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The UK’s biggest topics that truly matter to everyday people are coronavirus, COP26 and the fishing row with France.

Coronavirus

On Wednesday, November 10, the BBC news site featured an article on mothers and babies over the past year and a half: ‘Coronavirus births: “My baby’s first word was mask”‘.

How sad is that? My first word was ‘Da-da’.

The BBC interviewed Leanne Howlett, who gave birth to a daughter in March 2020, during the first lockdown. Poor woman.

She said (emphases mine):

“Overnight, home appointments [from the perinatal mental-health team] dropped away,” she remembers.

They would be over the phone instead, she was told, causing her panic about how she would cope.

Nurseries were closed, she couldn’t see family and getting through the basics of each day was a huge struggle.

“I dipped to rock-bottom,” says the 34-year-old.

“You cannot bring yourself out of it – you think everyone is better off without you” …

Leanne started to feel better last summer, when childcare bubbles were allowed and her husband took time off work, but she believes the impact on her daughter, Miley, now two years old, has been profound.

She is not at all sociable – she didn’t see anyone but us until she was nearly one.

“All those missed activities, photos, and all those firsts,” laments Leanne.

When she did go to her first baby group, all the mums wore face coverings, she says.

“My baby’s first word was mask.”

Black taxis

Prior to the pandemic, Uber was more popular than the traditional black taxi, especially in London.

In fact, Uber drivers from as far away as Manchester drove to the capital every weekend to reap the largesse.

On October 30, The Guardian posted an article on the new-found success of black cabs: ‘Black cabs roar back into favour as app firms put up their prices’.

It begins with the story of a young man who had been stood up by Uber and another app-oriented service, Bolt:

The young man was frantic, trying to get to a third date with a woman he already knew he wanted to marry. But four Bolt drivers had let him down, and when he tapped his Uber app, it was asking for triple surge pricing. In desperation, he did something he’d never done before – flagged down a black London taxi.

“He was trying to open the front door to get in. He wanted to give me a postcode – it was the usual thing you get from the ones who’ve never been in a cab before,” said Karen Proctor, a London taxi driver for more than a decade. “I told him ‘the postcode’s not going to help – just tell me where you want to get to’. It was a restaurant. And we got there seven minutes early, at about a third of the cost. He was converted.”

Tales like that are why, after nearly a decade of Uber-induced gloom, things are looking up for cabbies. Trade has roared back into life since the end of Covid measures in July, with many talking with some astonishment about their best-ever takings.

I hope the marriage proposal met with success.

I am a big champion of black taxis. London drivers have to pass a three-year course called The Knowledge, where they regularly go in at least once a week to be quizzed by a veteran taxi driver on how to get various places in and out of the capital. This requires memorising routes, including all the requisite street names. I saw a three-part documentary on it several years ago. It looked and sounded daunting.

During lockdown, some black taxi drivers sold their vehicles and left the road for good. Some firms are buying up those taxis and renting them out to licensed drivers:

While drivers with a cab talk of people running towards cabs when they stop to let out a passenger, arguing about whose taxi it is, or queues of 100 people outside Victoria train station or Liverpool city centre, there are plenty of licensed drivers without a vehicle.

“People are coming to us every single day looking for a cab,” said Lee DaCosta, a founder of Cabvision which runs payment systems for taxis and also rents a fleet for drivers who don’t own a vehicle. “We’re having drivers turning up literally walking the streets from garage to garage going ‘got any cabs?’”

Transport for London (TfL) figures show there were 13,858 licensed taxis in London on 24 October, compared with historic levels of about 21,000.

The rapid decline is partly due to Covid. During the pandemic, when drivers had no prospect of earning money and some were ineligible for government support, some were forced to sell their cabs and take up other jobs. It led to the sight of hundreds of cabs being stored in unused car parks and fields around London.

But some of the decline pre-dated the pandemic, and DaCosta says TfL’s policy of forcing older, diesel taxis off the road has not been accompanied by enough support for electric cabs.

As Uber demand returns to normal, however, drivers are fewer on the road than before. Some were EU nationals who went home and never returned. Others have opted to drive delivery vehicles instead.

No doubt everything will stabilise in time.

COP26

It appears that COP26 did not do much for Glasgow’s hospitality sector.

On Wednesday, November 10, The Times reported that the anticipated uplift didn’t happen. The conference ends this weekend:

While hotels across Glasgow are fully booked to accommodate the thousands of delegates, the hospitality trade is understood not to have seen any uplift in trading since the event began on October 31.

There are even suggestions the event has led to a reduction in trade for some operators. Footfall in the city centre is said to have been affected as people try to avoid the demonstrations.

There is also thought to be a number of delegations which have stayed outside of the city, with Edinburgh hotels among those which are busy.

Oli Norman, whose Ashton Properties owns venues such as Brel and Sloans, said he had heard of some publicans and restaurant owners who have seen their trading fall by up to 50 per cent, and added: “It should have signified a resurgence in the local economy but if anything it has been a damp squib.”

Fishing wars

Any Englishwoman hoping to keep relations smooth with the French during the fishing wars in the Channel would do well to support her adopted country, as Samantha Brick, who lives in France, wrote in The Telegraph:

“Fishing wars” isn’t a phrase I’d ever suppose would have an impact on my marriage – or indeed on my status in France – but in these strange times I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

After I recently strutted through arrivals at Bergerac airport I was pulled up sharp at passport control. While my documents were checked, I was casually asked what I thought about the issue of French fishing trawlers being unable to go about their business in British waters.

Noting my French passport was still in the hands of the uniformed officer, I swallowed my pride and, after a bit of inconclusive waffle, I was told I should be proud of my French passport and those fishing trawlers. I feebly replied: “Vive la France”

Not since Brexit has my other half been so fired up about Anglo-French relations. The right to fish is something that the French get very, very angry about. Pascal routinely shouts at the breakfast and lunchtime television (frankly OTT) news reports of the French fishing industry being stymied by brazen Brits and a dozen or so of our fishing boats.

Crustacea, I’ve learnt, is a French human right. The right to gorge on seafood is taken so seriously that drones and police on horseback are deployed to patrol and protect Atlantic oyster farms.

Her husband Pascal’s household does not sound either women- or Anglo-friendly:

My brother-in-law is also married to an English woman. She isn’t mad about the dozen or so oysters the family get in per person each Christmas either; note, we Brits have to compare notes outside the home on this as speaking in our native tongue at home is banned.

In fact, food is probably the area of most contention in our marriage …

the French are pretty rigid when it comes to anything and everything at the kitchen table. There are centuries old traditions and behaviours which have been silently passed down the generations.

In the early days I once stood up, noticed I’d not finished my rosé and then drained the glass. Pascal was in turn speechless and outraged afterwards. This is, apparently, something no French woman would ever do. Women are supposed to nurse just one glass of wine throughout the evening

one rule he is immovable on is not clearing your plate. The motto – which is drilled into every house guest – is “you eat what you take”. The French cannot abide waste.

Sounds dire.

I don’t remember my academic year in France being like that and I was a fairly regular guest in French households, either for parties or for sleepovers concluding with Sunday lunch.

Look before you leap, ladies.

Conclusion

We in the UK are at a strange crossroads at the moment.

Everything we were told not to worry about has become of increasing concern: children’s development post-COVID, Glasgow’s resurgence during COP26 and the nothing-to-see-here fishing wars. At least the taxi trade is prospering.

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