+The shift towards a cashless society has received a massive boost these last few weeks. Speaking for myself, I’ve hardly used any cash at all for two weeks, I’m using contactless card payments wherever I can. And since the more cash reliant demographic has the highest mortality rate, there’ll be less pressure to keep cash on the go. I’m wondering what the unforeseen consequences of this will be. One inevitable consequence will be that all our movements and transactions will be scrutinised ever more closely in future.
+You don’t have to be a fan of Alex Salmond (I’m not) to acknowledge that something a bit odd went down with his complete acquittal last week of all the sexual assault charges levelled against him. If one reads Craig Murray’s blog on the case (he followed it closely), it looks very much like there was, in Murray’s word a conspiracy to hang Salmond out to dry. Looking at the way the case has been treated in the mainstream media, one would be hard pressed not to come to the conclusion that Salmond was guilty, even after he was acquitted. One aspect I find interesting is that it has emerged that MI5 were (according to Murray, who hints at reliable sources) involved in trying to build a case against Salmond. If this is so it must stand as one of the most egregious cases of MI5’s abuses of power since the days of Spycatcher. Salmond was duly elected many times as an MP, an MSP, and a First Minister of Scotland. He has to my knowledge never challenged the constitutional order of this country through violent or extra-parliamentary means. If what Murray says is true, any evidence should be passed on to the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee for investigation. I realise there’s a flaw there. That’s the committee which will, according to the press be uselessly chaired by Chris Grayling when they get round to reforming it after last year’s election. No rush there then!
+Now I can see a use for Antony Gormley’s spaced out rusty hominid forms on Blackpool beach. They will come in handy as a distancing measure for the local constabulary when trying to tell congregating ignoramuses not to get too close to each other. Art doesn’t get more prescient than this! (And I thought all those old iron pilings were just guano gathering resting places for our feathered chip-eating friends.)
+The daily Downing Street press briefing is sounding more and more like a party political broadcast, in which we’re repeatedly told that the government is doing all that is necessary for its part to tackle Coronavirus. What you don’t get on a party political broadcast of course is a continual scolding about your own responsibility. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, with the delivery of a pre-programmed automaton yesterday saw all questions as mere prompts to repeat his core underlying message, which is to say ‘Don’t blame us if this all goes pear-shaped. It’ll be your fault for not doing what teacher told you.’ Are we really going to have to endure three months or more of this? I doubt that left wing news website Skwawbox gets invites to participate in these events. One pertinent question from a recent posting is ’When the government says it has obtained 23 million gloves for the NHS, did they mean 23 million gloves—or 23 million pairs of gloves?’ Even such a seemingly factual issue can pose problems for this government.
+Coronavirus: what if this were a war? I said a few days ago how mad it would seem for a state to launch an attack on its enemies by targeting its own people first, especially with a weapon that could easily be uncontrollable. But if you knew you were going to do it, you would surely have your plans in place before you did it (and before anybody else understood what you were doing). I am not suggesting here that the Chinese have launched a weapon—what I am doing is considering what one of the new weapons of ‘mass destruction’ might look like today. If you were intent on destroying or seriously damaging your foe’s economy, you wouldn’t now resort to nuclear weapons. They’re expensive to maintain, hard to deliver, easy to identify and of course could lead to mutually assured destruction at the touch of a button. So what might your strategy be? Develop your own resilience. This thought reminds me of the reasoning behind the old UK Civil Defence Corps, with their role to detect and monitor a nuclear attack on Britain from little bunkers dotted around the countryside. The idea behind this, apart from anything else was to send a (rather pathetic) signal to our great enemy the Soviet Union that we were dug in and ready for anything they might throw at us. That idea of resilience fell foul of government cuts in 1968, the year which in the UK truly ended the history of what might be termed a Dad’s Army mindset (and the start of the comedy series, a pure coincidence I’m sure). So, let’s put to one side for a moment the horrendous possibility of nuclear war (I nevertheless wouldn’t rule it out) and consider the weaponisation of viruses. In this context the notion of your country’s resilience will be measured not in terms of firepower, but population survival rates. Remember the neutron bomb—somebody came up with the idea, and I can’t recall to what extent it was tested—that a device could be created which wiped out people but left buildings standing. Now, wouldn’t it make more sense to deploy a less easily traceable infection? And if the target nation had insufficient medical facilities, it would be defeated? The object is to ensure the state cannot recover without its people and to deliver the weapon as it were, anonymously. So ventilators become more important than Armalites. Maybe this sounds implausible, but is it not plausible to imagine that in a Strangelovian sense such ‘thought pieces’ have not been gamed in the Pentagon, or its many associated thinktanks (and not just the Pentagon of course). Indeed, I would be astonished if they hadn’t, given that that’s precisely what they’re paid to do. I say again, I don’t believe this is what is happening now. I am merely considering a world where climate change will be a threat multiplier and in which the competition for resources (baked beans and bog paper it seems, the popular choices) will lead to intensified hostilities. In such a world I do not put it past any populist leader to, shall we say, ‘get a grip’ on the most economical (i.e. cheap) weapons of choice.
