Archive | June 2020

I’ve had a letter from Hancock and Jenrick.

It arrived yesterday afternoon, four pages long and purporting to give me  ‘Important advice on covid-19’ because I’m ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ which is hardly news to me. I’ve been ‘shielding’ for the last three months. The first piece of advice they had for me was predictable too. ‘You are advised to follow the shielding guidance rigorously.’

Then their message got vague. Well there’s a surprise. ‘On 1st June the shielding guidance was slightly relaxed… you may wish to spend some time outdoors away from your home once a day.’ And they explained that ‘this change was based on scientific evidence that the initial peak of the epidemic had passed in the UK.’ Nothing was quoted from any source. to support that statement. Well there’s a surprise!  So I looked up the figures from the World Health Organisation. Number of cases in the UK to date 306,862, number of deaths 43,081, supported by a very clear graph which showed that the mortality figures were still rising, although more slowly than they had originally. But no indication at all that the peak was passed. Other scientific organisations agreed although their mortality totals were even higher at 65,700.

Then they ended the first page with a neat little get-out clause. ‘Like all our guidance to those who are clinically vulnerable, this was advisory.’ Well,well, well. So if you don’t follow their advice that’s up to you, but if you do follow it and you catch the virus, it’ll be all your own fault. Nice to know.

So on to page 2, where we are told of the changes that are coming. On July 6th we can meet in a group of six people or form ‘a bubble’ with one other household. But again we are told that this is an ‘advisory’ change.

From 1st August ‘you no longer need to shield’. We can go to work, our children can go to school, we can go shopping for food, or to places of worship or for exercise. But we are advised to ‘follow strict social distancing’.

Then on to page three and some ‘facts’ at last. ‘All Government decisions on Shielding advice are led by the latest scientific evidence.’ Really? What evidence was that? They don’t tell us. We’re just told that ‘four weeks ago, around one person in 500 had the virus’ and that ‘last week it was even lower with less than one in 1,700 having the virus.’ If I hadn’t watched the Prime Mendaciter and his minions spewing out lies on a daily basis, I might have been taken in.

They finish on a regal flourish. If we are in trouble, not to worry, there are all sorts of organisations who will help. Top of the list is our cash-strapped, overworked NHS, then come our equally cash strapped GPs, councils and charities. ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Johnson?’

And then there were the signatures. ‘Matt’ and ‘Robert Jenrick’.I didn’t know who the last one was so decided that this morning I would look him up. But I didn’t need to. This morning the man was all over the front pages. ”Jenrick under pressure to quit as Tory donor documents released.” So  I read it and an unsurprisingly sordid story  it was.  Robert Jenrick, in his role as Housing Secretary, had insisted that a planning decision on a £1 billion property development should be rushed through so that a Tory donor’s company could reduce costs on the deal by £45 million. And who was the Tory donor? Why none other than our old friend Richard Desmond, owner of the Express newspapers, and great friend of one Boris Johnson. And why did he want this decision speeded up? Because the speed would enable him to avoid the need to pay £45 million to Labour run Tower Hamlets. As he put it himself in his charming way. ‘We don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe (sic) for nothing.’

And as if that weren’t revelation enough, I found another news item. There had been a UK Labour opposition day motion  asking for routine weekly Covid-19  testing for NHS and care workers and the House had defeated it by 344 votes to 198. And to make assurance doubly sure, it had approved an amendment against it without a division. The amendment was proposed by the PM, Matt Hancock, Therese Coffey, Gavin Williamson, Robert Jenrick and Jacob Rees-Mogg. What a grizzly crew they are.

I’m going to give the last word here this morning to a novelist called Matt Haig. (You redeem the name Matt), writing on Twitter.

‘Just  think,’ he wrote. ‘If the government had locked down when they were advised, if they had been as quick as others with test and trace, if they’d been clear with their messaging, if they had protected care homes, if they didn’t have Dominic Cummings, we could be ending lock-down safely.’


This entry was posted on June 25, 2020. 4 Comments

I’ve got two new heroes!

This has been quite a week! And for once in a while it’s turned up two splendid young men in the news. Splendid, handsome, young black men, the kind of men to admire. And for once in quite a long time I’ve got really good things to write about.

The first of these two men to hit the headlines is Patrick Hutchinson who attended the right wing demonstration in London last Saturday with a group of his friends, because they are all trained to cope with emergencies and they thought this demonstration might well turn violent and that then they could be useful, which it did and which they were. One of the demonstrators was knocked to the ground and injured and Patrick went into the melee and as he said ‘got underneath him and carried him off somewhere rather safer’. 

When he was interviewed about it afterwards he said he hadn’t stopped to think, he just took action and later in the interview he said he was doing it for the future of his children and grandchildren. Respec’ Patrick!

The second one of my lovely heroes, was this handsome, young man and in the normal course of events I wouldn’t have noticed him because he is a famous footballer and – shh don’t tell anybody – football leaves me cold! But this young footballer has warmed the cockles of my heart, because he is a great campaigner and has taken up the cudgels to protect our poorest children. The Prime Mendacitor had decided not to extend the government’s free school meals voucher system for low-income families over the summer holiday period. And our splendid 22 year old wrote to him to ask him to change his mind. He isn’t just handsome and a brilliant footballer, he has a good turn of phrase too. Just look at his plea!

