The Jaded Jedi

Journal and General Musings

Day 266 in the Corona House: Would the real Darth Vader please stand up

30/11/2020

A short but heartfelt posting on day 266 and memories of someone I was lucky enough to meet (once) at drama school who died earlier today.

It was only when I looked back on his career and read the glowing tributes, (not Hollywood lovie glowing but genuinely sincere obituaries and commentary) that I realised David (Dave) Prowse had every right to be bitter over his career. However, in line with the touching words uttered by the likes of Mark Hamyll and Star Wars technical crew he chose not to be and in doing so won the heart of his fan. I hope he may also spur a few thoughts about how under-rated he has been in his portrayal of perhaps the quintessential cinema villain.

I must admit when I was sitting in a voice class taken by my tutor Anya Pronk, I wasn’t expecting to be visited in class by the six foot seven Green Cross Code man. He had taught those of us of a certain age to cross the road in the 1970’s. However, that’s what happened as in bowled one Mr Prowse casually dressed smiling warmly and acknowledged those in the room with ‘Afernoon’

Being a West Country boy myself, and with family roots in Somerset I recognised his burr as Bristolian and southern Bristol at that, not full Totterdown but certainly Bedminster. A man of his stature certainly dominated the room but when he spoke, he immediately seemed somehow less imposing. That turned out to be the story of his acting career and the reason he was attending – to encourage us to listen to our voice coaches lest we should suffer his experience.

Dave Prowse was a UK Champion weightlifter and had been the green cross code man since the mid seventies. Indeed a few years after when he was cast as Darth Vader in a little known film in production, the UK Government thought it might be so bad for his image he was nearly sacked from his road safety persona.

He maintained, at least in the version recounted to our class that he had no idea George Lucas would re-dub his role, though I must admit that may reflect some naivety on his part as a light tenor Vader really wasn’t threatening despite his imposing stature. Indeed, I understand members of the technical crew and later the wider crew referred to him as Darth Farmer because of his local yocal accent. It is hard to imagine George Lucas not having formed the intention to over-dub his evil dark Lord pretty early. Perhaps his true Bristolian shines through on the original version in the line
“If this is a diplomatic mission, where is the ambassador?” Just the slightest suggestions of it turning into ambassadol brought a smile to my face when I first heard it on an outtakes clip and every time I mentally replay it since.

Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Code man in 1976 – interestingly also with an over-dubbed voice

There was also the earlier instances of two adverts both of which predate Star Wars that were also over-dubbed to give more authority and gravitas to the champion of the Highway Code. I don’t seek to defend him not being told (if that was the case) that his voice wouldn’t make the final cut, but somehow I doubt it could have been quite the surprise it was described to us as being.

The face behind the Vader mask

Of course, dubbing a voice over another felt inappropriate for a role isn’t new. Perhaps most famously to the character of Lena Lamont in Singing in the Rain and the main premise of the plot of that film. Similarly, the singing voices of both Audrey Hepburn and Jeremy Brett were over-dubbed as neither of them were quite the song-birds the part called for.

However, I can’t help but feel sorry for Dave Prowse who was overlooked not once, but twice. It strikes me as a missed opportunity and expression of thanks to have passed him over for the great reveal of Vader in Return of the Jedi. It seems he was felt inappropriate as the voice of Vader and also as his face two films later.

Yet despite that, when you look at the film and feel the imposing nature of the Sith Lord or watch his ‘stillness; or reaction to other actors, it is clear he was a competent actor who commanded the attention of the camera as a physical force on the screen. So though the voice and face belonged to others, the presence, the physical acting skills and the timing were all very much Dave Prowse who must surely have triggered the imagination of countless thousands of children since the film was made. He was certainly a strong part of my childhood and early teenage memories and a reminder of quite how much we judge people by the trivial without ever seeing or knowing the person beneath the various masks we all wear at one time or another.

The third of the Green Cross Code adverts, this time with the actors own voice.

For those of you who want to hear the real voice of Darth Vader and the real voice of Dave Prowse, the third Green Cross Code road safety advert in 1976 (apparently during the filming of Star Wars) you’ll hear his Bristolian twang as it really was.

Thank you Dave Prowse for some amazing memories and childhood imaginings. May the force be with you – always.

Day 265 in the Corona House – The sign of four

29/11/2020

Paula Trewick has banjaxed my weekend.

There I was planning for a couple of days of tidying, decluttering and rearranging between baking a cake and going for a bike ride when bibbady bobbady boo, Paula Trewick kicks of fourgate and my weekend got whacked so far out of kilter it might as well be Tuesday.

For those unfamiliar with ‘fourgate‘, it started yesterday as a simple question about my newly acquired kitchen clock. Paula raised the QI point of why IIII should be the chosen representation for the number four rather than the more traditional use of IV standard roman numerology. So, yesterday’s blog post sought to answer that question (see yesterday’s post) and there have been, metaphorically speaking, baying mobs of pitchfork wielding ruffians pursuing me ever since.

Now my weekend has to include fact checking, researching, blogging time to say nothing of straightening my kitchen clock. Thanks to yesterday’s post, Peter Stebbing (who should have better things to be doing in Tasmania) noticed it was hanging at a more than usually jaunty angle. I no longer have enough hours available in the day and consequently the weekend, so Paula Trewick, I’m blaming you.

Don’t you know the importance of accuracy?

Now dear reader we take a slight detour to consider the socially acceptable and refined options open to you should you find the veracity of my content questionable. If you spot an error or worse still a falsehood, how should you go about challenging it?
I give you example 1 a London barrister. Let’s for the purposes of today call him Brent who, like me could have an argument in a phone box and shares my love of pedantry as a blood sport. Not for the first time, we found we differed on a point. In this case, my third suggestion in yesterday’s post that using IIII reduced wastage when moulding metal figures for clocks. Brent said

‘I suspect, whilst logically neat (and therefore superficially attractive), reason 3 isn’t true. Given it was a manual process, it would be very easy to simply not fill your mould all the way, as required, to avoid waste..

