The lockdown, at least in England is effectively over. With the re-opening of shops today, just here in Scarborough the high street was crowded this morning, and ‘social’ distancing was out of the window. It’s not hard to understand why, since the government’s advice has become so multi-layered and confusing people are taking liberties left right and centre. Out for a walk this morning, I noticed groups of three or four people strolling along hogging the whole pavement, oblivious to others walking in the opposite direction. It still seems safer to walk in the road. At least here there’s less chance of being knocked over by new cyclists, many of whom seem to believe that it is normal to ride on the pavement. I take with a pinch of salt the idea that a new communal spirit of respect has swept the nation, although I’m sure there are plenty of examples of that. Maybe it’s just that you don’t notice good behaviour quite as much as the bad. But things at least for me are likely to become more paranoid, since it is quite obvious that the incompetence of the government which has led us to one of the worst death rates in the world is showing no signs of diminishing. So now we’re entering a phoney war period. This only heightens my levels of anxiety. Thus, when I see some geezer in Marks & Sparks inspecting a food item and putting it back on the shelf I find myself muttering ever louder beneath my breath ‘Don’t touch it if you ain’t buying it you stupid &%**er! And then in Lidl, thinking I was buying two bars of 95% cocoa chocolate I got home and discovered that the second bar was a raspberry flavoured version from the same brand—which can only mean somebody picked up something they decided they didn’t want and put it back in the wrong place. Does this mean I have risked bringing the virus into my house? (Of course, there's no logical reason why what I wanted would be any less infected.) Each little and seemingly inconsequential example we can think of like this, whether based in common sense or not is bound to increase exponentially now that we have supposedly ‘conquered the invisible mugger’ when it is plainly obvious that we haven’t. Most relaxations of lockdowns around the world have led to increases in Covid-19 cases. I think there’s a good case to be made for paranoia on this one, even when it comes to buying that all-time essential, chocolate, which I'm sure has anti-viral properties. Surely there's some theory doing the rounds on social media to back that one up?
According to the Microsoft news feed both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph reported today that a key government committee charged with the task of preparing for, among other things, pandemics, was scrapped six months ago. ‘According to the Daily Mail, the group - called the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee (THRCC) - was suspended by former prime minister Theresa May on the advice of Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill so that civil servants and ministers could focus on Brexit.’ It seems it was actually Johnson who authorised the abandonment of the THRCC, a few days after being elected. The more one hears about our incompetent (and overstretched) government the more one despairs. But this story deserves attention for its linking Brexit to the Coronavirus. It illustrates one of the unintended consequences of Brexit, and I’m willing to bet many more will be unearthed after the transition period ends, which for some chauvinistic reason the government will not delay, pandemic or not. Ironic too that this story should first appear in the pages of two of the main cheerleaders for Brexit, and indeed that their elderly readers have a higher than average chance of suffering from Covid-19. Let justice be served.
+Here’s a solution, and I guess I’m not the first to suggest it. Let’s do a deal with the US and swap Prince Andrew for Anne Sacoolas (the CIA woman who allegedly drove on the wrong side of the road and killed the British motorcyclist Harry Dunn). What could be fairer? We don’t even need to ask for the return of our prince. He really is expendable.
+The Washington Post is running a fact checker on Trump’s lies which have now passed the 18,000 mark. This is a remarkable achievement. Lying (and Tweeting them) is possibly what keeps the President too busy to start a war. Meanwhile we here in the UK with our own wannabe president do not have a venerable old newspaper with the world’s richest man behind it to save us from untruth. But we do have journalist Peter Oborne, who despite his traditional Conservative background (or possibly because of it) has set up his own website https://boris-johnson-lies.com/ Unfortunately when I looked at this it didn’t seem to cover the post-2019 general election period, since when Johnson’s lies have multiplied like err . . a virus. I wonder of there will be an 'operation' on Mr Oborne if he persists in his insolence.
+I wonder why Johnson has chosen to do a weekly press conference on a Wednesday? Surely he’s not trying to drown out anything that happened earlier in the day at PMQs? Anyway, caged animals will be pleased to hear that zoos are no longer to be in lockdown. Apart from reptile houses, Johnson said. How this will affect the 1922 Committee or the Carlton Club is anybody’s guess.
