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How a tech disrupter is helping the newly appointed Minister for Stable Doors to keep the horses from running wild.

The recent decision to close the UK’s borders to control the spread of Covid-19 has been dismissed as ‘closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.’ Having found itself on the back foot and at the wrong end of a well-loved idiom, the Government has turned to the private sector once again, this time to support the work of the newly appointed Minister for Stable Doors.

Of course, the Government’s reliance on private firms to help with everything from Covid-19 testing to track and trace procedures has been controversial. To this end, Maximilian ‘Max Impact’ St John Reason, head of delivery at self-declared ‘tech tavern’ and ‘idea bank’, Mindflush, explains how the firm will be helping the Government stay ahead of events by keeping the stable door shut. …


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To the surprise of its native speakers, English is one of the hardest languages to learn.

It’s odd. English doesn't offer the multiple declensions that students of German must master. Nor does it have an additional nine, hard-to-pronounce letters, like Polish. There is a common belief that the English language has more words than any other, but that's simply untrue: its 500,000 words fall way short of the 1,100,000 words that Koreans have to deal with, or the 800,000 that Finns can muster.

(Indeed, Finns have so many words they can devote one in particular — Kalsarikänni, or ‘pantsdrunk’ — to describe the act of drinking at home in your underwear, a form of recreation you may have thought didn’t deserve its own word, although we’ve all done it. …


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It’s that time of year again. Those lazy days between Christmas and New Year when newspaper space is filled with meaningless lists of films you have already seen, TV shows you have already forgotten and books you will never get around to reading.

This year – this grinning dumb bastard of a year – the lists seem more pointless than ever. Let’s face it: in 2020, fear of missing out has been well and truly trumped by fear of dying out.

While we of course miss our previous social lives, not having visited all the top new restaurants in London isn’t really a cause for concern when they are reduced to doing takeaway, if they are open at all. A list of the best new hotels to visit in 2021 is the very definition of a waste of space when most of the UK is under strict tier four restrictions that prevent travel and will be for some time. …


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DEC.8,1975, from the “Today Series”, 1966–2013, Acrylic (Liquitex) on canvas 46 x 61.8 x 4 cm, MUSEUM MMK FÜR MODERNE KUNST, © On Kawara, Photo: Axel Schneider

What On Kawara’s Date Paintings say about lockdown.

Large parts of the UK entered a stricter, tier four lockdown today, and Christmas will look very different for millions of households. But even stuck at home I imagine enough festivity to provide a useful distraction from the daily trudge of lockdown WFH, remote schooling and self-isolation. No, the real challenge will arrive when Christmas has passed and early January opens a bloodshot eye to the New Year. Many will once again find it difficult to find hope and meaning in the hardship and tedium of lockdown.

“Whatever gets you thru the night / It’s alright” sang John Lennon, but it’s the days spent hunched over a laptop that can really hurt. If you’re lucky enough to have a job at the moment, you no doubt spend every waking hour staring at a screen, and your work/life balance simply flashes “Error” when you push its flour-dusted button. …


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Choosing a single object that symbolises the crappiness of life in 2020, when the UK made a complete meal of Covid and Brexit, struck me as impossible. Until I happened on the Scotch Egg, the perfect end-of-days snack.

As the UK went into tiered lockdowns in December, it was decreed that pubs in tier two areas could remain open if they served a ‘substantial meal’ alongside alcohol.

Given how seriously the British take their alcohol, Ministers should have been better prepared when they found themselves being questioned about what exactly constitutes a ‘substantial meal’. One Minister claimed a Scotch Egg would suffice. …


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As we rush to share our dismal experiences of 2020, what does SARS-CoV-2 itself think of this annus coronavirus?

(Unmutes) Can you hear me? Great. Video… on.

Right, 2020. What a nightmare. Where do I start?

Firstly, zoonotic migration isn’t easy, you know. My path from bat cave to world stage was not an easy one. There’s no playbook, no onboarding and no inspirational TED talk for us viruses.

So save me from all your boasts about ‘pivoting’. Knocking up a website to sell reheat-at-home restaurant meals or working from the comfort of home is nothing compared to the pivot of transcending animal group and order in the quest to infect.

Pangolins, though; stinking creatures with no redeeming features. The things I must put up with simply to replicate! Although I suppose I should be grateful for your primitive belief that pangolin scales help expel ‘wind-dampness’, whatever the hell that is. At least this superstition — primitive even by my millions-of-years-old reckoning — made the poor animal bound for market a useful vehicle for my species upsizing. …


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Covid-19 misinformation means that social media is bad for our health. Thankfully, regulators have noticed.

It’s true to say that there has always been a lot of conspiratorial craziness out there. Way before Twitter, Torquemada was able to stoke fear and undertake a torturous campaign across Spain that lasted years. The fear that travelled from town to town as the Inquisition moved around the country persecuting Muslims and Jews didn’t need amplification on social media.

But it’s certainly the case that social media has made it easier for the craziness to be shared. …


Why “safeguarding and celebrating British values” is anything but common sense.

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A recent letter to the Daily Telegraph by the so-called ‘Common Sense Group’ of MPs argued that “History must neither be sanitised nor rewritten to suit ‘snowflake’ preoccupations.”

The reason for the Group’s ire was an attempt by the National Trust, among other institutions, to provide a context for their collections. The National Trust had assessed some of the properties in its estate and considered their place within the slave trade and colonialism. According to the National Trust:

“The buildings in our care reflect many different periods and a range of British and global histories — social, industrial, political and cultural. As a heritage charity, it’s our responsibility to make sure we are historically accurate and academically robust when we communicate about the places and collections in our care.” …


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Think of this as an end-of-days advent calendar, or a childish attempt to make the time pass quicker.

Don’t expect chocolates or comforting scenes of festive joy. Instead, this daily penance will provide a dismal peek through the boarded-up windows of the now burned-out building that is Number 2020, Main Street, Anywhere, Planet Earth.

So join me here each morning to count down the days until the end of the second lockdown in England, on Wednesday 2 December. Or counting in the days before the start of the third lockdown.

Ho! ho! oh.

Day one


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I’m not saying I’m old, but I can remember when digital detox was a thing. One year later, and we are being told to embrace everything online and expect a “Digital Christmas”. The prospect does not bring tidings of great comfort, or joy. If you thought a gorgeous summer of stillness waiting for infection to strike was odd, consider the delights that an online holiday season will bring.

Zoom office party

Combining the office party and 2020’s video conferencing platform of choice is like giving sea snakes wings. Both result in the perfect vehicle for terror, and the stuff of true nightmares.

One is the creature of my younger self’s imagination; a beast that would bring death on land, sea and air. The other will suck the life out of a late December evening more effectively than any set of poisoned fangs. And it awaits many of us. …

About

James Tate

A pick and mix of words; now online, better packaged and more expensive, like everything post-COVID. The sour cherries are best. The opinions are my own.

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