The horrifying coverage of the race protests in the US have had a personal edge as my daughter lives just three miles away from where George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. Anna gives me the detail that the TV coverage misses. The feeling of what itâ€™s like to live under curfew in a city where shops have been boarded up or set on fire, where barbed-wire barricades are the new normal and where 50 national guard personnel carriers have been parked up just outside her local coffee shop. I know this isnâ€™t about her as she never fails to remind me. It isnâ€™t Anna who is getting killed by the police or being regularly stopped and searched but I canâ€™t help worrying about her. She has also volunteered at the local food bank and I couldnâ€™t be more proud of the way she is trying to give something back to her adopted city. Though, she wonâ€™t thank me for saying so. Iâ€™m also amazed by my 96-year-old mother. The care home where she lives has been under lockdown, so she has been allowed no visits from my sisters or me for the last three months. A few weeks ago, we got the news we had all been dreading. My mother had tested positive for the coronavirus and none of us knew if we would ever see her again. Telephone calls became both more banal and laden with meaning as I tried to say the things I wanted to say without worrying her even more. Today, though, we got the astonishing news that my mother has now tested negative. She survived countless air raids and being machine-gunned by a Messerschmidt in the war and now she has beaten the coronavirus. Iâ€™m beginning to think sheâ€™s indestructible. Thereâ€™s clearly something special in the Crace women genes.
Itâ€™s getting increasingly hard to write satire. A few weeks ago, I wrote as a joke that one of the reasons Boris Johnson may have been late to introduce lockdown measures was because he didnâ€™t want to have to cancel Carrie Symondsâ€™s baby shower at Chequers. Now Private Eye is reporting that this indeed may have been the case. But it never once occurred to me that MPs would today be spending over 90 minutes in a queue that wound round Westminster Hall and back into Portcullis House to vote to deny at least 100 of their fellow MPs the chance to take part in future votes. To add to the sense of the surreal, the government had chosen to make Jacob Rees-Moggâ€™s absurd change to parliamentary procedure â€“ the hybrid participation and electronic voting system had worked perfectly well in the months before recess â€“ into a three-line whip even though the new measures were in direct contravention of its message to the rest of the country to continue working from home wherever possible. Opposition MPs got visibly more pissed off the longer the farce went on, but what was also remarkable was how many Tory MPs managed to slow things up by not being able to master the basics of saying their name and how they were voting at the dispatch box. Stephen Crabb managed the unique double of first going to the no side to shout â€œAyeâ€ before moving sideways to say â€œNoâ€ as he went through the aye lobby. If I was an opposition MP, I would be forcing as many divisions as possible in a day just to highlight the waste of time and absurdity. After several days of queueing in the rain, many Tories will be starting to have murderous thoughts towards Rees-Mogg and Johnson.
I am suffering a strange kind of brain fade while watching TV at the moment. Last week, the Walter of Channel 4â€™s Walter Presents series was on Radio 4â€™s Front Row listing some of his favourite European crime and thriller series. He gave a special mention to the Swedish drama Before We Die, so my wife and I made a note to start watching it. Right from the opening credits, it was immediately apparent to me that I had already seen it some years before, but the weird thing was I just couldnâ€™t remember anything about it even though it was simultaneously entirely familiar. What happens is, that as each scene develops I suddenly remember precisely what is going to occur in the next one but nothing about how it will continue thereafter. We are now more than halfway through and I am still clueless about who will be alive or dead at the end of each episode â€“ let alone at the the end of the series. The best way I can describe, it is like watching a football match in which I know precisely what will happen in the next 20 seconds â€“ who will pass to whom etc â€“ but have no idea of the gameâ€™s dynamics or final score. This has never happened to me before. Itâ€™s somehow unnerving. Which is probably why my favourite current programme in lockdown is Springwatch. I could watch beavers, storks, moths and ospreys doing nothing very much for hours on end safe in the knowledge that the next 30 seconds are almost certainly going to be like the previous 30 seconds.
Given the likely major recession brought on both by the governmentâ€™s Â£500bn coronavirus bailout plan and the highest rate of unemployment in generations â€“ not to mention Boris Johnsonâ€™s weird obsession with a no-deal Brexit â€“ itâ€™s hard to see how many previous spending commitments are going to go ahead. Yet next year, HS2 will set to work tunnelling 13 miles under the Chilterns as part of the London to Birmingham route â€“ no one is counting on the Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester ever being completed â€“ and the construction company has just launched a local competition to decide the name of the two purpose-built 2000 tonnes boring machines which is about to leave the factory. In order to avoid the embarrassment of having to choose the hot favourite of Borey McBoreyface, HS2 has limited the options down to just three: Cecilia, after Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, a Buckinghamshire astronomer and astrophysicist; Florence, after Florence Nightingale; and Marie after Marie Curies. Fair to say though that this has not gone down well with Chilterns locals upset about having their neck of the woods turned into a building site. Under a story in the regional paper about the competition, several readers left their own suggestions about what the boring machines should be called. JJJ wrote: â€œNone of those names are appropriate, rather Intruder, Decimator or Black Hole.â€ Saiph was more blunt still: â€œGiven the way that HS2 are invading and destroying British citizensâ€™ property, how about Hitler McMoneypit and Goebbels McMoneypit.â€ Below the line comments appear to have been switched off soon afterwards.
I feel I should bring you some closure on my friend Kevin, whose adventures in the coronavirus testing system â€“ a month on and no sign whether the â€œunclearâ€ result applied to the first or second test with the other one having gone missing â€“ have left him uncertain if he is now in the clear or technically dead. He has now received an email from the testing company to say that though they have lost track of his test results, they havenâ€™t lost track of his enquiry about his lost results and are pleased to have assigned him a case reference number. In the meantime they have asked him to let them know if his concern related to his missing swab tests â€“ what else did they imagine it was about? â€“ and the results did miraculously turn up then could he please let them know as it would save them the bother of not being able to locate them themselves. The email came from Olivia, who described her occupation as â€œpatient experience officerâ€. The word â€œpatientâ€ was doing a lot of heavy lifting. There again, no part of the governmentâ€™s test-and-trace system that was supposed to be central to its plans for easing lockdown regulations on Monday appeared to be functioning properly. After minimal training, many of the 25,000 contact tracers have appeared to have next to nothing to do and the Guardian has now seen internal documents suggesting nothing much will improve until September at the earliest. All of which has left me thinking that I am no longer going to rely on the government as a safe source of advice and will be maintaining my own lockdown measures that are entirely based on what other European countries were insisting on about six weeks previously as their handling of the crisis has been so much better than our own. Only yesterday, Grant Shapps made it compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport from 15 June. Thanks to my having followed Spanish guidelines, I have been doing so for the last two months.
Digested week: The Mogg conga