Books, the Beeb and our Tolstoyan instances

Some good news from the pandemic is that we are all reading more. Bloomsbury celebrated a surge in sales this week, its best half-year profit since 2008. Dark evenings, pub closings, less commutes and a lack of new TV series (Sky Atlantic is relentlessly releasing its thriller The Undoing, episode by episode, as if these were the 1970s.) Everyone prefers to read more.

I took a hybrid book purchase and got some comforting hardbacks from independent bookstores including Kim Darroch’s Collateral Damage, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened and JFK by Fredrik Logevall, plus a little charge on Kindle-to-find Joe Biden by Evan Osnos and a race to catch up, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, by Kamala Harris.

Then there were some Amazon shipments of books recommended to me, like Michael Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit, or writers I’ve loved and lost, like Patrick Leigh Fermor. It is the reading list of someone who learned to appreciate education late and therefore carries it heavily.

Finally, there are the goodies to be released soon. I read a family memory from Marina Wheeler about her mother’s experience of the partition in India. I knew Marina’s late parents, and it is good to see her mother’s serene humility celebrated along with Marina’s more famous father, BBC journalist Charles Wheeler. Funnily enough, Boris Johnson, her ex-husband, deserves no mention.

The BBC builds on contradictions; both public service and entertainment. New guidelines for social media are now mandating that presenters be both accessible and sphinx-like. But the action by General Manager Tim Davie of prohibiting employees from expressing “a personal opinion on public policy, political or controversial issues” is inevitable. It is very difficult to write a running comment without disclosing a position. I welcome the return of the unrecognizability that is the basis of impartiality. However, I am sure that there will be subtle attempts at communication from the broadcasting house. A raised eyebrow turns into a full-blown cry for help.

When we’re locked up We might as well improve ourselves. As I read, I can hear my husband hesitantly repeat Italian sentences in his Zoom class. I’ve tried fighting my way out of the restrictions and looking around the world for places to meet my Hong Kong son without either of us being quarantined, but as time goes on I’m getting less and less ambitious. Let’s make the worst of it this year.

Let’s just make the worst of it this year without accepting defeat

Navigating uncertainty was the subject of a Zoom discussion I had with Jackie Ashley, former president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. The college traditionally caters to women who could not attend university at the conventional age. However, due to the wrong education this year, additional places were found for 18 year olds.

It focuses the mind on what education is for and what career expectations follow. Jackie and I looked back on our working lives and agreed that women are more used to disturbances and therefore may be more resilient. Jackie retired from professional roles when her children were young and then resumed nursing for her husband Andrew Marr after his stroke. I remember the phrase Jaron Lanier coined to describe future professional qualities. He said it was time to “double being human”.

Despite my new philosophical holiness I find the comatose state of London miserable. It’s like people accepted a second ban before each announcement. I recently acquired an office again after leaving my Swank Editor’s office on the Evening Standard to hot desking at the BBC for three years. I like to sit in the office. I didn’t try to make it homely with family photos because I’m pleased with its essentially corporate nature.

I travel to work with determination and notice that the cheerfulness of the social mix in the subway is missing again. Passengers are the young and key workers, mostly manual workers. I hear singing from the musical Oliver! out of a Westminster building and wonder if this is a rehearsal for a Christmas show or a protest against free school meals.

A city chairman tells me bitterly that we are living through Tolstoy. The boss class has semi-retired on their estates while the workers suffer. And yet the capitalist spirit is not entirely cowardly. I speak to developers who say this is a great opportunity to invest in London. A new television company is planning to start in January. Phoebe Saatchi Yates, the daughter of Charles Saatchi, has opened a gallery. “If not now when?” is the anarchic counter-narrative to paralyze the darkness.

I stick with it the spring option and working in my own office at a science and technology summit in early summer. I assume that it anticipates an emergence from the economic doll without full global normality. It’s around the same time as the Chelsea Flower Show, which is already oversubscribed. Corporate networking in the midst of nature seems to be the compromise solution to bring the city back. Perhaps Chelsea reminds guests of their comfortable country estates.

There’s another reason to think about spring, and that’s how differently the world could deal with climate change in the next year. Without betting on the outcome of next week’s US election, it is likely that America will rejoin the Paris Agreement soon. Cop26 and the G7 will be guests in Great Britain next year. It is an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership on climate and to rephrase Boris Johnson as a green conservative rather than a revolutionary. Almost back to the early days of David Cameron.

When we go back to the lockdown We may need to tighten the domestic protocol for working Zoom. Usually little is known about your partner’s office person. You know her for their intimate delicate acts like taking out the trash cans, not for their manner in the boardroom. You certainly cannot eavesdrop on your colleagues. As I passed the study door the other day, I heard someone – not my husband – describe the company’s upcoming workload: “There’s a lot of wood to chop.” How Tolstoyan mixes wealthy paper with an act of bucolic work. It’s almost like too much time wasted on country estates. . .

Sarah Sands is the chairperson of Bright Blue

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