For days now, there has been the sense of the world closing in – speaking locally, I mean. It began with the elaborate filigree of scaffolding that appeared at the top of our street, in front of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Day by day the mysterious structure grew new outcrops; white covers appeared, along with identifiable terraces and glass roofs, before it was unveiled just before the weekend as a multi-tiered platform for the TV cameras of the world. The assembly of satellite trucks multiplies, it seems, by the hour, shoehorned into every cobbled nook and cranny around the Abbey.
Whitehall is an end-to-end crawl of red London buses, their own lanes given over to fleets of vans and anonymous creatures in hi-viz vests poring intently over gratings and manhole covers. I have to say that, as inspected (by me) from the bus, the gratings have never looked so clean or moss-free. I detect, too, that the gold plate beside the Welsh Office door has been recently polished. (Was it Brasso, I wonder, leaving that tell-tale white spillage around the edge? The traffic jam, slower every day, has afforded plenty of time to look.)
It was when the crowd barriers started to encroach on the northern stretch of our street over the Easter weekend that the reality of impending imprisonment loomed. They are not quite joined up; there are still gaps at the bus stops for hopeful passengers to squeeze through. In places you can still cross the road. But one day – will it be today, or tomorrow, or will they wait until the early hours of Friday? – those gaps will be closed, and some of those thousand or so police the Met says it has drafted in will be on patrol. If the maps printed in the local paper are to be believed, the traffic lights just 100 yards from our door will mark the start of the no-go zone. Yesterday I noted what looked like a collection of yellow security arches on the terrace overlooking the Mall. They were standing there, higgledy-piggledy. I dare say they will be brought neatly to order in good time for The Day. They know how to do these things.
On Easter Sunday, the scale and proximity of the gathering security operation really made itself felt. At lunchtime three of us were making our way through utterly deserted streets to the new cinema, a 10-minute walk, when we encountered a trio of solemn policemen, self-consciously cradling automatics and weighed down – to the amateur eye – with all manner of paramilitary technology. They eyed us and we eyed them. They kept pace with us as we walked, then caught up. I remarked on the pleasantness of the day; they agreed, and continued to keep pace, stopping only to inspect the underside of a parked police car that didn't seem to be theirs. We walked on, wondering to ourselves how they might have responded if we hadn't been white and of a certain age; if we hadn't conducted our short exchanges in accent-free English and... well, we just wondered.
It's a privilege to live in the heart of this city. But as Friday, and a certain wedding, approaches, this part of London will be in lockdown; our freedom of movement confined to the space in front of our television.
Are the meerkats about to meet their match?
Alison Richard, who was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 2003, soared stratospherically in my estimation when I learnt that she was a world authority on lemurs. Her research entailed enviable annual study trips to Madagascar, during which, presumably, she was able – equally enviably – to feast her eyes on these gorgeously furry mammals with enormously long, luxuriant, tails. Why had I not thought of this field of study?
Eight years on, and a year after Dr Richard was elevated to a damehood, lemurs could be on their way to becoming the next meerkats. Not only has a particularly rare black lemur just been born at the Isle of Wight Zoo to great fanfare, but Sir Richard Branson has taken an interest in the species – the surest sign of the next coming thing. He wants to take some lemurs currently in captivity and let them loose to live and breed in his private Caribbean islands. The idea is to save the species, which is threatened by deforestation in Madagascar, and perhaps also to enhance the attraction of his islands for eco-tourism.
Some scientists, though, are up in arms. They argue that the introduction of alien creatures can be disastrous for local wildlife – which here includes iguanas and geckos – while there are almost no precedents for transferring a species successfully from one continent to another. A provisional permit for importing the lemurs has been granted, but everything is now on hold because the authorities in the British Virgin Islands require the lemurs to be vaccinated against yellow fever, and this can't happen until the pregnant females have given birth. I do hope, though, that this is just a hitch. More lemurs in more places can only make the world a more interesting and delightful place.
No, he's not pregnant – and neither are we
Margaret Thatcher became the object of much ridicule when she declared: "We are a grandmother." At worst, she had misappropriated the royal "we" – confirmation for some that she had finally lost touch with reality – at best she was guilty of overenthusiasm. But what to make of the growing number of people who smilingly boast: "We're pregnant"?
The usual culprits are either a couple, invariably holding hands and exchanging adoring glances, or – worse – the beaming father-to-be. Yes, I know what he wants to say, and so do you. He's trying to say that he's a "new man"; overjoyed that his wife/fiancée/partner is expecting, determined to share the pleasure and the pain, committed to being a responsible Dad. And good for him. I just wish he wouldn't try to express it in a socially modish shorthand that is as patently absurd, as it is biologically incorrect. What's wrong with: "We're thrilled to be expecting a baby"?