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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
. 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.
.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. .
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.
The twenty seventh day with our own company chez Gumnut and we found it hard to easily bring to mind the last people we spoke to and when.
I’m not including the socially distanced ‘thanks very much’ as the delivery driver backs down the stairs to our front door rather like the Lord Chacellor used to having delivered the Queens speech successfully to the Monarch. Next time I shall give my best regal RP ‘Thank You’ before retiring back through the portcullis and into the safety of the house.
After some thought we pinned it down to an Indian Sunday lunch with our friends Charlotte and Cyril on 1st March. Since then, we haven’t engaged with anyone other than those four word exchanges with a neighbour or dog walker. For both of us, this has been the longest period (so far) without any form of social interaction.
Of course, this time frame is nothing compared to the periods people routinely go without such contact, but for us it’s certainly uncommon ground.
Many elderly and isolated people across the country have little more human contact that this – hopefully this period might give us all a sense of what that might feel like and as a country we might consider how to tackle the isolation and loneliness that so many face in normal situations.
Literature is replete with characters either heroic or otherwise who have been isolated, outcast or in one form or another of solitary existance. These range from the man in the iron mast, Robinson Crusoe and the elusive Phantom of the Opera who avoided contact (if you believe the fiction) for over forty years.
Speaking of believing the fiction, I was amazed to hear what would usually be considered sensible individuals suggesting utter rubbish. The latest that Coronavirus-19 was a fiction to cover the ‘truth’ that the 5G network was making us all ill made me wonder when we lost all capacity for critical analysis? In recent weeks we heard the UK’s chief scientific officer mention herd immunity (perhaps unwisely). However, this type of contagious belief spread is more like herd stupidity.
In a letter to the UK from Italy (click here), the author touches on such reactions explaining them as a need to explain and blame something, anything and in so doing regain some limited control over the situation. It may be worth considering this as a potential driver by those engaging in such conspiracy theorising.
The second thread of thinking from the corona house also relates to the Phantom which explains the title and chosen music track. As Shakespeare would never have put it, to mask or not to mask, that is the question?
In recent days, I’ve noticed the sudden increase in masks being worn routinely. That’s a small sample as it’s based on those I see when walking Taz (under ten) and those I can see from the window. However, the trend is most certainly upwards.
In a sense, it’s the herd behaviour in action. The world health organisation has recently changed it’s advice to those living in areas of highly symptomatic coronavirus that it may be beneficial to wear a face mask. – Stand by for the latest items to be panic bought. I do note the advice assumes areas of highly symptomatic people and the conclusion is conditional – it may assist. Then again, it may not.
I find myself (uncomfortably) landing in the same position as Donald Trump. That is, though I could envisage situations in which I might wear a mask situationally, I don’t see the point in day to day activities such as walking the dog. Where we may differ, is that I believe my position is based on the science not on how it may look to others.
The rationale is simple – but multithreaded. Firstly, the classical cloth surgical mask offers little protection to the wearer from contact with the virus. Certainly, the additional protection it gives above social distancing and hand washing/cleaning is marginal.
Many studies show that when dry the material forms a minimal barrier protection, however, it doesn’t stay dry long. Ironically, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that when moist they ease the transmission of particles such as the virus – so in those circumstances there can be a positive disadvantage in wearing one.
Most importantly, most masks of that type don’t form a good seal around the mouth and/or face. In that situation, the mask may increase the amount of unnecessary face touching with various attempts to adjust the fit.
To give you a sense of how important that seal is and why without it wearing one is a bit like trying to stop a mosquito with a tennis raquet, consider this. We can all picture a 1cm space (for those who work in old money just under half an inch). The virus we’re seeking to stop with these gappy masks is small, – if you’ll excuse the expression bigly small. If I were to take the virus and lay them side by side I could fit 100,000 of them in a centimetre length. So you can see how small gaps in poorly fitting masks provide more than enough space to get through .
Lastly, they may provide a false sense of security. I don’t feel particularly unsafe when walking outside briefly each day. Why not? Because I avoid contacts, touching surfaces or my face and practice hand hygiene when I get back inside before doing anything else. If we make ourselves too comfortable with preventative measures that aren’t really that preventative we may let those other actions slip and that would be significantly worse.