A masterclass, brief, pithy yet balanced with suspicion rather than assertion and making a coherent contrary argument. Contrast this with Mark from Manchester who tweets (I’m tempted to say I rest my case …. but)

That’s a lot of words to say stuff that is all wrong. It was made smart to use IIII after George Airey used it on Big Ben making it popular in London society. He did it on all his clocks.

Now that wasn’t very nice was it boys and girls. I don’t claim to be universally correct (well sometimes I do, but I know I shouldn’t). However, such unrestrained certainty is always something that will grab my attention, particularly when they’re wrong. I don’t typically go into full rebuttal mode, but after thanking Mark for his clearly honestly held belief, we end our brief discussion of online manners and here are a few points for the jury (readership) to consider – did I lead you astray?

Big Ben with no hour markers

Firstly, I come from a long line of pedants and must point out that Sir George Airey was far too busy being Astronomer Royal at the time ‘The Great Clock of the Palace of Westminster’ was installed to worry much about whether IIII or IV was used. Nobody has placed any markings on Big Ben which as we know is the bell used by the clock to strike and chime.
The clock face is part of what was originally called ‘The Clock Tower’ in the original commission. This was later known as St Stephen’s Tower before being renamed The Queen Elizabeth Tower in 2012 as part of the commemoration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

The suggestion that to misquote the Sun it was London Society what done it is to miss the point that IIII has been commonplace on clocks and indeed in literature for at least half a millennium we can trace before the Houses of Parliament were built (in their current form). Louis XIV (or should that be Louis XIIII) instructed his horologists to use the IIII format in the 18th Century. Something tells me he may have set more of the fashion that the early Vctorian London chatterati.

Mark would be wise to employ Dr Google with the search phrase “Forme of Cury” which is a 1390 manuscript explaining the affront to the Roman Catholic church that IV represented on clock faces being an abbreviated form of IVPITER (the Latin version of the Roman God Jupiter). Again, nothing to do with fashionable stirrings in what is now SW1A.

However, lets not speculate on the relative importance of historical figures on fashion. Put those points to one side. Let’s examine the claim that Airey did this on all of his clocks. There are three issues with this suggestion. The first is Sir George Airey didn’t actually make any clocks, though he did commission a few including the Royal Observatory, the old Admiralty buildings and the clock in the turret of St Pauls Cathedral. Where Mark is correct is that all those examples show IIII.

The second is clocks on these scales are not a stock item, they are built to order. Saying a clock is ‘by’ someone didn’t have anything much to do with the face that was eventually put on it. The ‘clock’ refers to the mechanical movement alone, in the examples above all by Edward Dent who was championed and supported by Sir George Airey – something of a repeat customer.

Two London clock faces (The Royal Exchange and Threadneedle St) with movements by Edward Dent

That brings me to my third point and the one which I fear is most damaging to Mark’s suggestion that Airey made the practice popular following his success on the Palace of Westminster.

The Great Clock in The Elizabeth Tower is indeed a Dent movement. However, the face was designed by none other than Augustus Pugin who designed just about everything in the palace from the flying buttresses to the door handles. His design for the clock face is available in the British Museum and was part of the initial commission calling on clock makers to submit their proposals. These designs included every detail down to the length and weight of the hour and minute hands. If you think about it information any horologist would need if his mechanism has to be strong enough to move them. It also contained the minute markings, five minute dividing bars and the hour letterings.

The observant among you will also note the final deficiency in the argument that it was the Great Clock of Westminster that set the trend for IIII – as can clearly be seen in the now restored blue lettering, the clock face uses IV true to Pugin’s original designs.

Still here in the Corona house

28/11/2020

Those readers who read the blog posts I published in the first quarter of the year will be familiar with the Corona house. The place (or to be more precise) two places I’ve been shielding from Corona since Vaughan and I returned from Milan in early March. I managed to blog for the first 75 days before feeling I had less to say than might be necessary to make it 76 days. So what brings me the Corona house back to the blogosphere now?

Today, that’s the result of three parallel moments of wonder that each gave me a momentary pause for thought. Now, if you’re anything like me you’re pretty happy to take your unexpected momentary pleasures as and when they present themselves. So, having three in one day would be selfishness personified, were I not to share them in the hope they might also bring some distraction, entertainment or interest to others. The three tremors were in order the unexpected reminder of a much loved performer, the shock on how tempus has fugited and finally a question from Paula T who allowed me to go all QI for a minute or two. So here they are

The first ‘wow’ of the day came when I worked out just how many days I’ve been in the Corona house. If you read the spring blogs followed the day count to 75 but where would we be now? I ask it as though it isn’t where I am. As it happens, both Vaughan and I have been out of the house barely at all. In reality I’ve been isolating due to medical vulnerability to Covid since March as has Vaughan albeit he’s had the occasional socially distanced gym visit.

I will leave the thought with you and ask you to pitch the day count based on how it feels (no doing the mental arithmetic – I’ll give you the figure a little later and you can see how close you were and whether you under or overestimated the period of captivity. In the meantime, a huge thank you to Kimberley for pointing me at my second highlight of the day.

