in order to impose the trial. Isle of Wight - perfect, and with the family being oop North they will not be inconvenienced.

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The illustrator Quentin Blake is 87. The filmmaker Woody Allen is 84. In the last week I have been reading articles covering them. Ok with Allen you can't discuss him without being aware of past behaviour clouding over his head. But leaving that aside, what defines them seems to be a sense of purpose, Blake with his art, Allen with his films. I am not yet staring into the abyss of life decisions led by whether you have a plain or digestive biscuit for your afternoon tea, as served on the low table alongside your armchair in your corner of the Sunnyside Care Home lounge. But I can see the dangers of passivity where not unavoidably induced by physical or mental conditions. 

I suggest that we would all like to have a purpose. The purpose may not be as grand or as publicly recognised as for Blake or Allen. That doesn't matter. It could be caring for grandchildren, or looking after a garden (if you are lucky to have one), or getting into an author you don't know well, or reading a newspaper in depth (preferably one that includes items that go against your world view), or anything else you can think of that would be relevant. The point is that you do not allow yourself to be defined by your age.

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BTW, Donald Trump is 74 this month. I doubt that he will be trumpeting the fact that until November he will be only three years younger than doddery Joe Biden.

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I have tired of the 5pm press conference. The Government seems to have tired of it too: the weekend briefings are now dropped, and Ministers present the charts with a cursory expression of condolence on the deaths. That last one has got us desensitised, except where we pass another milestone: "Audrey! Covid deaths down from 347 yesterday to 317 today. Can you make me a cup of tea while you are in the kitchen?" At the Friday one, Mr Pink Tie did a one-man show. Only when Boris appears does he have to be flanked by Chris and Sir Patrick, rather like Malfoy (also blond) needing his henchmen Crabbe and Goyle. That of course is a gross disservice to the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser. It probably is also a gross disservice to Boris, who (now verified through reports of his BMI on entering hospital) is more Bunter than bounder. It looks like the scientific/medical experts are increasingly uncomfortable about being paraded like patsies to give a false impression of utter convergence between scientific and political thinking on Covid 19.

In fact I think we are tired of Covid 19. That is not to downplay its seriousness, simply to suggest a sense of weariness. This is partly as there is little other news that the media think should be pushed up the agenda. Melvyn Bragg summed it up well: "Groundhog Day is every day. The virus consumes news and drowns out all other conversation." We need a distraction. Cue Brexit? It is biding its time, but when it does intermittently surface and we hear that M. Barnier says that our Government is being intransigent, we are grateful that Pandora only opened the box a teeny weeny bit before slamming it shut. I wonder from where relief will appear. It could be with the return of live sport.

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A correspondent on my Instagram posts pictures most days. They are interesting pictures, but are primarily there to promote a new London-related book. A couple of days ago the person posted 22 pictures on one day. I have now done whatever is the Instagram equivalent of snoozing someone on Facebook. I judge that the 22 posts amounted to counter-productive marketing. 

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The Scottish Sun has reported a statue being targeted in Glagow by Black Lives Matters protesters.The incumbent is Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. The worst that has happened to him previously has been a traffic cone placed periodically on his head as a bit of fun. Where to next for a figure popularly known as a great military leader, but targeted now on account of his aggressive actions in India during the height of the British Empire? Closer to home in London there are statues of Wellington outside the Royal Exchange in the City and on the northern Hyde Park Corner. With the very proximate presence of the City of London Police I would not give the protesters much chance with the Royal Exchange one; however, I would be less confident about the fate of the one that stands near to Speaker's Corner.

These comments do not trivialise the broader debate that has been erupting. All I would say at this moment is that if responses to slavery reflect ripples from a pebble thrown in a pool, then extending slavery out to colonialism is like a modest meteorite landing in the Mediterranean.

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I seriously doubt that you can have all children back at schools and somehow pretend that the two metre rule can be followed. I wonder if the Government thinks that a school is some form of Tardis. For schools with the space, might there have been investment in temporary buildings? Perhaps a trip to Port Acabin would not be as exciting as going abroad for a holiday, but there will be desperate consequences if all children are not soon back into education. 