It appears that a mask does provide some protection if the wearer is symptomatic. It may prevent the worse of the droplet splash they present. However, they are being more helpful to others that to the wearer in that situation. Also, if you were highly symptomatic, most people’s experience is that you won’t be out of bed so the point is largely moot.
I’ve accepted a couple made by friends partly because it would be rude not to and there may be instances where it would be reasoanble to have one with me if nothing else. As to them being worn by others, I have no objections and if it helps people feel more at ease then perhaps they are serving a mental health purpose. However, I won’t be adding to the panic buying of this particular product.
The title of this post was taken from Phantom of the Opera and may be heard on the control below.
Twenty six days in isolation and we find outselves around two weeks ahead of the majority of people who are around the 10-14 day period. Interestingly, I’m starting to spot comments and trends on social media that we experienced about the same time into our isolation following return from Milan.
I remember at around day 12 both Vaughan and I had to check with each other occassionally to make certain today was in fact the day of the week we thought it should be.
It struck me that the temporal blurring that began to feel more the norm than the exception was almost the same as can occur over the Christmas and new year periods blend one day of limited activity into the next. The levels of food consumed are also pretty Saturnalian if you don’t remember the plea from our collective digestive and cardiac systems
Step away from the fridge. You’re not hungry, you’re bored.
I was reassured to find it wasn’t just us that had experienced this time-blurring quality of quarantine. I had to smile in recognition of the post sent to me by a Belgian of our acquaintance.
The whole period has reminded me of childhood Christmas celebrations with a northern parent and family. (Those from the south won’t really get it but consider it a glimpse into the north-south divide). My mother would treat Christmas as a time to relax, recharge and spend (limited) time with friends and/or family.
You were at liberty to do what you wanted, no ‘organised fun’ but plenty of drop ins for mince pies. watching old films, catching up on those books you hadn’t read, seeing what was left at the back of the drinks cabinet and other of course food. Down time was perfectly acceptable but only if accompanied with something to eat, drink or both. Those poor souls who visited with no experience of Yorkshire hospitality were often shocked that ‘no thank you, I’m fine’ didn’t prevent the cold meat, mince pies, Christmas cake or other yuletide loveliness arriving – it was purely a rhetorical question.. the food was coming anyway.
It occurred to me that if we all continue eating at this rate over the next two weeks, there will be no need to plead with us to stay in our homes. Most of us won’t be able to get through the door by next Thursday.
I have taken a little time to reflect on the scale of change we’ve seen in the UK over the last two weeks. If at the end of February I had suggested that millions more people would be able to work from home, routine doctor and nurse practitioner appointements and prescriptions could be done by video and electronic means or the justice system would move to video hearings, judgements and even appeals, I may have been laughed at as an idealistic fool. Had we envisaged whole sectors of industry mobilising to create improved key materials (whether that’s internet backbone infrastructure or medical kit or creating new means of providing PPE equipment to those needing it, I would have been considered an unrealistic dreamer. But that’s what has happened.
Several political theorists have suggested that real change only comes through revolution. In this context, revolution needn’t mean the storming of the winter palace, but does mean mass mobilised forces with a single/clear goal rather than small incremental change at the edges.
I would encourage people to consider not what the next two weeks might look like, but what the first two months after the crisis should look like.
Several academic lawyers (both here and in the US) have pointed out that powers taken in emergencies by government are very often not relinquinshed after the emergency at hand has passed.
Examples of this aren’t too difficult to find. The most profound is perhaps the emergency powers taken by William Pitt the younger in 1799. These were introduced to fund the Napoleonic Wars which were at the time perceived to be just as existential threat. Within those measures were a strictly temporary measure introduced with assurances that it would last for as short a time as was practicable. The measure introduced was called income tax which is still in force some 220 years later. Similarly following 9-11 in the United States increased surveillance and data access rights were granted to the Federal government covering people’s movements, big data tracking and the like. These have not been relinquished despite the war on terror being won at least twice.
When considering the powers taken and being considered in this light it might be concerning to understand they include limiting jury trials. We must ensure temporary restrictions and erosions of freedoms are just that – temporary.
