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Ten observations from recent weeks

I am heading towards my third pair of slippers this year but am still wearing the same outdoor shoes I had in January.Much as Covid-19 is unpredictable in its physical effects, so it is also erratic in its economic impact; while certain groups are more vulnerable than others, the financial brunt of lockdown has been…

London marathon on sea

Years ago, I read a poem by the late British writer Adrian Mitchell called ‘On the Beach at Cambridge’. From what I recall, not having been able to put my hands on a copy today, it is set after some, probably manmade, catastrophe that has brought the ocean to the landlocked city of the title,…

Tightening restrictions (or will we get to Cornwall?)

An odd, fragmented time here in the UK. The rule of six came in on 14 September, banning social gatherings of seven or more people (with certain exemptions, including for those hunting or paintballing). As there is no age limit on these rules in England, with everyone from newborn babies upwards counting as people (unlike…

The social dynamics of social distancing

This morning brings the news that lockdown restrictions will be tightened in England following an alarming surge in cases of Covid-19. The aim of the new rules, which feature a ban on social gatherings of more than six people, is, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, to be ‘super simple’ to make it as easy…

The end of summer

Today, in England, it’s the summer bank holiday, the last public holiday before Christmas. Although British Summer Time continues until the clocks go back an hour in October, for many people, this marks the end of the summer break and the point at which we start to turn our attention to the challenges of the…

Best-laid plans: a lesson in chaos theory

There’s an odd provisionality to plans these days. Unlike the dog days of lockdown proper, when it seemed as though time itself had stopped and nobody who didn’t have to was making any commitments that would require them to leave their houses, people are starting to prepare for the future. There’s a difference, though, to…

The resurgence of plastic bags

A while ago, in the halcyon, pre-pandemic days, when the most pressing concerns were Brexit and global warming, I remember having a startling thought: One day soon, I might run out of plastic bags. Way back in the teenties, long before supermarkets started charging for them, I had stopped accepting plastic bags in response to…

A trip to the dentist

This week, I had a dental appointment. At the moment, in the UK, dentists are operating a reduced service. Routine check-ups are on hold, but emergency appointments are available and dentists can use their discretion to see patients who they judge are in need of a consultation. I phoned up my practice last week with…

Hate crime in the age of coronavirus

This weekend, my family and I went to the zoo. My daughter’s at an age where she’s really starting to be interested in animals and it seemed like one of the lowest risk and least stressful attractions we could visit, given that, with the exception of two minutes at the ticket desk, the whole experience…

Broadcasting Covid-19 style

I’m lucky enough to have appeared on BBC Radio 4’s literary-discussion programme Open Book several times. My first two appearances, coinciding with the publication of my non-fiction book Reading the World and debut novel Beside Myself, were exciting affairs. They involved a trip to Broadcasting House in central London, friendly off-mike discussions with star presenters Mariella…

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