“I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity.” 

“Without the kindness and generosity from the community there wouldn’t be the Marcus Rashford you see today: a 22-year-old black man lucky enough to make a career playing the game I love. Wembley Stadium could have been filled more than twice with children who have had to skip meals during lockdown due to their families not being able to access food.”

“This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry? Food poverty is a pandemic in England that could span generations if we don’t course correct now.”

The Prime Mendacitor, after spinning his usual web of lies all around the affair, gave way to the pressure and decided that he could find enough money to feed these kids after all. Respec’ Marcus! You’re a great guy.

And as if that weren’t reward enough for one week, I also discovered a new and rather scrumptious word. So I’ll leave you with that. It’s ‘quockerwodger’ and it’s first meaning is a wooden puppet but it’s acquired a secondary meaning too and that’s the bit I really enjoy. It is, and I quote, ‘a politician acting on the instructions of an influential third party rather then properly representing their constituents.’ Wiffle, waffle, piffle, paffle!







This entry was posted on June 18, 2020. 1 Comment

Black lives matter.

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I make no apologies for writing this blog this morning.  All life matters to me, black lives as every bit as much as everybody elses. I believe that all men are created equal.

So here is a story about the slave trade and how abominable and cruel it was. I researched it thoroughly in 2001 and a book called ‘Suki’ was published as a result of my studies. This is an excerpt from that book, describing the death of one particular slave, who dared to make a stand.

‘Watch out for your big feller,’ the surgeon warned as he walked away.
Jack turned to question. ‘Which one?’
‘Spilled the porridge that first morning.’
‘Is he sick?’
The surgeon looked at him, straight and serious. ‘No sir. He means to starve himself. He don’t eat.’
‘Oh don’t he?’ Jack said grimly. ‘I’ll soon see about that.’ Losing a slave to sickness or foul air was bad enough but a self-inflicted death was folly – and arrogant to boot.
The big feller was one of the second group to be fed that morning and now that his attention had been drawn to it, Jack could see that the man was refusing all sustenance except water. He sat with his arms folded across a chest grown considerably thinner and gazed out to sea, swaying with the rhythm of the ship but otherwise unmoving and blank-faced.
‘Deuce take the dog,’ Jack said angrily to his three assistants. ‘I do believe Mr Dix has the right of it.’
‘He’s uncommon determined,’ Dickon said.
‘He’ll not determine me,’ Jack said, anger rising. ‘I’ll warrant you that. He’ll find me more than a match for him. Keep him back when the others go below and fetch me a big spoon.’
The big feller showed no concern when he and his shackle-mate were thrust back onto the deck as the others stood to shuffle to the hatches. He simply sat where he was and waited as though the world were no longer his concern. His companion, who was smaller and had fed well, was instantly and twitchingly anxious, his neck taut as a tree trunk, his eyes dilated and flickering with alarm. There were flakes of dried wheat meal around his mouth, which he wiped with the back of his hand, nervously. But even when Jack bore down upon them with a tub of meal in one hand and a serving spoon in the other, the big feller simply sat, and when the first full spoon was jabbed at his mouth, he tightened his lips and turned his head aside at the last second so that the contents spilled over his shoulder.
‘Devil take him!’ Jack swore. ‘I’ll not be disobeyed. Pin him down boys. We’ll see about this.’
The big slave put up a terrible struggle, thrashing his arms and twisting his body violently from side to side, but between the four of them they pinned him to the deck. His terrified companion was dragged down with him, much kicked and thumped in the process, but at last he was subdued, panting but unable to move, with his fists tied hard behind his back and the vice of Dickon’s scarred hands clamped on either side of his face, holding him steady.
Jack watched him with satisfaction. ‘Open his mouth.’
Dickon grimaced. ‘What if he bites sir?’
Jack seized a belaying pin and flourished it in front of the big feller’s face. ‘If he bites sir,’ he said, speaking directly and furiously to the slave, ‘We’ll knock his blamed teeth out.’
He bit as soon as Dickon’s fingers touched his lips, his eyes blazing hatred and defiance, and was instantly hit in the mouth with the pin. It was such a heavy blow that it split his lip and knocked his two front teeth so loose that they hung by a bloody thread.
‘Quick!’ Jack said, filling the spoon and thrusting it at the bloody gap. There were several seconds of confused struggle. Blood and spittle and gobbets of meal flew before their eyes, leg-irons clanked and dragged. They were all shouting, arms flailing, fists punching, and someone was screaming. But when they finally stood up, the slave’s mouth was full of meal. It was a triumph.
‘Swallow damn you!’ Jack roared at him. ‘Swallow!’ His eyes stung with fury and he was holding his spine with such tension it was beginning to ache.
It was a wasted order. The big feller turned his head to one side, spat out the meal and vomited green bile all over their shoes and the crouching spine of his companion.
Jack swore so much he made his throat sore. ‘Hell’s teeth! I’ll not be beat by a savage. I’ll make him eat, damme if I don’t. Give me that spoon again! Quick! And get that blamed fool out the way.’
Dickon tried to drag the other slave to his feet and couldn’t do it. ‘We’ll have to take his irons off.’
‘Well take ’em off, dammit. I’ll not be beat by a savage.’
The irons were removed and the slave dragged away by the feet, with his hands covering his eyes.
‘Now!’ Jack roared.
But the instant his companion was freed, the big feller had struggled to his feet and, as they turned towards him, he was running towards the side, tumbling over the gunwale, falling into the sea, straight as a plumb line. It was all over in seconds, before they could draw breath. Then all three seamen yelled, ‘Man overboard’ and Mr Tomson came running to see what was amiss.
Jack was the first to recover. ‘We must lower a boat.’
‘Can’t be done,’ the captain told him, stroking his beard ”Twould mean going about and so forth.’ Which was plainly true, for there was already a considerable distance between the ship and the slave, who was swimming strongly.
‘We can’t leave him to drown,’ Jack protested. ‘He’s a good specimen. Worth a deal of money. Could we throw a line?’
‘Not without a harpoon,’ the captain said. ‘Not that distance. We ain’t whalers.’
‘We can’t just leave him,’ Jack repeated. ‘Something must be done.’
It was being done as he spoke. Two dark fins had appeared in the green water and were circling the swimmer. As the crew watched in fascinated horror, there was a sudden spume of white water, a chop of waves, a thrashing and bubbling as if the sea was boiling. Then a long red trail of blood threaded out from the centre and the slave’s head disappeared.
‘Sharks,’ the captain said and went back to the bridge as if that were the end of the matter.

