The Jaded Jedi

Journal and General Musings

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 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 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:

.

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 31 in the Corona house: Tell me on a Sunday.

08/04/2020

Month one in solitary

Those of you who know me well will know my love of language, words and idioms. It’s something that has fascinated me since childhood.

I think the first time I became aware of the curiosity in the space was just after starting school when I was bemused by the idea that a stitch in time might save nine.

I remember having the mental image of somebody applying needle and thread to a clock taking things unusually literally for me. I also remember my sudden introduction to Mrs. Metaphor – that you could describe an idea far bigger than the words used to construct it. Of course, at the time I didn’t understand this had a name ‘metaphor’, but I do remember it being like the shutters being taken off a window and wondering how big the view got.

I can remember asking my teacher save nine what? I also remember struggling with the concept of saved stitches. What did these look like? How did they differ from normal stitches and where did you save them? As for an ill wind blowing no good – let’s not even start.

My favourite metaphor

I soon found I had a particular liking for time related examples. One being once in a blue moon. It could mean occassionally when there is sufficient dust in the local atmosphere to give a blue appearance to the moon. Astronomically, it refers to the second new moon in a month (a not particularly frequent event). In any event it joins the stitch in time and month of Sunday’s turn of phrase.

It’s particularly the month of Sunday’s that I’m focused on today. I do remember once working out that (assuming a 31 day month) a month of Sundays would take you from 1st January to 2nd August. I didn’t claim that as an interesting fact but it does show what my mind turns to in quarantine.

The last thirty one days has been something I had never imagined living through. It may very well be the month of Sunday’s we have heard so much of in the past. It’s certainly felt like those Sunday’s in the 1970’s where everything was shut between Morning worship and Songs of Praise.

Veg-tastic

One advantage in the Shire is the number of small farms, wholesalers and distributors that are based here. One such made their first delivery to us (but I doubt it will be the last). Two boxes of provisions including eggs, tinned tomatoes and a great selection of fruit and vegetables.

Vaughan took a look through the box and we can identify all of the items, though a couple of them chef V-Dub is uncertain about. One in particular – the Chinese radish, also known as the daikon or in the Shire, a moolie.
When asked what it was the temptation was too great. ‘It’s a moolie I replied … and keep your hands off others moolies.’ For those unfamiliar with 1950-70’s musichall and end of the peer humour, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist. It also gives me the perfect excuse to share one of Kenneth Williams party pieces.

More seriously if anyone has any recipes or serving suggestion for daikon/white radish we’d love to hear from you.

Keep your ‘ands off others Moolies

In other news an update on the work front. As most of my regular readers know, my post was made redundant at the end of last month. (27th March to be precise). I can’t say I was sorry to go as the working environment had become pretty toxic and the business had badly lost its way. As if being made redundant in the teeth of the corona crisis were not enough they put the cherry on the icing by withholding the redundancy payment until one month after my last day working there. That’s apparently normal, nothing ti see here move right along the bus please.

We’d like to make an offer

While I think that’s about as convincing as Dick van Dyke’s cockney accent, it isn’t worth the emotional investment at this stage.

I hadn’t turned my mind to aggressively searching although I had put out a couple of feelers.

One of those feelers appears to be showing promise. I had a provisional job offer this morning and an outline agreement on salary (better), working arrangements (more flexible and friendlier) and potential start date. Can’t say any more than that at present or I would have to shoot you but it turns out I’m employable after all – whoda thunk it?
I’m not enumerating my poultry just yet, but it’s a bit of good news to pepper the glum and rather bleak news hitting us from all quarters. Fingers crossed here, let’s see what the next week or so brings.

Slightly curtailed tonight as we’re about to roll up our tent and return to Gumnut towers leaving the bungalow secured and looked after/occupied by the neighbours who welcomed the extra storage and garden space at this time. That is, of course, if all the veg fits in the boot.

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Today’s post takes it’s title from a number in the musical of the same name. For those who like to hear the tracks it may be heard on the control below.

Day 30 in the corona house: Getting out of town.

07/04/2020

.Today I can’t help but reflect on how quickly things change. How what was taken for granted and accepted as a norm years ago is now seen as increadible.

Whether it’s stock footage from the 70’s and 80’s with smoking thick enough to cut in pubs and restaurants or brick-like mobile phones change comes quickly.

A month ago, even three weeks ago, I wouldn’t have felt a need to justify travel, to prove its necessity. However, today, I am aware of the requirement to do so pressing on my social conscience. I merely note how quickly this has been true, I don’t seek to avoid it but my the times they are a changing.

Before I met my husband we each had our own house one in London and one is Wiltshire. For reasons of work and my having a border collie who doesn’t fit with living in London full time that’s an arrangement we’ve continued albeit we split time between the two. When we came back from Milan and self-isolated it was to London and partly due to building work there we have remained until today.