+My Great International Beer Challenge, launched in a fanfare of publicity here just three days ago has crashed. I have sadly been forced to recognise that beer doesn't keep. My souvenir collection of beers is merely a collection of bottles with pretty labels and unquaffable content. The third beer in my exploration of the collection was a 66cl bottle of Forst Premium lager from Italy, with a best before date of October, 2006. ABV 5.2% At first, despite the usual drop in fizzy liveliness (maybe down to 30% of what might be considered normal) I thought this could be the first bottle worth drinking. It soon became apparent that this would be a struggle. Once again, despite never having been opened, the liquid had a bouquet of staleness. The sort of whiff you can occasionally find in a pub beer that is edging towards the end of its barrel (along with the possibility of not being maintained, dirty pipes and all that). What goes on inside a bottle of beer to make it go off I have no idea—if it’s hermetically sealed it can’t be anything to do with the outside atmosphere. The stale bouquet is the same in all bottles, which is really just the common stale smell of alcohol, like the smell of spilt drinks the day after you had everyone round for a piss-up (apols to my Methodist readers). So, it’s with great regret that very prematurely I am ceasing any further bottle openings in my Great International Beer Challenge, and will now be donating the entire collection of bottles to any beer ingredients equivalent of the Svalbard seed bank (p&p not included).
+A quote in Saturday’s paper: ‘We are not an arm of the state’ (in the context of policing the lockdown). This from Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. This is a body which I have not heard of before—I assumed the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) was sufficient. But not to worry, there’s probably a bit of slack in the dosh we hand over in our police precept payments to pay for any number of duplications. But the concept that the police are not ‘an arm of the state’ has me baffled. The police are one of the most important arms of the state. Perhaps Mr Hewitt was only two years old when the miners’ strike took place, which would have made him six when the poll tax was ‘policed.’ I realise we have a concept in this country called ‘policing by consent,’ with unarmed (sic) police and all that, but why not stop the pretence? The police perform many valuable functions on behalf of the state, they convey the authority of the state. Constitutionally, that’s supposed to be all of us. That means that apart from any criticisms I might have, I would be very relieved if caught up in some terrorist attack the first people on the scene were heavily armed police marksmen saving my life. But we still—or some like Mr Hewitt—seem to think Dixon of Dock Green is still the model. So in the current crisis I expect the police to perform their function, and if that means telling idiots to stop ignoring government instructions on self-isolating I’m all for the police being the ‘arm of the state.’ Whether we like what the ‘state’ does is quite a separate issue, and that requires an intense debate. But whatever your vision of what the state should be, it will always have an arm called the ‘police.’
+The Great (or not so great) International Beer Challenge has moved onto its second beer, this being a .033l bottle of Trappistes Rochefort 10, brewed by monks in a Belgian monastery. It is one of those strong beers that Belgians sip, being 11.3% ABV. This bottle has a best before date on it of July, 2008, and it is with a sense of foreboding that the significance of that will carry through all of the old beers comprising this challenge. It is unmistakably strong, and retains a flavoursome malty, chocolatey taste, but it’s pretty much flat and has that slight whiff mildly reminiscent of a corked wine. Damn. Down the sink. Sorry monks! I still retain a hope that one of my old bottles will contain a still lively and fresh brew.
