The Coronavirus Diaries, 15th April 2021

I may have missed it somewhere, but surely others have been wondering if Derek Chauvin is related in some way to Nicholas Chauvin whose legendary bigotry gave rise to the word chauvinism? I mean, it does seem a bit of a coincidence doesn’t it?

I have been reading James Walvin’s book The Zong, about the massacre that took place on a slaving ship in 1781. I knew quite a bit about it, but this book filled in gaps and joined dots. It is very well written and readable. Maybe it helped already having some knowledge because many of the names were familiar to me: Granville Sharp, Olaudah Equiano, Lord Mansfield, Peter Peckard, Thomas Clarkson. It inspired me to start another book Black England, Life Before Emancipation by Gretchen Gerzina, which I am also finding fascinating.

I was talking with a friend about these books and she assumed they had come out recently. I can’t remember her exact words, but they were on the lines of there have been lots of books published about black history in the last year. I told her the Walvin book came out in 2011 and the Gerzina one in 1996. The most recent book I have on black history is Black and British, a Forgotten History by David Olusoga (another book I highly recommend) and that was published in 2016.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th September 2020

A chipless evening last night, but one spent outside in the garden in a social gathering. Two social gatherings actually, each of three people, but from time to time we linked up and even shared olives. The curious fox came back. We decided collectively it’s a female. I still didn’t have my camera with me, but B took some photos which she may share. It was all very jolly, though as the light went it was a lot cooler.

For most of lockdown I found it impossible to concentrate well enough to sustain reading what I would classify as a good book. My attention kept wandering. I was ok with light reading, undemanding stuff, but something stopped me from losing myself in a book the way I usually do. So it’s good to be reading again. I attended my first book group by Zoom to discuss our summer long read, Homeland by Fernando Aramburu. I enjoyed the novel, but my reservations about Zoom as a medium for book group continue. Michèle wasn’t there, her computer won’t do Zoom, so it may have been that which left me feeling less than satisfied with the whole thing. I always enjoy book group more when she is there with her extensive knowledge of literature and her insights.

The next book is Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I’ve only read ten pages and my first impression wasn’t favourable, not because of the quality of the writing, but she opens with an all too accurate description of a smear test, which is something most women do not anticipate with any enthusiasm. So that’s my fictional for the next while. I am reading another memoir, this one by Margaret Drabble, and my respect for her grows with every chapter. I read her novels a long time ago, and although I enjoyed them, I don’t remember anything about them other than the titles. This memoir has made me warm to Drabble. It is scholarly and never pompous. She comes across as an interested and interesting person, a kind person who is unshowy and reflective. Michèle, who knows her, says I should write to her to tell her I am enjoying the book. Maybe I shall. I also have Diary of a Teenage Naturalist which I bagged at the library the other day. I am guessing others will reserve it, so I should get a move on and read it. There was an extract in the Guardian some months ago and the writing was extraordinary. Luminous, and lyrical while also scientific. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 6th July 2020

I think I have sorted the sound issue with Zoom on my laptop. The next online meeting will tell. However a new problem has reared its head – I can’t access my photos from my camera. The Photos app does not seem to be working at all. Tomorrow will see me returning to the shop to try to get things sorted out. At least the shop is literally just round the corner and not a bus or train ride away.

So no photos with this post. Which is a shame, as I took a couple today I’d like to share from where Celia and I walked this afternoon. We went over to Vauxhall via Kennington. It was strange to see people sitting in pubs. Not every pub has reopened. Our own local looks very closed, though we have heard it should open in ten days. But we did enjoy a cider on the way home from the Prince of Wales in Kennington which we drank in the square. It was all very civilised. Tomorrow we are going to an exhibition at the Museum of Garden History. Imagine that, an exhibition! It’s about Derek Jarman’s garden, a place I should love to visit.

I’ve finished watching Black and British – a Forgotten History. I am so glad I saw it. It has been a thought provoking and informative series. We still have a long way to go, but I am proud of living in a multi racial society, a society enriched by people from all around the world. Part of that journey must be the inclusion of black history in school curriculums, so that as children grow up they understand the long history of black people in the British Isles, and how so many of us unknowingly have black ancestry. Black history is not a niche area, it is our shared history as people on these islands, just as women’s history is. Some people would just like us to learn the dates of kings and queens, wars and battles, and say that is history. Which of course it is, but it is only a tiny part of our history and for so long it has been taught as though it is the only history that matters.

How will people learn about coronavirus in fifty, a hundred years time? The experience of lockdown, the ongoing threat has made me more curious about the flu epidemic of a hundred years ago. I think it merited a paragraph in one history book I had at school.

MasterB is making it clear he wants my attention now, so I shall stop here.

Stay safe. Keep well.

The Importance of History

When the Normans conquered England back in 1066 the leading members of Saxon society, anyone of learning and influence, was killed, and history was rewritten. Or perhaps written would be the more apposite word since Saxon England had been an oral society, stories had been handed down by word of mouth, not ink on page. Centuries of culture were dismissed and for even more centuries that period was called the Dark Ages; a time of an inward-looking, backward society. The Normans weren’t stupid. They knew how to use propaganda. They weren’t going to go about praising the previous administration, reminding people that women had had more rights, that craftsmen thrived, that the class system was a Norman import.
Only discoveries like Sutton Hoo and more recently the Staffordshire Hoard have begun to reveal the extent of all the Norman disinformation and misinformation.
It’s a big lesson in why we shouldn’t let governments control what we learn. Since the introduction of a National Curriculum in the UK successive governments have tinkered about with what children should learn in schools. In the last few weeks the current minister for education, one Michael Gove, has been outlining what he wants children to be learning about in history lessons. It made me think about the Normans a lot. Gove hasn’t killed off historians who disagree with his views, but he so obviously disdains them, and his colleagues in the Department of Education, a place he dismisses as the Blob.

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Sunday Evening, London

After a hot journey Cat and I made it back to a quiet capital. Never a good sign when England is playing. I don’t have to watch a match to know if the side scores; the locals roar their appreciation. So the World Cup has been a pretty quiet affair all round.

I have mixed feelings about England’s exit from the tournament. Surprising really. I mean surprising I have any feelings about it as I am not a football follower. Obviously it would be nice if for once the national team won something, but having witnessed two sets of fans bowling along leafy stretches of the country, the bits that have Desirable Area written, discreetly of course, all over them, singing songs about German bombers that I imagine must have been current in about 1940, I’m rather glad this element can now crawl back into its timewarp bunker.

There are many reasons why history should be remembered. Waving selected and distorted bits of it in the faces of descendants of historical antagonists, whether  at a sporting event or elsewhere, with some bizarre idea of demonstrating a superiority, moral or military, is not one of them.

Of course it’s not just the English who do this. Some Scots people once left me at a loss for words – a rare thing; as one my cousins says, there’s no need for any of us to kiss the Blarney Stone, rather the reverse – by telling me that although I was English and therefore guilty by association with Culloden, Edward l and goodness knows what else, they liked me and that it must be because I have an Irish mother.

God help us.