+The picture of Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner doing the ‘kneel’ isolated in a large, carpeted room possibly somewhere in the Palace of Westminster is not a good look. Far from conveying an image of solidarity it reeks of tokenism. It would have had more impact if they’d done it at the bar of the House—which may have inspired a few other MPs to follow suit. I doubt that any Tories would have joined them.
+Johnson also blathered on a bit about creating social bubbles, as we continue our hapless journey along the government’s roadmap. Apparently UK plc has now met the regime’s five tests for declaring a near victory against the Coronavirus. Is this Johnson’s D-Day moment? I wonder who he’ll be ‘bubbling’ with. Wife Carrie better keep an eye on him.
In the past I have appeared in court twice as a defendant and once as a member of the public. Now, in the latter category, twice. More on that later. My experience of court is to feel at others' mercy—beholden to a system in which for the most part one is unfamiliar and totally subservient. My first experience (age 16) was in Norton (East Riding) Magistrates Court, charged with sounding the warning device on a stationary vehicle. Before sentencing, the beaks told me that I faced a fine of up to £25. I nearly wet myself. This was 1969! Then they gave me an unconditional discharge, perhaps reflecting the fact that the warning device in question was just a rubber bulb horn commonly fitted to pedal bikes at the time, but on this occasion acquitted atop the handlebar of a motorbike. Apparently the ‘arresting’ officer was given a right bollocking for wasting court time. But this whole business took three months to come to court, during which time I felt like The Fugitive.
My second appearance was in Hull Magistrates Court, circa 1991, for not paying the poll tax. Then you could have your day in court, and generally so long as you paid up afterwards, there was little penalty. I paid up. I was on the council at the time, and would face disbarment if I hadn’t paid. This appearance before the beaks was to be ironic, as we shall see.
My third attendance in court—Morley Magistrates in about 1996—was to provide moral support to Labour’s PPC in Leeds North East, Fabian Hamilton, who stood accused of being a director of a limited company which had failed to fulfil the legal requirement of displaying a sign on its registered premises of its limited status. The charge was brought to the beaks’ attention by his political opponents, and was about the most devastating thing they could think of. A small fine with costs was I recollect levied. It made no difference at the subsequent general election. It was 1997 after all.
I’m afraid there is no unifying narrative here, except to say that when you face the beaks, your fate really is in these strangers’ hands, and yes, perhaps the law should always be judged by strangers. Blind, so to speak (if mainly judged by middle to late middle aged white middle class magistrates). But things aren’t only judged in courtrooms. I mentioned my poll tax appearance. Ironically, when the Labour Party wanted to defenestrate Liz Davies who was about to be selected as Fabian Hamilton’s predecessor as PPC for Leeds North East, a member approached me for a suggestion of a question he could ask at a selection meeting which might discombobulate her. I said why not ask her if she had any skeletons in her cupboard? She said she had not. Then the Party, who didn’t really want this left-wing firebrand chosen, discovered (I think with the help of the Daily Mail) that she had been in court for non-poll tax payment. Since she didn’t to my knowledge go to prison, I assume she coughed up, just like me. Her poll tax court appearance was nevertheless deemed a ‘skeleton in the cupboard’ and the selection was re-run (just after a separate court judgement which ruled all-women shortlists illegal). As for me, I learnt a basic lesson in politics—how to live with ironies. I confess that living with ironies is not necessarily desirable. But so far as the Labour Party is concerned, we will soon discover how the leaked report into the internal anti-Corbyn faction of party staffers will surely become a report on the misdeeds of the whistleblowers who brought their behaviour to our attention. I wait and watch attentively to see how our new leader, well versed I assume in courtroom practice demonstrates a honed sense of legalistic irony on this one.
