Some years ago Thomas Schelling illustrated how we often coordinate by means of semi-conscious reference points. He illustrated this with his famous experiment of two friends, who can’t communicate, but have to decide where and at what time to rendezvous in New York. As you know, most opted for midday under the clock in Grand Central. When the same experiment is done in London, our students opt for Trafalgar Square or Piccadilly Circus as the most likely point their friend would choose (we exclude LSE). No more. We grow used to daily photos of both sites empty of people. In fact, away from the hospitals, this eerie silence pervades much of central London. Even the homeless have moved on because there is no one to ‘spare a dime’.
The financial sector has also dispersed from central London. Even if the pubs and clubs had been allowed to stay open, many of their customers have moved on. Like many of his peers, our son, has moved back, taking over the parental dining room with two enormous trading screens. Marx was right about capitalism’s ability to adapt.
We are fortunate to live in west London where the flight paths to Heathrow Airport have fallen silent. We now hear the birds in the morning, and see the stars at night. I confess it will be a shame to forego the airmiles to see old friends at this year’s SASE conference. But there it is.
Where is all this leading? A few weeks ago, the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel titled ‘Mad in Britain’ with a cover picture of our Prime Minister. Our political leaders ply us daily with military metaphors as if to fashion new reference points to deal with the virus. I hope that our network of international friendships within SASE may help in a small way to prevent social isolation from becoming national isolation.
David Marsden (SASE President 2002-2003)