Over the past three weeks I’ve been aware that the lawn hadn’t been cut this year, the weather was getting warmer, the days brighter and that would undoubtedly lead to the grass getting longer.
Although it didn’t count as justification for a trip back to the Shire (it would be pushing it for the necessary management of a household I suspect even if only monthly) I was concerned that at some point I wouldn’t be able to find Taz if he crossed the lawn.

However, a more pressing need for me was the lack of medication easily to hand. My stocks were running low and because I had a plentiful supply in the Shire it was nearly impossible to get more and that assumes I could get the two trusts, my GP and an out of region pharmacist to collaberate. As a result, for the first time in 30 days, we left Gumnut by car and drove to the Shire so my medication could be collected.

While here I also managed to cut the lawns, share a very enjoyable evening with the virtual film club watching Company, replenish our food stocks at a supermarket (Vaughan went). He gave the whole setup at Tesco an Aussie seal of approval stating ‘They’ve got their shit together in the Shire.’ Tomorrow we have a local farm delivery of vegetables, and eggs – so rare in London many of the drug dealers now offer a side of 6 organic free range large ones – so I’m told. Then partly because the Shire is not habitable until the building concludes we’ll be back to continued isolation in Gumnut.

I had my confirmation from the NHS that I should be inside for 12 weeks so look forward to day 100 in the corona house in due course.

Our journey here was uneventful and necessary. You can manage so long on a bag meant for a holiday, but things needed for job applications, bill payments and just getting on with life were needed. We weren’t stopped, checked or questioned by anyone not that I would have any concerns had we been. The motorway was down in terms of traffic by about 90% and the Shire is quiet though the village is pretty much as it always is – we’re hardly the throbbing metropolis.

So tomorrow late afternoon we will return to Gumnut with food, medication, paperwork and fresh Shire air. I look forward to being able to return when the builders can get back on site but until then Taz has had a decent run for an hour or three and all is well with this little part of the world.

The title of today’s post comes from 42nd Street. For those interested in hearing the track, it can be heard using the link below.

Day 29 in the Corona house: And another hundred people just got off of the train..

06/04/2020

Day 29 in the corona house

Today’s musical track seems strangely appropriate for a number of reasons. It’s taken from the musical Company by Stephen Sondheim, a lyricist and musician who you’ll find towards the top of my personal list of favourites.

As a choice, it’s relevant as well as being strangely ironic. It relates to the constant churn of people in cities such as New York with it’s daily new arrivals and those who ‘go away’ as the lyrics mention. It’s unclear whether that’s merely a reference to leaving New York or something more fundamental, but it does emphasise the transient nature of a city as well as those who live within it.

In terms of the corona virus, the thought of a lively, bustling city with residents and workers jostling through it now seems strange. It’s like watching a film in which people were smoking in a restaurant – it’s something you know happened but it seems like a lifetime ago. How strange it now seems to see television programmes with liberal hand shaking, contact and interaction. I’m sure we will return to it, but those scenes seem almost mildly threatening when seen through the lens of the current emergency.

Vaughan suggested an alternative title – and another hundred people just got Covid in Spain but that needed too much explanation to avoid appearing crass which was certainly not his intention.

Analogy v. Metaphor

I admit to thinking twice about going with the choice myself. What was I suggesting the train is? A literal means of transport? Am I cheapening someone’s death by saying they just got off the train ? A potential minefield of how to offend anyone having lost someone or reading with a particular sensitivity to the words chosen. I could also hear a former English teacher, Mr Hector suggesting it may not be wise to confuse a reader with analogy or metaphor.

In the end, I’ve decided my readers (in as much as there are any) are bright enough to recognise either and open minded enough to go with the flow. It did start me thinking though – so the first train, the literal.

London overground, tube and bus travel are massively reduced

Despite the reports of thousands of Londoners flouting the regulations and undertaking all forms of extreme sunbathing, this isn’t the experience I’ve been living. Nor, in terms of transport is it supported by the statistics. The available figures are from the end of last week but show the overwhelming majority of people are correctly staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel.

Transport for London are reporting tube use down by 90 to 95% based on the equivalent day/week the previous 2 or 3 years. In London that’s millions of journeys per day that haven’t been taken over the past two to three weeks. That significant reduction in terms of percentage reductions is also similar to figures from the RAC and AA both showing reductions of around 80% in routine vehicle traffic over the same period.

The Waggy finger of judgement.

Even with those good figures, I have heard professional level tutting and the wagging finger of judgement saying this is still not enough. I should say I fully support the stay in, don’t take unnecessary journeys message and enforcement where that is necessary, proportionate and not doing so would damage public trust or safety.

The current complaints are some people on the train or tube don’t look like key workers. Also, there has been a spike (a slight increase of around 5%) in vehicle traffic over the past week. Just before rushing to judgement could I make a couple of points to encourage a less sanctimoneous default position.