+In England at least we have now had the most prolonged period of lovely, sunny, blue sky days of the new year. Nature has a cruel sense of humour. Still, if you are able to get out for a walk, it is very pleasant. I’m trying to impose a five metre social distancing rule, which means crossing the road if I see someone else. Although the pavements are pretty much empty, there are still quite a few people driving around. Now it seems that North Yorkshire Police are to set up road blocks, and if you haven’t got a local number plate and a good excuse you’ll be told off. Maybe even fined. Why stop at that? For those who are just driving around aimlessly sightseeing, their cars should be confiscated and crushed. Sounds reasonable. I would of course allow the vehicle’s occupants to get out first.
+Yesterday was day one of my Great International Beer Challenge, in which I taste a beer a day from my modest collection of international beers. These souvenirs in most cases have been sitting on my shelves for over a decade, so it will be interesting to see which, if any, have survived in drinkable form. I should have enough bottles to outlast the Coronavirus pandemic, the end of which will be officially confirmed when it is possible once again to personally buy a bottle of beer in Bruges. Here goes.
First up is a bottle of Ursus, a 5% ABV lager from Romania. This was purchased in 2008. I remember this because I was in Bucharest for a training session for local politicos on the subject of climate change, which almost coincided with that year’s NATO summit held in the city. In some spare time I went into town to look around the art gallery. I was the only one there—apart from two blokes in black overcoats who seemed to be following me round. Given our current circumstances, it seems coincidental that Bucharest was in a form of lockdown. The place was deserted, key routes were closed to traffic. And the beer? Still a slight bit of fizz but probably slightly off (or perhaps the local taste in beer is different to mine). I didn’t finish it, although I imagine it would be fine when on form. There’s not a lot more you can say about a mass-produced lager which is 12 years old. Not a terribly encouraging start to this semi-virtual world tour.
+There must be an awful lot of anxiety doing the rounds, as our invisible enemy stalks the land. If you so much as cough once, you wonder if it could be the herald of the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse. Sneezing however does not seem to be listed as one of the symptoms of having Coronavirus. So, in moderation and away from others, enjoy a good sneeze! I am! (Oh dear. What have I got?)
+Nature notes: Despite widespread travel bans, Kittiwakes are now returning to Scarborough’s castle cliffs in numbers. I like Kittiwakes, they come with Spring and are an early harbinger of Autumn, a reminder that we should still have seasons regardless of climate change. And they don’t swoop down and eat lard-loaded chips out of your hands as Herring Gulls do. Poor gulls, they’re going to be starved this year with the shutdown. I wonder how that will affect their mating season. With lighter mornings they’re usually warming up at 4am for a mating cacophony of screaming ‘I want chips and I want them now!’ On a more pleasant note, a variety of birds notable by their absence in recent months have returned to the garden—Blackbirds (nesting), Sparrows, three varieties of tits, Goldfinches, Ring Necked Doves, Woodpigeons and rats in the sky (pigeons). Lucky things, birds, not having to be locked down playing Patience (or whatever it is everybody else is pissing away their time with at the moment).
+There was a bit on the wireless (Home Service) yesterday evening asking whether people were likely to be drinking alcohol a bit more as they realised that future recordings of Eastenders have been suspended due to Coronavirus (I exaggerate slightly). It seems that at times of tension drinking more is a possibility (that’s a real surprise). As far as I am concerned this is a perfect excuse—it’s called self-medication. It’s fairly obvious that people will be drinking more at home since all the pubs, etc., have been shut down. What else can you do in a self-isolating community? Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. I have decided I am going to drink my little collection of international beers (collected on trips and holidays, the cheapest souvenirs you could wish for) - it will be interesting to see after so many years how these bottles may now contain a rather dull, flat liquid of zilch appeal. Anyway, drinking the stuff could be seen as an act of international solidarity, and I’m prepared to make the sacrifice. I will report here on each bottle as it goes down. Something to look forward to I’m sure. Hopefully, it will beat playing Patience (or its online equivalent).