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Here's an experiment to do at home if you share the home with someone else. Get a tape measure and mark out two metres. Stand face-to-face. There is definite separation, is there not? Now reduce the distance to one metre. Stand opposite each other again. How does that feel? Fairly close, I submit. And that's the problem. Laws have to be enforceable. PC Plod is not going to intervene in any environment to point out that the gap between two people is only 0.8 metres. For good or ill, moving to one metre is effectively the end of social distancing. 

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Andrew Banks, a supposed Tottenham Hotspur supporter, has been jailed for 14 days for urinating by the side of a memorial to PC Keith Palmer. In mitigation, his counsel said that he had mental health issues. Unkind Arsenal fans will say that this comes from being a Spurs supporter. Others will conclude that if he (as per BBC report) had drank 16 pints on Friday night into Saturday morning and had without sleep travelled into central London to "protect statues" but did not know which statues, then he must have problems.

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It appears that Germany is already recovering well economically from Covid 19. The country has previous for coming back from a dire economic position. It may pain some to admit it, but it appears that once again we have lessons to learn from the Germans. 

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Boris says that there will be a racial equality commission. Dom says kick the issue into touch big time.

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On a retail park outing to Homebase I saw crowds waiting to get into T K Maxx and J D Sports. The cruel thought occurred to me that these brave people queuing are blazing a Covid 19 resurgence test trail for those of us who are not queueing. Of course Boris is also blazing a trail by making a one-off publicity visit to a shopping centre and then exhorting us to get shopping. For some inexplicable reason I find myself unmoved by our leader's rhetoric.

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Well done footballer Marcus Rashford (Government U turn on free school meal vouchers). Just before the U turn the BBC's Assistant Political Editor Norman Smith astutely commented that a quiet dignified intervention by a young man of Mr Rashford's celebrity status - he is of course also black - would terrify the Downing Street spin machine as it is so difficult to fight back against it.

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Football's coming back, or coming home, or something like that. On the evening of 17 June there is a starter of Aston Villa v Sheffield United, followed by the main course of Manchester City v Arsenal. We are told that players will not be allowed to celebrate goals by forming an orgiastic pile by a corner flag. We are also told that they will not be allowed to get up close and personal and remonstrate with the referee. That latter act of self-discipline will be a test for these impressionable young men. Will they truly be able to take a decision in the way that professional rugby players do? The lame traditional excuse is that there is so much to play for that the players cannot be blamed, even though I cannot think, leaving aside VAR, of the last time in the Premier League when a referee, surrounded by a mob of aggressive complaining players, did a U turn. 

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And the result of Aston Villa v Sheffield United was....a nil-nil draw. But thank God for an "incident". Ball possibly carried over line by goalkeeper. This becomes a "talking point" after the game. Haven't we missed it all so much.

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The statues controversy makes some of us wonder whether we ought to have worked harder on our (in my case) "O" Level history. Although we would not have been taught a lot of stuff that has now emerged. In my class around 17 out of 25 of us got Grade As. Our history master, who was effectively demeaning himself by teaching at this level, dismissed our curriculum as "chicken feed".

On statues, I'm with David Olusoga.. For anyone interested, the subject could do with proper reading around, although most do not have time for that. If you live in London, at some time when it re-opens go to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Here, for example you can see a section of a typical slave ship and can pick out the number of people crammed in. While studying on my Historical Research Masters I got - lucky me - a curator tour of the section containing this piece, We stood, we listened, and we found nothing that we could say.

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Public figures from the past are scrutinised for deficiencies in their character. Outside the BBC in Portland Place is a statue of George Orwell. Orwell the scourge of totalitarianism. If we dig in can we find anything juicy? Sure. Here is Orwell (from his essay Marrackech) on how difficult it is in empire to believe you are walking amongst human beings:

"All colonial empires are founded on that fact. The people have brown faces - besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects?"

I detected no irony when I read that passage. The essay was written in 1939, so not that far away from the time of Churchill's much quoted statements on ethnicity. Scurrilous racism? A debit by today's standards in Orwell's ledger of life, set alongside the credits?

