The sad loss of our common rituals

29 May

This coming Sunday is Whitsun, the feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit to Christ’s disciples, fifty days after Easter. Wait, is that right? Wasn’t Easter Sunday more than seven weeks ago? If you have any real sense of what ‘seven weeks’ actually means in this strange season, when days and weeks are all […]

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Why the Zoom gloom has set in

27 May

As the theologian Paul Tillich defined the distinction, loneliness is the pain of being alone, solitude is the glory of being alone. Both solitude and socialising can be enjoyable when we have the freedom to choose; impose either condition and it gets old fast. The 19 percent of Britons self-sequestering solo no doubt long for […]

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The day my Mum Bluetooth crashed

21 May

When my daughter arrived by emergency C-section, I was smashed on morphine. Even so, holding her felt like the most natural thing in the world. After nine months of literal symbiosis with her, the fact that she was now outside my body didn’t diminish that in the slightest. It was like we had some kind […]

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Can the uni experience survive Covid-19?

20 May

The coronavirus attacks individuals, but also institutions. When I walk through St Andrews, where I’ve lived for 35 years, I think sadly of the small family businesses that will never reopen. I look at the ancient university, which should now be a hive of activity with students rushing to exams or celebrating the end of […]

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Lockdown is a miserable time for parents

20 May

Under lockdown, society starts to fissure along all its old divisions. Haves versus have-nots, young versus old. And then the bitterest divide of all: those with children versus those without, two tribes that seem to regard each other with deepest incomprehension and fury under the common suffering of pandemic. But the kingdom of the parents […]

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The ‘war on drugs’ will never be won

19 May

The image was startling in its brazenness and simplicity. The convicted Mexican drug cartel head Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is in a maximum security prison in the US, but his daughter, Alejandrina Guzmán, is using the family business and name to distribute free care packages to desperate residents suffering under the Covid-19 lockdown. El Chapo […]

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Covid has left me alone with my monster

18 May

Alcoholism is a strange condition: a kind of obsessive self-mutilation with thoughts. The drinking itself is almost incidental: medicine to treat the thoughts until you learn, if you are lucky, that it doesn’t work and never will. Alcohol is not available to me — I am sober almost 20 years — but there are other […]

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The hypocrisy of safetyism

15 May

I moved to California last summer. There is a steep hill near my house, an open preserve where I regularly go for hikes. There are features of the trail that appear to have been added to make the course more interesting for mountain bikers: huge jumps and banked curves that flow nicely together. On my […]

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Lockdown ‘relaxation’ is nothing of the sort

14 May

It’s hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for the parliamentary draftsman whose desk the Coronavirus Regulations job landed on. The Explanatory Memorandum to Wednesday’s amending Statutory Instrument naturally offers more by way of obfuscation than explanation. But there, slipped in on page four after some guff about how “these amendments respond to new issues, […]

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How travel narrows the mind

14 May

This morning I received an email from Ryanair, describing the precautions they have put in place to deal with Covid-19. Far from reassuring, these precautions indicate what an even more miserable business flying is going to become. On top of all the usual indignities of flying — the cramped conditions, the endless waiting around in […]

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We should be very wary of the R value

12 May

At the end of last week, you may have seen some rather scary news: the R value, the average number of people infected by each person who has Covid-19, had gone back up. Professor John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine appeared before the Science and Technology Committee of the House of […]

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Pity the lustful in lockdown

8 May

Pity poor Neil Ferguson. For the past few months he’s been acclaimed — and denounced — as the most influential scientist in the UK. Now he’ll forever be Prof Pantsdown for breaching the lockdown instructions he’d issued to the rest of the nation. Even so, I feel sorry for him. Yes, he’s a total raging […]

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Not every death is a tragedy

7 May

As Britain limps through a sixth week of lockdown, are we all still pretending we can live forever? As the debate about how to defeat coronavirus rages on, I’ve found myself thinking about how my grandmother faced her own death. She was intimately acquainted with mortality. She’d been a doctor and a farmer, and had […]

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Why doesn’t my son matter?

7 May

Today I am tired. The kind of bone-dragging, brain-fogging tired which renders me on the brink of functional. It’s nothing new. Navigating our current culture, and its associated systems with a severely disabled child isn’t exactly energising. But today marks almost exactly six weeks since lockdown began. A whole summer holiday’s worth of time that […]

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Short stories for short attention spans

24 Apr

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, by Jorge Luis Borges Recommended by John Gray This short story tells of the discovery of an encyclopaedia describing an imaginary world that has been invented by a secret society. In Tlon there is only one intellectual discipline: psychology. Physical objects are ideas in the mind; only the floating world of […]

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Lockdown is just a holiday from modernity

22 Apr

Mid-April, and here in rural Kent the lanes are full of bud and blossom, and the green-gold glory that marks the English spring. People from the village are making the most of their daily exercise. On a lunchtime constitutional the other day I saw a fair few locals enjoying the glorious sunshine. When you’re in […]

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What’s the world’s greatest spectator sport?

22 Apr

The first casualty of lockdown, to hear many Zoom-hosted laments, was televised sport — just when men needed it most. Jobs are one thing but without Saturday fixtures, several otherwise sane chaps of my acquaintance began to lose their bearings, their ability to navigate through life at all. But for me, there was one great […]

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What’s the world’s greatest spectator sport?

22 Apr

The first casualty of lockdown, to hear many Zoom-hosted laments, was televised sport — just when men needed it most. Jobs are one thing but without Saturday fixtures, several otherwise sane chaps of my acquaintance began to lose their bearings, their ability to navigate through life at all. But for me, there was one great […]

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Will rural France recover from Covid?

17 Apr

Nobody talks in rural France anymore. We just shuffle silently to our cars, or around Intermarché, where the check-out staff, as well as wearing latex gloves and masks, stand behind the sort of glass screens you get in banks. Should you encounter, by chance, a neighbour, you wave from a distance along the aisle. Assuming, […]

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Carers deserve more than claps

16 Apr

Among the many casualties of lockdown, we can wave goodbye to the myth of “balancing work and family”. Beyond a certain point, parenting and work are mutually exclusive, as one harried QC bluntly recently acknowledged on social media. Many will indeed sympathise with Bridget Dolan QC, whose home-office door declared: “That thing you think you can see […]

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What will you do when lockdown is lifted?

14 Apr

Visit my family Julie Bindel As soon as it safe I will be boarding a train to North East England where I will rush to my mum and dad and wrap my arms around them both. We would have been going on holiday next month and spending precious days together. I moved away from home […]

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Don’t put too much faith in Covid-19 metrics

14 Apr

In this new era, we’re all becoming data nerds, or hobby-level epidemiologists. We’re all suddenly conversant in things like case fatality rates and R0.  It makes for an attractive amateur pastime because lots of the things we are trying to know — such as how many people are infected, or how deadly the disease is […]

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How long will lockdown last?

9 Apr

The Prime Minister is still in intensive care, cabinet ministers and the heir to the throne have been infected and we just suffered the worst-ever daily death count from Covid-19. As we head into a torturously sunny Easter weekend, there seems to be no strategy for getting out of lockdown: immunity testing that once was […]

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Don’t trust the psychologists on coronavirus

31 Mar

Psychologists haven’t had a great few years. First there was the “replication crisis”, which kicked off in about 2011 and involved the gradual realisation that many of our best-known, most-hyped results couldn’t be repeated in independent experiments. Then there were the revelations that the American Psychological Association, one of the field’s most important professional bodies, […]

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