+I’ve been reading (or been alerted to) a slew of articles these last few days about how the Coronavirus phenomenon will either alert us all to the pre-eminent threat of climate change, or will teach us nothing. There are some writers and climate change activists who hope that that this global pandemic will wake people up to some kind of collective epiphany, and so after the current infection is sorted we’ll all have a different, more enlightened attitude to climate change. Well, I bloody well hope so, but never underestimate the forces against such an outcome. I harbour a certain pessimism (as always on the climate change front) simply on the grounds that as we attack Coronavirus with everything we’ve got, we will actually defeat it. And since the same is not so easily true of climate change, we won’t defeat that. Because we will defeat Coronavirus, some if not all of our leaders will quickly settle back into their old ways, with a happy self-congratulatory slap on the back of satisfaction. In this sense, counter to all those hoping for a boost to climate change policies, we’re more likely to see a reversion to any old economic tool that halts the inevitable post-Coronavirus depression, a result of a mixture of political hubris and sheer desperation. Willed on by a populace that’s had enough of ’abnormality.’
+Cheer up! You don’t have to read this!
+The news bulletins have shown scenes in Madrid and elsewhere of people on their balconies banging, clapping and shouting in support of their local health workers. Quite a moving spectacle. Down my street there were a few last night doing the same. What will stop a lot of people joining in is the stupid design of their windows, those double glazed hermetically sealed behemoths which are not designed to open in anything like a sensible fashion. How nice it would be if I could lean out of my window and see what was going on. But British windows are British windows. What is it about our windows that tells us who we are as opposed to most of our European neighbours? (I could easily bang on about this subject for hours.) (I suppose I could have opened the front door, though.)
+I suggested in my blog on the 15th March—in a letter not published by the Guardian—that we might consider the formation of a coalition government during this crisis. Yesterday the paper ran a story reporting that some Tory MPs thought this might be worth pursuing. It seems one or two of them are worried that if things go entirely pear-shaped under Johnson, the Tories will get all the blame. Such calculations will no doubt cross the government’s mind as it struggles to convince people they know what they’re doing. With Parliament no longer sitting, some means has to be found to ensure the government is held to account. So Corbyn for Deputy Prime Minister now! It would only be for a week though—Labour’s leadership election result is to be announced on April 4th, when it is assumed Keir Starmer will take over. So there won’t be any move in the direction of a coalition until then. But what if Starmer does enter government? One possible consequence could be the end of the absurdity of racing towards a no-deal Brexit at the end of the year.
+Prince Albert, the ruler of tax haven Monaco has tested positive for Coronavirus. I’m sure it won’t be life threatening, he’ll get the best care money can buy if he needs it. And Monaco may be the one place in the world where the old saying does not wholly apply, viz, that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. So get better soon Albie! And whilst we’re at it best wishes too to Prince Charles who has also been tested positive. N.B. If you were recently conferred an honour by Chas, it’s probably too late to return it.
+The regional map of Coronavirus cases in the UK shows there is now only one area without a case—the Western Isles. Hebridean residents won’t have too much difficulty turning back the hordes of motorhome virus refugees. It was only this century that they agreed ferries could go there on the Sabbath, and that was after a right old battle.
+Awarding a contract to Dysons to make 10,000 ventilators does come with a risk. Namely that their no doubt soon-to-be-unveiled innovative design will come with a typical Dyson price tag. And hopefully the Dyson ventilator will not behave like their hand dryers which make the same racket as a 747 taking off.