However, I suspect this degree of change is unlikely to return us to 2019. Banks that wouldn’t accept email signatures now are, certain court proceedings (competency hearings in the court of protection) are being heard and pronounced upon by video with email notification to all parties concerned. Home working is being considered normal – many potential rubicons appear to be in a state of being crossed.
Many of the limitations we have been told were insurmountable have been surmounted. I doubt people will accept a return to being told these solutions are once again problematic. Even if they do, there will be those who disrupt markets by offering these continuing innovations. Even in the public sector, the genie is now seen to be out of the bottle. Good luck with getting it back in there.
This post’s title is taken from Les Miserables. For those who like to hear the associated music track, it can be played on the control below.
Today is a further holding post for completeness and to answer a few questions before normal blogging service is resumed.
I’m aware that’s a bit of a jam tomorrow promise, but it’s all I’ve had time to do today. That shows that if you put your mind to it you can keep yourself busy even in near isolation.
Of course, much of that is also due to the willingness of friends to engage in activities such as watch parties, social media exchanges at the like. Today was mostly down to replacing a non-perfomant streaming service so our virtual film club can watch tomorrow’s offering.
I also managed to attend two job interviews over Microsoft Teams which seemed to work well technically and so far as you can judge was broadly positive. Fingers crossed it might come through with an offer as it sounds both challenging and interesting. We will see.
Tomorrow’s post is forming as I type so until then …
Today’s title was taken from Annie (you have been warned) for those who like to hear them – under normal non Annie circumstances – it may be played on the control below.
I’m under strinct instructions from he who must be obeyed that today is just a couple of paragraphs as I’ve been up to too much and have an interview for a new job tomorrow so …
Today we’ve livestreamed chicken in pyjamas (A chicken based dish wish is deeply tasty originating mostly from Melbourne). Two large application processes kicked off and associated paperwork – a skype interview prepared for and the dog walking ration taken.
In addition to that some testing on the watch party setup means we’ve cracked most of the problems so things are looking good for the next attempt on Friday. The problem is … I don’t have any time.
As Alanis said ‘Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think.’ I had more spare time when I was working full time and not in isolation. How does that happen?
Over three weeks in isolation and we’ve had a day that had some set timelines and they were tighter than I thought. There are two consequences that flow from this.
The first is I ran out of time to do everything I needed to do. The things that were cut were all corona related which means I’ve had a totally virus free day today. I think I’ll have to repeat that exercise at least once more this week.
The second outcome is that this update is short pithy and to the point. It will be interesting to see who picks up on the news within which we have held off Facebook at this stage though I think it’ll hit that platform at some point in the morning – more to follow.
Tonight was the first evening we ran an experimental watch party – the film was chosen by one in the group and was you’ve guessed it, little shop of horrors. Vaughan hadn’t seen it before. I counted fives sniggers, two chuckles and one belly laugh. Plus he’s sung the main theme twice since. That’s something of a succecss. Some technical glitches, but we’ll try to iron them out before the end of the week when we try an improved service.
Until this point the little shop of horrors referred to the Payless store in the next street. Their stock is a bit limited as are their manners – it’s often a toss up as to whether you get short tempers or short changed – hence the name.
Having said that I’ve always persevered with them and just been terribly British and if there is nothing said when handing back change I just smile broadly and say ‘No, thank you.’ I think it’s had the desired result. It must have done as they now tip me off as a ‘local customer’ when they have eggs, pasta or toilet roll.
The other piece of news relate to the addition of the tenth and sixteenth letters of the alphabet to the Mem’Sahib’s monica. I couldn’t be happier and more proud of the achievement and willingness to give back to the community through this route.
It was in August 2018 that the application was submitted and around nine months later that the interview took place. (The wheels of justice are not known for their lightning speed). We were aware that an appointment had been recommended, but it took a further year until the appointment was confirmed.
So the area has a new justice of the peace once he’s been sworn in officially which may yet be another 3 months. I always told him he’d end up in Court one of the old Bailey – and as that’s where the swearing in takes place … Richard was correct.
Day twenty two in the corona house is a day that brings a few previous strands together. It’s a day that I find myself writing a piece I would rather not write. However, I do so with the intention of being a critical friend.
In the last week we’ve been in uncharted waters, unknown territory – pick the cliche of your choice. I don’t think we realise the scale of what is likely to hit the UK and the US over the coming fortnight and I’m reluctantly in favour of the quarantine measures being put in place by the government which strike me as proportionate, reasonable and required.
