Thursday, 11th March, 2021

[Day 360]

The remnants of the storm which raged overnight were still somewhat in evidence this morning. There was quite a (hat-removing) wind that was in evidence and the temperature was on the cool side. We picked uo our newspapers and then popped into our local Waitrose where we needed to buy birthday cards for family members needed in the next few days. Then it was into the park and we met up with our Birmingham University friend. We had an interesting discussion about things historical and particularly the way in which certain presenters very much have the ‘common touch’ and manage to convey well the importance of history to our everyday lives. After that, it was a fairly unpleasant walk home as the wind intensified but we managed to regale ourselves with a curry that we prepared for lunch.

This afternoon we had a typical lazy afternoon, largely concerned with reading our newspapers.The news rooms have been filled, though, with the case of the young woman who has gone missing and subsequently a member of the Metropolitan police has been arrested amid a lot of conjecture that he was responsible both for her abduction and her murder. The fact that occurrences like these are so rare has not helped to dispel the widespread feeling of unease, not to say fear, experienced by the majority of young women if they have to venture out at night. It goes shout saying the men do not share similar fears, nor in general do they need to. But to act as some kind of corrective, we are being reminded tonight that of the women murdered each year, most of the blame can be attributed to a partner or an ex-partner and not a complete stranger.

Whilst thinking about the whole brouhaha surrounding the Meghan and Harry interview with Oprah Winfrey, the question came into my head whether Roman society was inherently racist (given that the Romans were great colonisers) I genuinely did not know the answer to this question but the consensus view is that whilst the Romans referred to the inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa as ‘‘ (from which we derive the designation Ethiopians?)this was not used in a racist way. The answer was quite surprising. The conventional historical view is that the Romans did not have a racist social structure – their ‘slaves’ were largely drawn from other European and Mediterranean peoples and were therefore ‘white’ (The story was told to us in primary school that when a couple of young Anglo-Saxon children were shown to the Pope of the day and with their long blond hair and blue eyes were said to be ‘Angles’, the Pope is reputed to have said ‘Surely, not Angles but Angels’) In Roman Society, black people were not excluded from any profession or strata of society and there are quite a lot of illustrations of black individuals (and traces of black DNA) found in places as far as Hadrian’s Wall. But there has been a counterblast in a book entitled ‘The invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity‘ in which the author says that, contrary to prevailing opinion, the roots of racism we have experienced in the west does have its roots in Antiquity and specifically in Roman and Greek Society. The problem with all this is that white historians have generally found little examples of classical racism whereas black historians show the reverse. So does historical truth lie in the ethnicity of the historian? Whilst admitting that one always has to ask for whom the historian is writing and for what purposes (e.g. see the way in which Tudor propaganda systematically besmirched the reputation of Richard III), it is somewhat troubling if one is a seeker after truth and trying to find ‘the answer’ to a question.

Meanwhile, the unwinding of Brexit is chugging in the background, but generally out of the public gaze. Last week the Chancellor accepted the OBR’s forecasts of a 4% reduction in national income once the full effects of Brexit are felt. Far from sovereignty driving prosperity, the government’s forecaster seems unpersuaded that the much-vaunted regulatory freedoms of Brexit will do anything to offset this macroeconomic damage. Quietly, a Vote Leave prime minister and chancellor have accepted that so-called project fear was right all along. The consequences for household incomes are bad, but so is the impact on the public finances. The OBR forecasts that tax receipts will hit £1,038 billion by 2025-6. But without the economic drag anchor of Brexit, revenues would have been around £42 billion higher. As we always suspected, the effects of Brexit and the pandemic are so intertwined, that it will be difficult for the professional statisticians to attribute which effect to which cause. But I am reminded, as we were talking about Roman society, that in order to distract the population from rioting and expressing its discontents, the roman elite of the day used to engage in ‘bread and circuses’ in order give out a free distribution of food and throw some general public spectacles to divert the gaze of the population to the true source of their discontents.