Of all the Christmas specials that loop or catch up, the one I find the most poignant and funny is this episode of Tower in which Tom Hollander dramatically fails to evoke an authentic spiritual feeling in his drunken congregation at midnight mass. The beauty of this series was that even while comically gutting the piety and hypocrisy of the Church of England, Hollander never gave up his potential to offer simple human kindness.
When this episode came out ten years ago, census figures showed that 59.3% of the British population still considered themselves to be Christians. The latest census figures, released last week, saw that number drop to just over half the country – 51%. Meanwhile, the proportion of those who profess “no religion” increased by six percentage points to 38.4%. As someone who checks that last box, the only time I’m at church service these days, beyond weddings and funerals, is for nine annual Christmas carols and lessons. This year, as always, I was fascinated by the ease with which my memory inhabited even the most obscure of these sung verses. âVeiled in the flesh, the deity sees / Hail the deity incarnate,â I chanted with all the other participants once a year. And as always, I felt a flash of nostalgia for those childhood certainties – attributable, no doubt, to Charles Wesley and his unparalleled gift for rhyming propaganda.
Those at risk
A few weeks ago I was in Dunkirk, talking to some of those desperate people, young men and families, who were determined to make it to the beaches in the dark and take their chances and walk the 21 miles or so. most of the Channel crossing. . Then I walked along these beaches in sleet and freezing wind. Standing in front of the gray ocean, it hardly seemed understandable that anyone’s life – especially the lives of the people I had just chatted with – could be so bleak that getting into an overloaded rubber dinghy offered the best hope for it. to come up. In recent days, in response to the drowning of 27 people earlier this month, the EU border force has stepped up efforts to prevent crossings, employing an army-owned “high-tech observation plane” Danish air. Although the plane prevented a few launches, some boats still crossed the Channel to the UK, while other groups, including young children, were rescued by the RNLI. Planes further militarize what is a humanitarian crisis – safe routes for asylum seekers are the best (and cheapest) way to disrupt traffickers and prevent more deaths this winter.
Let it snow
Snowflakes have, in some political circles, gained a bad reputation in recent years. One man striving to give them back their ancient magic is Kenneth Libbrecht, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology. In 20 years of research, Libbrecht rewrote the science of ice crystals. This week, in time for Christmas, he’ll be releasing what’s billed as the Great Unified Snowflake Theory (a Â£ 98 stocking filler). Libbrecht’s main finding is that there are two very distinct ways of generating ice crystals, which are related to the complex structure of their surfaces and how they change with temperature. He, too, in Grinch fashion, refutes the one “fact” any child knows: by producing “designer” snow crystals, he has shown that, under at least laboratory conditions, two snowflakes can be exactly. alike.