Before we forget why those restrictions are being put in place, take a look at the current cases graphs for a number of countries based on their WHO submissions.
The near classical exponential growth curve in magenta represents the United States and demonstrates pretty well what happens where there are minimal restrictions put in place. The more linear blue line beneath it represents Italy which we all consider to be the European hotspot. I regret to say I fear it is as nothing to what is about to unravel in the States. The increasing inclines beneath that of Italy show a range of responses but all are characterised by varying degreees of control over movement and similar restrictions. While it is too early to tell, this may indicate that such measures do provide some means of slowing the viral spread. Let’s hope that’s not naive optimism but for today I’m going with it.
However, not all countries have moved to restrict their populations. Sweden remains almost uniquely determined to remain open largely as usual. The government there remains reluctant to impose restrictions on personal liberty citing it as not in the cultural DNA of the Swedish to do so. Whether this is sensible is, of course, a different matter. The lack of control over social gatherings, the lack of social distancing and no limits on travel may account for the recent rise in the figures being declared by the country. For me the libertarian arguments, though persuasive have to take a temporary (and I stress temporary) secondary importance to that of the greater public health issue.
However, I am now concerned that the policing in place to handle what we all agree needs to be enforced is at risk of damaging public trust and must change.
I must admit to hesitating before writing this post as it feels difficult to be apparently critical of former colleagues. However, events in recent days have led me to believe it would be unhelpful in the longer term not to speak out now. I don’t criticise the overwhelming majority of police officers who do a tought and largely thankless task. However, the approach being taken by some to the corona virus shows a form of policing that I don’t recognise. Were I to take it at face value, it would be more in line (in its worst cases) with totalitarian regimes. I felt the direction of travel sitting less and less comfortably with me over the last 48 hours. Now, I see increasing criticism on social media – but then again that’s only to be expected. It’s harder to ignore similar levels of concern being expressed in the media and print newspapers – but again, mainly in the tabloids so maybe that doesn’t count. Yet still that niggle of doubt persists. Something in the current approach is wrong. In the spirit of critical friend here’s why I feel that, why it may be the case and what we can do about it.
Interestingly, and for my money reassuringly, I’m not alone in my concerns in this space. Many barristers including a former advisor to the government on terrorism doubt the emergency legislation gives much of a steer about population level controls, but focuses more on actions at an individual level.
Then today, I read an article in which no less a figure than former supreme court Justice, Lord Jonanthan Sumption raised similar concerns. He branded the approach taken by Derbyshire constabulary among others as ‘frankly disgraceful’. He didn’t mince his words when saying this was the sort of behaviour that risked plunging Britain into a police state. (click here to read the article) Lord Sumption is something of a polymath being not only a barrister, respected knowledgebase regarding juris prudence, but he’s also a respected and rigorous academic historian. He doesn’t have a history of seeking to undermine either the government or bodies such as the police service. Importantly, he’s powerfully cerebral and will have thought through his comments.
While it’s too strong for me to say we’re approaching a police state, I do share his view that the behaviours to which he refers must be challenged when they are seen. Not to do so risks normalising them and that does in my view lead us to a much darker, less accountable and entirely non-concensual form of policing which I for one don’t wish to see in the UK. So what are the examples I have in mind?
A handful spring to mind. I don’t seek to claim they are representative. They may be examples of the ‘overzealous civilians in uniform’ referred to by Jonathan Sumption. However, they make it to the press with sufficient regularity that their wider impact cannot be ignored.
The first example reported by the sun (click here for article) shows an MPS police sergeant – not a green and inexperienced officer but a supervisory rank showing no discretion or in my view appropriate judgement. A shop keeper had marked the pavement outside his shop with washable chalk marking 2m waiting marks to allow his customers to maintain social distancing in line with government requirements. The officer concerned initially issued process on the basis of grafitti on the pavement. When the circumstances were explained by the store keeper the video reveals he was told it makes no difference if we all did this it would be anarchy. The process was subsequently withdrawn following press involvement.