Not all people on the tube or train look like key workers: I haven’t been on the train, tube, bus (or in the car) for over 29 days, nor do I intend to. I’m also not supporting or apologising for those who think the rules don’t apply to them – we should all stay in, in line with the regulation.
However, those regulations permit me to travel for medical purposes, to travel to work (if that can’t be done remotely), to travel to provide care and assistance for someone who is vulnerable or to carry out certain legal obligations). Those doing so quite lawfully may well not look like a key worker – whatever they look like.

Dorothy “Dot” Brennan (formerly Cotton)

A former work colleague told me how she was on her way to deliver prescriptions (contactless) to relatives and felt most uncomfortable and as if she had to justify why she was on the overground.

I’m in favour of those kicking the behind out of things being dealt with. For others who don’t appear to look like they should to us, I would refer you to Ms Dorothy Cotton

Judge not lest ye be judged

Vehicle use has nudged up in the last week. As to the blip in vehicle use, it may indicate some breaches, though personally, I doubt that is happening on anything other than the edges. It may also be explained by the increasing amount of small businesses now offering delivery. The two week lag may well have given time for many to find ways to stay in business within the governmental restrictions. Let’s be driven by the data trend rather than any one or two days without knowing what may have caused or contributed to them.

In any event, if the train is taken literally we can say far far more than the hundred mentioned have got off it in recent weeks. But what of the metaphorical trains. I think and hope it might be a bit clumsy for me to refer to those dying of the virus as getting off the train. It might equally refer to those getting off the viral train by recovering from it’s effects.

For the purpose of this discussion, I have removed the US track from the chart as it is so dramatic in its exponential curve, that it squashes the European countries into the noise. However, if you look at the graphs tracking new cases, it does give some hope that the impacts of social distancing are starting to show in the data.

Italy has transitioned from exponential to linear in it’s increase and may even be starting to level out (in the sense that the daily increase is reducing its rate). It’s too early to be sure but the inclines for all European states mapped apart from Spain look as though improvements are starting to show up. For this reason, it looks unlikely that those social distancing and wider restrictions are likely to be relaxed any time in April. The current emergency regulations end on 16th April. That’s just after Easter, though my money would be on them being extended in at least their current form until the end of the month, probably until after the May day Bank Holiday weekend.
How we then scale back or transition into a state that is less restrictive is the big question, but thankfully not one for me today. Given the apparent slowdown in infections which in turn has slowed the intensive demand on the NHS to a less devastating level, I for one am happy to abide with the continued social distancing and sheilding however difficult and frustrating that is at times.
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The title for today’s post took comes from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company. For those who like to hear the associated track, it may be heard on the control below.

Day 19 in the Corona house: I’ve got a little list

27/03/2020

I’ve got a little list – Opera Australia (The Mikado)

I wouldn’t class myself as a dedicated Gilbert and Sullivan fan. As is often the case with those of us who like words, it’s the lyrics that grab my attention and often admiration. However, I’m far from an officionado of their cannon of work. That said, both yesterday and today, I’ve been unable to better their numbers for summing up the general feel of the blog post.

Day 19 in the Covfefe house

It sounds very strange to say nineteen isn’t a very high profile number. I suppose what I mean is it’s one of those numbers that don’t feature in promotions such as 3 for 2 or multi-buy purchases. It isn’t quantitative such as 12 or 144 (dozen and score) and it didn’t pull the whole goth unlucky stunt like 13 did. You don’t see it marking milestone birthdays or forming natural numerical divisions. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Paul Hardcastle in the 1980’s it could have been almost as low profile as 37. That is until a little virus with a nominal number 19 attached boosted it into our collective consciousness.

The nineteenth day in the Corona house has been one dominated by lists. Vaughan finds them a mechanism to give the day a little structure, gain a sense of having completed something constructive and even finds it eases any background anxiety somewhat. I don’t, however, that didn’t stop him from making me one anyway which I’m pleased to report has been completed, or will be once this post has been completed.

I often raise a wry smile from those who know me well as I do have something of a capability to plan ahead. Vaughan famously quotes a planning spreadsheet for our wedding which had over 350 lines each representing a task. That was a bit of an exception, but you get the idea. I should warn the Royal Mail that I’m going to be calling on their Santa list a little early this year as I’ve been developing a corporate naughty or nice list.

It may be of some use to others to read through mine or even keep there own for those people or organisations we will remember for all the right or wrong reasons after this crisis has passed.

If as a reader of this blog you come across examples of companies or organisations to go on either my list for outstanding contribution or outstanding cockwomblery please feel free to add them with a little detail as comments to this post. If we have sufficient for an update or any amazing examples I’d certainly welcome everyone knowing about it.

Could do better

So a quick run down of what caused some of those listed to land where they have. Let’s start with a few people and organisations from whom I would have expected more.