+In any normal (sic) democracy, the challenger to the incumbent is usually well established long before the play off. This gives the electorate the chance to properly weigh up their options (it is said). But not in the United States, where the primary system ploughs on and on for the challenger whilst giving the incumbent a free ride. The primaries for the Democrats look set to drag on for nearly eight or nine months since they started. Why a party cannot chose its candidate on the same day nationwide is beyond me—except of course, it isn’t. Each state wishes to protect its own little patch of sovereignty, which no doubt can be traced back to some historical precedent which can’t be changed lest it unleashes the forces of hell (I visited New Hampshire once—motto: Live Free Or Die). So now for the Democrats the process drags on and on and all the while the idiot in the White House doesn’t have to worry. You might think that for a federal election, they could devise some standard, federal rules. But no, that would be to trample all over tradition, so it can’t happen. This is known as States’ Rights, and no doubt the supporters of this dysfunctional system would argue that such protected diversity is what holds the Union together. The same system that allows Wyoming to have the same number of Senators as California. The former with a population of less than 600,000 and the latter with a population of 40 million. In this year’s presidential election, at least you’ll be able to rely on a politically appointed court to settle the result if it’s close. But my money is on Trump trying to avoid an election result altogether, one way or the other. Coronavirus might play into his sticky little hands.
+I am wondering if the current crisis isn’t bringing something of the authoritarian out in me. I suspect like many people I am concerned that as I self-isolate, stay at home and eat crumbs, there’ll still be a load of people going out excessively snapping up whatever is left on the shelves, regardless of anyone else’s needs- just like those ignorant people who still can’t bring themselves to clean up their dog’s shit. What to do? I think I would mobilise the army and make it known that they will be patrolling supermarkets (now the only focus of society) to ensure that people behave themselves. Would that be a bit heavy handed do you think? Well, I’m in no doubt it would act as a deterrent. Just like the Trident missile system is a deterrent. On that particular subject, it must be reassuring to know that in this new ‘war’ (as Trump calls it) we have nuclear weapons. Let’s nuke Coronavirus! Let’s bomb the f*** out of it! But in the meantime, it would be nice to think that we might have a sufficient military capacity to respond to a civil contingency with a bit to spare. Sadly, after austerity, we haven’t.
+For some time I’ve been getting emails from the Guardian which address me as ‘Dear Supporter.’ There’s something very irritating about this. It assumes a type of relationship with them which is egregiously and self-importantly presumptuous. It’s as if you like eggs and buying them makes you an ‘egg supporter.’ But normally with buying eggs you’re not usually enjoined to donate to the great Cause of Eggs. The Guardian needs to be careful not to walk on eggshells (huh), taking its READERS for granted. That’s a warning, Guardian bods. If I cancelled the Guardian I would save around £500 a year. That’s a lot of eggs. And I’m not bloody well donating (at least not until they sack a few columnists whose names I won’t mention, but needless to say it is they who cranked up big style on their anti-Corbyn omni-f***s**t blather). I’m glad I got that off my chest.
+How quickly things change. A month or so ago, after the collapse of regional airline Flybe, the custodians of Cornwall and Devon were moaning about the hit this would have on ’regional connectivity.’ Now they’re all into regional disconnectivity, telling people to stay away. The ups and downs of modern life.
+The 6.30am BBC Radio 3 news bulletin this morning said 'UK prisons are in lockdown.' That's a relief. The phrase wasn't used in later bulletins.
+It’s pure coincidence that all this talk of ‘social distancing’ came at the same time as the Alex Salmond trial.
+Today’s other in-vogue words, now made into one are ‘lock down.’ Trump may well have tested negative for Coronavirus, but if he wants to stay that way he should consider putting the White House into lockdown. Now chant after me ‘Lock him up! Lock him up!’
+The streets are eerily quiet after ‘our’ Prime Minister ordered us to stay at home. I kind of assumed his commands would have sparked off another round of panic buying, although I didn’t go to the supermarkets this morning to see for myself the bog rolls flying out the door. A saving grace of the PM’s dictats is that we will be spared the sight of him and his ministers touring hospitals and other crisis stricken places wearing hi-vis jackets and hard hats, pretending to empathise with workers and locals. Although sadly I did see on the news last night a rather ridiculous Health Secretary Hancock helping to unload boxes of face masks off the back of a lorry into a building. A pathetic photo-op if ever there was one, not least since he wasn’t wearing any protective gear himself (I’m assuming the building was a hospital). And the boxes clearly didn’t weigh very much. How many boxes did he shift? More than one?