The second example is of a type cited by Lord Sumption and relates to people travelling by car to a location for exercise, to walk their dogs or to simply regain some sanity. Thanks to a friend in Wiltshire who posted this example of a note left in the county on cars found at local open spaces. This isn’t limited to a Wiltshire practice and is broadly similar to notes issued by forces across the country. I would make two points about this approach.
The first I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt about. If these ‘advisory notes’ (for that’s all they are) are posted in locations where large numbers are likely to congregate then they may serve a purpose in those limited circumstances, though not I would argue in the current form and wording. However, when you extend this to a couple with limited mobility who take their dog 2 miles into the local countryside to allow them to run then that just proves common sense isn’t that common.
The second, I’m not prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. The note is simply wrong. It purports to say that current regulations ban such actions – (the relevant legislation is available by clicking here). It clearly doesn’t prevent such activity. Nor does it limit the means by which you leave your house to take exercise, the proximity of that exercise to your house, the nature or form of that exercise. It most certainly doesn’t prohibit sitting on a bench mid-run or pausing between exercise activity. To say it does, to shame and potentially attempt to enforce against those alleged ‘breaches’ is just wrong. In my view it does nothing to build cohesion, place the police in anything other than the role of officious jobsworth and is in my view, a breach of the office of constable. The police have a proud tradition of upholding law – not ministerial guidance, not departmental or borough commanders fiat or interpretation of governmental guidance, but statute law. They should stick to that.
Linked to this strand are today’s examples in the Met and West Midlands where corner shops have been visited by constables to be told that although their shop may be open for bread, milk and the like, they may not have Easter eggs on display as these do not count as ‘essential goods’. Here we are firmly in Dagenham territory (beyond Barking). Why? Firstly the legislation makes no distinction between goods and essential goods their categorisation is entirely arbitrary. Secondly, I can think of three families with autistic young adults. They know it’s Easter and Easter means eggs. In those households, believe me Easter eggs would be pretty essential. Finally, the contact these officers had with the storekeeper and reportedly some of the customer base were entirely unnecessary at a time when we are all being asked to avoid them.
Finally, how are the police dealing with business as usual in these tricky times. They are keen to enforce against the public but is their own house in order? Some are, Kent police has developed a means of dealing with detained persons and those attending custody (such as solicitors, interpreters and appropriate adults) in a way that protect them, the detained person and maintains appropriate social distancing. I would urge all forces to follow their example.
I have not reposted large portions of text here but would refer you to https://twitter.com/MistressLuce2 who is a legal representative attending police stations in the West Midlands. In summary, multiple sources report detained persons are being held and processed without thought of social diststancing. Solicitors and others are being ‘required’ to attend police stations despite no facility for safe interviews even when either detainee or officers are showing symptoms. This is just unacceptable. Duty solicitors have declined to attend as is their right under pandemic situations. In response one police officer said if you don’t like it here don’t come. If your clients don’t like being in this environment maybe they shouldn’t commit offences. Putting aside the assumed guilt and the blatant disregard to the personal safety of all concerned it shows a one dimensional prosecutorial mentality.
Police officers undertake a variety of roles often in quick succession or at the same time. I’ve seen a detainee fit (epilepsy) more than once. At that point, your role switches from arresting officer to saving life and limb – from prosecution to protection. Officers know that police are of the communities they serve. However at times, stepping back from the immediacy events is required, you find yourself policing those in the bubble you observe without being part of that bubble. If you’re in that headspace, some of these actions can be understood through a different lens.
In my view the police need to switch back the prosecution and step up the protection (public health) approach. Nobody is suggesting those committing serious breaches of the law should not be dealt with. However, for breaches of the law not personal interpretations of a divisional commanders view of a ministers instructions.
I am aware of the argument that the cases above are merely poor examples and don’t reflect the approach of an entire force or policing in general. I would suggest if that were the case, we wouldn’t be seeing printed leaflets purporting to outline legislation where no such conditions exist. Even if these are just poor examples, there are too many of them. They undermine confidence in policing and show forces in a very poor and unnecessarily officious light.
Others say at this time I should cut the police some slack, allow behaviours that wouldn’t otherwise be acceptable. I would say to them it is because we are in such times that no such allowance can or should be made. Uphold and enforce the law not ministerial guidance or regulations. Remember the oath you swore at attestation … those last three words aren’t there for decoration.
“I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.”