I passed my pre-flight COVID antigen test, so I’m officially able to fly to New York tomorrow! I’m largely packed, except for some things that have to go in at the last minute. Today was largely taken up with the antigen test, scanning COVID-related documents for travel, and checking in. Everything seems to take so long, doubly so with COVID.
Looking at American money is exciting, although the coins and notes seem less interesting than British ones. The coins are all circular, and almost all the pictures are of former Presidents (and Alexander Hamilton). We have writers, scientists and social reformers on ours, plus Winston Churchill. Although with American coins, you can at least speculate on who will be cancelled next (Andrew Jackson is my guess, although James Polk is a possibility too).
I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to blog over the next week and a bit. If I do, it will be on my phone, so I’ll probably have to keep it short and there will may be more typos.
I finished reading The Impossible Office? The History of the British Prime Minister, in time to read something lighter (in all senses of the term) on holiday. It was good, but sometimes awkwardly written, perhaps a result of being credited to “Anthony Seldon with Jonathan Meakin and Illias Thomas”, which made me wonder how it was written, if Seldon did the writing and Meakin and Thomas extra research. It did feel a bit ‘written by committee’ in places.
The book ends with a rather bleak assessment of Prime Ministerial job and life prospects after leaving power. In Britain, with no maximum term limits, Prime Ministers usually leave involuntarily, rejected by the electorate, deposed by their own party, or suffering from serious and sometimes fatal illness. The book states:
The job should carry a health warning. Seven have died in office, and five dead [sic] within a year of leaving, with a further three within three years. Within ten years, half were dead. Given how young many were, it’s not a great prospect. Remarkably few achieve what they hoped. Most leave involuntarily… Many experienced pain earlier in their lives: one study suggests two thirds in office between 1812 and 1940 lost a parent in childhood, and asks whether their quest for power and prestige was motivated by protection against emptiness and insignificance. (p. 335)
Seldon goes on to list Prime Ministers who lost children, particularly during the World Wars (Herbert Asquith lost his son in the First World War, a war he had taken the country into), but also to AIDS. Several had children who developed addiction or serious mental illness. Despite infant mortality being low these days, two twenty-first century Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, lost children in infancy.
It’s sobering stuff. I’ve long thought that the way that terms like ‘privilege’ are bandied about these days ignores the myriad ways that people can suffer and endure pain, not all of which can easily be given politicised labels or filed away neatly.