We all know the hospitality sector is being hit pretty hard. We also know it’s been given a fair bit of support in the last ten days. It’s one thing for the local chippie to shut temporarily, even though most haven’t, but what of millionaire celebrity chefs.
Gordon Ramsey has reportedly laid off around five hundred of his staff from across his Michelin star and fine dining establishments. Multiple press reports indicate this was done with a meeting and confirmation by text reading:

Gordon Ramsey, celebrity chef

I am writing to confirm that you have been given notice that your contract of employment will be terminated and you will be paid four weeks notice.

You will be placed on garden leave for the duration of your notice. Your P45, final holiday pay and any other monies owing will be forwarded to you in due course.

The staff have not had their posts held for them if/when the venues reopen and social media has been replete with staff spilling the proverbial if not literal beans claiming to have been ‘treated like sh*t’ by the celebrity chef. In a climate where businesses are straining to retain jobs these sweeping lay offs are not what I would expect from such a culinary luminary. I don’t think I’ll be going to Petrus any time soon even if I could afford the £300 per head (approx) for 3 courses and some vino.

Also in the ‘could do better corner’ are Rick Stein who has informed the staff in his chain of restaurants that they won’t be paid for the time the restaurant is closed although he has pulled up short of terminating their contracts. I must remember this the next time either of them praise their staff and say how endebted they are to them on their websites for example.

A similar criticism is levelled at Weatherspoons who won’t be paying their staff anything while they are closed and a particular mention in despatches for Mike Ashley of Sport Direct. He tried to stay open and keep the money rolling in – claimed his trading was vital to the welfare of the nation. Nice try Mike but no cigar this time.

Better examples

So much for the wander down crass and clumsy crescent, what about a tour along quality street. Whatever you think of his vaccums or their big wagons, special mention should go to JCB and Dyson Plc for rising to the governments challenge and re-tooling some of their engineering lines to produce ventilators.

In a move which is either superb marketing or schere bravado – or possibly both, the Government asked Dyson to manufacture a few thousand ventilators to their specification. Dyson (in terms) said well we could, but why would we?

The Dyson factory in Wiltshire looked at the spec and the response was – well they’re just not very good are they. We can do better than that, which it appears they then set about doing.

Some criticise Dyson for moving some of their production offshore and I don’t seek to defend that. However, the first 10,000 ventilators redesigned, patented and in production in Wiltshire should be arriving with the NHS in mid to late April. I for one was impressed with not only the willingness to take on the task at all, but to do so in the same timescale whilst improving the end product. Dyson Plc is on this years nice list.

As time is pressing this evening, (I must shortly be a combination of barmand and cameraman – a combination not known for … well anything really). Vaughan is about to tackle chicken cacchiatori on Grub with V-Dub so I must get him wired for sound. For that reason only glowing mentions in passing for both Brewdolph Brewery in Oxforshire who have turned their brewing process into one producing hand sanitisers and their first 10,000 gallons will be ready later this week. Once the current madness is over I trust they have a nice side line in the making for their pubs – can’t think of a better way of cleaning those pipes out.

In contrast to Weatherspoon and those celebrity chefs, it’s worth singing the praises of a local brewery and pub chain. East Anglian Greene King brewers have told their tennants to stay in their pubs, keep their homes (most live on the premises) no need to pay rent consider it a fee for providing security to the premises – oh and by the way we’ll still pay your wages for as long as we can. – Odd how the multi million pound chains can’t manage it but a medium sized local business can. – Discuss.

Those of you who know me well will know I can have an inappropriate sense of humour at times, earlier this afternoon was one such time.

Masks by Ralph Lauren

It may be wrong of me but I was both impressed and secretly amused to hear that the design and fashion chain Ralph Lauren have also joined the list of unexpected suppliers to the NHS. In what is a natural if unexpected fit, they will provide hospitals with surgical and protective masks. I have nothing but praise and thanks for them but couldn’t help but think – I bet they’ll leave the label on.

I could imagine disucssions between nursing staff. Dior? – No sweetie Ralph Lauren. I’m just waiting to hear that L’oreal are joinng the production efforts churning out masks emblasoned with ‘because I’m worth it’ Highly inappropriate possibly, but I’ve been isolating for nineteen days, you get your laughs where you can.

I hope we remember the relative actions and approaches of these organisations in our buying and patronage once we emerge from this rather bleak period. I will certainly try to.

Hoping to redeem myself however latterly, here are this evening’s Grub with V-Dub productions. Easy to follow and I can vouch for how tasty it is .. The chicken cacciatori isn’t bad either.

Now to look at some IT for watch parties. I don’t know how people manage this self- isolation …. there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Day 18 in the corona house: All I ask of you.

26/03/2020

Day 18 in the Corona houseDay

Day eighteen and Vaughan and I have realised that we’ve fallen into a Borg transwarp conduit. It’s the only rational explanation.

Time seems to be travelling at a different rate to normal, we’re unsure if it’s quicker or slower, it’s become a bit of a blur. Of course it could be the fuzzy duck cider but all things considered it’s looking like Borg territory to me.