I’m sure I’m not the only person of a certain age who remembers what UK Sundays were like in the 1970’s. Everything was shut, public transport was on a greatly reduced service. TV (dominated by London Weekend Television) went from the morning service, to Weekend World with Brian Walden and if you were lucky an episode of Space 1999 or UFO. Then if you switched to the radio you could just catch the last ten minutes of Jimmy Clitheroe before two way family favourites. A Sunday afternoon walk then Songs of Praise and Rumpole of the Bailey. The evening was typically brought to a close by the adenoidal tones of Melvyn Bragg and the South Bank Show although I often only made it through the opening credits.

However, if you were lucky there was the Sunday evening comedy slot bizarrely late at around 9.30 or 10pm. There I was introduced to Maureen Lipman in Agony, Judy Dench and Michael Williams in The Two of Us and my favourite Elaine Stritch (and Donald Sinden) in Two’s Company.

Elaine Stritch giving some Ethel to I’m Still Here from Follies

Among those shows, Elaine Stritch seemed amazingly brash and exotic to a would be teenager who’d snuck up to watch, or rather listen to the outrageous Dorothy McNab screach ‘Rohbert’ with a vocal intensity that could shatter any glass. I loved her. Through that I found she was not just a sitcom player but a true trooper and later I was lucky enough to see her perform Broadway Baby in concert (London). You’ll note I said perform rather than sing. Even her greatest fan wouldn’t say she was a natural song bird, but I defy anyone to squeeze more meaning and feeling into and out of a lyric than she did.

The great pity is not a huge amount of her work survives, so to be pointed at a piece with both Patty Lapone and Elaine Stritch which had until this point passed me by was a real tonic. I hope you enjoy it too.

My new clock with questionable roman numerals

The third and final moment of wonder stemmed from a clock I bought for our kitchen. Fairly large (50cm diameter) it provided a much needed tick in the house and means I can finally stop traipsing to the central heating control to find out what time it is.

I posted on Facebook that I was pleased with the character it brought to the room and a fried commented that it looked good but asked why roman numerals used IIII for 4 rather than the more conventional IV.

Now as some of my friends will tell you, to someone who thinks he was robbed for the host of QI not once but twice this was a gift that couldn’t have been better received had it been wrapped in twenty pound notes. As a former quizzer and collator of generally useless information I promised Paula a summary of the reasons why and that led to this blog. So thank you Paula for providing the final straw than pushed this camel back onto t’interweb. In the spirit of exchange being no robbery, here are four reasons why horologists often favour the unconventional IIII over the traditional IV. It’s worth stressing for the uber pedantic that none of these is the answer but rather the combined impact of all four reasons produced the mixed economy we see on face clocks today.

  1. Don’t diss the Gods
    The IIII style can be found as long ago as Roman times albeit on sun dials and ‘clock candles’ rather than clocks. In this period of history may sun dials used IIII for religious reasons. The latin for the Supreme Roman God (Jupiter) was IVPPITER. Several texts comment that having a shortened version of a deities name on a sun dial (and then upside down and at the bottom of the dial not the top might be misconstrued. So IIII was used as an alternative
  2. Keeping up with the Louis’
    Louis XIV instructed his clockmakers to use IIII rather than IV as it made the clock easier to read and less confusing when observed quickly. This subsequently became something of a fashionable quirk and was taken as a sign of a classy clock (or clockmaker) and probably worth an extra marc or two on the price. The fashion spread and most French timepieces used IIII as standard even today.
  3. Keep in simple and cheap
    Imagine you’re making a clockface and having to cast the numerals. If you use IIII you’ll need 20 x I, 4 x V and 4 x X. A single mould of XVIIIII cast four times gives you all you need and no wastage. If you use IV your numbers are shot and however you try you can’t repeat a waste free casting.
  4. Aestethics
    Most of the modern clock and watchmakers who comment on these things (I found a few online) point out that if you just had IV, V, VI that quarter of the clock looks very unbalanced when countered by VI, VII, VIII so using IIII instead gives a more balanced appearance to the face of the clock
  5. Mental Symmetry
    Related to the last point, it may just be that the look is more logical, creates a pattern which is missing if IV is used and is subconsciously more pleasing. With the use of IIII the first four places all start with I, the next four with V and the last four introduce X

Perhaps a combination of reasons accounts for the practice lasting into current times. Perhaps with the move to increasingly digital readouts, it may be a puzzle that will disappear along with a circular clock face. Now there’s a thought.

Finally, just when you thought it was safe to go back outside, here is that answer I promised you. I for one have rarely had my gob so smacked as when I did the count to see how long I’ve been walled up in fifteenth century nun stylee..

So whatever your clock face may look like, I wish you goodnight from what was day 264 in the Corona house.

Day 74 in the corona house: Let’s go outside (not).

21/05/2020

Day 74 and counting

I think I’m done with the sofa,
I think I’m done with the hall,
I think I’m done with the kichen table baby.
Let’s go outside,
Let’s go outside, in the sunshine,
I know you want to but you can’t say yes ..
(Go outside)

Somehow this deeply ironic track seems to sum up today and much of this week for me. It seems people have grown bored of Coronavirus and the call of a sunny day defeats the immediate fear of an intensive care bed.

I recognise today’s post is going to be contentious but it’s a glimpse into how we might consider answering the question – why after nearly three months of quarantine are we still detecting between two and three thousand new infections per day? Importantly, what if anything does this tell us about the current viral spread and what the next few months might bring.

Before asking why we are still getting infections, lets recap where we are at present. In the next two graphs, the exact figures aren’t the concern, it’s the trend over time. In both cases, the UK is shown by the brown lines.