So now we come to my fourth attendance at a court hearing, albeit this time in virtual circumstances. This was the first procedural hearing of the contempt of court case against blogger Craig Murray. Apparently around 700 people listened in—rather more than you would get in a physical courtroom. It didn’t last very long and wasn’t in the least bit exciting. As Murray had pointed out in a blog, his indictment appeared to be incomplete and factually wrong. So the only thing that caught my eye (or should that be ear?) in this hearing was the explanation proffered by the prosecution, which was that the document ‘lost’ some content when it was converted from Word into a PDF. How likely is that? It may or may not prove interesting to see what the missing bits actually said. The unfortunate thing about a virtual hearing, where participants are presumably calling in remotely is that some of the speech gets garbled, or somebody accidentally leaves their ‘mute’ button on. Murray’s preference for a physical courtroom trial is justifiable. The next hearing is on the 7th July. No doubt Murray’s analysis of today’s proceedings will be posted on his website later today.
If you thought that the Coronavirus lockdown was all good news for climate change, maybe you’ll have to think again. If Covid-19 leads to a long term reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that would be great of course. But an article in Mongabay has looked at the possibility that the reduction in the cooling impact of sulphate aerosol emissions from industry, shipping and the like will accelerate atmospheric warming. This is because these emissions help in the formation of clouds and increase their reflectivity. Could it be that our glorious blue sky spring had something to do with the reduction in these aerosols? This year has also seen accelerated arctic warming. All related? Another conundrum for the scientists to ponder, and yet another excuse for climate deniers to persist with their delusions. There will always be counterintuitive consequences in something so complex as climate change, and in such circumstances the precautionary principle (a.k.a insurance) is the best one to stick with.
+In these locked down times, and with time on my hands (a blessing as you get older) I am playing more of my old vinyl. This is slightly weird, since there are moments when I think my taste 50 years ago will have been so crap I would never now want to admit that I played certain stuff over and over again as teenagers do. Only kidding! My taste was never at fault, and may I confess that in 1960s Malton I was at the cutting edge of musical discernment? To my knowledge, I was Malton’s leading Frank Zappa fan, not a hotly contested position. So listening to Hot Rats (1969) today after what must be at least 40 years I was relieved to discover how brilliant this album was and remains. It feels like a bit of a luxury to dip into your past and discover that maybe your taste was impeccable (ahem). I say this without any sense of pride or self-satisfaction. It is merely the result of hanging on to my old albums and discovering that what I liked half a century ago has stood the test of time. Of course my hubris on this subject could easily be deflated, I remember that loyalty to bands almost rivalled football tribal loyalties. It was, for example, important for your favoured lead guitarist to win the Sounds 'lead guitarist of the year contest.’ I always nominated Zappa, but I think Clapton won most times. Yeah, like who’s he?
+The toppling and dumping in the harbour of the statue in Bristol of slave trader Edward Colston has upset the Home Secretary, so I guess it must be a good thing. The statue had a Grade II listing, justified by Historic England on the grounds of its historic interest and Colston’s philanthropy. That’s a rather weak justification. What if the German Road Builders’ Federation (if there is such a thing) wanted to erect a statue in honour of that great autobahn builder and historically important person, Hitler? Never mind the other stuff, he did wonders for roads. I doubt such a proposal would get very far, but if it were put up and then torn down by protesters, where would our beloved Home Secretary stand on such an act of vandalism?
Reading a compilation by Eliot Weinberger in the London Review of Books of stories of recent developments in the U.S., illustrated throughout with the inanities of Trump’s Twitter feed I was struck by how embarrassing it must be to be an intelligent U.S. citizen, living with Trump as your President. In foreign company you might even have to go so far as to pretend you were a Canadian, to avoid having to explain what the hell was happening in your own country. But then I am immediately reminded of where I live, and our own possession of a supreme idiot, who similarly deploys his ignorance with populist maledictions, who more often than not loses any semblance of coherent thought and surrounds himself with lickspittles. Perhaps I need to go into deeper lockdown and self-isolation. In Weinberger’s compilation Jared Kushner, Trump’s Einstein-like son-in-law is quoted as saying ‘I’m not sure I can commit (to holding the presidential elections in November).’ Here lies a problem for the Commander-in-Chief: the more he declares that the U.S. is defeating the Coronavirus the lesser case he will have to try to stop or delay the elections (never mind the constitution). And if he were to attempt some Coronavirus justified assault on the November poll he would only be demonstrating what a failure he has been tackling the virus. Either way, it doesn’t look good for him. Mind you, should he try something on he can always point to his chum Boris for support, after May’s elections in the U.K. were postponed for a year. The outstanding question remains whoever wins in November, what difference will it make?