I noticed an emerging trend among friends yesterday. Many of them noted an increase in their levels of non-specific anxiety. Some people expressed this as a wish to see something positive on Facebook, others just said they were feeling stressed or taking a break from all the doom and gloom.

Last night, Vaughan mentioned the current circumstances are making him feel a bit edgy and he asked me how I was coping. I explained I was the child of war parents, I had lived through flares, space hoppers, deedly-boppers, tamagochi, the Bay City Rollers, seaside special and three seasons of Tenko. I’m pretty much bomb proof.

However, I did suggest that having the humerously named news channel on as constant background might be a contributory factor and maybe we should try something else. Vaughan took me up on my suggestion today and I have to say so far I’ve had better ideas. A little news this morning then cold turkey with a range of customs programmes, the point of which seems to be how much food you can smuggle into Australia, it was fascinating.

The collision of man made fabrics that is ‘Doctors’

A short interlude at one o’clock wbere we caught up with the news headlines and swiftly onwards and downwards to something called Doctors. I have to say this was sixty minutes of back to back disasters, nothing medical as you might expect given the name, these were all wardrobe malfunctions of the highest order. Do the BBC not employ costume designers anymore? I for one thought Sirdar went out of business years ago, but it appears they are alive and well and shipping to Sandwell. If this is the future post redundancy, tomorrows episode will be brought to you by Morrisey and a bottle of voddy.

Could we suspend party politics (by the neck)

I did notice a style of commentary yesterday and again into this morning that I can understand but which is probably entirely unhelpful.

I get that lots of people don’t like Boris and didn’t want him in office. But could we put the sterile party politics to one side for just long enough to get through this shit storm? Some politicians from Conservative, Labour and SNP (Lib Dems have been silent it appears) are working across party boundaries and working in good faith. They are trying to hold the government to account for some areas where in my view, they rightly deserve criticism. Some however still can’t see beyond the tired blue, red debate. I for one think we can do better than that and intend to try.

I’ve been impressed with Jess Phillips as a powerfully motivated constituency MP though I disagree with many of her views. I’m even forming a view that I may have been wrong about Jeremy Hunt – but again that’s probably either the fuzzy duck or the transwarp conduits playing havoc with my reasoning.

We can all judge the government by our own criteria but is it too unrealistic to ask that party aliegence shouldn’t be one of them at this time. Three things I will judge this government and its response by follow – though I realise other people will have their own priorities. These are the three immediate things I would ask of Government.

  1. Personal Protective Equipment for front line medical personnel.
    This is the type of protection an A&E doctor in South Korea is issued with and uses when dealing with Coronavirus cases.
    Protective splash undersuit, paper suit sealed over that, double gloved a viral protection mask (higher filtering capabilities), face and eye screen protection in the form of a headguard. In contrast, most of our doctors have a plastic gown some gloves and a far inferior face mask.

If we are to make it though this crisis without significant losses among those seeking to look after us we have to ensure all front line staff are properly protected. MP’s on all sides have pressed NHS managers to guarantee PPE has been delievered by the end of this week. Of course supply isn’t enough, it needs to maintain replenishment supply lines.

I would also move to provide police with much stronger protective gear. They deal with a high volume of interactions with the public each day. They run the risk of being high profile super spreaders if they are not protected from the public and we are not protected from them and by extension their last dozen contacts. If PPE cannot be provided then I believe we should be looking for a different type of interaction with routine policing during this time.

Priority testing for NHS personnel: The Government has been promising to ramp up testing from roughly five thousand per week to approaching 20,000 per week.

It is fair to say we’re one of the better examples of countries testing (around sixth in the list) but are still dramatically behind those states that have mass testing. The UK had carried out around 64,000 tests by 20th of this month. In contrast, South Korea had exceeeded 317,000

Most importantly, linked to PPE, we don’t know how many of those treating us on the front line are already infected but asymptomatic. Promises to ramp up are fine but they are only that – we need to be testing much more than we are, even now.

The third and last element is food delivery. I and many others have been told we should consider ourselves in at risk groups and remain inside. We should order our food online and take home delivery.

I would love to as I know would others. Sainsbury (as a case in point) doesn’t know I’m at risk but offers to allow me to register as a vulnerable customer, let joy be unconstrained. Though don’t bother trying to register. In a catch 22 style roundabout the website sends you to the help centre, which in turn sends you to the call centre.

After over 60 calls to the call centre, each with 3 minutes of guff before telling you they are too busy to help you, it refers you where? You’ve got it back to the start of the spin cycle by referring you to the website.

I do appreciate the pressure businesses are under but a simple self reporting webform with an auto-responder to confirm receipt would have stopped 59+ of my calls and presumably the same for the other thousands trying to get through. If you can’t support a process you’re better off not offering it at all. A constructive note to the CEO of Sainsbury has been acknowledged but no substantive reply has been received.

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Today’s post title comes from Phantom of the Opera (at last). For those wishing to hear the track in question, it can be played by using the control below.

All I ask of you – Michael Ball (From Phantom of the Opera)

Day 14 in the Corona house: And the money keeps rolling in (and out).

