September 21. We have a new granddaughter, conceived when coronavirus was only an unreported event in China. ‘Shielding’ has entered our vocabulary during the last six months, but no living being has been as protected from the raging storm as this infant growing in her mother’s womb. Now she is amongst us, three weeks old, small but perfectly formed.
There have been a host of petty inconveniences surrounding her first few days. My son found himself almost completely excluded from her birth, much as fathers were when I was born. It took a fortnight’s careful planning before my wife and I could drive down to London to greet her. Distance was observed during the visit, masks were worn where necessary. What effect so many half-covered faces is having on this intensely observing person we will only later discover.
These difficulties eventually will pass. The bigger question is the longer term. I grew up in a country still recovering from the material and human destruction caused by the Second World War. My recollection of that era is entirely of the future that was being created in the 1950s. I had no experience of ruined buildings and crippled lives. Just a newly-built housing estate in the midlands, and parents making their way out of the working class into the relative comfort and security of white-collar occupations. The state was responding to the failures of a previous generation by creating a structure of welfare from which I directly benefited. My granddaughter might not feel so blessed. She may instead experience a childhood over-shadowed by the re-fighting of wars of the previous decade.
About the yet longer term I have almost nothing to say. With an average amount of luck, this small child will live through the whole of this century. I simply cannot conceive what her surroundings will look like by the time she reaches my age. Climate change must constitute the greatest risk, but what in the end will be the balance between human neglect in creating the crisis and human ingenuity in responding to it, is beyond my calculation.
At least we have met. A cousin has just sent me a photograph of my paternal grandmother, Hannah, called Polly. She was a miner’s wife, and died of TB, what used to be called consumption, at the age of forty, on my father’s tenth birthday. I never knew even what she looked like. Cameras were uncommon possessions in her community. But it turns out that an image has survived, taken in a studio in Hanley. I gaze upon her face with fascination. She has thick dark hair, pulled back from a central parting. A strong, intelligent, humorous face. In what way have her looks found their way into my children? What was she like, and what part could she have played in my childhood, when she would only have been in her sixties and seventies?
I have lived long enough to encounter five grandchildren, and with this latest there is once more the prospect of getting to know each other, of exchanging views about what the world is like and how we might better live in it.