+The use of the word ‘sadly’ has attracted some comment lately. I think there was an article in the Guardian a while ago which exposed ministers’ disingenuous use of the word when reporting the daily Covid death toll, as if the dying had just, sadly, wandered off on their own accord into the land of perpetual nod. Sadly, I can’t quite remember the piece, but it struck a chord, exposing as it did the social distancing that is taking place between government and people. Sadly, people just die, don’t they—nowt to do wi’us? Happily, one aspect of the over-use of ‘sadly’ is that ‘absolutely’ is no longer the first word one hears when somebody answers a question on the news. Sadly, I suspect that it is possible that ‘absolutely sadly’ could creep in, perhaps even prefaced with ‘so.’
+In the meantime, I am sadly putting more weight on and sadly enjoying two or more glasses of wine more often than not. On that subject, we are told that more people are drinking more alcohol at home—a fact which may, may just may have something to do with pubs, etc., being closed. At the same time it seems that small brewers are facing ruin. Sadly, I can’t get my head round this. We’re drinking more but breweries are closing. I have a strong suspicion that some in the temperance community are trying to capitalise on our current vulnerabilities. Sadly.
+A curious feature of BBC radio news programmes these days is that when potential answers could become interesting, the line cuts out. It happens so often, I am wondering whether the Beeb is using 1G never mind 5G? Or is it just a convenient mute button that Ministers have?
+The Madeline McCann case could be close to resolution if today’s news is anything to go by. I hope so for the parents’ sake. But I have to ask, if the co-operation between the police forces of the UK, Portugal and Germany appeared rather less than effective 13 years (and counting) ago, how will Brexit improve matters? Like Covid-19, some things don’t seem bothered too much by borders, and our potential withdrawal from the European cross-border co-operation that currently exists is unlikely to improve. It should be improved regardless of Brexit, since crime is now so internationalised—but I don’t see Johnson’s government appreciating this fact. Sadly.
+Thanks to Apollo magazine for this news . . . Just as the National Portrait Gallery is embarking on a major, multi-million rebuilding programme, who has the government appointed as one of its new trustees? None other than Chris ‘failing’ Grayling. This does not inspire much confidence that I will be able to visit the NPG in the remainder of my lifetime. What has Grayling got that compels such confidence in him? It is one of life’s mysteries.
+My blog yesterday on the absence of rainfall has been followed by a slight dampening from the heavens. This was in the forecast of course, so I’m not claiming to be as prescient as say, the President of the United States. But on the same day as some drops fell from the sky, up pops a report from Carbon Brief about climate change impacts on the growing issue of water stress for billions of people. Some of which people have governments that possess nuclear weapons. Might there eventually be a risk here? In the meantime, my water butts are very slowly being replenished.
+That quiet but often useful bit of BBC radio output, You and Yours did a story this lunchtime about how easy it is for scammers to use the new government ‘track and trace’ system to rob people. I thought this was quite a big story, but I didn’t hear any more about it later in the news. It seems the track and trace system has all the safeguards which may have been appropriate in 2001, but in 2020 clever tech-savvy criminals have moved on. Already people are being screwed out of millions. I have to say I have little confidence that the track and trace system as now introduced will do anything to assist us, quite the contrary. Malicious reporting (never mind the scammers) will set so many hares running one will have to discount to a great extent the suggestion that the greater populace should place their trust in it. I certainly have decided to have nothing to do with it. But since I’m still following the guidelines on social distancing, etc., why should I have to worry? Surely, we only need to worry about people with the mentality of Dominic Cummings—and such people often stand out in the street, so you can spot them and give them a wide berth. Meanwhile, as Keir Starmer is at last upping the ante a little, Johnson has the brass neck to suggest that Labour is undermining trust in the government’s efforts. Perhaps it’s just as well we live in a country with the world’s second lowest Covid-19 death rate. Hang on a sec . .