From top to bottom, Spain, UK, Italy, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and Malaysia – New cases

In the graph above, the interesting trend to note is the smoothing of the curve (the flattening out) for Italy, France, Germany and to a lesser extent Spain. However, the UK rate of new transmissions continues to climb and although the trend is down the rate of new cases still remains stubbornly higher than elsewhere. On this trend, we will overtake or equal Spain’s cases reported in just over a week. We have already exceeded them in terms of total deaths. Of course, it’s difficult to compare countries directly. For example, Spain and Italy are not consistently counting deaths in care homes. But to be fair until fairly recently neither were we.

Of course, we’re far from being in the worst position. The US has over 1.6 million cases and continues to chart a linear curve with no sign of slowing down significantly. They are of course also relaxing controls and quarantine on a state by state basis. We can only imagine how that may end.

From top to bottom – Russia, Spain, UK, Italy, France, Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, S.Korea – new cases

Looking wider afield, we can see that Russia is growing with a steep linear growth curve. Today’s Office of National Statistics raises doubts about even these UK figures. According to their findings they estimate a weekly infection rate of approaching 60,000 cases which would mean we are only picking up about 30% of cases.

Given that we’ve been in quaratine for six weeks what accounts for this? Here are some possibilities.

Mixed diluted or confused messaging
  1. Confused messaging:
    That may be due to a split in preferred direction in cabinet, a feature of the Prime Minister having been absent for a period of time, uncertainty over the developing science or a mix of the above.
    Whatever the cause, the lack of clear and consistent tone and message has given the opportunity for some to say it’s too hard to understand or follow and others to dismiss for narrow political reasons.
    I don’t level the cause of the confusion entirely at this governments door. Journalists have shown a professional irresponsibility in my view in two ways. Firstly, they hunger to extend develop and push their own news cycle agenda demanding things are tightened demanding steps are taken, creating artificial pressures then complaining when they don’t succeed, aren’t met or aren’t effective. Secondly, I don’t know about you but I’m thoroughly fed up of seeing reporters in yet another hospital, or at yet another clapathon, street-party or in a quiet street when there is no necessity for them to be there. There is plenty of stock footage of a care home, I don’t need a new cycle of journalists breaking quarantine where it isn’t valuable.
    Finally (issues of devolution aside) I think we’re seeing that the response to a national pandemic is not something that should be devolved from a central national response.
    Each time either England, Scotland or Wales make a move the press challenge the others to either match or exceed it. First ministers have (in my view) acted in nearly all cases with professional objectivity. However, there is always that slight edge of showing Prime Ministerial gravitas and demonstrating your capability. It isn’t necessary, helpful or doing anything to consolidate a single message. I would entirely support a concesus approach being agreed behind closed doors. However, the virus doesn’t respect non existant borders, the devolved bodies have neither the capacity or infrastructure to impose a significantly different approach and it simply dilutes the efforts being made while unnecessarily triplicating effort, messaging and actions. I believe this competency should not be a devolved one.
You can’t mean me can you?

2. It doesn’t count if you’re special

As someone who’s been complying with the restrictions imposed by the new regulations for over seventy days, I’ve little sympathy for those who are just getting bored, can’t be arsed or haven’t seen enough deaths to retain their interest and consequent compliance.
It appears to me that we have three distinct groups of people who are frequently acting outside the restrictions. We have a professional cadre, a demographic cadre and a corporate cadre which could be contributing significantly to the continued infection rate.
Those wishing to account for the significant percentage of new tests coming from key workers may wish to consider a couple of these groupings.

Don’t worry I’m professionally immune.

Group A are those who mistakenly believe they are professionally immune from infection for reasons that have never been made entirely clear. Typically, it’s heretical to criticise emergency service workers or worse still the holiest of holies emergency medical staff for making poor compliance choices. We’re told professional experience and expertise is being used when the public, doctors, nurses, paramedics, old uncle tom cobley and all mingle outside the local hospital A&E, or on Westminster bridge. We’re told its somehow different because teams work together regularly or people understand the virus in their given environment. Each Thursday I continue to see prime time examples of non-socially distanced personnel who should know better and expect the public to work to protect them failing to protect themselves. The current science indicates the virus is far more infectious than we thought. Just one or two asymptomatically positive personnel need to be present for the whole group to be an avoidable risk. – But it’s ok because they are special cases.
I don’t say this to minimise the work of dedicated, hard working and committed professionals. I also acknowledge there are significant concerns (probably entirely justified) with regard to the provision of emergency protective materials. It is clearly the case that some spreading of the virus in NHS emergency environments is unavoidable. However, because some is unavoidable doesn’t mean it’s wise, appropriate or unimpeachable to take further avoidable risks. The professional immunity hasn’t prevented 49 deaths in NHS workers as measured by the department of health, the 165 as reported by the Guardian or the 260 as reported by health unions.

I’m 25 and I’m immortal

Group B are perhaps slightly more to be expected. This photograph was taken two weeks in south London, before the relaxed regulations. The focus of the shot was on the basketball court, but I could have taken similar photographs on the table tennis tables, football pitch, seating area or community orchard seating. All have been shut, locked and chained and all are clearly marked as being out of bounds in order to lessen the spread of the virus.

Today, I heard academics on BBC News 24 asking why the virus (specifically the virus in London) is more prevalent in black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and more prevalent in men than in women.
Certainly, were I asked that question based on those I see breaching the regulations daily, I could give them some useful data.
I rarely see any girls or women failing to comply with closed areas, restrictions or gathering for a quick netball, hockey or womens rugby match. Yet daily, young men, mostly but not exclusively black and minority ethnic men under 30 playing basketball, football, sparring, group running or similar. It’s clearly too simplistic to be the whole answer but it may well be a contributory factor.

Clearly signed, obviously locked and equally obviously ignored.

