Tightening your grip on sand can only ever lead to exasperation. A relaxed palm and the sand is blown away – a tight grip, and it falls between your fingers. Better to concede: by its nature, sand will long for unforgiving and forgotten waters, reappearing only along shorelines and in your shoes at the most inconvenient moments. “Goodbye forever!”, you may say: the sand out at sea is far from land, and far from you. But goodbye is not goodbye forever – painful sand has a habit of nesting in forgotten sandals back on land. It’s better, much better, when sand is rock, and rock is permanent. If rock was permanent, there would be no sand. No inconvenience, no sudden reappearance, no exasperation: there’s no way to lose your grip on sand that is rock, or rock that is permanent.

But no rock is permanent, and all rock becomes sand. But goodbye is not goodbye forever: the rock leaves its legacy in sand, and sand becomes the only remaining tangible reminder of the rock before. It is nature’s cruellest trick: not only will She take rock and leave you with only sand, but She has that remaining sand (the only remaining tangible reminder of the rock before) suppress itself and long for the unforgiving and forgotten waters, reappearing only in conversation and in your photo albums at the most inconvenient moments. “Goodbye forever!”, you may say, but don’t want to. The sand, and the memory of the rock out at sea, is far from land, and far from you. But goodbye is not goodbye forever – happy sands, clever sands, comical sands, all have habits of nesting in colours, countries, places, people and music. If rock was permanent, there would be no sand. No inconvenience, no sudden reappearance, no beaches, no happy reminiscence, no fond memories.

Permanent rock would be better, but sand is all you have left, so tighten your grip. We hold onto what we love. After all, you’re one of the lucky ones – some will never see rock, never feel sand, never worry that their goodbye could be goodbye forever. And for you, every now and then (and in the decades ahead), a hastily painted wall of colour, a snapshot of the past, or a melody drifting out of an open window will – for an instant – remind you exactly of how lost you felt then and how lost you feel now.

It will remind you also of how grounded you were when rock was permanent, and carefree. And laughing, and here. And – for that precious instant – sand will be sand, and sand will be permanent. Goodbye will not have meant goodbye forever.

They, the people of Éire

Effie Deans is a Scottish blogger who writes tirelessly in favour of a United Kingdom, opposing Scottish separatist movements alongside her passion for Russophilia, novel-writing, and – more recently – her views on the “mistake” of being transgender, which Deans believes will soon “be looked on like phrenology”1This is not a joke. She actually said this.. Deans’ disregard for scientific advancement notwithstanding, Deans recently wrote about her understanding of Anglo-Irish relations, which – to paraphrase her blog post on the subject – Deans believes have led to an unnecessary and unfounded Irish animosity for the United Kingdom, one that fails to consider the Anglo-Irish shared history and the cordial diplomatic relationship enjoyed on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Not only are the Irish angry about Brexit, they are angry about everything Britain has supposedly done to them for the past thousand years … the substance of these people’s anger is usually Irish history and the blame for everything in that history falls on the British.Effie Deans

According to Deans, the population of Ireland are unique in their sustained hatred for British interests. On Twitter, after the publication of her article, Deans labelled Ireland as essentially unanimously “hostile to Britain and British interests”, quipping in her blog post that Ireland is aptly named, as – so far as she can see – “it is indeed the land of ire”. It should come as no surprise that her grasp of history, just like her grasp of gender biology, is most kindly described as loose and more honestly as deluded.

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1 This is not a joke. She actually said this.

The Crown: season four reigns

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I never expected to enjoy the first three seasons of Netflix’s The Crown. As something of a republican – and hardly a sympathetic to any members of Britain’s reigning royal family – to be drawn into Queen Elizabeth II’s family story was unexpected, to say the least. Claire Foy’s earlier brilliance – significantly aided by the stunning performances of Vanessa Kirby (as Princess Margaret) and John Lithgow (as Winston Churchill) – proved difficult to match in series three, with Olivia Colman sometimes struggling to match the fierce, passionate reticence that Foy had so convincingly provided. Nevertheless, the return of Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth is a welcome one: with the focus on new characters Margaret Thatcher and Diana Spencer, Colman’s Queen acts more as a spectator to the plot. It is a position she appears more suited for, and one that allows her to pull off a brilliantly restrained (and far colder) performance.

Another refreshing reappearance is seen in Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret, who – like Colman – takes up a role akin to that of a spectator in series four, contrasting with her frequent role as a ‘plot-catalyst’ in series three. This, too, allows her to shine: Margaret is shown as human – loving, even – in series four, a stark contrast with the growing inhumanity of Colman’s Elizabeth (Margaret’s sister) despite the clear familial closeness between the two characters. Admittedly, Bonham Carter’s most significant appearance – episode 7, “The Hereditary Principle” – is one of the weaker episodes of the series, but I don’t feel this reflects as much on her as it does on the total insignificance of the episode to the wider plot – if anything, she may have saved the episode. Tobias Menzies, as Prince Philip, additionally gives a characteristically forceful performance in a brilliant reprisal of his series three role, and Marion Bailey’s Queen Mother and Erin Doherty’s Princess Anne suit the rest of the Royal ensemble perfectly.