22/03/2020

Day 14 in the Corona house

The last day in self-imposed quarantine and today’s blog entry takes its title from Evita. I’ve had a number of people ask whether all the daily updates in this series have been taken from song titles or musical numbers. Jules Phillips and Karen Young were the first to notice the linkage which was always an extra mental diversion on my part. It’s been quite fun finding a musical descriptor for the daily update. I hope you’ll excuse me sending multiple replies by answering here. They have all been songs, many but not all from musicals. The full list being:

  1. Turn a different corner – George Michael
  2. Tell me more tell me more – Grease
  3. Stuck in the middle with you – Stealers Wheel
  4. The Scientist – Coldplay
  5. A little bit of history repeating – Shirley Bassey
  6. How do you solve a problem ask Korea – Sound of music
  7. I am reviewing the situation – Oliver
  8. Hey, hey, I saved the world today – Eurythmics
  9. Empty chairs at empty tables – Les Miserables
  10. Let’s do the timewarp again – Rocky Horror picture show
  11. If I only had a brain – Wizard of Oz
  12. There’s got to be something better than this – Sweet charity
  13. One day more – Les Miserables
  14. And the money – And the money keeps rolling in (and out) – Evita

Looking at the list, I suspect I’ve over compensated by omitting my favourite musicals. Nothing from West Side Story or Phantom and two from Les Miserables (The Glums) which I can appreciate without really enjoying. I have seen Phantom over 50 times and could happily go back again whereas I’ve seen Les Miserables twice. The first time was harmless though I was largely underwhelmed. The second time was difficult although there was a lovely period in the middle when it stopped and I had an ice cream. If you’re off to see Les Mis, ice cream is the answer.

Today’s blog title chose itself. Well it chose itself in the sense that Vaughan only stopped singing it when I agreed to use it. But actually, it fitted well with the prevailing discussions. They seemed to be about whether the UK was doing enough for particular sections of the population.

Coronavirus rescue packages in £ (billions)

I’ve been reasonably happy with the response of the UK government although I don’t claim to be an expert. I’ve also revised my view of Boris Johnson since seeing his handling of the crisis. What’s not in doubt is the extent to which the money is flowing out of Government coffers. Ultimately it’s largely borrowed and at some point we’ll have to pay most or much of it back, but that’s not the priority at this time. But it is worth remembering, if only because it will come as less of a surprise when governments of whatever hue seek to recover it from us over the next five to ten years.
Without seeking to make a party political or EU point of any kind, it’s worth comparing our response compared to other countries.

Before being too critical and even allowing for the fact that some of the promised funding is in the form of loans rather than grants, the UK £330 billion is significanly more than the £41 billion of France or the £36 billion of Germany. All are dwarfed by the US who have a bill going through Capitol Hill requesting just short of $1.6 trillion, or £1.3 trillion pounds.

Looking at the current statistics on reported cases, perhaps it’s no surprise that the US is spending so much. It looks very much like the US is going to become the world epicenter of the pandemic within a couple of days as they look set to overtake Italy in terms of reported cases. Rather than paste a blurry graph here, I’ll leave those who are interested to open the graph showing the current situation across a number of countries. This will update a few times a day depending on what else we’re doing and how much cider has flowed.

Some of the spend in R&D is already starting to show promising results. Of course, we’re probably six to nine months at least from an effective vaccine in humans. However, some very intersting technological solutions from across the scientific communities. Rather than repeat them in text, if you have 20 minutes to spare and want a little encouraging news showing some hope for a way through the crisis, you could do worse than watch the most recent episode of the BBC technology programme Click.
I admit to having shamelessly copied it but hope that the potential benefit in terms of a positive message and boosting mental health may cause the BBC to overlook this matter. If not, I will of course take it down, but until I’m asked to click away. – If all else fails look forward to later updates from Brixton jail.

Some positive developements showcased by BBC Click

While on the subject of good news and wishing to reassure, I think it’s worth including one of the staff videos for a London hospital trust. It’s audience is intended to be hospital staff, but it shows the amount of work and effort being put into keeping existing, new and potential patients safe.

Just how prepared are our hospitals – A glimpse at St Barts, London.

Although I’m going to continue the blog for at least the next couple of weeks, I do need need to conclude the 14 day strand. So a few loose ends to tie off and a few words of encouragment for those who are just entering or in the early stages of self isolation.

It’s true that it’s tricky at times. Whether it’s keeping up your step count, wanting to visit friends, relatives, family or just go to the shops it does place a significant break on your personal liberty. However, the two important messages I feel I would make to anyone are these. Firstly, these difficulties aren’t major, they are merely temporary irritants and nothing compared to the traumatic times our grandparents and great grandparents lived through. It’s only 14 days for most people and it’s achievable without too much trauma.