As access to the fenced off area is limited, I regularly watch a group of 4, 8 or 10 vault or jump over the metal fence in the same place all touching the same part of the cold metal barriers – you know, that sort of cold metal surface on which the virus survives longest.
I’m sure it’s natural to have the certainty of youth that 30 seems ancient and anything over 35 is nearly fossilised. At twenty something we’re all immortal – right? Of course regrettably they’re wrong.
It is possible there is some reduced likelihood of serious illness at a younger age. However, even if that is true (and the science is still out on the matter) these twenty young men each go home to their twenty families, friends and doorsteps on which to clap and otherwise engage in daily life. Given a typical incubation period of 4-10 days, it’s clear this could contribute to further spread.

Group C is the corporate cadre (and in that I include professional and organised sport). Airlines plan to open flights without social distancing having been applied – because it’s impossible on planes. Indeed Ryanair has already been criticised for flights to Stanstead where no attempt to social distance had been taken.

Constant whining from professional football players, managers and corporate sponsors make special pleading for training to continue, for matches to carry on behind closed doors as they are special cases. I mean it couldn’t apply to sport could it. – The virus doesn’t care and it’s not necessary yet other than to keep football’s coffers well stocked.

In recent days, I’ve noticed a divide opening up. Those who have become more strict and those who have frankly given up all pretence and don’t think there is a problem any more.

The issue is history doesn’t support their position. No pandemic of the flu or coronavirus type has resolved in a single wave. The 1918 Spanish flu, SARS and MERS were more severe in the second wave.
We’ve stopped thinking in large part, many people just weren’t told no enough as a child and don’t like being told it applies to them too. In a sense I fear they will learn through Darwinism in action.
The virus doesn’t care if you’re a doctor, an emergency services worker, a professional sports player, a nationalist, of the left or the right. I’m afraid it’s not ok if its for a good cause or if it helps morale or if you think you’re immortal.
We have some loosening of the controls. That’s welcome and natural. However it’s a sliding scale of learning how to live with this virus until a vaccine is available. If we all just think it applies to everyone else we’ll just be back here in 3 months time.


Today’s post takes its title from a 1998 George Michael track which may be heard on the following control.

Outside – George Michael 1998

Day 54 in the corona house:

01/05/2020

Well, where did that fortnight go?
I had a couple of messages asking if I’d stopped blogging. The answer being yes and no. Yes, because if you haven’t seen any for a while and have to ask if I’ve stopped then at the very least there has been a hiatus.

No, well the intention is to continue, but perhaps less frequently. Since starting this isolation count I’ve lost a job and found a new one. Over the past ten days that required me to do an amount of preparation and setup. Add to that dealing with a suspended building project remotely, setting myself up on the governments vulnerable persons list, catching up on admin and the time to blog went out of the window for a while.

A few people asked how many days we’ve been in quarantine – so hopefully the big 54 picture above answers that question. So just a quick report in this evening and I’ll do a catch up piece tomorrow.

Day 40 in the corona house: Don’t clap for me, I’m a cleaner.

17/04/2020

Earlier in this series of quarantine posts, I mentioned that I have a tendency to question accepted wisdom. Some see this as being naturally contrarian, others as being a desire to tilt at windmills.

I hope it’s not default contrarianism and I don’t intentionally tilt at windmills, though I accept it may appear as such to others. There are two fundamental ‘triggers’ for me. The first is a disbelief in holy cows. I can’t think of any body or organisation that is above question or challenge. Secondly, it’s all too easy to accept a universal truth that is so widely held that it must be true (mustn’t it?). After all there’s no need to actually think about or question something that people have always thought was true is there? Down that road leads lazy thinking, herd mentality and action without thought – just because it’s what everyone else is doing.

I prefer to remain open minded about what I’m told, to form my own opinion about what I believe and think. That doesn’t make me right, nor does it mean I won’t land in the same place as everyone else, but it does mean I’ll have thought about how I landed there.
If that all sounds just too weird to you and that degree of questioning seems abnormally and unnecessarily independent then I suggest moving to the next blog or post because it’s going to be a rocky road from this point.

Declaring a starting point

I did say that I don’t believe in sacred cows. However, this cow is so sacred at least in the UK that I have to start by declaring my starting position.

You’ll forgive the shorthand I hope, but for clarity, I believe in the National Health Service as a means of providing very good health care free at the point of use. I don’t support an insurance based system such as is found in the United States equally, I don’t have a problem with those who wish to insure themselves privately. I believe the service provides (on the whole) a good to very good level of medical care and is exceptional in some areas. I believe it is underfunded and staff are undervalued. I also believe it’s overly beurocratic, hasn’t adopted technology well in terms of the experience for many patients and its governance is broken resulting in post-code variations in the use or treatment of various conditions. As to privatisation, I wouldn’t want to see that, but it depends as always on what you mean by privatisation. I would be strongly against front line services or patient facing services being routinely delivered under a different model. I’m more relaxed about some of the ancilliary and administrative functions.

That done, I can now ask the impossible question. Am I the only person who find the scheduled clapping for the NHS a bit naff?

I took place in the first week without giving it too much pause for thought. Some of the events of the following week then started to give me some reservations though I did still join in on week two. Yesterday, I didn’t partake in the mass clapping as it had started to feel rather contrived and in my view risks being counter productive.

That doesn’t mean others shouldn’t partake, nor does it mean that I’m not supportive of or thankful to those working in the NHS. I recognise significant confusion and deficiencies over the provision of adequate personal protective equipment in sufficient numbers. Similar issues exist for maintaining their supply once initial supplied had been provided. I share the view that doctors and nurses should have appropriate equipment and supplies when dealing with patients who may present an immediate and significant risk to their safety and ultimately their life. However, the NHS isn’t alone in this regard. Some of this is language and I’ll return to that shortly, but some of my concern is also the fact the whole idea is feeding a different need to that publicised in the setup.

