I use the online encyclopedia Wikipedia a lot so when they asked for a donation a few days ago, I sent £20. The instant email response from a Wikilady called Katherine reads: “I feel so lucky to get to be the person to thank you for your one-time gift, on behalf of a world of people seeking free knowledge. I used to try to guess what motivated you to give, but the longer I do this work, the more I realize I can’t put your curiosity in a box.”
Now, if this was a British company, you'd suspect just a hint of sarcasm. So much gush for twenty quid - who's taking the mickey? But in California, this really is how people communicate. And when I say “communicate,” I mean, of course, “reach out.”
A few days ago I mentioned a misprint in one of the national newspapers, referring to the “Royal Anglican Regiment.” It should have read “Royal Anglian Regiment.” However, a reader writes: “Correct me if I am wrong but could the Royal Anglicans have been a regiment of the Salvation Army?”
Which reminded me of my commissioning course at Sandhurst all those years ago. While we Territorials did a two-week course, the Military Academy also ran a three-week course for Army chaplains and female officers of the Women's Royal Army Corps. In those politically incorrect days, everybody called it the Tarts and Vicars Course.
If all else fails, invoke the Blitz Spirit. In a stirring piece urging us to “get back out there and get on with it,” Sarah Vine, the Daily Mail columnist and wife of Tory grandee Michael Gove, compares today's pandemic to the German bombing of English cities in 1940. Back then, she asserts, London's pubs were full, and fearless Brits put down their pint glasses noisily to cover the sounds of the bombing. I'm not sure I believe a word of it. My father experienced some air raids in London and he never mentioned the beer-glass thing. And in any case there are profound differences between a virus and an air raid.
For a start, the arrival of German bombers was helpfully announced by thousands of howling sirens and wardens shouting “put that ruddy light out!” A virus slips silently into your lungs with no warning and spreads to other people before you even feel poorly. And that's why this virus has killed more British civilians in a few weeks than the German bombs killed in six years, and why we underestimate it at our peril.
Among the latest words banned from BBC sports reports is the term “sold down the river” which apparently has links to slavery. I'm sure the Beeb's sports reporters will find alternatives. But what about shop stewards? At a stroke, the trade unions have been deprived of one of their oldest and most familiar grievances. From now on, the lads will be, er, auctioned down the canal, flogged up the stream, hire-purchased across the estuary. Suggestions welcome.