The second and much more important is that it’s vitally important we do isolate or at least significantly reduce unnecessary contacts. I could rattle on about why, but I think most of us know why if we’re honest. In any case, I couldn’t beat this rather simple but highly effective graphic. Latest research shows the virus is more transmissable (easier to pick up) than at first thought. Instead of each person passing on to two or three people it’s now thought to be more like four or five. It’s too late to avoid the spread, but we can minimise and reduce the speed of it. Please think about each contact – they can and do make a difference.

Since yesterday’s installment, I have been mildly chastised for letting standards slip. Apparently ‘Billy the bog-roll’ jars and might even be described as course (heaven forfend). So with that in mind, may I update you with the final measurements of William the lavatory consumable. At the start of Vaughan’s experiment, we had a partial roll with a depth of 1cm remaining. William then entered the scene and will leave it with 1.5 cm remaining.
As a full roll has 3cm depth of tread the results of the Norweigan jury show that one roll of paper consumable product was used during the 14 days in question. – Now we need a comparison, over to you Jules and Leon.

Yesterday, I mentioned serendipity, defined as ‘the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way’. Having been chastised for the Billy incident you can’t imagine how pleased I was to see Sheila Harrod a very musical lady of my acquaintance post this little ditty.

One thing I’ve found over the last 14 days is that you pick up old hobbies and get around to projects or interests you’ve had on hold for some time.
In my case, returning to the blog is a case in point. Although I have yet to open any of the three books I’m hoping to read during this period of purdah, I have selected them and put them in order so it’s just a case of sitting still long enough to do the reading bit. As for Vaughan, he’s rekindled his interest in cooking where that’s more than merely a practical need. One side effect of this period in isolation may well be that my clothes shrink. They’ve done it before.

Had we been at the Acreage, I would probably have looked to work on my piano. I should have taken up the offer of a travel keyboard when it was offered for just such circumstances, but that’s something for me to look forward to and the neighbours to dread when we get back to the Shire.

Another example, a man who decided to pick up a guitar. His subject of choice was panic buying. It’s quite an interesting insight into what people do in quarantine but if you’re also a fan of the guitar (Leon) than you may also appreciated it for his ability to play the instrument.

I’m afraid I’m not responsible for the vertical video syndrome – it’s how it was recorded but I know it bugs some people disproportionately. So what of the serendipity? Well, that comes in the title of his ditty. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Mr Bob Bowles and his bog-roll blues.

I have further developments to report in the tour of Somerset cider producers. Today we sampled the wares of Hecks cider.

Before too much concern is expressed about our livers, we are splitting the bottles between us so it’s merely a sample and we do toast Sir Osis of the Liver the patron saint of cider drinkers before partaking.

This was a winner in my view though a tad dry for the Mem’Sahib. For those who were disturbed by Billy the bog-roll, look away now. Today’s selection is catchily and probably descriptively named Slack-ma-girdle I’ve yet to explain the local dialect, probably best left unsaid.

Finally something that made me smile a little this evening. Vaughan made a very good meal for Sunday dinner. Roast leg of lamb. Though it wasn’t the subject of Grub with V-Dub yesterday, it most certainly could have been.

The issue was what to have with it. Looking through the cupboard we hit on an unexpected find. A show reserve Margaret River (Australia) Shiraz from 2005. I looked at it doubtfully – I think it’s too good for a Sunday dinner I suggested.

Vaughan looked at the label noted it was 15 years old.. “Oh well” he says “We could all be dead in four weeks – where’s the cork screw?”

Day 13 in the Corona house: One day more.

22/03/2020

Day 14 in the Corona house

Day thirteen at Gumnut and we’re reaching the end of self-isolation following our return from Milan. However, I suspect that’s a moot point as both for reasons of medical history and the increasingly severe drive to stay at home, it’s not likely to be much different for me for a few weeks at least. Vaughan suffers a bit more than me from cabin fever but Southwark is a hotspot within the hotspot of London so we’re both likely to be home birds for a while yet.

I should start by asking where did those 14 days go? That should be followed quickly by a warning. There’s been a fair bit happening over the past 24 hours, so I’m perhaps a little heavier in the word count than usual. I’m still learning the bits to edit, reduce and precise without losing the interest, relevance or reason for including the content in the first place. Bear with me during that process while I tread the fine line between natural flow and rambling, hopefully staying on the right side.

Time flies – wise words indeed

I would have to say the past 24 hours has been defined by the certain knowledge of tempus fugiting.

A few things contributed to this. The first was the news that someone I knew in passing had become ill and died after contracting the Coronavirus. I don’t claim to have known Nick Matthews well, certainly not well enough to call him a friend, though our paths had crossed professionally a number of times. Nonetheless, it was a sobering moment when those you know (even slightly) fall victim to the virus. I was aware that he had recently suffered a heart attack and I suspect his BP may well have been on the high side, but knowing all that, it was still a shock. Let’s keep it just one person if we could please.