+Leading on nicely to box sets. First to hit the DVD player is The Thick Of It. The above photo-op could have been lifted entirely from the thought processes at work in the ‘Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship.’ Next up: Yes Minister.
What would the Bronte sisters have done if they had to rely on Google for their inspiration (as opposed to their imagination)? I don’t really know why I asked that question, apart from the possibility that I’m going stir crazy. I don’t read fiction these days (it seems pointless after reading the complete Dostoevsky) so now, with a click of a button new sources of fanciful fiction can be delivered and dismissed with every passing whim. I suspect my attention span is falling prey to the internet induced desire for effortless gratification. So if somebody said I should read a particular novel to probe the depths of the human condition, I would merely say no. I’ll do a Google search instead.
This is all just a roundabout way of saying I did a Google search with the phrase ‘cure worse than problem.’ I just wanted to see what the justification is for the measures currently being taken to deal with the (so far) historically mild consequences of Coronavirus. The great thing about open ended searches of this sort is that they bring up all sorts of stuff. This is an excerpt from one of the top results of asking what could be a ‘cure worse than the problem’ -
‘Each individual case needs the careful treatment of a shepherd. Only the pastor can effectively solve this problem and it must be on an individual basis. If the pastor never deals with this phase of the work, new problems emerge. Men will wear their hair longer and longer. The music will get wilder and wilder. Soon, moving picture shows will replace the Wednesday night prayer meetings. Each deviant practice will be defended as if it had been sanctified by the desire to “make disciples.” Under the guise of providing something for the young people to do, many religious movements have provided dances and gambling games in the basements of their churches. Such a religious frock over the practice is justification enough for them. This is their solution to the problem of keeping their people out of the “dance halls” and “gambling dens.” But, any honest-hearted sinner can see the inconsistency of such a position.’
Well, thank you Apostolic Information Service! Who needs to read a whole novel to come across ‘the truth?’ It may have not occurred to this particular American evangelical quoted that every portrayal of Jesus has him wearing long hair. And a beard. And sandals. Odd then that Christ is always seen as a deviant. The source of this particular guidance is I Corinthians v14 which tells us solemnly ‘Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.’ (All run by men)
I haven't looked into whether having a long beard would upset God, but since he’s never seen without one, I guess not. So it is clear that sometimes Google searches can lead you astray when you’ve got nothing better to do. But keep an eye out for any bloke in the street with long hair—he may be a C of E vicar with gambling allowed in his crypt.
+There will soon be a new sub-genre of the plague diary hitting the columns in the press. Is this a good time to start a diary? With so many people told to self-isolate, what better time to pour your thoughts into a record for posterity. What were the daily challenges, the ups and downs, the fights in the supermarket, the issues around discovering close confinement, etc., etc? Diarists with good agents or something spectacularly interesting to say will either end up with newspaper deals or perhaps more remuneratively become ‘influencer’ types on social media. Sharing life experiences in times of stress can of course be a good thing, and since so many people might be thinking that they’re on their own, it can be reassuring to hear others’ voices. But there may well be those whose experiences will be brought to us with added bathos, to bring what is probably a dull and wholly boring routine to some form of literary life.
+One of the questions that must be on all our minds at the moment is how are the super-rich coping? For those who treat the world as their plaything, these times could be a little unnerving. Not least since for many of them their excessive wealth will have taken a knock on the stock exchanges. But mostly they’ll have enough dosh to escape the virus. They should eschew their bunkers (whose ventilator shafts might deliberately become clogged up with all sorts of detritus) and take to their super-yachts for circular trips around the South Atlantic, where self-isolation is more or less guaranteed. For the very few ultra-rich perhaps a trip to the International Space Station could be in order, where through a porthole they could watch the rest of us cough ourselves to death. I read last week that lettuce has been successfully grown on the ISS. Let them eat lettuce!