I watched the news and there was footage of people queuing outside shops. Not the spread out queues of people in search of groceries we have become used to over the last weeks, but great long snaking queues of people wanting to buy handbags, to browse, maybe buy perfume. I felt like I was watching scenes from another planet. I have never understood the great allure of shopping anyway, but right now I can’t think of anything worse.
So it seems not everyone has (re)discovered a love of nature; not everyone has found themselves reassessing how they have lived their lives pre-pandemic and decided on a new course. I understand that the pressure to return to old habits is huge, but I didn’t think the return would be this fast. Another item on the news was, to me, more positive. It was about how more areas of more towns are to be given over to cyclists and pedestrians, with goods being delivered only between certain hours. That should help lower pollution in our streets.
Another hopeful item was the interview with Patrick Hutchinson and his companions. Hutchinson was photographed carrying a white counter protester, a member of the far right, to safety when things got nasty on Saturday. He is dignified, calm and coherent; a natural spokesman. I’d have preferred it if his companions weren’t all manspreading in their seats, but that was a minor distraction. Maybe we’ll still be living in a society which is crazy about shopping but starts to be more equal. And men will learn to sit with their knees closer together.
I switched to BBC4 after the news to watch David Olusoga presenting the first of a series, Black and British: A Forgotten History. He is so good, and the stories are so powerful. I had no idea the first known established black community in England was in the third century AD, close to Hadrian’s Wall, nor that in C18 it is estimated there were between 10,000 and 15,000 black people in London. Where did they go? asked Olusoga, and then produced the answer – through intermarriage their descendants are white, as is Francis Barber’s great great great great grandson Cedric, who unveiled the plaque to his forebear in Bolt Court outside the house Barber shared with Samuel Johnson. It was emotional stuff. Then we went to Africa, to the Guinea coast and the story of how trading links were established. Five Africans came to London, not as slaves, but as free men who learned the language, ate the food, and despaired of the weather, becoming intermediaries for traders. It was when John Hawkins captured a Portuguese ship and sold the three hundred Africans on board into slavery that things turned ugly, and traders understood that selling people was as profitable as dealing in gold.
I presume this series, which I missed when it was first shown, was scheduled for transmission some time ago, but it seems particularly pertinent right now. I shall continue watching.
Stay safe, keep well.