And now to our leaders. Politicians of colour appear in public and set out their stall. In our toxic world, can anyone give a view without being attacked back? Take Adimbola "Bim" Afolami . He is a Conservative MP. He does a radio interview. You hear the voice immediately as cut-glass public school. Looking him up, you see that his father is a Nigerian-born NHS consultant. Bim was educated at Eton and Oxford. Does that disqualify him from speaking on behalf of black minorities? Jolly good that we have an Asian Chancellor of the Exchequer. But he was Head Boy at Winchester (would we feel more comfortable with the son of a bus driver, on that ground alone?). Priti Patel is attacked by an Afro-Caribbean MP for talking about the abuse she received as an Asian, on grounds that she cannot talk for the black experience. All demonstrating that there is no collective BAME group as such, and worse that ethnic groups may fight each other to the detriment of such common cause as there is.

The matter of statues is not unimportant, but it clouds what really matters, that is equality of opportunity. If, as has been suggested, 17% of the UK prison population is black, but only 3% of the UK population is black, we have to ask why that is so. Someone from Daily Mail land may say that this demonstrates that black people are more likely to commit crime, thus in turn justifying what otherwise appears to be disproportionate Police attention towards the black community. But you can't go there without asking why in percentage terms the black prison population is so high. If you are there now, start to think about what might make a change in creating greater long-term opportunity for young black people. I reckon that you quickly come to education. "Education, education, education". Tony Blair said that - he set it out in his three priorities for government. In 1997. And so, with all the well-cited enquires and reports since then, we ponder on what has changed for the better for the black community.

Faced with one of the hottest of hot potatoes, the Government has done the safe thing - order another enquiry. Even if something useful comes out of that, it leaves other challenging issues in the ethnicity arena, amongst them the popularly voiced view that Asian parents are typically more aspirational for their children than Afro-Caribbean parents, and the issue of white underprivileged families, the so-called left behinds. For Governments, it's tough at the top.

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The commentator Matthew Parris has dismissed Boris Johnson as a shallow opportunist with a minor talent to amuse. No more clearly has this been evidenced than in Prime Minister's Questions, where he struggles to cope with Keir Starmer's questions. Starmer may not be charismatic, but he is incisive; Johnson resorts to stuttering bluster, repeating initial non-answers and in desperation treating holding of the Government to account as unhelpful attacks on the administration. But increasingly now Johnson resorts to cod legal language, blurting out phrases such as "m'learned friend" and "your witness". It ought to have been Oscar Wilde who said "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". It appears not to have been his work, but the quotation is apposite. Oh, and I doubt if BoJo would have had the assiduousness to make it in either branch of the profession.

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"One metre plus, with mitigations". I hate to think how much Downing Street spends on its Comms machine. Surely they could have come up with something better than that. As a lawyer I get "mitigation": the convicted person's counsel pleads in mitigation for a shorter sentence as the defendant has a family to support; a person with a contractual entitlement to damages must mitigate their loss ie not deliberately make the damage worse. Maybe Boris, as a scholar of Ancient Greek,  just likes that it is all Greek to the average citizen.

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On the Today programme the sports presenters know their place, that is subservience to the main presenter galacticos. On a recent edition, galactico Justin Webb doggedly upheld the generational divide by referring to "taping" a programme he had missed. The sports presenter Gary Richardson, who has seen a few presenter galacticos in his time, did a dry throwaway musing on whether Webb would be using Betamax. Luckily for the latter, it was time to move on before he could respond.

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Do you, like me, have snapshot moments in your mind of past scenes in your life? Ok, let's aim off of the not so nice ones. Some years back, when I was important enough to receive the benefit of corporate hospitality jollies, I was at Henley for a midsummer evening's concert. We sat by the banks of the Thames listening to an orchestra presenting popular classics. It felt magical, but has now been superseded. I was, as is the fashion, walking over a bridge on Hampstead Heath, returning from an early evening picnic. There was a murmuring sound from about a hundred metres away on the other side of the lake below. In the encircling fading of dusk it was just about possible to pick out a figure, and after a moment of getting one's ear in I realised that I was listening to a saxophone. If the saxophonist was a busker - there was a path behind - then they could do with some sales consultancy as this was not an optimal pitch and certainly not an optimal time of day for performance. That might mean - God forbid - that they were largely playing for themselves, not aware that up on the bridge was a bloke enjoying this beautiful experience. I wonder if post pandemic we will appreciate more snapshot moments like this - the busker at dusk.

And in case any of this feels a touch lyrical for the sort of stuff I write, it was good to appreciate the moment knowing that the mozzies were not (yet - it can only be a matter of time with climate change) encircling. 

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