In the poster above I was struck by the words ‘during these unprecedented times, they need to know we are grateful’. I always twitch slightly with a setup assertion – or put another way, who are ‘they’ and who say’s they need to to know we are grateful. A friend of a friend put it even more directly with the question ‘when did the NHS get so needy?’

An early clap for the NHS poster

To answer his question, I don’t think it ever has been needy in this way. I don’t believe there has ever been any doubt that the public are grateful. I do also have a slight problem with the qualification that it’s important at this time – why is that there ?
In answering that question we hit the core difficulty I have. I can’t believe the poster means it’s important now but not before or once the crisis is over, although that’s what it says. My suggestion is that this has less to do with the needs of the NHS staff and more to do with the needs of the poster producer(s) and us the wider public. We are broadly powerless in the face of the virus, could it be that these communal rounds of applause are more to do with assuaging that concern than in providing needed reassurance to those in the NHS. If so, that’s fine but it does rather change the nature of the event.

Now to the language concerns I mentioned a little earlier. Looking at three posters all for the same events but sending very different and mixed messages.

The first poster refers to our NHS carers. As stated earlier I recognise the service and risks being taken by medical staff in our accident and emergency and hospital wards. They are doing a marvellous job, but a job they chose and presumably knew that this may involve some risk. Those working in infectious disease units know there is an increased risk of contracting an infectious disease. I don’t mean to imply the current risk profile comes with the territory, it is clearly disfunctional and poorly supplied, but we do risk overstating the nurses as angels line. They have chosen a vocation with risk just as a police officer, prison officer or soldier does.
So the first poster wishes to thank those in the NHS, this excludes the entirity of the social care providers, those providing the same services in nursing and care homes, home workers and local authority or private care givers, hospice and many charity workers, none of whom are NHS staff. That hardly seems fair given that these people with equal compassion and commitment are taking similar or exactly the same risks.

The second poster is even less inclusive just focused on those within the NHS who work in hospitals – forget the GP’s, district nurses, health workers and visitors etc. The last is arguably even less inclusive focused on NHS front-line workers (admin, finance, porters, technicians are apparently not to be included).
I’m not being totally serious with these distinctions as I’m sure all three posters mean well – but my point still stand. Actions taken in haste may be taken in good faith but can still cause some to feel excluded and undervalued which I don’t think is helpful in the current circumstances.

Finally, did anyone think through the messaging before going to press – clap for the NHS ? As a wag of my acquaintance said ‘I think they’ve got enough on their plates haven’t they?’ Also, look at the splendid social distancing apparent in the second of the three posters above. Is that a poorly chosed picture, do the staff think it doesn’t apply to them or did the producer just not spot that it wasn’t reinforcing the social distancing theme?

For the last two weeks, on Thursdays at 8pm we have had a series of non socially-distanced gatherings that would in any other circumstance be broken up and potentially tickets issued to those taking part.

The three photographs above from three different areas of the country show the new weekly meeting outside hospitals of the local emergency services. If you blow up the photos you’ll see none are maintaining 2m distance, very few have masks on and all have and will be engaging with the public including the most vulnerable in their communities. These gathering lasted between 5 and 15 minutes on average, some longer. More than enough time for the further transmission of the virus.

It’s fairly reasonable to assume NHS staff have been in contact with active cases, similarly for paramedics and police officers. Let’s assume there are 2-3 infected people in these groups. The risk is the emergency services become the means by which this spreads further.

In many cases we see all three emergency services meeting up to mark the 8pm event. I wonder why?
If the purpose of the 8pm event is for the public to thank those on whom they depend that’s one thing, but it need not turn into a mutual appreciation event however well intentioned. This strikes me as being indicative of people seeing themselves as outside of the active bubble. Police are policing those in the bubble, paramedics assist those in the bubble etc. All need to understand they are in the same bubble and are not external to it. This behaviour is not helpful.

Today, I was listening to the Health and Social Care Sectretary giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee. In that hearing, we heard a call for something similar to the clapping for NHS worksers but to include local authority workers, environmental health and trading standards officers. This event is achieving (or risks achieveing) exactly the opposite of its stated aims. It is building division, reinforcing a special and reserved space for the NHS based as much as anything on political dogma at the expense of those doing broadly similar work elsewhere.

I’m not usually a fan of reductio ad absurdum, but in this case it’s potentially helpful.

As I mentioned, I respect and will defend medical professionals and those who choose to nurse, but that doesn’t automatically confer angelic status. If it did, where would this chain of righteousness end?

Jane (for the purposes of debate) is a nurse and therefore automatically an angel for working at risk. Does Ian the Uber driver who ferried her from home to the hospital gain any angelic quality for enabling her to undertake her duties? Is the food delivery driver from a local farm shop angelic for keeping some of the medical staff in food and household goods? Is the Amazon driver who delivered the 3D printed mask angelic or a hero for making this delivery? If he is a hero, would he or she have been equally heroic if he or she had delivered something purely frivolous to Jane’s address. Is the local community pharmacist to be praised for dealing with two customers preventing them from otherwise ending up in Jane’s A and E unit.

The more we think of it, the more interdependant we are. To single one sector out is logically inconsistent and although it may assist with morale it comes with costs both in terms of inclusivity, mutual respect and further virus transmission. Of course everyone remains entirely free to join in if it helps them cope with the situation – but for me it’s started to feel more like those Chrsitmas party games that must be participated in or you’re not enjoying yourself (as defined by the host).
I thank all those making life more bearable, putting themselves at risk, undertaking their jobs in extremely challenging circumstances and working to keep people safe, well and enjoying a good quality of life. That applies to all those within the NHS and those outside of this important and amazing organisation from delivery drivers to retailers, care workers and those caring for others at home.