This entry was posted on June 11, 2020. 6 Comments

What sort of society do we want?

We live in a time of social isolation and on far too many occasions it is miserably uncomfortable and decidedly unnatural to us. We don’t have to look far to find the cause. We are social animals by our very nature and most of us are happiest when we are living in a family or as part of a tribe. And yes, I do know that doesn’t encompass all of us. Some are happier or feel safer on their own. But most of us feel lost without the affectionate presence of the ones we love. We need society. So the two big questions we all face now is 1) what sort of society do we want when this deadly pandemic is finally over? and 2) How can we bring it about?

Societies have evolved and changed throughout human history so there are plenty of blueprints. One of the best I know is the American Declaration of Independence. And yes I know I’ve quoted it here before but I think it’s worth another airing, because it is often surprising and frequently prescient. It’s a long document but I will only quote the bits  I think are relevant to us today. And here they are:-

”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

This was the start of what we have since come to call Western Democracy. And at the present moment both the USA and Great Britain are a very long way from these ideals and have reached a point when it is ‘self evident’ that huge changes are imperative. It is extremely dangerous for any country to be ruled by liars, especially when they have a huge, rich, all powerful media machine to persuade a gullible majority of the voters to believe what they say and vote for them.  That way lies corruption. I would like to see a House of Commons that had the power to pass a law requiring all MPs to tell the truth in the House and to the Media on pain of being dismissed from office. We could well see a healthy change then.


But perhaps the next question we should be asking ourselves is ‘Do we want a fluid society or a rigid one?’ My hope would be for fluidity. A rigid society is structurally opposed to change  and it takes a long time and endless, often painful, effort to persuade our rulers if that is the case. You only have to look at the history of the Chartists and the Suffragettes to see that. And the history of domestic service in this country  is equally revealing.

I’ve recently been reading a little book about ‘The Duties of Servants’ which was published in 1894. It contains some absolute gems about how the upper class treated their servants. In those days the bulk of the working class either worked on the land or in the factories, where they were very poorly paid, or went into domestic service where at least they got their uniform, food and keep for free. But their wages were very low indeed. A butler, who was the kingpin of the household got between £50 and £80 pounds a year, a scullery maid or a laundry maid got £12. You weren’t allowed to have much of a life of your own. Maids were not allowed to have ‘followers’ and even butlers were restricted. Take a look at this for how to treat a butler.

butler”Some masters and mistresses object to engaging a married man as butler; they consider that a married man is likely to spend too much of his time at home and to be consequently away from his master’s house when most wanted;” But there’s another and more unpleasant reason too. ”Great poverty might induce a father or husband to commit acts of dishonesty.” And she goes on to explain that if the butler’s family were ill, he might be tempted to rise the money he needed by pawning the family plate adding ”This is by no means an imaginary temptation, but is one of frequent occurrence, as the police reports testify.” Well, well, well! That’s a long way from Downton Abbey. But of course this was 1894 and that’s a long way away from 1948 and the establishment of our NHS. Before 1948 a doctor wouldn’t see you until you’d paid his fee, which could be a guinea, or five guineas or even ten. Think of having to pay that if your annual wage was £10. And now, Heaven help us! we face a real risk that our mendacious leaders will sell it off to American big business and we shall all be back  to a time when we either pay the fee or put up with our illness on our own.

The time for a change  is approaching fast.  Roll up your shirt-sleeves!

This entry was posted on June 10, 2020. 3 Comments