The senior royals, however, are not what makes this series shine above the rest. Since The Crown‘s first series, the plot has been (as is expected) driven by these senior members, whether it be Queen Elizabeth’s ascension, Princess Margaret’s marital troubles, or conflict between the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. It is series four’s introduction of Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin’s Diana Spencer that provides the new series with a crucial icy element that previous episodes were often lacking. The “Balmoral Test”, the second episode of the new series, summarises this perfectly: Anderson’s Thatcher fails to understand or buy into the apparent (superficial) politeness and ‘joy’ of those often at war with one other, creating a chasm that comes to define the frosty relationship between Thatcher and Colman’s Queen. In the same episode, just minutes later, Corrin’s Diana undergoes her own “Balmoral Test”, a triumph removed entirely from Thatcher’s disaster. The initial kindness and joy in Diana’s characterisation (perhaps unintentionally) creates a beautiful contrast with the coldness of Thatcher – one made only more apparent and enjoyable by the effortlessly compelling performances of Gillian Anderson and Emma Corrin, who both grow into the world-famous shoes of their respective characters without issue.

It should be noted that Anderson’s Thatcher, brilliant on her own, shines particularly brightly in scenes she shares with Olivia Colman’s Elizabeth. Equally, Emma Corrin’s Diana Spencer stuns most when appearing alongside Josh O’Connor’s Prince Charles, who falls far from the mildly sympathetic portrayal he enjoyed in series three of The Crown to one of gruelling outer and inner conflict and hatred. The presentation of mental health disorders (namely, bulimia) in The Crown deserves additional praise, succeeding in giving an honest depiction of the issue without falling to the traps of either glorification or complete ostracisation. Corrin ensures, furthermore, that Diana’s struggles with mental health manage to stay faithful to her sympathetic portrayal without veering into a form of pandering; Corrin’s portrayal of Diana Spencer as slowly growing into her new role, new confidence and new fame never conflicts with the show’s daring confrontation of social prejudices. The Crown, in this way, provides an important consideration for the true struggles that even the most confident, popular figures can experience behind locked doors and beneath the noise of a running tap.

Series four has reinvigorated a show that was coming rather close to monotony. It does so in an often painfully human way. It feels a little wrong to give anything top-marks when I’m only doing such a review for the first time, but The Crown‘s series four gives me little choice. I found the plot compelling, the acting incredible, the costumes, soundtrack and landscapes all stunning and the show itself beyond enjoyable. The closing scene of the series, seen in episode 10 (“War”), is one of my favourite scenes of all time, combining a beautifully mournful Christmas song with a very simple but breathtaking representation of Diana’s struggles to assume her role within the family and world around her. Series four is far more than a handful of good episodes within a good series of a good television show: it is a triumph of a show that could have so easily gone downhill, instead becoming ten hours of fascinating viewing that deserves every award I’m sure it will claim. Series four reigns, as the best series of The Crown yet made.

All ten episodes of The Crown’s fourth series are available on Netflix now, as well as all thirty episodes of three seasons before. Further reviews can also be found here.

Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump

Today – on November 3rd, 2020 – the United States of America hold their next election for the presidency amidst a raging pandemic, struggling economy and widespread political and social unrest. Democratic candidate Joseph R. Biden, a previous vice-president to Barack Obama, has held a strong (and steady) lead over Republican incumbent Donald J. Trump in both national polling and – more crucially – polling of vital swing states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania.

2020 presidential polls have now closed, and Joe Biden has been elected the next President of the United States. A “post-mortem” (of sorts) of my prediction can be seen below. Aftermath ►

Joe Biden has additionally seen success in polling from traditional Republican strongholds: Georgia, a deep-south state that has voted Republican in every election since 1992, has been seen by many as a toss-up. Even conservative fortress Texas, which last voted Democratic in 1976, has seen some favourable polling for Biden’s campaign. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s re-election effort has not seen the same glimmers of a prospective landslide: Trump is falling behind in many states he won in 2016, including the aforementioned swing states, and is far further behind his opponent in terms of both voter margin and undecided voters than he was behind Hillary Clinton in 2016.

As a result, my personal prediction is that Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump in today’s general election by 334 to 204 electoral votes.

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There really is such a thing as society

In a 1987 interview in Women’s Own magazine, British Prime Minister and Conservative heavyweight Margaret Thatcher famously insisted that there was ‘no such thing’ as society, and that people should first and foremost help themselves and their neighbours, instead of relying on ‘society’ (the state) to help them instead. Problems that affected the population were not problems with ‘society’, you see, but instead deficiencies in the correct neighbourly attitude which should see your neighbour taking care of you as you would of them.

They are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour.Margaret Thatcher

Obviously, society does actually exist (sorry Maggie), and modern human life is defined by this existence of both society and the state, which governs what we can and cannot do as well as the support we receive and the leaders we turn to. More metaphorical (and perhaps sympathetic) interpretations of Thatcher’s statement, however, are mildly more convincing, and assert that Thatcher is not merely trying to offload responsibility and compassion onto the citizenry: rather, Thatcher is claiming that state payments (namely welfare benefits) don’t come from the society but instead from fellow citizens. A person’s food stamps are not being paid for by the government but instead by that person’s neighbours. Child or disability benefit does not come from society but from the recipient’s affluent friends or family. We should not see welfare as coming from the state and society but instead from members of that society. Welfare comes from taxation – from the pockets of your fellow citizens – not from society itself.

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