Today’s post takes its name from a mangled version of Don’t cry for me Argentina. For those who like to hear the tracks, it may be heard on the player below

Don’t cry for me Argentina – Julie Covington (from Evita)

Day 39 in the corona house: Working 9 till 5

16/04/2020

Day 39 in the corona house

The past couple of days has been dominated by work one way or another.

Due to a combination of events, self-isolation, preceeded by holiday and time in lieu, it was the end of February when I last went into an office to work. The small matter of being made redundant during that time didn’t help things (that was just prior to the quarantine kicking-in). Then the challenge of looking for work when half of the country was shut and the other half was being furlowed made the timing less than optimal to put it politely.

Then at the beginning of this month, I was approached to see if I would be interested in a role in a similar space. That led to a job offer and the last couple of days I’ve been doing the associated admin and prep for that which has taken a fair bit of time.

I’ve found this week pretty solitary which is an odd thing to say given I’ve been isolating for nearly 40 days. However, Vaughan works remotely in his home office most of the day and though I find things to do – such a blog, sort group admin out it’s mostly just me and Taz.

Solitude isn’t something I’m unused to but this week I’ve just noticed it more. It is making doing stuff – such as blogging more difficult. At the moment it doesn’t seem to serve much point, other than take up some of the time.
Whether it’s a manifestation of isolation fever, boredom or something else I’m uncertain, but let’s hope it passes.

Day 36 in the corona house: You’ve got to be carefully taught.

13/04/2020

Three dozen days in quarantine

Good morning from the heart of Peckerwell, that small unrecorded parish in south east London that has at least a split personality, possibly multiple personalities and the associated disorders that go with them.

The name describes that nebulous zone in which Peckham blends with Camberwell and vice versa. Of course there is no such zone, you are either in Peckham in the borough of Southwark or you are in Camberwell, also in the borough of Southwark. There is no demilitarised zone, no neutral zone or no man’s land but despite this Peckerwell most certainly exists.

Rather like Liverpool and Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow or Cheltenham and Gloucester, these places share or at least co-exist in adjoining grids on a map. However whether through friendly or less friendly rivalry, they have an interesting relationhip. It’s not close enough to be a love-hate relationship or distant enough to be animosity. To me it’s they are places that really deserve to be twinned with the other but would never elect to do so voluntarily.

To understand the parish of Peckerwell you need only consider the welcome signs to the two neighbouring districts. Peckham’s sign is loud neon, probably backed with some very funky reggae track and has either the confidence or irony to include the word fabulous. In contrast, Camberwell Green – note the addition of the Green even in areas of Camberwell that are not the green and you get a glimpse of their individual characters. Camberwell’s sign is ‘classy’ – well they will tell you that, though it’s classy in the sense a tombstone or a sign saying ‘public toilets’ are classy. It’s gravitas is marked by its funerial dullness.

There is also something of a we look up to the them and we look down on them history between the neighbourhoods. There is a reasonably well known comment about Camberwell that says:

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Half the residents of Camberwell are either Lawyers or Psychiatrists. The other half are either their clients or their patients.

In Victorian times, a much more pointed version was commonplace which said The residents of Camberwell are either Lawyers, Psychiatrists or Jailors, the residents of Peckham and Brixton are their clients, patients or prisoners.

The unofficial symbol of Peckham

Historically, Camberwell grew as a village around the church of saint Giles which still stands albeit now on Peckham Road. The local village and later market green known as goose green became the heart of the village. (Strage how goose green doesn’t have the same ring about it isn’t it?). The goose became the unofficial symbol of Camberwell.

As nearly every village had it’s own market space, Camberwell engaged in some early marketing and drew in the crowds with exotic wildlife – a mix of circus and tourist attraction. These included Chinese teal. fighting mallards and even Pelicans. Obvjously the smell and noise wasn’t going to be something Camberwell wanted, so they were hatched, raised and ‘farmed’ in nearby Peckham.

I can’t help but raise a wry smile when walking through Camberwell. There is no mention or sign of a goose to be seen there today. That part of their early trading days is seemingly erased from the district. In contrast walking just a little way beyong St Giles church into Peckham, I pass a cafe called the Peckham pelican next to the Pelican estate. Local addresses include Teal house, Kingfisher House and Heron house all on the sites that raised those birds for display in Camberwell. Irony indeed.

When you’ve finished buying your rustic bread and having your shoes resoled at the Peckham cobbler in SE15 you could walk a few streets to Camberwell in SE5. You might notice that the same bread is no longer a rustic loaf but is artisan bread from an artisan bakery. Similarly the cobblers is a traditional craftsman shoe repair. Additionally, you’ll have noticed your post code as increased by 10 and your house price dropped by between thirty and fifty thousand pounds for similar properties. So you can see for some, it’s very important which side of the Peckerwell expanse you land. I’m pleased to say most people rub along pretty well most of the time though that wasn’t the case this morning.

Decorated tree in Peckham

As I was walking Taz this morning (I’m convinced if you asked Taz he might tell you he was walking me) we came across that ever popular street activity – casual racism.

A lady was decorating one of the large trees outside her house with lanterns, streamers and the like. She looked south Asian in origin but I later found through a socially distanced check that she was adopted and had lived in the house for over forty years. She was a student of the green man and celebrated the old traditional seasonal festivals rather than take part in structured religion. The tree decorations were to celebrate the pagan festival of Ēosturmōnaþ (I had to look it up).