The second component was bizarrely the news of the death of Kenny Rogers. I wasn’t a particular fan, but like most people who can remember the late 70’s and early 80’s his voice formed part of the soundtrack. A school friend Les picked up on my saying Kenny Rogers reminded me of kinder times. Quite spookily, he was able to reference the same memory, a radio show hosted by the late Terry Wogan that boosted Kenny Rogers into the public consciousness, even apparently if you were just a teenager.

My mate and collie lover Carole

The third factor was one of those acts of random chance, a meeting (if you can meet whilst being ten feet apart) of pure serendipity. I was walking Taz this morning and noticed a lady trying to pack artwork into a large plastic crate on one of the park benches. We wouldn’t have spoken but Taz went and dropped his tennis ball into her container which may not have helped the situation. She introduced herself as Carole and spoke to Taz and even threw the ball for him. I gathered from distance that she had just been collecting fabric samples from the Camberwell college of Art before it closed.
Over the next three minutes, she told me she was about to retire after working for thirty years as a west end costume designer.

Her plastic box was topped with programmes from Phantom. Les Miserable, Wicked and Miss Saigon, all of which she had worked on. There was also a picture which seemed out of place. She must have seen me looking at the picture as she smiled and said ‘It seems like a lifetime ago.’

In that moment, I was reminded of a documentary in which Shirley Black (formerly Shirley Temple) asked ‘what’s left to do when you’ve reached your peak at age 10?’ Thankfully, in both Shirley and Carole’s case the answer is quite a lot, a life in the diplomatic service beckoned for Shirley Temple and an award winning costume designer lay ahead of Carole.
Many of you of a certain vintage will be familiar with Carole, in fact she holds the Guinness world record for the the longest appearance on TV. She’s clocked up over 70,000 hours putting any film star of the modern era into the shade. I’ll let you into the secret a little later but it made me think how some people remain ever young in our minds regardless of the passage of time.

I returned to Gumnut Towers anticipating that Vaughan would still be semi-comatose for another couple of hours. However, I was to be surprised. Vaughan who enjoys cooking and is a pretty good cook had decided to go global. He was up (well nearly) and planning his first pilot episode of Grub with V-Dub.

Lights, camera, dress…

I’ve still a lovie at heart and immediately thought production values, nice opening credits, check lighting in the kitchen and had something along the lines of Great Peckham Menu. Vaughan told me he was thinking of something more like fun with flags but with more peppers (or capsicums as he calls them).

Those of you who have trodden the boards in any capacity will understand my sense of impending doom when I realised Vaughan had started his project while I was upstairs trying to find the best camera to use. With the sounds of live streaming eminating from the kitchen I hurtle down the stairs thinking ‘What? Is he insane? No dress rehearsal!”

Today’s pilot episode featured a chicken curry which I must say was (as we say in the west country) gurt peachy lush. There were a few technical issues and a couple of prop malfunctions but despite me sitting on the stairs breathing into a paper bag and tutting about working with amateurs all went as well as it could – without a dress rehearsal. Vaughan had a great time and we have some vlog equipment on the way so there were lessons learned from the pilot – watch out for Chilli and Spaghetti Vaughnalaise following in due course.

Among all this self-isolated excitement, I have been chastised for not updating on a few outstanding matters. Let’s start with our cider stock. It’s been slightly depleted. I am able to report on Taunton Cider’s First Pressing medium cider (4%). As the name suggests it’s medium, quite fruity and drinks as Vaughan would say like apple juice. (Score 4 out of 5)

Secondly, on Torres cider farm’s Along came a cider (5.5%) which is a medium cloudy cider from a farm specialising in scrumpy. Need I say more?

Scoring split the judges. I gave it a 4, Vaughan gave it a 3.5 saying it had a cloudy taste which I have not decided on yet. – That said it disappeared pdq. The next cab off the rank will be Hecks Girdle-slackner. Watch this space.

Billy the bog-roll, like Elton is still standing.

I’m instructionised to inform Brent who may be a reader of this blog to prize open thy wallet and extract a tenner.

I make no comment on to how he has done this, but Billy the bog roll is still standing and I have not been aware of any particularly Scrooge-like behaviour in the dunny department. Vaughan is claiming a fair and square victory in the loo-roll challenge. I’m informed his winnings should preferably be sent by bank transfer to avoid contact with filthy money. Don’t shoot the messenger I only deal in the reportage.

A few people have very kindly said they have enjoyed the last couple of weeks blog reports and asked if I’m thinking of continuing them. They weren’t started with any grand scheme of world domination in the blogging world, more as a means of passing the time. However, to know a few people have enjoyed them is very rewarding. As I’m likely to be in purdah at either Gumnut or the Acreage for a while yet, I’ll keep them going for the routine it brings as well as no small amount of enjoyment. Thirteen days down, one to go.

BBC Test card F

Oh and as promised earlier, this was the image I saw screenprinted onto a t-shirt while walking Taz.

This is Carole as I remember her in her (and my) younger days. Tempus Fugit indeed.

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