Monday, 3 August 2020

ARE WE THERE YET?

No, this is our pause.

First of all the good news.

We are taking August off. Time to recharge. Learn to read copiously and properly. Walk a lot. Travel (close to home.) Sleep properly. And, sorry, a month free of blogs. ‘Thank God’ I hear you mutter.
But before we go a few reflections.

No, my dears, we are not I’m afraid there yet. Not even close. “The most precious things in speech are pauses”.  said Ralph Richardson. This is our pause.


The news from here, all over the world and specifically continental Europe is depressing. Covid 19 became Covid 20 and is looking as though it’ll become Covid 21. Ernst and Young, the management consultants and accountants and who employ 270,000 people (what on earth do they all do? How many will still be in employment when this is all over?) are predicting that it’ll be 2024 before the economy recovers to 2019 levels. And I think that finger-in-the-air guess is probably optimistic. So what?

Our lives for too long have been governed by expressions like “factory gate prices”, “underlying levels of unemployment”, “Gross Domestic Product”, “Consumer Price Index,” “Oligopoly” and so on. The redoubtable Nassim Taleb hates economists because he says they are always wrong and always sound as if they’re always right.


The truth is that until this virus is conquered and we have set up defences against the next ones, ‘normal’ and ‘growth’ are going to be for the history books. It’s not as though ‘normal’ was that great. We were heading to hell in a BMW as our activities were overheating everything, not least the planet. Today even climate-change sceptics seem to be grudgingly observant of how the lack of gratuitous pollution seems to have been beneficial.

I have been reading a splendid new book about my favourite place called “Venice Odyssey” by Neal E. Robbins. Helped by a series of interviews with local luminaries he examines what it is that makes Venice unique and what’s destroying it. His findings give us plenty of things to consider and lessons to learn ourselves.


Like the need to move more slowly. Venice is a walking city. Walking is the future. Like the need to root out and eliminate financial corruption which in 2014 led to six prosecutions there and dozens of plea bargains with a combined jail sentence of just under 100 years. Like the need to apply common sense by eliminating the 10 storey cruise-ships (Covid will surely have seen the back of these anyway, their being, as we know, monster petri-dishes for the virus). Like cleaning up the environment and respecting eco-balance. Like investing in new technologies and learning (Venice has over 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students). Like trying to sustain and develop culture and the arts…a struggle in the face of mass-tick-box tourism.

Robbins knows his stuff but more than that he really feels the hidden pulse of Venice. His book looks full in the face of the potential disaster facing the city but concludes the dying embers of magic there are too special and loved to extinguish.

So it is with us. 

Rather than fight the situation we shall be better off and more likely to create the new world we could and should make if we relax into understanding our own possibilities. It’s unlikely that air travel as we knew it will ever recover to previous levels or that package holidays will be as cheap or plentiful or that poor restaurants will survive – so far 16,000 have closed due to Covid. The demise of money has been accelerated. Home delivery has become a norm. The High Street is being completely reshaped. Old, unhygienic, poor and cramped anything will like rotting teeth be removed.


So that’s a new world. Much more hygienic, airy and congenial. More gardens. More style. Less speed (HS2? 5G? Are we really serious about those?) Remember the slow-movement in Italy – their counter to fast food. More audience-friendly, social distanced theatres like Chichester, like the Prince of Wales in London. An investment in new film and TV drama. A surge towards the arts – long overdue. Education refocusing on stuff other than just maths – history, geography, art, drama – mind-broadening stuff.


I was reading EM Forster’s ‘Two Cheers for Democracy’ and his wonderful essay on Julius Caesar which he’d seen performed, in part, in a primary school, not done very well (of course not but done with gusto) which ended with the very un-Shakespearian couplet. 
“So that is it. Our play is done.  
We hope that you’ve had lots of fun.”  

Sorry this has been so long. Until September. I hope that you have lots of fun.                                                                                                                                                              

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