This celebration was clearly offfending a couple in the street (think Wayne and Waynetta or Shazza and Bazza) who were complaining at the rather festive decorations. I hung around in the adjacent shrubbery while Taz sniffed thinking she may need some support. I was wrong. At first, the complaining couple assumed the decorations were something to do with Eid until the woman hanging the decorations pointed out she wasn’t Muslim nor was it late May. (15-love).
Wayne and Waynetta complained that she was too bloody late for Easter. The woman unphased pointed out that Orthadox Easter was in fact next week were she celebrating it, which she wasn’t but it she were, she would be a bit bloody early (30-love).

Taz on a mission

Wayne and Waynetta then changed tack somewhat asking in terms whether this was something they did where she came from? Without much more than a momentary hesitation she replied “Haringey you mean? I’m not really sure dear” (30-love).

At this point I was at full leads length away and shouted over asking if everything was ok. “Fine thank you just discussing theology” came the reply. (Game – thank you linesmen, thank you ball boys).

At this point, Taz who was being entirely inoffensive shoved his head through the bushy grass which seemingly alarmed Waynetta sufficiently that both she and Wayne made their excuses and left.

I then had an entirely unexpected discussion (from about 12 feet) about pagan celebrations and their role in the early Christian Church and the influence the Anglo Saxon culture had on it. Hardly something I had expected for Easter Bank Holiday Monday, though stragely appropriate.

Now, I don’t know much about early Anglo Saxon pagan celebrations but I was able to dazzle with some insights into the morphing of Saturnalia into Christmas. I think I may have disappointed somewhat when I explained this didn’t come from a doctorate of theology but rather series three of the big bang theory.

Sheldon explains Saturnalia – The Big Bang Theory

During the following five minutes I learned a few things. Firstly, we’re about the only country that celebrate Easter using that word. Most celebrate an event stemmed from the latin Pascha referring to the aramaic and Hebrew word ‘pashac’ describing Jewish passover a few cases in point being:

  • Latin — Pascha or Festa Paschalia
  • Greek — Paskha
  • Bulgarian — Paskha
  • Danish — Paaske
  • Dutch — Pasen
  • Finnish — Pääsiäinen
  • French — Pâques
  • Indonesian — Paskah
  • Irish — Cáisc
  • Italian — Pasqua
  • Lower Rhine German — Paisken
  • Norwegian — Påske
  • Portuguese — Páscoa
  • Romanian — Pasti
  • Russian — Paskha
  • Scottish Gaelic — Càisg
  • Spanish — Pascua
  • Swedish — Påsk
  • Welsh — Pasgh
The Pagan Godess Ēostre

However, in England and Germany early Christianity had a tough time shifting the engrained pagan deities including one godess of fertility and renewal – her name being Eostre.

Many theological scholars point out that many pagan festivals were incorportated or borrowed into the Christian calendar and Easter (or at least the name Easter) may be another such example.

Symbols associated with her were the hare (March hares etc), garlands of spring flowers and eggs all signs of a renewed spring in Anglo Saxon northern Europe. As Vaughan has just broken open (and now I look more closely mostly eaten) the second Easter egg I’m glad that bit of pagan celebration was carried forward.

Strange to think it might be the Easter hare rather than the Easter bunny isn’t it? In any event whether you are celebrating the period for religious or non religious reasons, may you have a safe peaceful and joyful day.
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The title of todays post comes from a number of the same name from the musical South Pacific. For those who like to hear the tracks, it can be heard here sung by Mandi Patinkin in the control below.

Day 35 in the corona house: I will go the distance.

12/04/2020

Day 35 and counting

Where to start with today? I’m tempted to say at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start. However, it isn’t the beginning or the end of the day (of the typical day under this regime), it’s the bits in the middle that are causing some of the issues at present.

Fatigue in the sense of a motivation dip is of course a recognised phenomenon. There is a rough equivalence recognised in those experiencing kidnap or confinement. The day typically starts and ends with a degree of routine that form signposts for the progress of the day. However, between those is a temporal unknown a state in which the speed at which time passes is no longer a constant. I’ve certainly noticed that today. I walked the dog, watched a film with our group and bibbady, bobbady boo .. it’s 7pm. I’m apparently less impacted than some who are finding days and even the week as a whole runnning into itself making the days fairly arbitrary.

Cabin fever risk period.

Of course, natural cycles, peaks and troughs are something we all recognise. The government knew this at the start of the special measures. At that time, they were concerned that natural apathy would be likely to set in after 14 days or so. The increase in the number and severity of the channels telling people to stay inside indicates we’re just in the high risk of apathy period at present.

Today’s figures in the UK should help explain why, although tough and frutrating, we need to continue the social distancing for a while longer yet. We’re seeing the deaths now for those who became infected perhaps four to five weeks ago so that long at least after turning the corner will probably be needed to see off this wave.

It’s also worth noting that we’re already around a quarter of the way through the year. I was sent an interesting presentation during the week which seems somehow relevant given that milestone. New Years Resolutions aren’t something I really do – mainly because they never make it beyond March.
However, with this much time to consider what to do with my time and with the added impetus of change following redundancy, this gave a new slant on ways to improve or tackle personal growth. For others in similar stages either for similar reasons or just through boredom, here is the idea.

I’ve decided to take up the challenge of a seasonal theme – themes like a good idea to me, though I’m yet to decide on that theme. We will see what the rest of the week brings.

Shortish and sweetish today. I thought as we all need a bit of a pick-me-up and I can’t hear the words ‘social distance’ without hearing the Randy Rainbow version, you may as well share my pain. I may have more to say tomorrow … who can say?

I can no longer hear the words ‘social distance’ without hearing this

Today’s blog title takes its name from the soundtrack to Hercules. For those who like to hear these tracks it can be heard on the control below.

The original ‘I can go the distance’ – Hercules
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