For me, those lines at the end of King Lear, “The oldest hath borne most: we that are young/Shall never see so much, nor live so long,” (Editor’s Note, 20 March) are the most resonant in the whole of Shakespeare. Born at the end of the Second World War, I grew up among refugees and Holocaust survivors. I inserted those lines into the farewell ceremony, four years ago, for a shrewd, pungent aunt who had died, aged 111, having fled Vienna around the time of the Anschluss. Her mother perished in Auschwitz.
Now we face a climate crisis – currently sidelined by coronavirus – that threatens to destroy our planet. We are also heading for a world recession that will put 2008 in the shade, as well as a hard or no-deal Brexit. Life expectancy is already falling among poorer people in Britain.
So is there any chance of our averting these catastrophes? That would require political will in every country and a degree of self-denial that many might find unacceptable. But if we fail this test, our young people may see much, but not live so long.
I join with Graham Johnston and John Adcock in their praise of the NS, a journal I have read since university. Under its current editor it has improved by leaps and bounds. As well as lauding his editorship, I share Jason Cowley’s appreciation of an older generation’s calm courage (Editor’s Note, 20 March). Both my parents are dead now, but faced almost certain early death during the war (my mother was dragged from a burning house after a bombing raid by, among others, Eric Hobsbawm, my dad was shot through his motorbike helmet by German snipers and escaped as a POW).
They survived to raise me and my brother to value courage beyond all other virtues, for which I am especially grateful in these perturbing times. Cowley quotes from King Lear. I, too, turn to Shakespeare, but the lines currently running through my mind are Hamlet’s: “If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.”
Jason Cowley’s reflections on his mother and two aunts give us a timely reminder on how the public can face the current coronavirus crisis.Their resilience, gained from experiencing tougher times during the Second World War, should prove inspiring.
At the moment there is understandable concern, but staying at home is not the end of the world. Surely it is an opportunity to read some books that have gathered dust – or, in my case, study on an Oxford University Access course and flick through past Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks.
Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire
Ross Douthat’s otherwise perceptive article is diminished by his Putin-phobic analysis of Russia (“The crisis of the liberal zombie order”, 20 March). Respect and devotion for its 1,000-year Orthodox Christian heritage are deep in Russia’s collective psyche and integral to its national identity.
Putin himself, who was secretly baptised as a child and yet openly wore his Orthodox cross while he was a KGB officer, is committed to this personally and politically. The post-communist resurgence of Orthodoxy in Russia is among the contemporary miracles of the world church. Along with Orthodox leaders such as Patriarch Kirill, Putin sees it as central to Russia’s moral regeneration after decades of communist cynicism.
Reverend Brian G Cooper
In bed with reds
Were the Yellowstone super-volcano to explode, coating the world in ash and plunging us into a new ice age, we would certainly be looking at the end of civilisation. Fortunately, as the history of past pandemics shows, we will get through this crisis; there are encouraging signs from China that Covid-19 is abating.
When the coast is clear, Rishi Sunak is going to have to work out how to pay for the handouts the government has been forced to make. As the present Tory government shows a propensity for stealing Labour’s clothes, he might want to consider a one-off wealth tax on individuals.
All the people mentioned in Edward Greenwood’s letter (Correspondence, 20 March), including himself, share one key feature – they’re all in the 11th century. Anselm would have enjoyed this row about the existence of God.
Atheists need to explain how they can argue over microscopic differences of the concept of God, given that they all regard it as absurd.
Religious ideas never were amenable to rational scientific analysis, or “Logos” thinking. Religious ideas belong to the world of “Mythos” thinking and language. Atheists have completely abandoned the Mythos, if they were ever aware of it.
Modern atheists, having walked away from Christianity as young people, shut the door on any understanding of religious ideas and practice, separating themselves from huge parts of humanity.
As a member of the London Library for almost as long as Matthew Engel (The Diary, 20 March), I share his regret at its drift from the personal to the corporate, symbolised by the abolition of the suggestion book. Although some of its contributions appeared to be prototypes for online trolls, the book was often a source of constructive ideas, many taken up by the much missed librarian.
As Matthew writes, the Library is not a St James’s club, but for those of us without access to such an amenity it does still provide a few ancient armchairs in which you can doze off. I suspect these will soon be removed to provide even more space to plug in laptops – at which time I shall reconsider my membership.
Match of yesterday
Like me and many other tele-football fans, Hunter Davies (The Fan, 20 March) is in a state of loss because of the self-isolation of footballers everywhere. There is, however, a crumb of comfort provided by BT Sport’s reshowing of the series The Big Match Revisited.
Running from 1968 to 1992, The Big Match was ITV’s equivalent of Match of the Day. Extended highlights from these games is compulsive viewing because the results are now “unknown” to the viewer. They are even more fascinating because they reveal the extent to which the game has evolved over a 50-year period.
They were the good old days in many respects. The players rarely questioned refereeing decisions. There was no feigning injury. Attendance at matches was affordable to a much wider range of the sporting public. Football was much less formulaic, with none of this present-day frenetic closing down or killjoy football with ten men permanently in defence. The players themselves were poorly paid compared to the multimillionaires of today.
On the other hand, the state of the pitches was appalling. The quality of the surfaces at modern grounds is far superior. It’s also refreshing to witness such ethnic diversity in the modern game.
Rise of rust belts
Jeremy Cliffe asks “What did the world do to deserve Trump?” (“Populism and pandemics”, 20 March). One might ask, more generally, what the world was that created populism. Perhaps representative democracy is a system that was bound to create a populist response in the “rust belts” of the world.
The coronavirus pandemic could unite populations in resistance both to authoritarian populism, which exacerbates the ravages of the virus, and to representative democracy, which cannot yield genuine liberalism or public decency.
How this happened
The symposium “Postcards from an infected world” (13 March) was interesting because it demonstrates the worldwide phenomenon of Covid-19.
We are in the midst of the worst epidemic since the Spanish flu of 1919-25, in which about 225,000 people died in Britain alone. How have we come to this? The world has had a number of warnings, which have not been heeded. We had Sars, Mers and Ebola, but these didn’t greatly impact the West. Covid-19 is unfortunately just the “right” virus for our overcrowded and connected world.
My generation – born in the early 1950s – were told that science and medicine had the answer to every problem. Most terrible infectious diseases such as polio, smallpox and tuberculosis had been eradicated, at least from the developed world. We had antibiotics. We could send men to the moon and get them back safely. Clearly we were outside the realms of nature.
But we are part of nature and subject to its chances. Let’s not see ourselves as somehow above natural processes, but as a part of the whole planet.
Market Deeping, Lincolnshire
Having been self-isolating for a week, one source of well-being has been our garden. It has given me exercise, practical employment and, if our potato crop succeeds, some food. Can I suggest local authorities buy up stock from garden centres, which will be closing their doors, and distribute it to those with gardens and balconies? They should advertise this as a national service and involve children, parents and schools. Gardening can give the young an offline, proactive education.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jonathan Liew’s column on London’s chicken shops (Left Field, 13 March). I was particularly interested in the apparent territoriality of the various chains across the metropolis.
Feeling inspired, I went out to do some shopping in Enfield, where – lo and behold – I found a Morley’s, very much north of the river. A quick internet search reveals that other outlets can be found in Highams Park, Walthamstow, Stratford and Ilford, and that’s only counting those east of the A10. Perhaps a reappraisal is due?
Enfield, Greater London
We reserve the right to edit letters
This article appears in the 25 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The crisis chancellor